Thursday, November 1, 2012

If Anyone Is Still Reading

It's November.

That means American elections and fundraisers for prostate cancer and national novel writing month.

For me, though, it mostly means it's been two months. Sixty days since the divorce. And it still hurts like hell.

These past two months I haven't been writing on this blog at all. I've barely been reading. I've quit almost every club I was in at school. I'm not living. I'm just surviving. And it sucks.

For those that are interested in the book stuff, in the last two months I've read The Boy Recession by Flynn Meany (not nearly as good as it could've been), My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend (fine, but not great), Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams (good. Sweet.), Decked with Holly by Marni Bates (surprisingly, really, really bad. Silly premise, bad execution, terrible ending), and 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody (Fine. Better ending than I expected).

For those who are interested in my actual, you know, life, I don't know what to say. From the outside, I imagine it looks like I'm coping fairly well. I go to all my classes, do all the assignments and tests and projects. I'm cooking for myself and cleaning for myself now too. I have old friends and new friends this year. I'm still keeping up with my friends back home. Besides the clubs, everything's basically staying afloat. For now.

But inside, of course, everything's falling apart. In so many ways. One day I hate my mother, the next day my father. I get mad at myself for accidentally remembering my old house. I get mad at my friends for not understanding or not asking enough questions or making stupid comments.

And before anyone tells me to see a therapist or whatever, I'm already on it. It helps. Some. Though he has this odd fascination with my relationship with my mother. Seriously.

I feel like I should say something significant or insightful or substantial here, but I don't think I have anything. Yes, I'm struggling to rebuild my identity now that I've lost my family, my neighbourhood, and basically my city/hometown. Yes, I relive our last few days together over and over. Yes, yes, yes to all the bad questions. Yes, it still hurts. Every single day. Lots of crying. Lots of pain.

Mostly, I'm afraid. Afraid of the pain of the future. Afraid of our first Christmas apart. Afraid of going home in December. Afraid, most of all, that everyone and everything will move on, and I'll be stuck here, alone, still hurting and mourning, and everyone look at me like "it's been 1/2/10/15 years, get over it already".

This is a really down post. I'm not completely sure why I decided to write it tonight of all nights or why I wrote at all. I guess part of the reason is explanation. A message to say that I'm not gone forever. That I may be back. One day. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next year. Whenever I've figured things out a little bit more. Whenever it hurts a little bit less.

Thanks for reading. If anyone is still reading.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Most Completely Awesome Reason to Read

For a while now, I've been writing really downer posts (parents getting divorced and all that), so today I am delighted to bring you a positive, upbeat post about an awesome reading experience I had this week. Oh books, how I love you.

For the last week and a half I've been on vacation in Los Angeles, which has been totally awesome, for a number of reasons (Studio tours! Celebrity trivia! Visiting the Kodak Theatre!), one of the most awesomest of which was the Emily Giffin reading I went to last week. It was held at an amazing independent bookstore called Vroman's.

(I am somewhere win this picture! But even I can't see me, so I don't think you'll be able to!)

The first part of my awesome night occurred in their unbelievable teen section. Now, it isn't any bigger than average or anything, but, can you believe it, it actually has a good selection of teen books! Going through the shelves, I nearly screamed with all the incredible, impossible to find in Canada, books they had. Moreover, their YA inventory had clearly been selected by someone who understood the genre--not just what's popular, but what's good in YA. I so wish I had a bookstore like that near my house. Instead, all I have is lousy Indigo. Blech.

It was so cool going through the shelves and feeling like the person who had picked the books had the same love for them as I did. And, of course, it was so great to be able to pick up some titles I had been dying for:

Then, I went and sat down for the reading. There was a whole stage set up, and I expected Emily Giffin to enter from behind the curtain, but instead, she just walked up through the crowd, no big deal, acting like a normal person, with no superiority complex at all, which was great. I kind of expected her to seem like an untouchable celebrity, but she was actually a real person, which was refreshing. I don't know if this unusual--another draw back of living in Canada is a lack of author readings--but perhaps not, because when I told this story to various people they all looked at me like I was crazy for thinking an author could actually be a celebrity. Though, to them, I say, look at how nerd fighters treat John Green, and try to prove me wrong.

From there, Emily Giffin was great. Hilarious, smart, insightful, other awesome qualities like that. But to me, the most enjoyable part of the whole evening was when she referenced her other books--Something Borrowed, for example--in quick little ways. "I met a couple who were such a Rachel and Dex!" she said, and I couldn't help but smile at that. But that wasn't the coolest part. No, the most completely awesome part of the whole night was looking around me and seeing that the other seventy people in the room were smiling and nodding and laughing too. They too had loved her books. They understood the references just like I did. It was so amazing to me to look around at this room full of forty year old women--I was, by far, the youngest person there--and feel so instantly connected to all of them. I loved that feeling so much, and I wish I got to experience it more often.

She signed my books and I struggled to find something to say, finally muttering something about Baby Proof that she didn't even hear, and then I headed back home.

Going into the night, I had been kind of nervous. Celebrity-type people tend to do that to me. But I didn't need to be, not for one second. These were my people, who loved the books I loved. This was a world where I felt like I belonged, where I laughed and smiled and had a great time.

Over the past year, I've really focused on the ability that books have to bind people, to make us feel understood. That night, at that bookstore, it wasn't just the books that made me feel that way. It was the community of readers. I sincerely hope I get to experience such excitement again soon.

For now, though, I'm sure I'll return to my sad, tear filled posts which have a much smaller number of uses of the word "awesome". Sorry.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This Pain Is Not My Fault

In books about divorced parents, doctors and psychologists and other fancy, well informed, degree earning people often talk about how the kids often blame themselves for their parents divorce. 

Well, I don't blame myself. In fact, in this super awesome roller coaster ride known as The Year My Parents Divorced, I'm currently stuck in a loop of absolute frustration, asking the same question over and over again:

What did I do this deserve this?

Because I don't blame myself for my parents divorce. I believe they are two people with certain flaws that create a lot of friction--two people, who at some point, may have belonged together, but have not gotten along for a long time now. I believe that whatever is happening between them is because of them--their flaws, their judgments, their decisions, both right and wrong--and not me. I am not the one who didn't do the dishes or who acted unappreciative or who went a step too far too many times. I'm sure they'd both like to tell you that this situation is not their fault. But all I am sure of is that this year, this pain, is most definitely not my fault. 

That idea really frustrates me. If I didn't do anything wrong, if I had absolutely no choice in this matter, why am I being forced to sacrifice and feel hurt again and again and again? I have no answer. Ultimately, all I can think about is how completely unfair this all feels. 

From thought, I've only spiralled into a thousand thoughts of how my life sucks, how things that I've accepted about myself and my life for so long are actually really unfortunate. Like the fact that I have never had parents who loved each other. Ever. Not really. "Why!" I want to scream. Why does my life have to suck like that? And why, oh why, do I have to go through all this alone? And why does everyone else get to have siblings and I don't? I would give anything to have someone like that right now, someone to go through this whole mess with, someone who loves both my parents the way I do. Because, from now on, I am, officially, legally, fully, the only person who loves them both in the whole wide world. And that feels very lonely. 

I don't know if this is just me--I suspect it's not--but I've always gone through life assuming that things were generally, ultimately, fair. Not always, of course--cancer isn't fair, poverty isn't fair, a million things aren't fair--but divorce isn't a chance thing like that. It is the direct result of decisions made by people. People who aren't me. Which, in my view, isn't fair. I can't help but feeling life isn't being fair to me right now. 

I want to say that I'm not writing this post to whine. There would be not point in that. And, obviously, as lives go, my is probably not more than a little unfair. I was born into a life filled with loving, fairly well off parents, in one of the best countries to live in in the entire world. I am healthy, smart, what have you. I know that. But I wanted to write this post without that element of perspective. I wanted to document my exact feeling at this exact moment, two weeks before the big split, to document how it felt being sad, scared, and frustrated, in the eye of a tornado that is currently ripping through my life. To me, right now, there isn't much of a thing called perspective. All I can see is the wind whipping around me at a million miles an hour, stirring up pain and creating nothing but debris. I wanted to document the fact that right now, I feel like a piece of wood, sucked up by the wind, waiting to be flung off in an uncertain future. 

