November Wrap Up

In the beginning of the month I set myself some goals to reach in place of taking part in any of the NaMo events during November.

My goals were:

  1. Post at least three times (hopefully four) a week on this blog.

  2. Work on my novel, Devil May Care, to start a second draft.

  3. Write in general!

  4. Read at least six books this month (hopefully I’ll push past that to a nice round number of ten).

  5. Lastly, I’d like to actually start taking It Matter to Us, the political blog I share with my twin, seriously. (five posts/month)

So…how did I do?

  1. Totally rocked this! I had 16 posts in total this month, with at least three ever week. I’m really proud of myself, because this month was crazy busy and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
  2. I did work on my novel. Not a lot of actual writing (though that did happen briefly) but I got a TON of plotting done for a second draft. Most of all, I’m excited about writing again. I like the direction my plot is going and I can’t wait to get into the nitty gritty part of actually writing draft #2.
  3. I did write this month, though it was mostly poetry. I will post some of it here (and already have posted a few), and keep some of it for myself. I never used to write poetry, and though it is growing on me, I’m ready to get back to prose.
    • It should be noted that I did not work on Hell and Styx’s stories, which I really meant to. So mission not entirely accomplished.
  4. I read seven books this month. Again, this month was crazy, so I impressed myself. All of them earned at least 4/5 stars, which is also good because it means I enjoyed myself. 😉
  5. I completely failed at this one. I wasn’t in the mood, never found the time, etc. It didn’t happen. Whoops.

Overall, I accomplished 4/5 of the goals I set for myself, so I’m happy. 🙂

How were your Novembers? Those of you who took part in the NaMos–how did you do?

Giving Thanks

I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to write this post. I haven’t been in a very thankful mood recently. I’m tired and annoyed most of the time, and I can’t seem to snap out of it. If you asked me what I’m thankful for, my knee-jerk reaction would be “nothing.”

And then I realized that that is really screwed up and set off to find something that I’m thankful for. I also want to discuss the general culture around Thanksgiving that left me with my reaction in the first place.


I’ve always hated the version of Thanksgiving they give us in elementary school. No, not the pilgrims and Indians partying together. Not that part. That part is universally recognized as BS, but until we have honest conversations about the Trail of Tears and the skeletons in America’s closet, I can’t get myself worked up about a cheery story we tell kids. There are larger, systematic problems to worry about.

No, I’ve always hated the way they tell us to write down what we are thankful for, and everyone writes canned responses: family, love, food, God, et cetera, et cetera. And parents see the cute crafts and smile and hang it on the fridge and no one ever asks, “Really? You couldn’t get more specific? It’s a holiday devoted to being thankful. Think you can come up with something that you can’t find on a Hallmark card?”

For the record, when I was in first grade, I wrote on a school project that I was thankful that my mom read me bloody stories (I was really obsessed with Egyptian and Greek mythology). It was hung on the wall for everyone to see. When people started laughing at “how cute” it was, I felt like absolute shit, but at least I wasn’t the kid who couldn’t think of something better than putting cranberry sauce on turkey.

It’s not that I think being thankful for family is bad. I think it’s fantastic actually. However, I feel like it negates the point of the holiday. We just write down a stereotypical noun and that’s it–let’s eat turkey. Yeah, yeah, I’ve been thankful–see! I love my family.

But do we realize how amazing it is to be able to honestly say “I love my family”? There are people who I know who honestly can’t, and it is destroying them, absolutely and completely, and there is nothing I can to do help. There are people all over the world who don’t have families to love. Depending on what day it is, I can’t always say that statement as a fact. I hate this. All of it.

Anyone who can be thankful for having a loving family should shout it from the rooftops. Every day. It should be a constant blessing. It should be a daily thought. And Thanksgiving should be a time to examine that love more closely, and reward it.

This is not just for family, either. All of us have something that makes us happy, hopefully. Today, we should figure out what it is and honor it. Maybe it is as simple as a song or slightly burnt toast with butter. Maybe it is as monumental as faith in a higher power or a supportive family or getting to follow your passions in life. Who am I to judge you for what you are thankful for? One isn’t better than the other.

I think my frustration with the cheesiness of Thanksgiving, the shallow thanks we are told is enough, has made me very cynical about the holiday. This, coupled with exhaustion and pent up anger, has left me decidedly not in the holiday spirit.

