Dora Rare is rare indeed. She is the first female born to the Rare family Scots Bay, Canada in generations. Her dark hair and brownish skin reflecting the family’s Micmac heritage make her stick out like a sore thumb in the area. However, Scots Bay’s midwife, Miss B., has always taken a shining to Dorrie, and she trains her in the ways of midwifery. The early 1900s are a tough time for midwives and women, though. Soon the area is threatened by World War I and male obstetricians, not to mention all the obstacles rural women have always had to face from violent, drunk husbands to too many children.
This book was quite honestly painful to read, for it lays out so clearly what it is that makes being a woman difficult in society. Although some things in modern day have improved, for instance we western women have the right to birth control, in other ways things have remained painfully the same. There are still areas of the world where men have more control over women’s bodies than they do. It is often still expected for women to be pure when men are not. Women often feel that they must put up with the wrongdoings of their husband simply to keep the home and family life that they so desperately desire, and on and on.
The book itself is told as a mix of third person narrative and Dora’s journal with clippings from the various newspapers. This style suits the story well, as we are allowed to see Dora from both outside and inside her own head. The characters are fairly well-rounded, although the motivations of those who are not Dora are not always the clearest or the most sympathetic, but as most things are from her perspective, that is understandable.
Of particular interest to me, especially with my knowledge of psychology, was the portions of the book dealing with how women are often accused of being insane simply for reacting to the injustices foisted upon them. I discussed this topic at length in multiple women’s studies and feminism classes. The idea that the just rage of the trodden upon is often depicted by the rulers as insanity. This is beautifully depicted in this book for Dora, struggling against many injustices and feeling rightfully irritated and angry, is informed by a male doctor that she is suffering from hysteria–a peculiarly female ailment resulting from female organs. Her anger and fighting back is thus tagged with a name that let’s others dismiss it as an illness, rather than a just reaction. McKay eloquently depicts this entire issue without being too heavy-handed.
I was also surprised and delighted to see a portion of the story take place in Boston during the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. I’m assuming McKay must have visited my city, for she perfectly describes the North End from the buildings to the atmosphere of walking those streets. This accuracy allowed me to travel back in time to a period of injustices in my own city, not to mention the molasses flood. It was indeed a delight to read of Boston from a women’s rights perspective for once instead of always reading of the Irish mafia.
The main point of the book comes across throughout it in a gentle way. The idea that we must continue to struggle and give but not give up or the oppressors will win.
Never let someone take what’s rightfully yours. You can give all you want in life, but don’t give up. (page 337)
It is simultaneously encouraging, uplifting, and depressing to realize that women throughout time have struggled with similar issues. Yet things are gradually improving, and thus we must not give up for the sake of future generations of women.
This book beautifully depicts the history of women’s rights in the early 1900s. It is a painfully beautiful read that I recommend all women, as well as men sympathetic to the cause, read.
4 out of 5 stars
Barbara is a middle school student with one intense focus–she must learn how to kill giants before it is too late. She doesn’t fit in much at school or have many friends, but she doesn’t really care, because she needs to be ready for the giant. The giant is connected to a secret at home, you see, and this secret takes over her life too much to care about all those silly things the other girls talk about.
I picked up this graphic novel because it was getting tons of buzz as being an excellent graphic novel. I also wanted to know what this big secret was in Barbara’s life. Does the graphic novel address something that isn’t discussed much in polite society but is still an issue for many middle schoolers out there? I was dying to know! Unfortunately, I found myself incredibly disappointed with this graphic novel. I can’t discuss why without spoiling what the giant is, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip this review.
I was expecting the giant Barbara is facing at home to be something like abuse or incest. Instead, it turns out Barbara’s mother is dying of cancer. Um. Ok. I’m sorry, a big scary giant doesn’t seem to be quite the right metaphor for a dying parent. What makes this little girl think she can fight death? I guess I just don’t get it.
Additionally, I just really didn’t like Barbara. I honestly get tired of graphic novel writers always making the main character a geek. This little girl–shocker–plays D&D. She is cruel to her classmates. She judges them. She’s even mean to the one girl who for some unearthly reason shows an interest in Barbara and what she likes to do. She, quite frankly, rubs me the wrong way, and I don’t think she’s supposed to.
Then there’s the art. I also didn’t like that, especially how he drew Barbara. Why does she have bunny ears? What’s up with that? The drawing style never feels artistic. Not once did I find myself sucked into the pictures to get further into Barbara’s world. They felt more like badly-done newspaper comic strips than a graphic novel.
Overall, I’m disappointed that I even bothered with this book. It’s one of those few instances when if I’d known the spoiler ahead of time, I’d have saved myself some time. I can’t even imagine handing this over to a middle schooler dealing with a terminally ill relative, because I don’t think it particularly presents healthy coping mechanisms or solutions to unhealthy ones. Why this book is so popular remains a mystery to me.