I wanted to prove that this frustration I'm feeling is very real and very valid to me right now, no matter what a grander perspective might suggest. As Augustus Waters says:

This pain, in this moment, is real. And I guess I'm going to just have to feel it and question it and experience it. This is my life right now. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Move Over, Bad Boys

Recently, I've fallen in love with a new kind of leading man. He's so far from perfect. When you first meet him, he seems awful, fatally flawed, morally reprehensible. He is repellent, unattractive, and abhorrent. And then you realize, he's only human. And you can't help but love him for that.

These leading men aren't bad boys, like these guys:

They aren't an image or a stereotype. Instead, they're more of a surprise. When you first meet them, you judge them, quickly disapproving. But then they do something so sweet or they seem so vulnerable, that you're forced to reevaluate them. Bad boys are trying to the wrong thing, while trying to break all the right rules. These new guys are just trying to do what feels right or seems right to them in that moment, even when they have no idea what that is. They panic, they screw up left and right. But it isn't intentional. It's a flaw, a flaw that contributes to a fully realized, real, human character that you relate to, that you root, a character that you eventually learn to love with all your heart. 

The first one I met was Adam on Girls, portrayed by the actor Adam Driver. 

In the first few episodes of Girls, I thought Adam was so gross. His sex scenes with Hannah (Lena Dunham) were horrible. Us viewers had to watch Adam demean Hannah over and over, use her, and abuse her feelings time and time again. After his first scene, I'd written him off as the decoy boyfriend. He was lecherous, so creepy, and so disgusting; there was simply no way Hannah could ever stay with such a horrible person. I thought Adam was there to develop Hannah's character, to show us how she learned to stand up for herself, and learned to respect herself enough to end such a damaging relationship. 

But I was wrong. Adam Sackler was no decoy boyfriend. No, he was here to stay, flaws and all. Slowly, as the episodes went on, and I got to see more and more sides of Adam, I realized that he wasn't this one-dimensional point on Hannah's journey; no Adam was a real person and a permanent character that I had to learn to accept, flaws and all. 

I'm not one to change my opinion quickly. In fact, for a while, I felt almost tricked by the show. I wanted to hate this guy, but now they'd made me like him! It was wrong! 

No it wasn't wrong. It was good storytelling. It was excellent character development. And the reason it felt so wrong was because it was so foreign to me to see such an imperfect person play such a desirable, romantic role. I was used to the perfect guys. I didn't know what to make of a guy with flaws. 

Adam sat in the back of my brain for a long time after the season ended, only to return to my consciousness recently when I was watching the MTV show Awkward. That was where I met my second imperfect man (or, in this case, teenaged boy): Matty McKibben (Beau Mirchoff). 

Early in the series, we learn that Matty is ashamed of his relationship with our main character, Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards). The pair is constantly hooking up in private, but never act like a couple in public. Matty makes Jenna into a shameful secret, and, as a viewer, you have to hate him for that. 

So, just like I did with Adam, I wrote Matty off as a decoy boyfriend. Just like I expected Adam to be a "character moment" for Hannah, I thought Matty would become a "growing point" for Jenna. But then, slowly, I started to see the charms of Matty McKibben. I started to understand how sweet he was to Jenna in private, and, more importantly, how confused he was about his a possible relationship with her in public. I learned that Matty really liked Jenna, he just didn't know how to express it exactly. I learned that Matty McKibben was a real, confused, teenage boy who had some serious growing up to do. 

After a season a piece, I feel in love with Adam Sackler and Matty McKibben. And I realized that my love for their characters was greater than my love for your bad boy Chuck Basses or your perfect Pacey Whitters. With characters like Chuck or Pacey, I could tell you, vaguely, that they had flaws. With characters with Adam and Matty, I know what those flaws are, and I've learned to love them. I've learned to love all of who they are, not just their images or their perfections. Most of all, I've gotten to experience the joy of a well developed character arc, with real mistakes, and fulfilling moments of redemption. According to Joseph Campbell, a hero isn't a hero without some sort of great journey and great moment of redemption. Adam and Matty have taught me that this shouldn't only apply to our heroes and heroines, but also our leading men. Every character deserves to be more than a name or an image. They deserve flaws; they deserve real, meaningful, clearly defined character growth. They deserve to be human, just like every one of us watching and admiring them. Just like us viewers deserve to find more relatable leading men just like them. 

With that, I salute you, Adam Sackler and Matty McKibben, and I hope I get to know (and love) many more (fictional. Or possibly real.) men like you. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are Academics Worth It?

That was the question Sarah Strohmeyer asked in her new novel Smart Girls Get What They Want. I lightly touched on the question in my review, but, as a life-long "smart girl", I thought it might be interesting to explore the answer further.

I mean, of course I want the answer to be yes. I don't want to think that missed out on anything or wasted any opportunities. No one wants to think that, right? Which is why I have my list of reasons why my academic experience was great.

First off, the fact that feel that made the most of my education. I tried as hard as I could in every class. I genuinely wanted to learn, and I made sure to learn everything I could. I memorized every list, but I also learned every lesson. As a result, I feel fairly good about my knowledge and skills in every subject from English to math to biology. I like feeling intelligent and informed. I feel like I learned not only how to succeed and get good marks, but also how to overcome challenges and keep trying even when you think you will never improve.

Moreover, I love the feeling academics gives me. I love the feeling of good test mark. I wake up in the morning remembering the unexpectedly high essay mark I received the day before. And, for me, it is not just a hobby or a passion. It is an identity. It is the thing I'm good at. Some people are outgoing and know how to say the right things and impress the right people. Some people are good at sports or drama or some fancy musical instrument. I am good at school. I am the IB kid, the perpetual Honour Roll student, the "smart girl". That who I've been for so long. I don't know what I'd be if you took that away from. I suppose you could view that as a negative. But I'm just so happy that, through academics, I found so many positives. Academics allow me to feel smart and confident and happy. To me, that is not a negative.

Furthermore, academics provided me with a community. In Strohmeyer's novel, the main characters fear that they will have blank yearbooks. Mine was full, every year. Of course, that was large bit of luck on my part. I ended up with the same twenty kids in every class, every year. While that certainly had its drawbacks (which could fill a series of blog posts) it also had so many benefits. I knew those kids and they knew me. I filled their yearbooks and they filled mine. I still see them all the time. And I only became one of them because of academics. Perhaps it was pure luck, how it worked out; all I know, is that I am tremendously thankful for that academic community.

Those are all great things. But they all came at a very, very high cost. The most obvious is time. Like I said before, every minute you spend studying is a minute you're not having fun. That is sacrifice, and it sucks. To be a strong academic student, you have to put in so much time and effort. You lose friends, you lose sleep, you slowly lose your mind.

But you also lose a million things you never ever had. You lose opportunities for new experiences. Here's one: your first job. When I was in high school I was in such a tough academic program that I would've never been able to juggle my coursework with a job. As a result, I am already behind in the job market. While most people my age have years of part time work on their resumes, I only have Honour Roll Certificates. Which makes it really, really hard to get a job now.

But that's not the biggest thing you're giving up. No, the biggest sacrifice I made as an academic student was my social life. Unlike Strohmeyer's Gigi, I didn't have amazing best friends in high school. I had a few friends, even good friends, but not like Neerja and Bea. I certainly didn't have a Mike. Nor did any of my friends. No one dated in my high school class. As a result, we are all now in university, excelling in our classes, but feeling extraordinarily out of place in our social groups. Everyone else has ex-boyfriends and "experience" (whatever that means). Most of us have never gone on a date or kissed a boy or had a boyfriend. We are physically nineteen, but our experience levels with dating are lower than an average fourteen-year-olds. That makes us feel embarrassed and ashamed; I tell you, it near destroys our self esteem.

We often say that we aren't "real" teenagers. We never went to the high school parties or had the high school boy drama. We feel like we're living our social lives four years behind everyone else. That there, that's a big reason academics are not worth it. At least not for us.