But here’s the thing. I’m happy.

Tired? Hell yes. Angry at society? Totally.

But I’m happy. I’m content. And if I’m not that, I am at least not miserable (most of the time).

I want to honor the things that make this possible. Some of these things will be typical, some of them might make no sense. Some of them may make you think I am shallow and stupid and privileged–and you might be right.  All I ask is that my list prompts you to create your own list, filled with words you wouldn’t find in a greeting card.

(In no particular order)

  • Friends. You guys are what makes my life bearable, what makes school so much fun. I couldn’t do it without you, and I hope I can give you guys back even a tenth of the support you send my way.
  • Family. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for letting me vent. Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for letting me become who I am.
  • My mom’s brownies. Wheat germ totally makes them better.
  • My mom. You have the answers for everything. You know what setting to wash my bras on. You know the definitions of basically every word I don’t. You know history and correct punctuation and way more biology than any human should be forced to know. You know how to make the aforementioned brownies. You buy me fruit. You read me bloody stories. You rock.
  • My laptop. I do my best writing on it. It has all my favorite music on it. My favorite sites are bookmarked. I made every scratch and dropped every crumb on the keyboard. It’s mine, and I love it.
  • Books. I always have one with me. I read between classes, in class, after school. I read no matter what mood I’m in. Books have carried me through life and I know they will never drop me.
  • Inside jokes. These are the marks of friendship. They are the marks of time. They are proof that we happened. And they make me laugh.
  • Fencing. Speech and Debate. This blog. I started all of these things in the last few years. All of them have helped me grow into some part of myself I didn’t know was there before. Of course, they stress me out sometimes–but they are also the ultimate stress relievers. I’ve made friends, learned new things, and joined larger communities.
  • Death Valley. This is definitely my favorite place I’ve ever been. I can’t put into words the way it makes me feel. I love climbing the rocks and taking crazy pictures and listening to my grandparents’ geology lectures. I love the wildness, the way human history feels paused. I love the way I don’t have cell phone service and I get to escape the world while I’m there. Thanks Grammy and Grandad for showing me it.
  • My twin sister. We are in this together. We would be partners in crime if we had any time after homework. You help me study. You are my extra brain. You are my support group. We listen tothe same music (thank God). Twinikensis all the way.
  • Anyone who helped me be who I am today. Maybe you encouraged me. Maybe you pissed me off. Maybe you got me to like Taylor Swift or took me to a bookstore. You are all part of who I am today, even if you don’t know it.
  • Who I am today.  I’m thankful that I like myself. I’m thankful that I can look in the mirror and smile. I’m thankful that I have grown up into a smart, driven, kind young woman, and a lot of it was all me. If I met myself, I think I would like her. I’m proud of myself, of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m ready to do more.

Poetry: Four a.m.

Oh, hello, darling,

Four a.m.,

I was just dreaming of you

Thanks for the interruption

 

What should we think about?

(in the glow of the digital clock,

Counting off the traitorous minutes creeping past)

Maybe mistakes from years ago?

Just flashes left but they still hurt—

Of course you know that

That’s what you woke me up to tell me

 

Or maybe that blunder from

The other side of midnight

Still fresh—

Want to salt the wound?

The shaker is in the other room

But I still have some from

Last night, if you want

 

We could worry about tomorrow!

(Creeping closer in that backstabbing glow)

Mistakes on the horizon

Tests and failures

Conversations and humiliations

Fuel for tomorrow night’s…conversation

 

Or maybe you could invite our old drinking buddy

Imagination

To the party

I hear he has some suggestions

About tomorrow

Things could go so right

Or so wrong

 

Let’s think about what he has to say

Until it feels real

So that the illusion is perfectly blown glass

When reality shatters it in my chest

Tomorrow

Well, today—I guess tomorrow is technically today.

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

This is one of my favorite books ever. It is my feminist bible. It is hilarious. It is deep. It is girl power raised to the power of infinity.

5/5 stars

This book is on my Top Shelf.

cover beauty queens

Amazon description of Beauty Queens:

From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, a desert island classic.
Survival. Of the fittest.
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

I’ve read this book either three or four times (can’t remember exactly), and it keeps getting better. This probably has something to do with the fact that it does deal with some adult (ish) topics and each time I read it I’m older and more aware and more things click into place. I think it also is related to the fact that I’ve gotten a lot more invested in feminism and rape culture recently, and this book very eloquently frames these discussions in the name of female empowerment and, on a more basic level, safety.

