The Shape of Water

Hey there, friends and fans! I have been wanting to watch The Shape of Water since I first saw the announcement about it. I was beyond disappointed to miss it in theaters, but I am ecstatic to say that I finally got to see it this week. I can very easily say that I am not at all surprised that it won and was nominated for so many awards. The film absolutely oozes sophistication and originality. I can honestly say it is one my favorite films of all time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the film, it’s a tale of a mute woman in 1960’s America who realizes the institution she works for is studying a creature that is basically a modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film studies a number of themes including race relations, equality, sexuality, and personal identity. Our main character, Elisa, goes from a monotonous life with her friends and coworkers, almost invisible to the powers that be, to a bold and courageous woman, a hero to this creature that has otherwise known pain and judgement from modern man (aside from apparently being treated like a god by an unnamed Amazonian tribe that is).

I was enthralled from the start of this movie and I truly didn’t want it to end. I found Elisa to be an incredible person, with a nearly infallible character. Elisa’s entire experience with the creature was that he accepted her, he loved her, he made her feel whole and special for the first time in her life. As a mute woman, she was no stranger to mocking and disrespect, a tertiary character in the film repeatedly referring to her as ‘mutie’ and ‘dummy’ (a common colloquial term for those unable to speak in the past was that they were dumb or , if they also could not hear, deaf and dumb). So it was very important for her that this humanoid creature didn’t see her in terms of her difference, the explanation of which is one of the more endearing and heartbreaking scenes in the film for me. The themes of acceptance and equality steer this movie in a direction that couldn’t even have been hinted at in the trailers. From the homosexual neighbor, the African American friend, the mute orphan woman with an unknown background, to the otherworldly creature – each and every one of them is discriminated against in this world. Each and every one of them is met with opposition and stifled in some way throughout the film. And they band together. They stand in light of adversity and they win. They are each targeted by the ‘average, white, American male’ and they come out on top.

Persistence, decency, and love basically run the film’s two hour run time and bring us a tale that honestly warms the heart. From Elisa’s friendship with Giles, to her instant attempt at understanding with the creature, dubbed Amphibian Man by the film’s credits, the characters show us a bit about what it means to be human. Even the moderate humorous elements of the film stand to teach a lesson in humility and understanding.

I was intrigued to see the continued use of water itself and its own importance in Elisa’s life even before meeting the Amphibian Man. From her daily bath, to the boiling eggs, to the very image of rain itself, water is one of the most important elements of life and of the film.

I think the only thing that really threw me off about the film was the ending itself. I do like the open-ended nature of the story, but the transformation element is one that was a little odd for me.

Overall the film is an absolutely incredible work of art. It is a love story written for love stories themselves. Guillermo del Toro wanted to create a story and film stronger than anything, that could fill any space and be exactly what it needs to be – just as water is. And The Shape of Water is exactly that. With an amazing cast, an incredible message, and a story that will remain as timeless as its presentation, this film is one that will forever be in the annals of film history. The message of equality and the almost demand for justice for all those affected by prejudice of any kind could not have come at a better time in this world, either. In a political climate consistently pushed toward discrimination and judgement and a social tendency for the same, this film is beacon of light in the darkness that has plagued mankind. To me, the message is clear: we all need to come together in love and understanding and put an end to the meaningless squabbles that arise over minor differences. The separation and judgement that affects daily life in this world has to come to an end before we truly destroy teach other, ourselves, and what beauty remains in this world. Of course, until such a thing happens, this film and works of art that hold similar themes will remain of the utmost importance.

But what did you guys think of the film? Have you seen it yet? Did you read as deeply into it as I did, or was it just another movie for you? I’d love to know your thoughts. As always, I’m definitely interested in hearing about what you guys want to read about here or hear about in the podcast. Leave me comments or reach out to me on my contact page on my website. I hope you guys are enjoying the holiday season, and I wish you all the best in the last few weeks of 2018!

**The featured image of this post is an original image by Edgewise Art (https://facebook.com/edgewise.art/): I retain no rights to the image, nor did I have any part in creating it.

The Sublime Nature of Grief

Since the loss of my grandmother my life has been full of a lot of conflicting emotions. I’ve dealt with the loss as best I can, trying hard to honor her memory and move forward. One thing that is always painfully obvious when we lose someone close to us is that everyone deals with loss in their own way. What works for one person may not work for another, and one loss may not affect us the same as another. No matter how you handle the situation, sooner or later you will come to a time when you have to not only face the loss, but yourself.

This week I took some time on a particularly hard day and tried to do that. In an attempt to connect with myself, God, nature, and my grandmother I went to a local dam and nature area for some peace and quiet. If you’re unfamiliar with the summer season in the Appalachian mountains, we often have very hot days in the month of August. A number of summer afternoons often see some good thunderstorms or at least a nice passing shower or two. This, of course, can lead to amazingly beautiful foggy conditions. So much so that there is an old wives’ tale my grandmother used to remind me of often; if you count the foggy mornings in August that’s the amount of big snow events you’ll have that winter.

One of my favorite things in life is to find myself in the midst of a heavy fog, pondering the sublime mystery of the shrouded world around me. Is anyone else in the fog? Am I completely and utterly alone? What do the shadowy figures in the thick cloud represent? The feeling of floating in a cloud, the world around me oblivious of my own ideas and presence is marvelous. One of the best moments of my life has been in conditions like this. To say it has a special place in my heart and soul is a definite understatement.

When I arrived at my destination that evening, I had no idea the fantastic occurrence that awaited me. As soon as I rounded a curve in the road and my eyes fell on the river I was greeted with an amazingly thick, ghostly fog floating about a foot above the water. It snaked across the surface of the river like a living, breathing cloud. It rolled and swirled with the breeze, twisting like the spirit of the river itself. After a quick visit to top of the dam, I returned to the riverside and crossed a bridge to an island in the river, an island surrounded by fog.

I found a bench in the midst of this beauty and sat by the riverside, letting the sublime consume me. I communed with nature, God, my grandmother, and myself. I spent probably just under an hour there by the riverside, fog rising and rolling around me, taking photos and trying to find relief from my own strained internal presence. By the time I was ready to leave the fog had risen higher and was rolling over the top of the bridge that was my pathway.