So, are academics worth it? I think I'll allow myself to go with the easy, regret-free answer: yes. But don't press me on it and ask if I would "do the same all over again". Because I don't think there's an easy answer to that question. I've done well on all the tests and essays, acing every question. But that's one I think I'll leave blank.

Book Review: Smart Girls Get What They Want

Summary: Gigi, Bea, and Neerja have always been best friends--and book nerds. They've always studied the hardest and achieved the most. But, suddenly, they find themselves asking: at what cost?


I did not connect with this book.

In high school, I was a complete nerd. An A-plus student always; honour roll regular and scholar extraordinaire. And still, I did not connect with this book.

And I don't know why.

On its surface, I think Strohmeyer poses some interesting questions, ones I have often asked myself over the years: Are academics really worth it? What do you really get out of it? And what do you miss out on because of it? And, on the surface, I love that Strohmeyer is celebrating smart girls so much. It's a positive message, one which popular culture so rarely champions; it's music to my ears.

I was Gigi in high school. Just without the best friends. I studied like mad day and night. I prepared for every question on every test, in every subject. I fit my life around my academics, instead of my academics around my life. I rose and fell with every test mark, every essay critique. And, as I look back on high school, I often ask myself: was it all worth it? In her basic premise, I think Strohmeyer understands that worry. In her execution, however, I did not feel understood at all.

Sometimes, when I read books I feel like the author is able to read my mind, like they're somehow able to know me in ways no one ever has. I love that feeling; to me, that is the magic of reading. While reading this novel, I expected that connection. I yearned for it. This was a situation so close to my own experience; the connections should have sparked on every page. Instead, to me, the words failed to ignite. Instead of elation, I felt frustration, over and over and over again.

It didn't feel like Strohmeyer had been a nerd; it felt like she had studied nerds. She got a handful of moments right--Gigi's obsession with Bones, the late nights working on papers, the utterly amazing moment in the bookstore with Mike, when Gigi describes her love of romance novels. And the friendship between Gigi and Bea and Neerja, while not very similar to my experiences at all, was certainly sweet and genuine. I loved how Gigi considered her friends feelings and sacrificed for them. That felt real and just so right.

But Strohmeyer also got so many moments wrong. Some parts felt simply tone deaf to me. Gigi's fear of presentations was rather absurd, in my opinion. I am super shy and awkward and terrible at giving presentations. Or, at least, I used to be. But then I had to do them so often, I just didn't care anymore. Seriously, in grade nine French class I had a teacher who made me do a presentation every single week in a language I didn't understand at all. Teachers do not care if you are bad at public speaking. They make you do it in every single subject. I gave weekly speeches in English and French. I did skits in biology. I even had presentations in math and gym classes. No one would spare me, no matter how much I hated it each and every time. Which is why I did not buy Gigi's explanation that teachers did not make her do presentations anymore, because they knew the result. No, for Gigi to get as good marks as she did, she would have had to do what I did, time and time again: put the mark before the fear. She would have had to invent a version of herself that could get up and speak in public. If she wanted the 90%, that's what it would have taken. I know--I've been there.

Beyond that, there were lots of smaller things that felt off to me. The fact that, as they became increasingly involved in extra curricular activities--not to mention romantic activities--there was no mention of how their grades were affected. Which is wrong. Every moment they spent having fun or whatever was a moment they didn't spend studying. If they were giving up their lives for academics, they should've had to give up some of their academic achievements for their new lives. It's a basic equation; it's the only thing that makes sense. Furthermore, I was quite bothered by the idea that smart kids had to be well versed in high culture. There were numerous times throughout the novel that a character would be considered dumb and then--Oh My God!--it was discovered that they read Anna Karenina, so they were actually smart. Now, I know a lot of nerdy, academic kids. And most of them watch shows like Gossip Girl and read so-called "lighter" books. Seriously, when you spend all your time analyzing poetry and understanding complicated math formulas and learning about European history, you just want to relax at the end of the day. You do not want to read insanely complicated Russian novels. On a literal level, that did not make sense to me. On a philosophical level, it just annoyed me. I hate culture snobs. I hate that this book validated them so much.

I'm ranting and ranting about minute details, I know. I apologize. This is just a very hard book for me to judge. Because I so very much wanted to like it. I wanted to connect with it. But try as I might, I just couldn't. So, ranting and roaring over, I guess I'll just say that this book didn't really work for me, but that, in no way, should stop it from working for you. At its core, Smart Girls Get What They Want is a semi-unique book with a very positive message. Perhaps you will be able to connect with it better than I did. Perhaps it is just too close to my experiences for me to judge. What do you think, readers: have you ever felt disconnected from a book because it was too close to your life?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Growing Past YA

I recently turned nineteen. That means I have less than a year left of official "teen" life left. And then I'll be an adult or something. At least, that's what they tell me.

The point is, I am quickly aging out of the Young Adult demographic. I started reading YA when I was nine years old, and for years, I was younger than the protagonists. I wasn't even in middle school yet and I was reading about seniors in high school. It mad me feel mature and grown up. Then I started high school, and I was the same age as the protagonists, which was nice. They understood me and experienced the same things as I was experiencing right at that moment. Or, at least, they experienced the things I wanted to experience. The first romances I longed for, the best friends I dreamed of. But now, I'm in college. Slowly but surely I'm moving away from the YA set. I'm growing up and I really don't know if my love for YA will be able to grow with me.

I have a number of friends my age who insist that they cannot read books with protagonists that are younger than them. I don't have a hard rule like that, but I understand where they're coming from. When we graduated from high school and started university, we felt like we were past it all. The high school drama. The 9:00 to 3:00 school day. The group projects. Parents and principals and all the other people trying to control you. Right now, I think we all want to distance ourselves from that, not dive back into it. It all feels a little immature and silly and we kind of want to pretend we're over that.

I am still reading YA. But I have, for the most part, stopped reading middle grade fiction. It's all a little too cutesy and innocent for me. And I won't specifically reject a book if I read that a book has a fourteen year old protagonist, but it certainly doesn't do the book any favours. I'm much more enthusiastic about books about high school seniors, people who are worrying about college and future plans, just like I was (and still am). I can connect with those feelings so much better. They feel so much more relevant to my life than some grade nine drama.

On a theoretical level, I like to believe that I can appreciate YA, no matter my age. That the most rewarding part of reading is not the plot or the happy ending, but the ability to connect to characters and authors on an emotional level. And there is no shortage of YA books that provide that connection. When I read Elizabeth Scott's Perfect You, I cried, as touched the exact places in my heart that my best friend had bruised. When I read Deb Caletti's Stay, I smiled at all the small moments I recognized, all the exact doubts of insecurity and poor self-esteem that I have nursed all my life. On this theoretical level, it seems as though it's not about abandoning YA, but abandoning bad YA. Which is, of course, silly and impossible. Because the things that I love in books aren't written in the descriptions on the back covers.

On a much more minuet and literal level, I am concerned. I just finished Terra Elan McVoy's Being Friends with Boys, in which the Charlotte, the protagonist, said "I watched Shrek everyday when I was little". Now, Shrek was released when I was nearly ten years old. It's not a movie I watched when I was "little". I remember seeing it theatres, and enjoying it. But I was too old to watch it obsessively in the way that little kids watch movies. When I was "little" I loved The Lady and the Tramp and The Little Mermaid. Those are my childhood reference points. What bothered me about Charlotte's statement was not that I didn't understand the reference, it was that I didn't relate to it. It was not from my generation; this not a movie my friends and I grew up with. It's a small, seemingly insignificant reference, on its own, but it raises a larger issue: as a get older, won't I relate to the references less and less? Thus, won't my emotional connection with YA books grow weaker and weaker?

Like so many questions and concerns I talk about on this blog, I don't have an answer. And before anyone says it, I am more than aware that there are many, many people who read YA who do not have the word "teen" in their age. But I'm just not sure I will be one of those people.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Looking Back

I think I'm going to look back at this time like I now look at the awful stage of my life known as puberty: something necessary, painful, and, thankfully, long over.