It is easy to dismiss this book, I think. “Beauty queens on a deserted island,” wow, that’s stupid. This book is so much more than that–so much more than I can explain. Yes, a lot of the characters are airheads, and the world it takes place is a hyper-corporate and ignorant America. But it is a smokescreen of humor hiding (or as the book goes on, not really hiding at all) deep societal messages. This book is hilarious, but it also talks about the world with remarkable frankness. You know all the topics authors usually avoid (less and less now, but when I first read this book, I definitely didn’t see these topics being written about)? These are what Libba Bray focuses on. She humanizes minorities that people would otherwise write off as anonymous aggravations to society (not me, of course, but judgy people).

There is just so much to say about this book. The writing style, for one, breaks the stereotypical YA novel mold with aplomb. There are footnotes, commercial breaks, Classified chapters, and Notes From Your Sponsor. You might hear this and think “wow, try hard for uniqueness much?” However, each segment adds to the book as a whole and conveys a message. Plus, they are funny, and add to the overall tone of the book, which is undefinable but unique.

I love the characters. Each of them has something that makes them important, and not in a cheesy way. They all feel real. I want to be friends with them. Bray also manages to balance having fourteen (I think) main characters. Sure, a few of the girls play more prominent roles than others, but I would challenge anyone who has read it to say that one person was the definite protagonist. It is a book about inclusion, equality, and friendship–and this is mirrored with the importance Bray puts on each of her characters.

There is romance, and some of the scenes get kinda intense. However, Bray then uses these scenes to emphasize her messages about the double standards that face girls, especially in regards to sexuality. I would beg that you don’t avoid reading the book just because of a few sexual scenes (if that is something you worry about), because they really add to the book (unlike some YA books that just have romance for the sake of romance).

This book also wins the Best Epilogue Award from me because seriously I have started crying from just picking up the book and reading the last scene–it’s that powerful.

Okay, I’ll shut up and you guys should go read Beauty Queens!

Book Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

I first read this book about a year ago, and remembered liking it enough. My sister read it for the first time this month and loved it, causing me to reread it. I liked the book a lot more this time, and I’m not really sure why I didn’t think more of it the first time, because it’s great.

4.5/5 stars

cover across a star swept sea

Amazon description of Across a Star-Swept Sea:

From Rampant and Ascendant author Diana Peterfreund comes this thrilling companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, now in paperback. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a romantic science-fiction reimagining of the classic The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the islands of Galatea and Albion stand alone, a paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on Galatea, an uprising against the aristocracy has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy. On neighboring Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous teenage aristocrat Persis Blake. Her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo . . . is her most dangerous mission ever.

When Persis discovers that Justen is keeping a secret that could plunge New Pacifica into another dark age, she realizes she’s not just risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

First, I’d like to say that I didn’t realize this book was a companion novel. You can totally read it stand-alone (as I did), but now I want to go back and read For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Now, to talk about the book.

I love the world Peterfreund created. The Reduction disease is believable, and the cure’s own set of consequences is a nice addition to what have been a very simple backstory. The court of Albion is perfectly ridiculous and frivolous, the ultimate backdrop for Persis’s ditzy character. The revolution in Galatea was unique and interesting, because unlike pretty much every other book that has a revolution taking place in it against tyranny, you don’t like the revolution. This premise drew me in, breaking from the classic dystopian mold (the book is only dystopian in the loosest sense of the term). It’s possible I’ve just been studying AP European History way too much, but I found a ton of historical parallels and conflicts that made the revolution even more complex for me as a reader.

I loved the technological aspects of the world-building as well. Like the court of Albion, they are for the most part, completely ridiculous and unnecessary. Genetemps to change your appearance for a few hours, flutternotes that take nutrients out of your own body to fly away as physical manifestations of telepathic messages. However, they paint a clear picture of a civilization that has far surpassed modern day technology. Justen’s character, a medic and a scientist, also helps to ground the technology in the realm of the practical. His medical research into the Reduction balanced with the court’s gadgets to create a wide span of technologies–the way technology is in the real world.