Crossing this bridge, I was able to stand in the middle of the fog and feel the cool moisture settle on my skin. I breathed in the earthy mist and watched the world around me become veiled and reemerge anew over and over as the cloud rolled by. A sense of peace settled on me as this happened, bringing me some relief and allowing me to just enjoy the cool evening. It was a superb experience, and one that I won’t soon forget.

Before the loss of my grandmother, it had been years since I lost someone close to me. I haven’t dealt with loss in a way that other people do, depression and stress affecting me in a serious way. Because of this I feel like being able to express those issues and have experiences like I had this week are very important. If it has taught me anything it is that we all must find what works for us. Avoiding the mourning process and not allowing ourselves to grieve the way we need to is not helpful. It isn’t healthy. One thing that we have to admit and be aware of is that we may sometimes need more time than others to get over a loss. We may need time alone, or time with others, or even a mix. Whatever it is that you need in order to cope, you have to figure it out.

Embrace yourself, the world around you, and whatever helps make you more you. The things that bring you back to feeling like yourself are the things you need to cope with the loss. Don’t allow anyone, especially yourself, keep you from that healing magic. It can truly be life-changing. Honestly, it can be the difference between your own life and death.

Reach out to someone. Never be ashamed of your feelings, your hardships, your needs. Find the relief you need and make sure you are getting enough of whatever it is to help you return to the you you want to be. Accept yourself, accept your loss, but don’t let the grief and mourning consume you. Life can go on, if you find out how to let it. Happiness can return. Even if it’s just one step at a time.

Although I will never truly be over the loss of my grandmother, I now have an idea of what I can do to help me cope when things get tough. I will do what I can to make sure I am allowing myself the proper time and space to be able to let myself, and my grandmother’s memory, continue on.

If you are mourning, grieving, or otherwise in any emotional need, reach out to someone. I’d be more than happy to listen to anything you need. Find your method and make sure you’re returning your soul to its necessary health.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Happy Monday, everyone. This was an awesome book. Obviously, even though I made my schedule for the year and said I was only doing series reviews this year, the review bug and the need to discuss literature is absolutely irresistible. Call it the teacher in me. (It’s also indescribably thrilling to say that). Anyway, let’s dive into the discussion about this great work of art.

First and foremost I have to say that this book was a pleasant surprise. I first got the urge to read it after seeing the trailer for the movie (which, if you haven’t noticed, tends to happen a lot. When the worlds of art mediums collide I go a little nuts at times). I thought, based on the trailer and the reviews, that the story would be an interesting experience, and I was very right. The writing was something that I was automatically able to relate to, YA novels being easy going and workable in the best way.

The author, Becky Albertalli, presents her audience with a story that encompasses generations and breaks a lot of emotional barriers. I was instantly impressed with Simon’s maturity. For a junior in high school, he is already more than capable of understanding himself and has an immense threshold for emotion. Although it was a decade ago, I don’t think I remember many of the people I went to school with being capable of quite his level of adulthood.

Simon is a kid who realizes that he is gay. In today’s society coming to terms with that is obviously not quite as shunned as it was, say 20 years ago, but it is still one of the most difficult things some people can ever admit. This book does a fantastic job of delving into the problems with our world and the issues people have just letting other people be themselves. One of the biggest conflicts Simon faces is his own worry of how people will perceive the truth about his sexuality – the very nature of who he is. He is convinced that his family and friends, as well as his peers in school, will react negatively to his coming out. The high possibility of this fear being completely justified is driven home by our introduction to Simon, who starts his tale by being blackmailed by a guy in his school who has discovered his secret. Martin finds out Simon’s truth and decides to use it to benefit himself – by getting a date with one of Simon’s best friends. Great guy, right?

From here Simon’s tale turns into a roller coaster of emotion and experience. I found myself repeatedly blown away by Simon’s life. He has amazing friends and a great family. For the first half of the book we go with Simon on his journey of emailing his crush and dealing with his fear that the world will throw him aside and destroy him if they find out what he’s holding from them. The dynamic between Simon and his friends and family leaves nothing to be desired here. Even after he is unwillingly outed to the world, Simon’s close peers are more understanding than he could have ever imagined. His father, who has made lighthearted gay jokes for his entire life, is forced to face the music and comes to terms with how hurtful these words can be to his son. Something that he accepts and immediately apologizes for. As a whole, the reader is almost able to breathe a sigh of relief with Simon as he immerses himself into his life after everyone knows his secret. Very little changes for Simon once he goes back to school. Of course, there are a handful of immature people who make their remarks and poke fun, but the author is very careful to spin the story away from that. I do feel that she is trying to speak to new generations about how different the world is today, giving Simon a support base that provides him with everything he needs to understand that he is still loved for who he is, which hopefully will allow teens facing similar issues a doorway for the same.

I really don’t want to give much of the detail of this book out, because it is really something you just have to read. Simon’s story is absolutely his own, and I won’t take that from him. I feel no consternation saying that this is a book every single person with a pulse should read, regardless of your sexuality. Albertalli is very good at giving her audience everything they need to slide seamlessly into the scene. For much of the book I honestly related more to Simon’s life than I ever expected to.

For me one of the most important things this work brings to the table is the crucial need for humans to be accepting of one another. For decades the issue of gay and LGBTQ rights have been on the forefront of most news outlets. People have protested and marched, people have written letters and books, people have stood and fasted and done all nature of things to draw attention to this. As a Christian man in America I have heard so much about this issue, and I’ve always found it painful. For me the biggest problem with this entire issue is the very idea that we as a species feel we have any right to even question the desire of another person.

The issue of “the norm” is brought up repeatedly in the novel, and it spoke to me above all else. Simon repeatedly posits why straight and white are the norms, and it really drives the whole novel home. Anyone who has seen the movie trailer knows this is also a facet of the movie, and the question itself is one of the most important things Albertalli brought to the public eye. For me, everyone is important. Everyone is special. Everyone is worth living and loving. There is no such thing as “normal.” Living in a very rural area, I have unfortunately seen the culture of unacceptance, and I’ve never really understood it.