My parents are getting divorced. No, that's a lie. Technically, legally, they will be separated. I don't know why they don't want to go the whole way with it, other than the fact that divorce is probably more expensive. But, for all intents and purposes, I'm viewing it as a divorce, seeing as they will not live together or have much contact with each other at all.

At least, that's the plan, for now. Supposedly what their (our) future is going to look like. But right now, that is very hard to imagine or believe in any way. Right now, I'm sitting in my bedroom, the same one I've occupied since I was seven years old. I'm staring at the white and red walls, which used to be purple, before which they were yellow. I'm sitting at my desk, where I sat to do so many projects and write so many essays, from elementary school all the way to university. Right now, in this moment, nothing's changed. I'm ten years old and all the adults are telling me that my body going to change in some freaky ways, and even though they've told me what some of those (gross) ways are, I have no idea how this will affect me or change my life.

Like seriously, it feels like I'm reading an outline for my life over the next year, and all I can do is add little annotations like "that might hurt" or "that's going to be bad" or "I'm not going to like that". Selling my childhood home, the only place I'm ever truly comfortable? Yeah, that's really, really going to hurt. Moving an hour away, to a part of the city I wouldn't even refer to as Toronto, a place I've never been, and, more importantly, never wanted to go? Yeah, no, I'm not going to enjoy that, in any way. Splitting my time between not only houses, but cities three hours apart? Yeah, that's going to really suck for me.

It all feels so overwhelming and out of my control. I feel like life has handed me one of those stupid body books, telling me what to expect over the next year, outlining the physical changes of my life with no regard to the emotional challenges they bring.

I remember when I was about eight or nine years old I read this terrifying book called Newton and the Giant, which told me that people lost their ability to imagine when they left childhood. I cannot emphasize how completely petrified I was by that idea (that author, who is a complete liar, deserves a hard slap upside the head, in my opinion). I thought puberty would not only steal my body, but also my favourite part of my mind. Now, though, I'm not afraid that I'll lose the ability to imagine new things. I'm terrified that I'm going to lose the ability to remember. Which, in a lot of ways, I fear is worse.

Right now, I'm upset about a lot of things. I'm upset with my parents. I'm concerned for my mother. I'm upset about losing my family. I'm sad about losing my house. There are ways to comfort yourself about each of these things ("it's for the best", "we'll always be a family", "it's the people that matter, not the places"). And sometimes, saying those things really does help. But sometimes not. And right now, as I'm sitting in this house I love, surrounded by memories, there's nothing I can tell myself to make me believe that I'm not going to forget all of it, myself included.

When I was ten years old I lost control of my body and I thought I was losing control of myself. Now, almost ten years later, that fear is back. At ten, I was standing on the edge of deep gulf, staring down into the darkness, trying to figure out what I was going to become. I'm standing there again today. And only thought that I have to comfort myself is that I'm ten years older, ten years wiser, and have ten years more experience dealing with pain and picking up the pieces that I should be able to handle it all better. But that's probably not true. But how do I know, right?

Which is why I repeat this to myself: this is something necessary, something very painful, and I promise, one day, it will all be long over.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snap Reviews

Confession Time: Most of the books I read, I don't review on this blog. Unless I feel a book is unique is some way or I have something unique to say about it, I don't feel the need to review it. Or, at least, I can't get myself to finish the review. You have no idea how many partially finished reviews exist in the garbage can of this blog. And I feel stupid and silly about that.

Apology Time: Because I've been failing you as a reviewer for so long, and I've missed out on reviewing so many lovely books in these last few months, I thought I'd share some quick thoughts on each.

A Match Made High School by Kristin Walker (synopsis)

Kristin Walker's books seem to be cursed with silly titles and even sillier covers, but if you can see past that, you'll be able to enjoy this intelligent, romantic read. 

Really and truly, I feel this book is a great example of what the young adult romance genre has to offer. It has the requisite romance, but it's not as predictable as the synopsis would suggest. On top of that, it also has an interesting exploration of marriage and relationships from a teenage perspective. Sure, the premise is all little silly, but, to me at least, also a little intriguing. For me, this book was a quick, smart, enjoyable read. 

7 Clues to Winning You by Kristin Walker (synopsis)

Yes, I was so charmed by Match that I immediately went out and bought Clues (what can I say? I'm a binge reader). On the whole, I think Match is a more complete book, but I still think Clues has a fair amount to offer. 

Blythe is not the easiest protagonist to like. She's very snobby. But I like'd that the novel addressed class in some way, when most novels shy away from such issues. I also quite enjoyed the scavenger hunt and her relationship with Luke. I thought they were a really, really sweet couple (for anyone who has read the book, I really enjoyed the stuff inside and outside the principal's office at the end). I thought her relationship with her parents was also quiet interesting. As someone who is currently being forced to sell her house, I very much related to Blythe's sadness about leaving her childhood home. 

And I loved Miss Franny and Miss Eulaili, of course (again, for those who've read it: the scene where they buy the magazine? Hilarious!).

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen (synopsis)

I was hesitant to pick up this book. On one hand, it had a cute, unique cover and a fair amount of buzz around the blogosphere. On the other hand, I had really and truly tried to get through Jensen's previous novel, Falling in Love with English Boys, and I just couldn't. But when I saw it in the bookstore, I let myself forget that. I just couldn't resist. 

Ultimately, for me, Fine Art was a good, but not great read. I loved Ella's relationship with Edward Willing. I thought that was original, and I really loved a character who had a unique passion like that. I also liked her relationship with Alex, as well as her friends. I also enjoyed her family quite a lot. I love characters with big families, especially noisy, funny, real families like Ella's. At no point did I fall in love with this book, but I wouldn't turn anyone off reading it. 

For Keeps by Natasha Friend (synopsis)

This one was such a good read. Enjoyable and relatable and relaxing. I can't exactly say why, but it felt kind of like a bubble bath to me. 

I liked so many things about this book. I loved Josie's relationship with her mother, Kate. It was sweet and  very Gilmore Girls-esque, in the very best way. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I loved how Josie's romance with Matt was not the main part of the story, but rather a subplot. I also loved how they started dating at the beginning of the book, rather than the end, because I got to see their relationship develop. That's is so freaking rare in YA and I loved it so much. Josie's best friend Liv was great too; I especially enjoyed the fights they had, and the process of Josie's figuring out why Live was acting like she did. That seemed very true to life to me and mature to me. 

I read a review that warned people not to read this book if they're only looking for romance. I want to reiterate that. This book has romance in it, but it's very much secondary to all the stuff with Josie's mom and dad. But all that stuff is so good, you should pick up this book anyways. 

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern (synopsis)

A certain blogger has raved and raved about Halpern's books forever. And while I still haven't read Get Well Soon, I thought I'd give this one a try. 

I found this book to be unique and cute. I was more than a little irritated by the slow progression of the plot--the freaking premise (or, at least, the one described on the back of the book) doesn't even begin until a hundred pages into a this two hundred and fifty-odd page book. Also, Jessie's friends at the beginning were awful people and annoying characters. But Jessie's brother was cool. And her new friends were kind of awesome. And I just adored all the Dungeons and Dragons stuff. I wish I was cool enough (or had enough imagination) to play this game. And the romantic moments born out of those friends and that game are quite excellent. For me, the book certainly improved as it went along. I enjoyed how it showed the end of a friendship, something I have experienced myself, and, like Jessie, found quite painful. However, I was never fully on board with what I found to be the overly didactic exploration of geek/nerdom. But, all together, a good book. 

Question Time: Do you other bloggers ever feel like me? Like every post has to be perfect? And every review has be long and insightful and unique? And how do you deal with this feeling? What is your solution? 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is unappealing and repetitive. It numbed my mind through boredom, not through sexiness.

The novel stars soon to be college graduate Anastasia Steele, who becomes involved with the very rich, very handsome, very charming, and very controlling Christian Grey. Mr. Grey soon makes it known that he not looking for a normal relationship, but rather sexual relations involving rules, punishments, and an array of pain inflicting instruments. He draws up a contract outlining what he wants from Ana, binding her as the submissive to his dominant. From then on, the novel tracks Ana’s acceptance of her sexual desire and submissiveness.