2 out of 5 stars
Steven’s life in California is so typical it borders on boring. He writes for AlumniMedia. He’s engaged to a librarian named Sherry. He goes out for happy hour every Friday night with his three buddies. Then one day his mother calls him and informs him his father tried to kill her. His father has had strokes and dementia, but in a moment of absolute clarity in the VA hospital, his father whispers to Steven, “I killed her.” Thus begins Steven’s tailspin into a world of darkness and ever-changing morality.
I believe this book succeeds in serving its purpose–it’s a page-turner with chills. If someone asked me for a simple thriller for the beach, I’d have no qualms handing this over. I cannot rid myself of the vibe though that the idea of this book could have led to a thriller of excellent quality instead of beach read quality, and that is a bit disappointing.
The set-up is excellent. Here we have an ordinary guy with some issues with his parents, but he still tries to live up to his family obligations. Then his father has an episode that makes mortality something Steve is no longer able to ignore. Steve then starts this quest that could easily be read as a metaphor for adults dealing with the increased fragility of their parents. However, about two-thirds of the way through, the plot takes an unexpected twist that then essentially nose-dives off a cliff into a scenario that is jarring and rather insulting to the reader. The book is not at all about what it at first appeared to be, and honestly, the original concept was much more intriguing than the final answer. The resolution is cliche, whereas the original set-up was not.
Other than the plot, Little sets scenes fairly well. It is easy to envision both the simpler scenes as well as the more complex scenes of violence. His writing style is not particularly memorable though. I didn’t once feel the need to write down a quote or dog-ear a page.
One of the more interesting elements of the book is that Steven is a writer, and his short stories pepper the book to give you an idea of his mental state at the time. I honestly enjoyed the short stories more than the actual book itself. I could easily see myself reading a collection of Little short stories in the future.
Overall, this is an enjoyable, if forgettable, thriller ideally suited to summer beach reading. I recommend it to fans of thrillers looking for an easy read.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Lestat, the maker of Louis and Claudia, takes center stage here to tell his own origin story, as well as explain why he has chosen to come out as a vampire rock star in the 1980s. Starting with his beginnings as a rural member of the ruling class prior to the French Revolution, we discover the origins of the Vampire Theater, as well as the origins of vampires themselves.
The Vampire Lestat is an excellent example of an incredibly well-executed character study. Although we learn things about vampires and their origins, the real crux of the story is who Lestat is. Why he acts the way he acts. How his innate personality affects his life and the lives of those around him. We see how over the course of time he may adapt to new ages and customs, but he is still Lestat. What makes him who he is does not change in spite of all his experiences. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t learn anything, but instead it simply means he is who he is. It is a remarkable example of how people are simply who they are.
Lestat is much more sympathetic a character than Louis. Whereas Louis mostly sits around pouting about what happens to him, Lestat is a fighter.
I never despair! Others do that, not me. I go on fighting no matter what happens. Always. (page 199)
He’s more than a fighter though; he’s also desperate for love. He did not choose to become a vampire. It happened to him, and now he is conflicted as to how to find love when he is essentially a monster.
You sense…my bitterness that I’m evil, that I don’t deserve to be loved and yet I need love hungrily. (page 355)
What truly makes Lestat Lestat though is his impulsivity. Lestat just does things because they feel like something he absolutely must do. He does not concern himself with consequences; he simply acts. This makes those vampires who love him simultaneously frustrated and amazed. They love him for his lack of restraint, but they also worry for him and themselves.
Beyond the great example of studying a character at length, though, Rice’s writing is simply beautiful to read. There as an elegance and a flow to it that pairs up perfectly with the story of a centuries old rock star vampire. I actually read about three pages aloud on skype to a friend simply to revel in how beautiful the language is. For example:
Laughter. That insane music. That din, that dissonance, that never ending shrill articulation of the meaninglessness. (page 358)
This is the type of writing that is a pleasure to read. It feels like treating yourself to a glass of fine wine for your brain. I highly recommend it to all. You do not have to be a fan of vampires to appreciate the language and rich character study it contains.
5 out of 5 stars
Previous Books in Series:
Interview with the Vampire, review
Hello my lovely readers! Ok, so I know most of you aren’t from Boston and thus don’t really care, but OMG THE BRUINS WON!!!!!
Here’s the thing. I fucking love hockey. Love it. It’s my absolute favorite sport. Perhaps because this is I grew up practically on the Canadian border (our signs were in French and English). I suspect, however, that it’s more because hockey is one of the few sports that is still not a pussy sport. The players routinely get into fights with each other on the ice, and they don’t even get put in the penalty box for it. Most of the time. Plus they do this physically difficult sport on ice. We all know everything’s harder on ice. (Ok, ok, not everything *wink wink, nudge nudge*)
Anyway, so this past week was the championship between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. If you don’t know, there are 7 games played, and the winning team is the best of 7. My past week thus largely consisted of watching hockey. Last Friday I went out to a local dive bar (that has free popcorn) to do so with one of my friends. Alas, we lost that game. Monday night I watched at home after a tough gym session and kept my dad, who works second shift, posted on the score via text message. Our win Monday meant we were tied at 3/3, which meant a game 7! Ahhhhhh!!! Now the Bruins hadn’t won since 1972. Clearly such an event demanded a night out.