The idea that anyone feels they have a right to tell another person who they have a right to love is one of the biggest issues we can discuss in relation to Simon’s conflict. Every human on this planet is their own person, with their own reality, their own personality. Who we love is not the business of others and it is not for anyone on this planet to say who we can and cannot love – who we can and cannot be. I think the dichotomy of Simon’s unfortunate blackmail experience accompanied by his fear of this harsh possibility is something that speaks volumes as well.

Overall, I can’t think of much that I would change about this book. I would love to get more of a perspective of how Simon’s life changed after he figured out who Blue was (I won’t spoil that here!), of course. We get some of that experience, naturally, but I would really like to get a sort of long-haul look. Maybe a follow-up novel detailing Simon’s senior year, or his transition to college would be a good idea (hint hint, Becky!). I would also like to see more of an internal scope of Martin’s point of view about the whole thing.

Regardless, I definitely recommend this book. It will open your eyes to a point of view that some people intentionally avoid and it will give you a new perspective on life. As always, I’m working on my own writing as well behind the scenes and I am enjoying my journey as well. My review of the Harry Potter series will be up later this month as planned, and I’ll be looking into another series review after that if my work schedule permits it. Of course, there will likely be another few books that insist I discuss them as well, so be sure to tag along for the journey!! Feel free to share your comments about this book or any of my other reviews, and leave me any suggestions you have about a future review. I love to check them out! Have an awesome week, and stay tuned for the updates I’ll have for you on my many projects.

Sleeping Beauties 

Another King great tackled! In case you need another reminder, Stephen King is obviously my favorite author and, as I said with my review of “Horns,” he obviously passed his talent on to his children. That remains true in regards to this novel as well, in my opinion. “Sleeping Beauties” jumps right in to Dooling County, West Virginia to present us with a quite fantastical tale of a world where females who fall asleep develop strange cocoons and find their collective consciousnesses transported to an alternate reality, dimension or mental locale that is free of men. Meant to give the women a fresh start, the worlds are very much strained by this occurrence and the decisions made by both sexes regarding their futures and the present.

First off, I did enjoy this novel. I would not place it as high on my favorites list as things like “Dreamcatcher” or “IT,” but it was good. One of the appeals for me, naturally, was the fact that it takes place in fictional Dooling County, West Virginia. The hefty little bit of fiction is located around an hour from where I grew up in Virginia, so the descriptions of the mountainous regions of my youth were interesting to say the least.

I really enjoyed the story itself. Putting women in this alternate reality and placing men in the position of figuring out what to do next was very interesting to me. I liked the way the Kings pushed the sleep element, having some of their characters stay awake for days and use all sort of methods to do so. The fact that sleep was the gateway to this new reality poses an interesting situation in itself, for me, as it hints at the age-old possibility that our dreams are literal gateways to alternate universes and all sorts of incredible places. 

The character of Eve Black was a mystery that I feel really added a lot to the story in the form of King’s classic supernatural element. Not that women developing their own personal weirdo cocoons wasn’t supernatural enough, of course. I really enjoyed the dynamic Eve presented with her mysterious past, strange powers and obvious knowledge of what was happening and why. The fact that she played the devil’s advocate between Frank and Clint (the opposite ends of the male reaction spectrum in this situation) definitely adds to her mysterious role in the overall event. Her behavior and attitude did make her a character that I couldn’t get a feel for. I’m still not sure if I like her or not. 

The Kings presented us with a view of mankind that, as sad as it is to admit, is scarily accurate. Men are often the more gung ho, shoot-first-ask-questions-later, self preserving type, while women tend to consider consequences more often. Granted that is very much a generalization, it is the large basis of the book. Some men decide the only way to fix the issues at hand here is to burn the sleeping women in their cocoons and hope for the best. Why these men didn’t realize this would make reproduction, and thus further life in this reality,  virtually impossible, I really don’t know, but that’s a different issue altogether.

I enjoyed the way the Kings worked in morals on both sides of the large tree that represents the gateway between the two worlds represented in the novel. Seeing how the men, both logical and illogical, choose to handle the situation helps us to get a handle on the representation of mysoginisitic versus logical ways of thinking presented in the book. Seeing the characters that would rather burn the women in their cocoons than find a cure, I think, represents the people in this world who choose the “attack first” method of solving problems. Those who are more careful, who want to figure out what is going on and why, represent the elements of mankind that, more or less, are more apt to allow us to have a real future.

To me that is really the core of the book itself. Eve’s purpose, and the reason the women are in the cocoons in the first place, is to emphasize the flawed nature many men exist under (i.e. men have ruined the world with violence) and to give women the option to “start over” without that tainted method of influence. 

Overall, the Kings present a very interesting book with a strong “1984-esque” message warning us as a species to stop resorting to violence and start understanding we need to work together to survive. At least that’s what I took from it. The book itself was very enjoyable, if a bit of an odd take on things, but it definitely was not without its faults. 

I had a bit of an issue with the overall representation of life in the Appalachian Mountains, being a native and resident of the mountains myself. The Kings repeatedly insinuated, if not outright said, that the area is nothing more than a hole filled with drug addicts, uneducated people, abusive men and adulterers. Which is very much an exaggeration of Bromdingnagian proportions. While these things do exist in the mountains, they do everywhere else as well, and it is a very unfortunate representation of an area that is already often considered to be deplorable and sordid in nature by mainstream media.

Furthermore,  I feel there was a lot of things left to be desired in the Eve storyline. Like who was she and where did she come from in the first place. Obviously the name Eve calls us to biblical origins with a possible holy connotation, but that was never confirmed for me. I also got a similar vibe from this book that I received from Under the Dome, where (spoiler alert) we realize aliens are actually in control of the Dome. This wasn’t mentioned, but Eve’s talk of herself and her mission led me to consider it. I also would have liked more of an explanation as to why Clint was the man she chose to save her, or for that matter why Dooling, West Virginia and it’s residents, which, based on King’s own description aren’t worth the trouble, were the basis for the rest of the planet. The women of Dooling got to decide the fate of every other woman in the planet when they chose to leave “their place.” Not to mention Frank and Clint and the other men of the town were the ones who decided the world’s fate in this reality. Why? Was it random? Was it thought out? What was so special about this town and its people? Furthermore, has Eve done this before? Will she do it again? And in general, what was up with the moths? And just what in the world was Eve in the first place?? And will the men and women of earth understand what happened well enough to make real changes to their lifestyles to keep it from happening again?