Fifty Shades of Grey is billed as an erotic romance, suggesting that it is meant to be exciting and enticing, expecting its reader to be as sexually allured by Christian as Ana herself is. Personally, I only found Christian abhorrent, abusive, and thoroughly unsexy. However, I believe it is a matter of personal taste, and as such, I believe a reader’s enjoyment of the novel will depend largely on that reader’s personal sexuality.

For women, I think their enjoyment of the novel will also be decided by their definition of female equality. In the novel, Christian attempts to mould Ana into the perfect submissive partner by controlling what she eats, how she dresses, and even what car she drives. As Ana consents to this treatment, the reader must ask herself: does feminism mean being treated as an equal or being given the right to choose how one is treated? Personally, I did not disapprove of Ana’s choice, as I believe feminism should be about the right to choose above all else. It still made me incredibly uncomfortable, however, when Christian demeaned and manipulated Ana; she may have personally consented to being treated in such a way, but I do not consent to my gender being treated so poorly. Part of me wants to assume this is true of women at large; however, Fifty Shades of Grey has been a New York Times #1 Bestseller for nine weeks, so this cannot be true.

Perhaps the bigger issue for me, however, was the monotony in the novel. On every level, James’ work is repetitive, be it the clichéd phrasing of the prose, the tired character descriptions, the overworked metaphors, or the endless number of sex scenes. James feels the need to constantly remind the reader that Christian Grey has gray eyes, as if the moral ambiguity of the character is not already spelled out enough by the novel’s title. Ana often references the Greek myth of Icarus: at first, I found it interesting; by the fifth time it is mentioned, I wanted to throw the book across the room. More than anything, I was bored to tears by the never-ending sex scenes. At first, they were vaguely appealing; by the end, I was nearly asleep.

At its heart, I believe the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy presents an intriguing, unique romance. However, for me, it would be torture to try to get through another thousand-odd pages of Christian torturing Ana; for you, however, it might be a lot more alluring and positively mind numbing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TV Review: Glee Season 3 Finale

I loved the first season of Glee. Like, I was obsessive about it. Then, it fell off a cliff. Or, the charms of Ryan Murphy no longer charmed me in the same way. Sue Sylvester stopped being funny and started being annoying. Kurt stopped being amazing and started to become whiny. By this point, at the end of the third season, I have all but written off the show. I follow it, through reviews and word of mouth, but I barely ever watch. But, then, last night, I was bored, and I heard the finale was on, and, well, you know. And the thing is, it wasn't actually terrible. I would dare to say it was actually good. For a number of reasons:

1. They didn't completely screw up the Rachel/Finn thing

I've never, ever been a Finchel fan. Well, who am I kidding, I've never even been a Finn fan. Going into the episode heard that they were freaking ENGAGED in HIGH SCHOOL, I was sure it was just going to blow up, or descend deeper and deeper into the crazy, illogical world of Gleedom. However, I was wrong. Instead of getting a ridiculous teen wedding, we got a heartfelt, rational goodbye. For the first time, I actually saw some redeeming qualities in Finn Hudson. I thought his whole speech in the car was amazing. In that moment, with those words, I truly believed he loved her. Just as they were breaking up, I finally began rooting for them as a couple; stupid, I know.

Usually, characters on this show make stupid, nonsensical decisions. Last night, however, Rachel was only making immature decisions. She was scared of losing Finn, and having her heartbroken for the first time. She was terrified of facing New York on her own. So, she made the silly plan to defer NYADA. Usually, I would want to throw things at the TV for such stupid decision making. However, this one time, I could see where Rachel was coming from. I knew it was the wrong decision, of course, but, for once, the show showed me why that was the logical decision for Rachel's character.

I have been actively rooting for Finchel to break up since whenever they got together (beginning of season two? Maybe?). But that was just so I wouldn't have to suffer through the sight of them on screen anymore. In last night's episode, I still wanted them to break up. But watching the break up actually happen was surprisingly sad and sweet; I applaud the episode for being so emotionally effective.

2. Kurt was awesome

I've always thought Kurt was a fairly awesome character; when he got together with Blaine, his awesomeness increased 1000%. This, coupled with his friendship with Rachel, made him a great character to watch in last night's finale.

I loved the early Kurt/Blaine scene. I really do hope they stay together. What can I say: I'm a fangirl. As such, I knew I would savour every glance, every word, every kiss between them. And I did. Ryan Murphy hasn't screwed that one up. Yet. He has also been surprisingly great about the Kurt/Rachel relationship, no more so than in their scenes last night. I just adored the envelope opening scene. I love how this show deals with the theme of broken dreams; I am really glad they made graduation such a central focus of this season. In that room, with Kurt and Finn and Rachel, my heart just broke. It wasn't an overdramatic moment, in the way that so many Glee moments are. Instead, it was subtle and realistic and just so sad. Cory Monteith, Lea Michele, and Chris Colfer were all amazing in that scene.

3. The songs were actually good

I know! I can't believe it! Do you know how long its been since I've watched a full song on Glee? I usually listen to the first bit, then want to scream, and skip to the next scene. But this time, I actually enjoyed the songs. That hasn't happened since the first half of the first season! I just can't believe it!

Perhaps most shocking of all: Matthew Morisson actually put on a good performance! Who knew he had it in him?!?

I know, I'm being very sarcastic. I'm sorry. I just never thought that would be a redeeming part of the show, ever again. But last night, I enjoyed Mr. Shue's song, and the senior/junior and junior/senior songs. That alone is a reason to write a post about this episode.

And then, I can't forget Burt's dance. I just about died. It was AMAZING. I loved it for so many reasons. It was the perfect present for Kurt. It was such a great moment for their relationship. It was such a nice moment for the show, where it rewarded longterm fans. I remember the Single Ladies dance from season one. I loved it then. Last night, I was so happy to see it return. A truly great scene.

I'm choosing to gloss over the less great moments from last night's episode (I still hate Quinn, for example, but we don't need to talk about that). For now, I am very happy with the show. I may even watch the season premiere in September, which is big for me, seeing as I haven't watched two consecutive Glee episodes since spring of 2011.

Finale Rating: 4/5 Stars (okay, still a relative scale. This is Glee after all. Let's not go comparing this to Parks and Rec or something. Let's stay sane.)

I am an English Ontarian

I originally decided to go to school in Quebec because I wanted to experience a new culture and a new language. I believed university should be about experiencing new things, and I thought Quebec would allow me to do that. I thought it would be great.

I was right and I was wrong. 

I was wrong because I ignored the fact that new experiences are not always fun experiences. I wanted to experience something new and challenge myself. I never really considered that "challenging myself"may not be so fun or easy; I never guessed that a new language and a new culture would make me feel so different, so alienated. I never could have imagined how much I would learn, both about myself and about others. 

In high school, most my friends came from similar backgrounds as me. Middle class. Educated parents. Usually white, English native speakers. Here in Quebec, though, things are different. I am different. I stick out. 

Here, a lot of people learned English as their second language, after French. I am a minority as a native English speaker. I have begun to refer to myself this way--"native English speaker". I never did that before. Everyone I knew spoke English. It wasn't something unique about me. It wasn't part of my identity. 

This year, though, it has become a part of me. A part of how I describe myself and think of myself. Not only has it become a way I identify myself, but it has also become a part of myself I have to defend. My closest friends here are all native French speakers, who learned English in their teens. A lot of the time, they'll speak French when they're with me, forgetting that I can't really understand them. Time and time again I've had to explain that I don't understand, that I feel left out. I've had to ask them to switch to English. I've had to listen to them tell French jokes that I don't get; I've heard them discuss French grammar, French idioms, French culture. Suddenly, this year, French has become like some big secret that I'm not a part of. Suddenly, being English is something different, something alienating. Suddenly, it's a whole new part of my identity I have to accept and understand and stand up for.

Suddenly, I've also become an "out of province student". I am now a "Torontonian" and an "Ontarian". All new phrases and terms for me. And again, all new ways I can be attacked. 

In comparison to Ontario, Quebec is a very hostile environment, at least in my opinion. Here, some people hate you the moment you open your mouth, just because of the language you speak. Here, some people dislike you because of where you're from, as if being from Ontario is a bad thing. Here, being a Canadian is not always a good thing. 