I ended up going out to a local very packed bar with friends. Watching the game in a bar full of fellow fans was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had in a while. We drank. We yelled. We celebrated. There was music. Strangers were randomly high-fiving and hugging each other. It was the loudest I’ve ever been outside of a concert. In fact, my voice is a bit off today. And the best part is we won!! We won the Stanley Cup!!! Take that, Canada. Hockey ain’t just your sport. :-P
Now, if I can just actually manage to make it to a game at the Garden next season…….
Melissa Miller is your typical 16 year old–mom, dad, annoying sister, a jerk of an ex-boyfriend–with one small difference. She deals with her emotions by cutting herself. She keeps a razor in a locked box in her closet and pulls it out when she gets overwhelmed. One night she accidentally cuts too deep, and Death shows up with an option. Either die now or become one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse–War. Missy chooses the latter option, and as she gets to know the other Horsemen and her job as War, she starts to realize she needs to face the rage inside her.
Speaking as someone who knows a lot about mental illness, self-injury is one of the illnesses that people who don’t have it have the most difficulty understanding. It seems bizarre to those who don’t self-injure, even as for the self-injurer those moments of cutting or burning or whatever chosen method are the best coping mechanism they can come up with. It’s not easy for those who don’t self-injure to understand, which is why I am so impressed at how well Morse Kessler has grasped the inner workings of the self-injurer in order to write such a well-rounded, sympathetic character as Missy.
Missy is simultaneously relatable as a typical teenager, for instance she gets horribly embarrassed at a party one night, but she also has this deep, dark, misunderstood secret. Gradually other teens find out and are either concerned or lash out at her due to their fear and lack of understanding, but Missy feels that she can’t confide in even the sympathetic ones. In perhaps one of the most powerful passages, the reader gets to see exactly why Missy cuts, while she simultaneously explains why she can’t explain it to her sister.
She could tell her that she turned to the blade because she wanted to live and sometimes pain was the only thing that kept her alive. She could tell her that she was terrified of things she couldn’t even begin to name, that friends could be fickle and lovers could be false. She could try to explain all of that and more, and maybe her sister would understand. But trust was as fragile and cutting as a crystal sword. (page 100)
That is perhaps the most clear, succinct explanation of self-injury I’ve seen outside of nonfiction clinical books. Missy’s reasons for cutting are clear, even as it becomes more and more evident to the reader that this coping mechanism is not truly addressing Missy’s real problems.
Of course, the fantasy element comes to play here again, and it works perhaps even better this time around. Giving the fantasy personas for Missy to talk to and express herself to gives her a safe space to think out her emotions instead of cutting them out. There are also a few cameos from Famine, which is fun to see after reading the first book. The fantasy also works here because it helps give the book a distance that makes it less triggering. There are intense emotional moments, but then Death shows up with a humorous quip to lighten the situation. It addresses the real problems without getting bogged down in over-emotionality.
This book will give self-injuring teens a way to see themselves reflected in literature and accepted and loved for who they are. It will give them a chance to maybe address their own emotions and issues. Similarly, non-self-injuring teens will hopefully become more empathetic to their peers who struggle with it. It’s a book that is simultaneously enlightening but not preachy. I highly recommend it to teens and those who work in mental health or with teenagers.
5 out of 5 stars
Previous Books in Series:
White Fang is born in the wild 1/4 dog and 3/4 wolf. He soon finds himself back in the realm of man when his mother returns to the Indian camp she had left. Thus begins the struggle between White Fang’s desire for the companionship of the human gods and the call of the wild inside him.
This companion novel to The Call of the Wild flips the original story on its head. Instead of it being a dog feeling the call of the wild, we have a wolf feeling the call of the companionship of man, in spite of mistreatment. The story doesn’t quite work as well when reversed in that way, though.
Both White Fang and Buck suffer mistreatment at the hands of men that is incredibly painful for an animal lover to read about. Whereas this served to make it understandable why Buck leaves for the wild, though, it makes it difficult to understand why White Fang doesn’t do the same. Yes, eventually he meets a master who loves him and cares for him, but for years prior that is not the case. Perhaps London is attempting to demonstrate the intense loyalty of dogs to their masters whether or not they deserve it. It is true that animal rights workers see this sort of situation over and over again, yet White Fang is mostly wolf. It is difficult to believe his wild nature would not take over at some point, particularly when being mistreated. If this story was told of a dog and not a wolf, it would make more sense.
That said, London’s strength at delving into the animal world without personifying them to be more human than they are is still incredibly strong here. The animals are not personified but they are humanized. By that I mean, their personalities and instincts are clear and understandable. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading this book then proceeding to abuse an animal. They are truly remarkable creatures, London excels at demonstrating this.
Overall, this book is not as amazing as The Call of the Wild but it is well-worth the read for more time spent seeing animals through Jack London’s eyes. Recommended.
4 out of 5 stars
The Call of the Wild, review