As you can see, there are plenty of questions I feel could have been answered by the text or offered through consideration. Granted there are likely questions and answers that I missed, I think you all get the point. One thing I didn’t delve too much into was the obvious misogyny offered in various ways, either through women who were described more by their appearance than anything else, or by those who were overly reliant on others or something else of the sort. Just know that I did notice, and I don’t agree with it, but delving too much into it in this review would bring this to a whole new level. If you’d like to discuss it in the comments, I’m more than willing! 

I hope you all enjoyed this nice fantastical read for the month of November. It certainly was interesting and I look very forward to discussing it!! I’ll be making another post in the next few days regarding our December read, and a very special announcement of my own. In the meantime, I would love to get everyone’s opinion on a possibility I’ve considered recently. I’ve noticed that podcasts are coming back as a popular way for people to reach out to each other with news and ideas and I’m considering giving it a whirl. I’ve thought about posting a podcast to help me delve further into discussions of my book club reads, or maybe discussing my work or answering questions about writing, or maybe just as a discussion piece for us all to come into contact – the possibilities are endless, but I wanted to get your opinions. Would you guys like to check out a podcast on my site every now and then? Would you like to join in discussions in that way, or maybe even see some guests authors come in and record one here and there? Let me know what you all think! Leave me comments or shoot me a message! 

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween, everyone!! I trust October has been a spectacularly spooky month for everyone, hopefully made all the much eerier thanks to this month’s book club read. William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” has been fascinating and terrifying audiences for nearly half a century now, but the text itself is written in a fairly timeless manner that allows the spooks and scares within to still affect readers today. The subject of many controversies of both religious and moral natures, “The Exorcist” still finds a way to worm its way into the minds of those daring enough to delve into its demonic depths.

First and foremost I have to say that, as a horror buff, this book has long been on my list of must-reads. The fact that I got to read it in October, for my Halloween book club choice admittedly makes it even better to me. The way Blatty tackles the very difficult subjects of possession and its effects on those around the possessed are still admirable qualities of the book. The helplessness that seems to drip off the pages from both Chris MacNeil and Father Karras are enough to give the reader cause for tears with each new chapter. The fact that Reagan’s consciousness is completely absent for the majority of the novel is something that differs from other exorcism tales of similar caliber. I like that, rather than being made to feel sorry for her because she begs us to, we are made to feel sorry for her because she doesn’t get the option of asking. I think that was an incredibly wise choice on Blatty’s part.

The continuous allusion to Karras’s failed faith, and the hints that he had done or said something wrong that wasn’t explicitly laid out by those around him is one of the endearing qualities of the novel for me. I loved the constant struggle between his science and medicine-based training for psychiatry and his religious need to see the meaning behind things and try to save Reagan’s life – even her soul. One thing that has seen slight controversy and confusion for critics of the work is the reveal of what Karras’s guilt may stem from. It comes from the end of the novel, when the demon is pushing him and screaming at him, and it’s one word in a part of the novel that moves about as fast as a bullet car. “homosexual.” The demon tells Karras what he has feared throughout the entire novel; he is not worthy. He is, in fact, so corrupt that worms won’t eat his corpse. The fact that this has slipped by without scrutiny and analysis for so long, to me, is a testament to both the author and the readers. Blatty spun the web so well that we see Karras’s worth, despite his worry. Even the critics of a time when being gay was seen as incredibly taboo didn’t have much to say about this because Blatty made it obvious that this made Karras no less worthy, no less of a holy man. I am rather fond of that and applaud him for it. I would have liked to see a short scene with Karras finally feeling his worth, but of course that could be his death scene if one chooses to interpret it that way.

I like the research that was put into this book as well. So often popular culture spins exorcism as an easy thing to get. You just tell a priest you  have a demon and soon there’s holy water and pea soup everywhere. But that’s not the case. The Church (notice that organizational classification) has rendered exorcism as a very taboo last resort. There are definitely hoops that must be jumped through and proof that has to be gathered before priests will be bringing The Host into your house and trying to rend the devil from within. The fact the Blatty emphasized that heavily here, and even presented us with a knife’s edge that could have led to Reagan’s death had the church gone in the other direction are further reasons I respect his work to no end. I loved the use of other languages, mentions of both religious and occult texts, and the overall feeling of added stress the reader is given at having to follow this proof-gathering quest. Had Karras been able to walk in and say “yeah, let’s do an exorcism” I don’t think the book would be nearly the great piece of work it is today.

There were a couple of things I had problems with, of course. One thing that I’m sure many of you noticed ( at least I hope it wasn’t just me) was Blatty’s style. He was great at setting up a scene for the most part, but there were times when his execution fell flat. A lot of times in the novel I found myself wondering why such pointless dialogue and irrelevant detail made it into the scene. I don’t know if Blatty just wasn’t good at dialogue, or if that was just his way. I haven’t read anything else from him yet, so I may have to return to that question at a later date. I also would have liked some sort of clear resolution of the strange priest that appeared to Karras in his room before Merrin was approved. We get a very tense conversation for a strange, crutched man who ends in Karras being warned to leave the MacNeils alone and to beware of Sharon, and then he wakes up, leaving us to think the conversation was just a dream before he finds the cigarette in his ashtray. One obvious interpretation would be that it was a nightmare visit from the possessing demon in an attempt to scare him away, but why the strange fat priest, why the crutches, why have him smoke the same imported cigarette as Chris, and why the warning to beware of Sharon? Am I missing something? One more minor thing I have a slight confusion about; Pazuzu is mentioned by Merrin, the statue of Pazuzu is the forefront of the beginning of the novel, and the name comes up again, but I don’t recall the demon or even Merrin explicitly saying that Pazuzu is the entity tormenting Reagan. I only bring this up because it has somehow become all but canon with the novel and the culture surrounding it, but I never got the solid affirmation I expected.