I am proud to be Canadian. I don't think it's necessarily superior to any other country, but I am proud to call it my country. It is the place I want to live for the rest of my life, the place I want to raise my children one day. 

As a Canadian, I have always felt like something of a minority. I am surrounded by American culture all day. On the world stage, Canada just isn't all that important. As a Canadian, I'm used to being an after thought, a quick dismissal. But here, in Quebec, being a Canadian is not something to be ignored, but rather debated. Here, they don't play O Canada everyday. Here, they don't celebrate Canada Day. Here, a lot of people want to separate from the country. Here, it sometimes feels awful to be Canadian. 

The thing that I often forget about Canada is that few people are truly Canadian. Unless you're actually First Nations, you are not native to this country. Toronto has been known as the city of multiculturalism; Canada has always been the country of immigrants. From a historical perspective, we are a relatively new country, having only been founded in 1867. Before then and since then, we've been a divided country: French vs. English, Upper vs. Lower Canada, Maritimes vs. Central Canada vs. Prairies, Provinces vs. Territories. When you grow up in the centre of the country, like I did, it's easy to forget these divides. Ontario has been the core the country since its inauguration; it's easy to be unaware of the lines that separate us from other provinces.

Ontario is the geographic middle of Canada; it is home to the bulk of the countries' people. It is multicultural, sure, but it is also almost wholly English speaking and English cultured. Newfoundland, however, only joined Canada sixty years ago. Quebec has been fighting to be heard in this country for centuries. Before this year, before living in Quebec, I never knew what type of provincial pride that kind of history could inspire.

Someone actually did a study asking Canadians to rank how they identify themselves: by their city, by their province, or by their country. In Quebec, most people ranked their province first. In Ontario, most people ranked their province last. I too would rank Ontario in third place in such a survey, at least until this year.

This year, though, has changed identity more than a little bit: I am now an Native English Speaker, and I am, forevermore, an Ontarian. I thought, that, by moving to Quebec, I would learn about a new culture and a new language, which I did. However, I think I may have learned the most about myself and what it means for me to be a Canadian.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: Me, Evolution, and Other Freaks of Nature

Book: Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande 

Summary: Mena told a secret, a secret which got her church sued, enraged her friends, and deeply disappointed her parents. Now, as Mena starts high school, she feels completely alone. When she begins to become friends with lab partner Casey, she must try to reconcile her desire to make friends with her desire to please her parents and follow her God. Her beliefs are only tested further as her science teacher begins the unit on evolution. Suddenly, Mena is caught up in a battle between evolutionists and creationists, between Christians and atheists, between church and state, and between her own desires and her own beliefs.


I want to teach this book one day. I want to share it with high school students. I want them to debate the same things that Mena had to debate. I want them, Christian or atheist or other, to be able to experience a different perspective that is presented in such a honest, balanced, and age appropriate way. 

Normally, I don't like reading about protagonists who are significantly younger than me. Mena, at fourteen, at first seemed much too young for my enjoyment. However, the issues presented in the book were so interesting, and the voice was so engaging, it didn't matter what age the main character was. Mena truly sounded fourteen, which I actually liked. She had the worries and wonders of our a girl her age. She was experiencing a separation from her parents for the first time. She was experiencing her first romance, her first taste of independence. I felt Brande captured all of these experiences wonderfully, in a pitch perfect voice. Ultimately, I loved Mena, and I thought fourteen was an interesting and important age to approach this topic from. 

As an atheist, I found it very refreshing to read about religion in such a truthful, open, and respectful way. Brande doesn't preach; in fact, I'm not certain Brande is religious at all. All I know is that God is real to Mena, and after following her for nearly three hundred pages, I truly respect and understand her view. Mena loves God, worships God, but also doubts God. Mena considers different viewpoints, and then draws her own conclusions, which I really respect. When Mena is taught about evolution, she turns to the bible, and finds a way to reconcile facts with faith. At fourteen, Mena is uncertain and vulnerable; through the novel, her character arc brings her to a place where is confident in what she believes, who she is, and what she stands for. As a fourteen year old protagonist, she is experiencing her first doubts about religion, friends, family, and selfhood; what I truly appreciate about the novel is that it presents all of these topics in a non-judgemental, imperfect light, respecting the readers views and justifying Mena's actions.

I want to teach this novel because of all those issues. But I think it belongs in the classroom because it's not just an "issue book". It has romance, great romance. Casey is a very smart and very sweet boy, and his relationship with Mena unfolds in a somewhat untraditional way, veering off the beat-for-beat path that so many romances follow these days. It also has family and friend drama that anyone could relate to. In Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, Robin Brande crafts a novel that teenagers will find enjoyable, relatable, but also thought provoking. In this, Brande proves that science can be successfully mixed with social drama, and that religion can be served with a side of romance; in doing so, she respects both the opinions and beliefs of the individual and the intelligence and insight of every teenage reader who deserves to experience such a brilliant novel.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Airplanes and Metaphors

I was just thinking about airplanes. 

Before this year, I had never flown in one alone. I was terrified of them, in fact.

This year, I had to take five flights by myself, back and forth to school. It got easier each time, but the base fear was still there.

One time, there was fairly bad turbulence and I was so scared I almost turned to the women chatting in the seats behind me, almost begged them to talk to me just to distract me from my terror. Ultimately, my social phobia stopped me, but I was this close. I needed the human contact, the human comfort. I couldn't bear the fear alone.

Another time, I got to the airport a little late and the check in line wasn't moving. I was staring at my watch, feeling stressed. I heard families talking in front of me, couples chatting behind me. A few we're growing impatient like me, and I could hear them asking each other "what should we do?". At that moment, I really, really wanted someone there to talk to, to ask questions to, to discuss, to solve the problem together. It was hard, handling it all on my own.

When I finally got to the check in desk, they told me I was so late that my bag might not make it on my plane. Again, here I was, unable to solve the problem. I couldn't take the bag on with me, because it had skates in it. I couldn't arrange to pick the bag up at the other airport later, because I didn't live in that city--my school was an hour and a half from that city, and it was difficult and expensive for me to get back. Most of all, I didn't have the money to pay for anybody to store it or ship it or anything like that. What could I do?

I had to take my chances, hope it got on the plane. Finally, I made it through check out and customs, but then I didn't hear the flight announcement they forgot to change the flight from "waiting" to "boarding". All I heard was "final boarding call" and I had to run to my flight. After I showed my boarding pass, I heard the guy laughing, saying "her bag sure won't make it on". I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted to cry. I wanted help. But no, I was on a plane, alone. So I just tried to keep back the tears. It was a very hard day.

Now, though, I don't have anymore flights. Actually, that's no true. I'm going to British Columbia to visit family in a few weeks. But I'm going with my mother. And she can bear some of my worry, some of my fear.

It's all really a metaphor for growing up, I think--when you fly you get to go to new places, experience new things. But you also have to be responsible for yourself and your fears and your needs all along the way. And it's really hard.

Monday, March 26, 2012

TV Review: Parenthood

I really, really liked Parenthood this last season. I loved, loved, loved the longterm storytelling technique. Few shows would have the patience or grace to pull off such a tactic, but Parenthood pulled it off beautifully. Not all the story lines worked all the time--cough, Julia's near stalking of the coffee cart girl, cough--but they all worked well enough, enough of the time to satisfy me.

My favourite surprise story of this season was Drew's. For the first few seasons, the show was barely aware Drew even existed. This season, though, he got to shine, through his first romance. I have always loved Drew. He is one of the only legitimately shy characters on tv, and, of course, I can relate to that. What I loved about this season is that they didn't change Drew's character. They allowed him to be in a relationship, but still be his quiet, shy, reserved, anxious self. This produced many sweet moments between him and his girlfriend Amy. There were also some very real moments between Drew and Sarah, Drew and Amber, Drew and Seth, and even Drew and Mark. I loved every one.