Persis Blake is a wonderful character. She is an intensely smart girl who is the heir to her family’s estate. When her best friend Isla suddenly becomes the princess regent of Albion, Persis drops her studies to accompany her to court as her closest advisor. Persis adopts the persona of Persis Flake, a stupid airhead aristo, to disguise her nighttime exploits as the world’s most infamous spy: The Wild Poppy. The conflict between her two personas is so pronounced and creates a fascinating dynamic within herself. She’s still the brilliant girl she was when she was top of her classes, before Isla became the regent, but all of it is trapped inside of her as she has to give airheaded responses to court gossip and turn the conversation away from anything of substance.

The dynamic between Isla and Persis impressed me. The two girls have been best friends for years, and remain so. However, Isla is under immense pressure as a ruler, with almost all of her court doubting her leadership, and the stress puts a burden on their relationship. It is clear that Isla is Persis’s queen, and she uses her power throughout the novel. Persis, for her part, is keeping secrets from Isla and feels like her best friend doesn’t understand her. Still, they are steadfastly friends. I loved that Peterfreund didn’t give them a flawless relationship–it wouldn’t have made sense with both of their characters.

And Justen. Justen the grandson of Persistence Helo, the genius who created the cure for the Reduction, making him famous and revered by all. He starts the book trying to escape Galatea’s revolution, which he was closely involved with. His escape involves meeting Persis, and when he gets back to court and asks for asylum, Isla makes the two pretend to be in love as a cover for his real reason for coming to Albion: further research into his grandmother’s cure. Persis is forced to be Persis Flake around Justen, even as she marvels at his intellect and longs for substantive discussions of political affairs. Justen thinks she is an idiot and cannot believe he got saddled with her.

This book is a lesson in dramatic irony (defined as when the reader knows more than the characters). Justen and Persis’s relationship progresses as Justen realizes that Persis is stupid but also caring–but you as a reader are dying, because you know just how brilliant Persis is. There are a ton of conversations between the two about who the Wild Poppy is. Their relationship is sweet and powerful, but also freaking frustrating, because you know the reveal is coming and you want Justen to appreciate Persis!!!!

(A note: Normally, the premise of this romance would put me off a book, but Peterfreund totally pulled it off.)

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys slightly ridiculous stories, spies, dramatic irony, romance, court drama, sci-fi/dystopian-ish stories–AHH just read it!

Comments with spoilers:

I loved the fact that Justen created the revolution’s Reduction drug. It was the perfect device to create internal conflicts within himself, and basically the only thing that could rip Persis away from him.

Remy and Viana were really interesting characters. I loved how Remy joined the League of the Wild Poppy, as well as the moment she realized that Persis Flake was the infamous spy. Viana was a bitch, sure, but her character was complex and her relationship with Justen added to the story. The sibling dynamic between all three of them was well crafted.

The scene when Justen and Persis’s parents find out that Persis is the Wild Poppy was PERFECT. It was so simple and yet earth-shattering.

This book needed an epilogue. I wanted a longer happy ending!

Book Recommendations To Get You Through First Semester

I first compiled this list of books for my school paper as a motivational array of novels to get students through the grueling last weeks of the semester. (My semester ends before winter break, so the holiday season is also finals season.) These are books to read when you need to laugh, when you need to be reminded that there are other people going through you same situation, when you need it to be okay to rebel against society, when you need to remember who you are. They don’t all specifically deal with school, but they all have deep societal messages about self-confidence and empowerment.

I love all of these books and recommend them on their own also. However, this has been a really stressful week, with more to come, so I wanted to share with you guys some inspiration. Hope it helps, and if you’ve read any of the books below or if you want to suggest any other, please comment!


1. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

cover peace love and baby ducks

Don’t let the cheesy title dissuade you from reading this heartfelt tale of high school’s trials as Carly struggles to make sense of a world where her little sister is suddenly popular, her bickering family is getting in the way of her ambitions, and the friends she thought she could count on are changing—for the worse. I love this book because it deals with screwed up families and friendships but still remains positive. All at once emotionally painful, touching, and hopeful, Myracle’s story embodies the burdens all teenagers bear, as well as promises that there will always be someone to carry them with you.