Regardless of those things I do think this book is well worth the read. For any lover of horror or even just mystery, this novel will keep you on your toes. I know there are a lot of religious arguments against it, but I don’t know if I understand that. The book certainly doesn’t encourage witchcraft or seeking demonic possession. If anything it does the opposite. Maybe it’s just the fictional representation that can be interpreted as supporting the attempts at exorcism. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, follow your own inclination when considering whether or not to read the novel. I recommend it, particularly keeping in mind the faults I mentioned. As always, I look forward to everyone’s contribution and comments. Feel free to comment on any and all posts or send me a private message anytime (you can send me a message on the website, and you’re welcome to send Facebook messages or DMs on Twitter). I look forward to conversation and further book suggestions! Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit tomorrow night to protect yourself, and keep in mind that, for myself and many others, Wednesday means Christmas will take over everything!!

Bridge to Terabithia

Happy Banned Books Week! I’ve always been a huge fan of celebrating banned books, partly to stick it to the ridiculous censorship-loving administration, but mostly because I find that the books that people don’t want you to read can often offer you the most. This book is definitely a part of that list. I absolutely LOVE it. My first experience came from the movie, but I was immediately enthralled. For the last ten years I have adored the movie and the book. It is actually one of the inspirations behind my own decision to move forward with my desire to be an author.

One of the greatest things about this novel, for me, is the fact that it points to the total liberation of mankind via the imagination. Being written in the 70’s, it was kind of published in that time when kids were first being encouraged to let their imaginations guide them through portions of their lives, and this book captures the cusp of that idea. Jess’s family and fellow students represent those who feel imagination is not something to be given in to. Jess’s parents, consistently burdened with the challenge of feeding the children and running the farm in the fragile economy they live in, can be seen as the old style of shunning imagination and things that aren’t ‘real,’ where others – Leslie in particular – represent the new and liberating views of allowing imagination its place in life.

Leslie’s introduction into Jess’s life really allows him to open up and be who he is meant to be. She doesn’t act or think like the rest of the kids, or even the adults (with the exception of Ms. Edmunds) that he is used to, and that makes him feel more free than he ever imagined. When Jess and Leslie create Terabithia I truly resonated with his description of the mythical magic of the place. He allows Leslie to bring him into this magical realm, but he still has his doubts. Many times he says that he can’t do it without Leslie, or can’t think of it the same as her. His love for Leslie and Ms. Edmunds is what allows him to embrace the creative side of his own life. After Leslie’s death Jess is obviously devastated, particularly considering the fact that his day had been spent further embracing his own love of art and imagination.

I love the way Paterson brings Jess to reality while allowing him to avoid everything involving Leslie’s death. He adamantly denies that she is gone, so much so that after he runs away and is brought home he wakes up almost completely convinced that it was all a guilt-ridden nightmare because he didn’t invite her to the museum. When he is forced to confront the fact of her death he reacts in much the way a child would, destroying memories of her in anger. Once he calms down he begins to instantly doubt himself again. The inspiration and freedom that Leslie brought him threatens to leave. When considering Terabithia he is terrified that he won’t be able to make the magic happen without Leslie, even worries that the make-believe kingdom won’t be there if he goes without her.

The fact that he is able to make the magic happen is, to me, a testament to the amazing power of love and imagination and creativity. Jess is able to keep the magic he and Leslie created, is even able to be in touch with her memory as he reflects on his friendship with her. I love that. I feel like it is a huge representation of the strength we all possess, even in the midst of a tragedy that threatens everything we hold dear.

Another thing I loved about this book is the way Paterson makes Leslie and Ms. Edmunds strong female figures who refuse to fall into the social norms. The feminist themes that offer these two strong female characters a whole other kind of freedom were both embraced and feared when this book was published (and still are today). I find it very important that there is so much emphasis on Leslie and Ms. Edmunds breaking the norms and being their own women, without holding to social construct or listening to “girls can’t do that.” It is a huge testament to the nature of the piece and its deep running themes of freedom and exceptional behavior.

Of course, this is one of the things that has lead to the book being challenged. The language and the obviously difficult ending are two others. The fact that Paterson wrote such a strong and impactful book 40 years ago, that still stands the test of time today, says a lot about the topics and her own prowess as a writer. Putting my own hatred of literary censorship aside, I find these reasons to be abhorrent for shunning such an awesome work of literature. When children can pick up a book and see that their creativity and imagination should be embraced, find out that it is OK to be different, even see someone their own age faced with and learning how to handle death, that book is a treasure. To push it out of libraries, schools and off of reading lists is a real travesty and I shudder to think there are parents out there who think otherwise.

But I’ll get off my soapbox. I don’t have many faults with this book. I would like a little more explanation of why Jess’s father doesn’t show affection to him the way he does the girls. Granted, this was 40 years ago and many people, particularly in rural America, were still under the impression that showing too much love to boys made them ‘soft,’ I think that knowledge is lost on a lot of youth and they may come away with the impression that the father is just a jerk. Which is harmful to an overall interpretation of the text, I think.

Overall, this book will always have a huge place in my heart. Aside from being a piece of YA literature that truly has the means to empower kids, it is an easy-to-read work that is educational about real-life issues. I love it. I hope you all enjoyed it as well. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree with its challenged/banned status? Tell me your thoughts! And be sure to give me your ideas for the best horror novel we can cover in October!!

I Still Can’t Breathe

Hey there friends and fans! About two years ago I had a small snippet of a story pop into my head and I wrote it down quickly, placing it both in a blog and on my Facebook page to get outside opinions.

At the time I wasn’t sure exactly where it had come from or what it meant, and I’ve returned to it on and off through the years. At this point I’m thinking it may be the inspiration for  a potentially non-supernatural serial killer story. I’ve dabbled a bit in standard fiction, and I always prefer including the supernatural and horror elements in my work, but I think this piece has promise. I wanted to share it again here, so you could check it out. I’d love to have anyone and everyone’s opinion on this short piece of writing. What do you think as you read it? What do you feel? Can you even breathe, because sometimes I can’t.  Anyway, here is the piece, please give me feedback!!