I also quite enjoyed the romance between Sarah and Mark. I mean, I've loved Jason Ritter ever since I saw Raise Your Voice, but I thought he did a particularly good job here. At times, Mark seemed unrealistic--too perfect, too patient, too understanding. But, for the most part, the show did a good job of keeping such problems at bay. Towards the end of the season especially, they spotlighted Mark's naiveté, and the basic problems of the age difference and generational difference between him and Sarah. Maybe, sometimes, Mark was a little too perfect. But I loved him so much I didn't care. I died during the "I want to have a baby with you" moment. It was amazing.

I found the Crosby-Adam storyline more uneven. I didn't hate the secretary/cheating story. Didn't love it though. Also didn't love some of the awkward Cee Lo Green stuff and the Adam being cool stuff. Sometimes, I wanted to kill Kristina for all her butting in. But, on the whole, I was happy. I mean, I hated that Adam always got to be the good guy, and, no matter what, Crosby was always viewed as the screw up. But that's frustration with life, not the show. I find Crosby and Adam's relationship pretty fascinating, so it was a pleasure to simply watch it in action.

In this respect, the finale frustrated me. The show did such a great job all season portraying the money struggles of Adam's family. Then, in the finale, when he's given an opportunity to solve them all, he doesn't take it. He tells Haddie she can have it all, all she's worked so hard for all these years, but then he takes that back. In the finale at least, there were no repercussions. I really hope there are next season.

Generally, though, I liked the finale. Drew and Amy had sweet small moments. Jasmine and Crosby finally got their happily ever after. Now, I may have thought the whole separated parents storyline might have been a little bit more interesting to see longterm, but I don't really care. I just liked seeing them so happy. I also liked that Mark might stick around--he's just so sweet, I don't want to see him go.

Then, of course, there's the whole Julia/Joel ending. Personally, I liked it. Unlike many critics, I didn't feel tricked by the whole "sky baby" thing. I love that they got an older kid. I think that offers many, many fascinating stories for next year. On the whole, the adoption story line was messy and a little clunky. But, in my opinion, they nailed the ending, and I'm optimistic they can continue they story well next season.

I also loved that the finale functioned so well as both a season and series finale. To me, that is a real achievement. Throughout this post I’ve been talking about next season, next season, next season. Given the relatively low ratings of the show, there may not be a next season. If so, I really think the final episode is a good end to the series. Everyone is left in a happy, satisfied place. Crosby has Jasmine, Jabbar, and a successful business. Adam has Kristina and the kids and Crosby and everything. He may not have all the money he needs, but he has people who love him. Sarah has Mark. Drew has Amy. Amber is actually pursuing something resembling a career path. Haddie is going to Cornell. Julia and Joel have their new little boy. Everyone has at least some degree of a happy ending.

At the same time, though, there are now a ton of new stories to tell. What is going to happen with Sarah and Mark? Are they actually going to get married? What will be the fall out of Adam’s decision? Will Crosby and Jasmine really be able to make it work? And, of course, how are Joel and Julia going to deal with their new son, who is older than their daughter? There is a ton of exciting material for next season. To me, the Joel and Julia adoption is the perfect type of cliffhanger—one which generates tons of new stories, but isn’t too ridiculous or out of step with the universe of the show.

This year both my mother and my best friend fell in love with Parenthood. Given the amazing season they had, I’d dare to suggest you’d have to be insane not to.

Review: Shut Out

Book: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Summary: When Lissa is repeatedly ditched by her boyfriend Randy for the silly hockey vs. soccer rivalry, she decides to take a stand, and convinces all the girlfriends of the waring athletes to go on a "sex strike" until the fighting stops. If only she didn't fall for the captain of the boys opposition.


In many ways, Shut Out is a perfectly average contemporary YA romance novel. It has the decoy boyfriend, this time named Randy. It follows a plot somewhat similar to Elizabeth Eulberg's The Lonely Hearts Club, where the protagonist leads a group of girls on a boy strike. It of course has the dreamy male lead and the happily ever after.

In a one way, though, Shut Out is extraordinary: in Shut Out, Keplinger is able to understand the secrets of teenage girls.

Keplinger understands the small moments that mean so much. One I loved was when the protagonist, Lissa, returns to the home of an old friend after a long falling out. This house feels so familiar to her, like a favourite song from childhood or a stroll through an alma mater. As she says, it feels like she's transported back through time, like she's thirteen again. I know that feeling. I understand it entirely. I have a friend from high school just like that. For two years we were the best of friends. Then, life happened, and we were normal teenagers, and we changed. But she was still in my social group. For New Year's this year, I attended a party with all my high school friends. It was at her house. It felt so weird for me, because, unlike most people, I knew where the bathroom was, and I knew her parents. I had spent hours and hours at that house in a previous life. As Keplinger describes, it was like going back in time. This is not something I talk about really or a feeling my friends describe. It's a small moment, a personal moment, yet somehow, Keplinger found that moment and managed to capture it.

Keplinger also understands the complexity of young female sexuality. I talked about it a lot in a previous post, but I'll repeat: I am not ready to have sex. But it's really more than that. I am uncomfortable with sexuality in general. I hate all the stupid innuendos people make. I hate all the stupid classes I have discussing sexual poems or, as my teacher termed it, "Canadian erotica". It makes me really uncomfortable. With my first boyfriend, I felt an intense guilt over any remotely sexual activities--even kissing. It's embarrassing to admit it, but I felt dirty. I was ashamed. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Keplinger was able to capture those feelings in Shut Out. She was also able to understand the secrecy that surrounds such feelings or any sexualization, even among the best of friends. I think a lot about dating; I never discuss it with my best friend. I have a few friends that I think have had sex, but I don't know. We don't talk about it. It's secret. And yet, somehow, Kody Keplinger knows about it.

She knows the girl like me who's ashamed by both her experience and her lack of experience. She knows the girl who is proud of herself, confident in her decisions, but shunned by society. She understands the double standards society imposes on female sexuality, but not male sexuality. She gets it. 

I really enjoyed reading Shut Out. The romance between Lissa and non-decoy boyfriend Cash is really great, as he actually gets to be a real, vulnerable human being. Lissa is a good protagonist, with an interesting internal struggle. Those are reasons I would recommend this book. But the reason I will remember this book is because of the secrets it finally allows me to share.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: Awkward

Book: Awkward by Marni Bates

Summary: Mackenzie is smart, nerdy, and, above all, awkward. She routinely embarrasses her little brother and humiliates herself, but that's nothing compared to her CPR attempt that makes her a national Youtube star.


I really enjoyed Awkward.

I really liked Mackenzie as a protagonist. Often, books will say a character is "smart", but will never show it. But Mackenzie actually knows stuff and understands things! Bates goes out of her way to not just tell, but show that Mackenzie is intelligent, which I loved.

Whenever so-called "nerds" are main characters, be it in books, tv shows, or movies, they always get great grades without lifting a finger or sacrificing anything. Joey Potter from Dawson's Creek is a great example of this faux-nerd phenomenon--she gets amazing marks, but, somehow, she still has time to hang out with her friends and get caught up in a love triangle with Dawson and Pacey. Not realistic. In Awkward, Marni Bates finally tells the story of a real nerd. Someone who really cares about school. Someone like me.

Mackenzie works hard for her marks, and she thinks like an academic student: if I do this tonight instead of studying, I promise to study all day Saturday. She is an actual, realistic student! It was so nice for me to finally see such a big part of my life reflected in what I read! Thank you! Hallelujah!

I also loved Mackenzie's friends and her brother. They are all hilarious and smart and stupid and real. I loved the little silent conversation she had with Jane, and, of course, I loved Corey.

Of course, I also loved the romance (Have I ever not?). Logan is a good boy: well developed, flawed, but also noble and understanding and sweet.

One thing I really found interesting in the book was the use of drinking as a narrative device. Mackenzie goes to a party and gets really drunk. Slowly, she remembers pieces of her night, which the reader knows almost all of. It creates an interesting case of dramatic irony, something you rarely see in first person novels for obvious reasons.

Anyone who's been around YA long enough will liken this book to Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait!. The similarities are undeniable--sudden, unwanted fame, involvement with a band, tv show spot to clear her name. And those similarities annoyed me a teeny bit, I will admit. But, overall, it doesn't matter. Because Awkward was awesome enough on its own that it allowed me to mostly ignore these coincidences.