4/5 stars

2. Every Day by David Levithan

cover every day

“A” wakes up in a different body every day, taking on a new identity and stepping into a new life every time A wakes up in the morning. There is no warning about whether A will be a girl or a boy, a straight-A student or a drug-addicted drop-out, a queen bee or a geeky loner, leaving A struggling to form a self-identity. A learned to remain detached and keep his interruption from messing up anyone’s life—until he meets Rhiannon. Levithan’s story details A’s chase after the girl who has captured his attention, subtly challenging our society’s most fundamental views on gender identity and the nature of love. This book’s social commentary is carefully woven in but powerful overall, and the romance is sweet and painful in a perfect way.

4 (minus)/5 stars

3. Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi

 cover putting makeup on dead people

In an effort to heal after her father’s death, Donna decides to become a funeral home assistant, helping put makeup on the deceased. Donna stumbles through life, messing up friendships and crushes, defying her family, and daring to be herself, even if she turns out to be an eccentric person. Transcending beyond a simple tale about an oddball profession, Voili’s novel details all teenagers’ struggles to find their passions when their family and society would have them take a different, “acceptable” path. I definitely did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but it remains one of the most powerful contemporary YA novels I’ve ever read.

4/5 stars

4. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

cover beauty queens

Carrying fifty Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant contestants to the biggest competition of their lives, an airplane crashes on a deserted island, killing all but just over a dozen of the beauty queens. As the days pass and no rescuers conveniently appear, the girls have to decide which is more important: being pageant-ready or dropping their glittery smiles and saving themselves.

This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s humor in its purest form, mixed with social commentary and girl empowerment. What’s not to love? Hidden behind a glamour of humorous beauty queen calamities, Bray’s story reveals that every person has a story, and that just because a person’s life shines on the outside does not mean that the truth is anything close to glamorous. A champion for almost every minority group of society today, Beauty Queens forces readers to accept the humanity of people society shuns and stereotypes–while making them laugh out loud.

5/5 stars!!!!!

5. Going Underground by Susan Vaught

cover going underground

When Del was fourteen, he made a decision that ruined his life, one he avoids speaking about even in the journal-esque style of the narrative (because–spoilers). Three years later, the only job he can get is digging graves at the local cemetery, where he meets Livia, who is new to the town and unaware of Del’s past. Going Underground is both the story of Del and Livia falling in love and a series of flashbacks revealing the event in Del’s past that makes their current relationship impossible. Based on real stories, Vaught’s novel explores the culture surrounding teenage relationships and the incredible strength it takes to overcome mistakes in one’s past and renter society. I will never look at dating the same way after reading this book. It is undeniably one of the books that has stuck with me the longest. I picked it up having no idea what I was getting into–and it was one of the best random decisions of my reading career.

5/5 stars

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Oh my god–I never imagined that a picture book could have so much power over my emotions. This simple story is one of the most thought-provoking ones I have read this year.

5/5 stars

cover a monster calls

Amazon description of A Monster Calls:

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

I loved basically everything about this book. It is very plainspoken book. It is not overly dramatic. It does not demand that you pay attention–but I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t once you read the first few pages. It starts as a quiet story and builds to a climactic, heart-wrenching ending.

The characters were simple but powerful. Conor is a deeply troubled boy in the beginning of the book, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Still, his character made sense and connected to me on a fundamentally personal level. His mother is the classic maternal figure, though she has a distinctly haunting aftertaste (awkward wording…sorry). Conor’s grandmother’s character was portrayed beautifully–she felt real–and her grief, though subtle, was insanely powerful. The bullies’ characters should have come off stereotypical and overdone, but they didn’t. They added depth to the story and helped to expose the complexity of Conor’s character.

Then there is the story itself. The monster visits Conor every night at 12:07 and tells him a series of three stories. Each story is simple in its construction but presents a unique philosophical conflict. Combined, I felt like the three stories created a sort of dark YA Aesop’s fable. The ending of the novel drew all three together and created a clear, lasting message. I won’t be forgetting this book for quite a while.

The illustrations definitely added to the story. Jim Kay is an amazing illustrator. The pictures perfectly captured the tone of the story.

This book doesn’t fit into a category. Conor is thirteen, so by that standard the story isn’t really YA. Then the structure of the plot makes it almost feel like a grim fairy tale. However, as the illustrations show, this is not a cheery book. It is intensely sad and discusses complex issues of morality and death. I guess I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading in books with a YA tone and intensity but who is also okay with reading a book with a younger protagonist.