I can’t breathe. My heart is pounding, my legs are throbbing and I can’t breathe. I don’t know how long I’ve been running or how much longer I can keep it up, but I know I can’t stop. The sun has been down for what seems like forever and the faint light is still clinging to the autumn day. My lungs are on fire; my chest feels like it’s going to explode. It’s just when I think things can’t get any worse that I make a terrible decision. I glance behind me to see how close my pursuer is and my foot finds a hole I hadn’t expected to be there. I feel my ankle snap like a twig, the sound ringing out like a shot in the silence. I hit the ground, feel the wind rush out of me and grab my leg. I don’t even have enough breath to scream as I roll over, mouth open in a terrible grimace and find that my attacker is on me.

                I see now that he is brandishing a knife and realize instantly that he means to use it on me. In the faint light I notice the tell-tale stain of rust on the blade as it arcs toward me, catching the reflection of the tree line I’d intended to be my salvation just before it plunges into my chest and out of sight. My first thought, rather than of my life, is of such a poorly manicured knife and what sickness it could bring if used in a culinary fashion.  I don’t have time or energy to react to the man’s attack, and soon it’s too late.

                I feel the pressure first, like being in school and having the pencil in your pocket stab your skin when you sit down. Before I know it the pressure becomes a white hot poker of misery as split and severed nerve endings begin screaming in a hellish, tortured chorus, the warmth inside my chest spreading outwards as my blood flows from newly opened veins. My last thought is a realization that both allows and solidifies my outcome; I am dying. 

The Circle

This book was incredible. The parallels between this and other dystopian thrillers are immensely weighty. At times it was like I was literally reading a prequel to 1984. I was very eager to dive into this book after seeing a trailer for the movie in theaters a few months or so ago (I know, I know, sue me), and I knew I couldn’t see the movie without first reading the book! I finished the novel well before the release of the movie, which comes out today, so there are no worries there. Enough small talk, though; let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, as I said before, this book almost read like it could be a prequel to 1984. The ideas of the Circlers and their almost incessant need to make everything known was incredibly ominous. I can’t count the times that I thought it was almost like watching the development of Big Brother. The cameras, the mandatory participation, all the way to the ending. That ending! Man!

We enter the story with Mae, who seems just as innocent as one would imagine; a small-town girl moving to this huge opportunity. We see that she (and some around her) understands just how much bigger than her The Circle really is. As Mae immerses herself in the work she is given, we see her start to open up a little, but she has many questions. There are many instances where people like Eamon Bailey and others make comments about knowledge and the fact that they feel everything should be known. Mae is very taken aback by this idea at first. It seems like she understands the importance The Circle has in the future of the world, but she also sees the importance of privacy and separation. This quickly seems to die out.

Mae keeps herself slightly distant from The Circle at first, not attending many parties, leaving campus a lot and generally letting herself live as if she was working a standard 9-5 job. She left The Circle behind when she left The Circle. This didn’t work for the company. They addressed this a few times before Mae was faced with a situation that really threw her out of herself. In the middle of trying to fit in and find herself in The Circle family, Mae has some sexual encounters with a young, shy man named Francis and a slightly older, mysterious and impossible to find man who only tells her his name is Kalden. These encounters do a little bit of work towards making Mae a closer part of The Circle and helping her focus on the job itself. But this work is nothing compared to what happens as her parents continue to deal with her father’s MS and associate with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer. She had slowly grown more accustomed to being more open and public with her life, but it was Mercer’s first big resistant moment that made it sink in for her. He more or less told her that she was a part of what was wrong with the world, saying The Circle was crossing too many lines and she needed to grow up and see the truth. She left her parents house that night and had the experience that lead to her becoming the poster-child for citizen transparency.

Mae getting arrested really broke something in her, I think. The fear she felt at knowing she could lose her position changed how she looked at everything, and Eamon Bailey helped push that through her head. He encouraged her to feel that showing everyone everything at all times was the best way to live her life. This way of thinking, needless to say, was a game changer.

Mae started wearing her camera and documenting everything, helping The Circle with its attempt at closing in on the world and consuming everything to be consumed. The story really gains so much weight at this point. Mae slowly becomes a different person. She goes from a girl who is mortified at the thought of one person seeing her perform a moderate sexual act to being perfectly fine with taking millions of followers into the bathroom with her. The Circle’s (for lack of a better term; or is this the best term?) brainwashing of Mae really culminates and reaches its most dangerous level when she speaks up and suggests developing the mandatory voting technology that is Demoxie. The very name of this program, to me, sounds like poison. Demoxie influences everyone around the world to make their voice heard, which, although a great idea, has consequences. In addition to recording the answers, The Circle has the power to record who answers, and how. Much like Mae was able to look and see who voted her as not being awesome in a demonstration of the technology (that in itself is an experience that really allowed us to see into the damaged psyche Mae has developed, or maybe just revealed, through the text), any government organization may have been able to convince The Circle to allow them to see how its citizens voted. For that matter, Circlers themselves have access to the information. Anyone who may have voted against a popular idea could thus be singled out for their voices.

The real life-changer for this comes when Mae is given control over the technology to look for people – any person – all over the world. The first instance is likely helpful. Circlers and audience members are able to help find a fugitive and bring her to justice. But then Mae decides to take the situation further. She decides she wants to look for Mercer, who had AWOL after deciding to go “off the grid” in an attempt to hide from Mae and The Circle.

This search would have been all fine and dandy, had she known when to call off the dogs. I literally cringed as I read how intense the unnecessary chase scene became after Circle followers tracked Mercer to a house in the woods. He fled in fear and anger as Circlers and Mae followed him with no explanation as to why. Mae used The Circle’s technology to literally chase Mercer to his death. He drove off a bridge because he became so desperate to find a way to get away from the power of The Circle. That moment was very powerful to me.  I feel like it represented everyone who has ever stood up to a government or an organization that has too much power. There is so much that can be said about that scene, that idea.