All in all, Awkward is a unique, funny, enjoyable read. I'd gladly recommend it to any YA fans--particularly all the nerdy teenage girls out there.

Is Dumbledore Gay?

Believe it or not, this is actually a philosophical question, not a gay question or really even a Harry Potter question. What it is is a question I debate a lot with my friends, a debate I thought it might be interesting to move online.

Everybody probably already knows this, but to summarize:

J.K. Rowling wrote seven books about a boy wizard. The last one was published in July 2007. In October 2007 Rowling announced that the character of Dumbledore was gay. The world erupted, as it is prone to with such matters, so much so that there is a whole thing on wikipedia  and, of course, more on Dumbledore's own wiki page.

As a Harry Potter fan, I really don't care if Dumbledore's gay one way or another. What I care about is larger literary philosophy behind such a fact, which really begs this question:

Is something true or fact if it's not included in the actual text/source? 

My answer:

No. I choose to take whatever the author gives me in the book and nothing more. So, for me, Dumbledore is not gay, not because I care about his sexual orientation, but because J.K. Rowling never bothered to include this fact in the actual books. Likewise, the twins' birthday is not April 1st, but some unknown day. I do not know Edward's thoughts upon first meeting Bella, because Midnight Sun wasn't a real, complete, published book.

Anything else: any online stuff, any comments, any articles, is all extra. Sometimes fun extra, but still extra. So, I read Midnight Sun, for example, but it's not part of Twilight to me.

My best friend's answer:

Dumbledore is gay. The twins' birthday is April 1st. These are facts because J.K. Rowling said so. It's not that she didn't bother to put them in the books, but that she didn't have time. Basically, J.K. Rowling is God and everything she says goes.

She reasons that it may not have all fit in the book. For example, HP is written from Harry's point of view. Well, why in the world would Harry know Dumbledore's sexual orientation? Why would this ever have been relevant to Harry's story? It wouldn't have, which is why it is not there, not why it is not fact.

What do you guys think:

Does it only count if it's in the text? Is Dumbledore gay?

Interesting Link, where the same topic is discussed and dissected further.

Interesting Link II:, where John Green shares his own opinions on the subject and JK Rowling specifically.

Book Review: Divergent

I don't do many book reviews anymore, and I feel guilty about that. So here you go.

Book: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Summary: YOU HAVE ONE CHOICE TO MAKE (and I'm not going to tell you anymore about it since my copy of the book said nothing but "ONE CHOICE WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING" over and over again. I went into it knowing nothing, so I won't spoil it for others.)


There are a lot of ways to view this book or frame this review. I first started by centring it around the obvious Hunger Games comparisons, but that felt limiting and insulting. I could also talk about the insane popularity of this book in the blogosphere over the last year. But, instead, I think I'm just going to say this: Divergent is a very good book.

The first thing that makes it so awesome is the well thought out world. It is dystopian, futuristic novel, but it feels real and grounded. I understand how our world could devolve in such a way; I understand the logic behind the new world order. Unlike the dystopian settings of The Giver or, well, Hunger Games, I am not shocked or disgusted or alienated by the world of Divergent. To me, that is a major strength of Veronica Roth's novel. It made me very interested to learn more about the world and the different factions. At first, certain factions seem completely evil or insane, but, then, you see the true philosophy behind them and you understand why some people would think that way, why that would make sense. It's a very different world than the one we currently live in, but I can see how we could get from here to there.

I was reading on Veronica Roth's website about how it was hard to write from Tris's first person point of view all the time and still build the world and develop all the factions. Fantasy and science fiction really aren't my genres, so I hadn't really thought about such a problem. It's interesting to me, and, overall, I think Roth does a good job developing her world through Tris's experiences, in many different way. First, Tris experiences two factions in the novel. Then, she has friends or relatives from other factions that provide more information. There were a few places with gaps (what exactly is going on over there in Amity exactly?), but, all in all, I commend Roth on her world building skills.

I also commend her for building such a strong character in Tris. I really liked spending 500 pages in Tris's head. Of course, you're going to want me to compare her to Katniss Everdeen, and it's a fair comparison. They certainly have similarities: bravery, selflessness, courage, strength. But Tris is no Katniss. Because, my God, Katniss drove me up a wall. Oh, my life is so horrible, two guys are in love with me and I have no idea what to do. Kill me now. Tris has more emotion; she's more relatable, more flawed. I loved that she was short (yay for the short girl!) and that that actually played into the novel. I loved that she had the real fears and doubts and desires of a normal teenage girl. One minute she's kicking butt; the next, she's a girl afraid of getting close with her first boyfriend. I also liked how smart she was, though, at times, that did get on my nerves.

Like I said, I don't read much fantasy or science fiction. So, the comparisons I make are going to be quite rudimentary, relying on only the most popular novels and I may make incorrect assumptions about the genre. Sorry--if you want to get into a throw down about young adult romance, I can take you any day of the week, but if you want to talk about scifi, I'll forfeit right now. But what I do know of the genre, and what I've read, is a recurring character that is getting on my nerves: the "special" protagonist. The Boy Who Lived. The girl who can't have her mind read by vampires. And, now, the Divergent girl.

I was already so interested in the world and in Tris's character and family and hilarious and unique friends, that, quite frankly, I didn't need any of the "special" stuff. To me, that was the weakest part of the story. Why can't anyone ever be normal anymore?!?

For much of the novel, I also struggled with accepting Tris's decision about her faction. Ultimately, Roth convinced me that Tris had made the right choice, but it took a good long while. I suppose one could say that my uncertainty mirrored Tris's own uncertainty over her choice. What I would say is that I was frustrated. Why does the protagonist always have to choose the most dangerous, quite frankly stupid choice? Why does Katniss have to save Prim? Why does Bella have to go for the one guy who's a vampire? Again, why can't anyone ever make normal, logical choices?

Ultimately, though, the non-normal stuff wasn't too much of a problem for me with Divergent. The rest of the book was just so good. So well written. The book is patient, allowing time for characters to actually get to know each other and properly develop. The writing is so realistic, allowing for the little quite moments and the great observations.

The romance is also pretty good. Not my favourite ever, but leaps and bounds ahead of the whole Gale/Peeta/Katniss mess or the Edward/Jacob/Bella debacle. Ahead of Harry/Ginny certainly. Only behind Ron and Hermione, because, come on, no one's going to beat them. But Tris's romance comes close. I loved the slow build. I didn't necessarily think the guy had that much personality, but I loved their moments together so much that I didn't care. I also loved his vulnerability.

I was a little bit bothered by the whole cliched sex discussion, which, as always, went like this:

Girl: "I don't think I'm ready to have sex"
Boy: "That's okay. I want more than just sex."
Girl: "Really?"
Boy: "Of course, I like you too much to care about anything else."

Um, yeah. That only reflected my experiences in life NOT AT ALL. But that's not fair--she isn't writing just to me. I am sure there are boys on this planet who would actually be awesome enough to say "okay, I accept that", but, I swear, even then, it wouldn't be that simple. Stepping out of the world of science fiction for a minute, I look to Meg Cabot's Princess in Training, where Mia starts the same conversation with Michael, but it doesn't go so smoothly:

Mia: "I'm not ready to have sex."
Michael: "Oh, okay...but when will you be?"
Mia: "I don't know"
Michael: "Well, that's okay, for now...."

Cause, I mean, Michael's a cool guy and all (I love Michael, I love Michael, I love Michael), but he's, you know, a real human being, with real desires and ideas of his own.

It's not that I suddenly want every guy to say NO, NOT COOL. I just wish it wasn't the same scene, over and over. Why is it always the girl who's scared and has to start the conversation? Why does the good guy always have to be the guy who is either asexual or super understanding?

I've tangented all over the place here, and, really, it isn't fair to get bad at Veronica Roth for a trope that permeates the entire freaking YA genre. Just a pet peeve of mine.

Anyways, I'll stop rambling on now, except to say that Divergent is a pretty great book. A very  enjoyable read. You can bet I'll be buying Insurgent on May 1st.

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