But Mae couldn’t see it. She was wounded by his death, but not enough. Kalden (who turned out to be Ty, the FOUNDER of The Circle) tried to get her to  help him shut the whole thing down before it became too powerful. But she wouldn’t have it. She couldn’t. She talked so many times of feeling the black tear in her mind, her soul, and by the end of the book she was convinced the tear, rather than representing the innocence and humanity that was being walled off, represented “not knowing”, which is something The Circle was strongly against, of course.

The final insight we really get into Mae’s mind is all it took for me to both lose the last of my respect for her character and make me want ten more books. Mae’s friend Annie has literally become comatose due to the stresses of The Circle (can we be sure it isn’t something Bailey or Stenton did on purpose?) and all Mae can think about is how she finds it an unbelievable injustice that she can’t see into her friend’s mind. She can’t read the thoughts of the woman who is lying on the bed in front of her. Obviously, my first thought here was the budding idea for the Thought Police, but I digress.

Overall, I thought this book was absolute genius. David Eggers did an amazing job, and I look forward to checking out other works from him. From the time I started reading until the last word, I was enthralled. That being said, this book isn’t exactly the type of thing I typically choose to read for pleasure. But it’s easily in my list of top books. Whether that’s top 50, top 25, or even top 100, I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve read so much that the list does change fairly often. But this one is there. The style Eggers wrote this book in is very conversational and matter-of-fact. I didn’t get hung up on any dialogue issues and I don’t recall anything that was over-exaggerated or unclear.

My biggest compliment and biggest complaint for the book would likely be the same. It was very open-ended. From the point we leave Mae, as she considers talking to the founders about finding a way to expose thoughts to the same transparency as everything else, I feel like anything could happen. We know that Kalden (Ty) is still a part of The Circle, but we don’t know where, in what capacity, or what punishment may have been applied to his position. In other words; we have no idea of his motives, or if the mention of his position is even correct. They may well have just told Mae that as a cover. If it is true, what’s to stop him from either continuing to attempt to coerce Mae, or find someone else to help him overthrow the totalitarian organization that grew from his brainchild? Even more, I still feel like there is some way Mercer could be alive. Maybe he jumped from the truck and clung to the bottom of that bridge until it was safe to walk away. Maybe Ty knows this and he’s going to work with Mercer to overthrow The Circle. One way or another, I do think there’s enough possibility to bring this idea back for another round. Come on Eggers, what do you think?

Regardless, this was a great book and it really makes you think about the dangers of continuing down the path of total technological control that we are going on. What did you think of it? Do you agree with Mae that knowledge should supersede privacy? Or should we cherish the privacy of the independent human? There are so many questions! And for that matter, there are so many things that I didn’t really have the space to address here (the terrible things this expansion of knowledge uncovered about Annie’s family, for one) that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Leave me comments or send me messages and let’s have some great discussion on this book! As always, share your ideas for future books at any time and let’s spread the club far and wide.

13 Reasons Why

I hope everyone took the time to read this awesome book by Jay Asher. I honestly felt it was more than just a novel; it was an experience. Asher uses Clay to take us on an insane journey through Hannah Baker’s life and, ultimately, death. I finished this book much quicker than I thought I would and I don’t think I’ve been quite so invested in a YA novel in a long time.

From the first page I could feel the pain and angst Clay was experiencing. The writing in this book was more or less what you would expect, coming from the perspective of a teenager.  It was very conversational and relatable. At first the feeling of trepidation was almost tangible. I could almost put myself in Clay’s shoes as he put that first tape in the player and heard Hannah’s voice come out of the speakers. The feeling of shock as he realized just what he was listening to is still with me.

I loved reading as Clay wrestled with whether or not to actually listen to the tapes. The idea that there could be literally anything on them, that he had absolutely no idea what effect he had had on Hannah’s life, was one of the most intense things in the book. With the turn of every tape, with every new detail Hannah expressed, Clay’s tension got greater and greater and I felt like I gripped the book tighter and tighter. Seeing the pain his friends and classmates caused and knowing what the result of that pain was made Clay all that much more tormented by the tapes.

One of the most important things the book really brought to light is the real and true effect that our actions can have on others. To hear the description of how the actions of Hannah’s classmates lead her to make the decision she did was really astonishing. As someone who (believe it or not) is just over half a decade out of my teens, I remember things like what Hannah described happening in my school. Casual discussions of who was the most attractive, who was into whom, rumors of which girls (and guys) did what and with whom – those especially – were everywhere in high school. Unfortunately, some of it even lasted through to college, but that’s a whole different story. Really seeing what effect those things can have on someone is hopefully eye-opening to anyone who feels they need to do such things.

As Clay got to his own story, the feeling of relief he felt at knowing that his own page in Hannah’s story was actually a relatively good one was seriously heart wrenching. Seeing the words on the page was almost like watching a movie. For the most part with large portions of this book it was always like watching a film that words couldn’t compare to. I know that’s an odd way to put it, but hopefully some of you understand.

The last bit of the book was insanely powerful. Clay kept listening to the tapes despite the intense pain he was feeling over the matter. He talks so much of how he felt he could love Hannah, may even have loved her before she killed herself. The biggest thing that hurt him with this tale is knowing her whole story, knowing what else had happened to her. Seeing him continually wonder if there was something he could have done to save her, seeing him practically begging the universe for a second chance for her, was heart-breaking. Anyone who has lost someone – to suicide or not – knows this feeling. I think the stage of life you are in has something to do with just how hard it hits you, as well. While I was in high school I actually lost someone who was very special to me, and I took it very hard. Although it was not a suicide I wondered why it happened, what more could have been done to prevent it and if similar situations could end differently.

I think the main point this book brought forward to me is the way people process what happens to them, what is said about them, what we can do to change that and how wide our circle of impact really is. So many people are effected by anything and everything we say or do, and I feel like we really don’t consider that most of the time.

With this book, I don’t think I really had many complaints. Given that it was a YA novel, told from a first person point of view, there were things that you had to attune yourself to with the tone of the writing and the voice of the author, but it definitely didn’t take away from the story. I guess my biggest complaint would be that, for a good portion of the book, I was hoping it would be revealed that Hannah hadn’t actually killed herself. I hoped that on the last tape she would explain that, despite the problems she’d faced, the pain others had caused, the rumors they’d told and the suffering she’d experienced she was going to rise above. I hoped to hear her say she had asked her parents to take her to another town, that she had decided to run away, that her death had somehow been a hoax, but it didn’t happen. Her final words affirmed her plans and ended the 13th part of her story, leading to that mentally taxing scene with Clay falling asleep listening to the static of the other side of the final tape.

Basically, this book was enlightening, incredible and educational. I think anyone and everyone would benefit from reading this awesome work. I chose this book because one of my high school English teachers asked me to look into it and it has been on my radar for a while. It’s a book that her students have been interested in, but she was worried that it may glorify suicide and cause problems. If anyone is worried about this, I’m glad to say I don’t feel like it glorifies suicide in any way. I think the book serves as a warning for our behavior and the pain and problems it can cause. In addition to being a warning for us to monitor our behavior, I think it also serves as a bit of a warning to anyone who  may be considering suicide. It shows the reader that suicide, like rumors and other painful things, has an effect on everyone around us. Although the pain of life may be over for one who commits suicide, the hole we create by not being there is still very much a problem for those we leave behind.

Finally, Asher tells the story without really using the word suicide very much. I thought this was a good thing. It made the act as well as the word seem almost taboo. While telling the story, he shines a light on some of the common signs exhibited by those considering suicide. He even mentions a list of signs of suicidal thinking, which can be found online here; http://bit.ly/2mrmpWD among other places.

I couldn’t do a post like this without saying I can’t stress enough that if you are considering suicide, you have to find the light in life. As someone who has been there, I can definitely say that, if you look, you’ll find many more reasons to live than you could ever find to die. Suicide is final. It is not a way out. It is not good. It can’t solve the problems, it can only cause so many more…

Anyway, that’s a post unto itself as well. I hope you all enjoyed this book as much as I did, and I really look forward to reading your thoughts on it. My announcement for the next book in the book club will be posted on or around Tuesday. Leave me suggestions in the comments or send them to me in a message. I want to know what you guys want to read and discuss! Share this as far and wide as you can to get a lot of eyes on it. There are a lot of people who could benefit from reading this book, and hearing that it’s not a terrible representation of the issue might help them get motivated. Thanks for reading with me, and I look forward to seeing what’s next!

Preparing for dystopia

The world has certainly kept turning since January 20. But that’s really the only way we can say it. Global citizens have watched, many in unabashed horror, as the new leader of the free world has stomped on countless toes and attempted to create little more than an industrial, alienating wasteland of our once-great country. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the U.S.. I still see that, as a citizen of the United States I have countless opportunities to see and explore the world in ways others may not, and I fully respect the great country I live in. But the danger is here nonetheless.

Just in the last month we have heard about how certain people should be banned (but not banned) from the country, we’ve heard that actually counting the heads of those present to get a number is clearly a dated practice that doesn’t mean anything, we’ve heard how large a threat grizzly bears pose to the public school system, and we’ve realized that some people think an industrial pipeline is more important than preserving the resting place of the dead. And that’s just the drop of the hat.

I have kept my over-sized nose out of the discussions of politics that are rampant on every form of news and social media available, but I do want to share my very real concern for how much worse things may realistically end up getting before they get better.

Just today I’ve been seeing the news of an overturned regulation that now allows coal mines in my region to once more dump their waste into streams. This particular practice has led to filthy, sulfurous, uninhabitable water for a good portion of my area. The repercussions of this practice have only recently started to see a reversal. I honestly fear what problems may start to arise from these things alone. I look to the future and, sometimes, I find myself unable to see little more than a ruined, smoking hole in the ground that is not unlike the disaster showed us at the climax of countless apocalyptic movies. But, (and on a much less serious note)it would appear Mother Nature has also picked up on the problem and is working to rectify the situation.

Thousands of people in my region have been hit by a severe strain of the flu this week, leading to around a dozen counties in my neck of the woods going so far as to cancel school for multiple days in an attempt to slow the spread of the illness. I hope I’m not the only one who sees the truth here. We are now entering the real-life culmination of the events in Stephen King’s “The Stand” – and our new president is Randall Flagg.

What other explanation is there? He walks out, looking somehow less than human, feeding off of human suffering and strife, turning as many people as possible against one another, while the rest of the people around him are fighting a severe version of the flu that medicine doesn’t seem to be able to help. Schools are closing, streets are filling with people shouting for change and help, hospitals are being overrun …. My only question now is; where is Mother Abigail when we need her? Who else is going to throw down the Walkin’ Dude and bring us back to a moderate form of social peace? Or, if that can’t happen, where is Roland, who will stop the fall of the tower and bring order back to the realms. Shout out to those of you get the interconnected references of a King fiend here.

In all seriousness, though. There are some administrative decisions being made by “those in charge” that are going to continue to cause problems for those of us who, like Atlas, are left holding up the rest of the world. Wow, that was pathetically conceited and hopelessly deep. I’m in a league of my own today, huh? Basically I just wanted to share that the world is slipping into rough shape, but that we can still survive and use humor to get through life. Most importantly, we can compare the real-life horror story that surrounds us to literature and find true peace to comfort us as the world burns!

I’ve shared my own ideas of the lack of existence of true democracy many times, so none of you really need to hear that again, I’m sure. So the question of the day must be; what book are you reading now? What fictional world are you pushing your consciousness into in order to escape the harsh mundane reality of everyday life? And, more importantly, what’s next?! I hope all is well for everyone here, and I hope I’ve at least brought a smile to a few faces. Keep reading, writing, watching movies and enjoying the world while we have the chance. My review of Thirteen Reasons Why will go up next week and then I’ll be ton the lookout for the next big review, so send me your ideas and let me know what we should read. Have a good February, a good weekend, and make sure to take advantage of any half-priced candy you see!

 

*Image rights remain with the creator.