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Monthly Archives: January 2018

mc atwood_the devils you know

Image Credit: Amazon

DISCLAIMER: I am a MA in Writing Student at Rowan University who has recently had the opportunity to study under Professor Atwood. The following review may be biased.

When I saw that I would be required to read MC Atwood’s debut young adult novel, The Devils You Know for my Seminar II class this semester as part of my MA in Writing program at Rowan University, I was very excited. Last fall I had a wonderful experience studying under Professor Atwood by taking her Writing Genre Fiction course. Atwood is hilarious and one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever met. She is also seriously talented as both a writer and an editor.

The Devils You Know was a real pleasure to read. I love that while the book is Atwood’s favorite genre – horror – it is also still young adult. While terrifying, it was also extremely relatable.  This novel is about more than a creepy haunted house with scary clowns and dolls (seriously…so many dolls…). It’s a story about friendship and finding yourself in the midst of the terror known as high school.

In the beginning of the novel, Paul, Violet, Dylan, Ashley, and Gretchen don’t know each other very well for the most part. Paul is seen as being the cool black guy that everyone loves. Violet is the quiet “nice” girl that no one knows very well, but Paul has a crush on, and she is beginning to develop feelings for as well. Dylan tries a little too hard to be a bad ass and I can really see him as being a bit of a punk rocker/skater kid. Ashley is the stuck up, rich, right-winged Republican princess that owns the school and absolutely HATES Gretchen (the feeling appears to be mutual), and Gretchen is Dylan’s partner whom is every bit as weird and tough as he is.

The quintent rarely ever crosses paths and most certainly wouldn’t call each other friends. However, when the opportunity to visit the legendary Boulder House on a class field trip presents itself, all five members of the group sign up and find themselves forced to not only share in the same space and experiences, but to also work together as a team and get to REALLY know the truth about each other. Sometimes the truth can be completely alarming and sometimes you think you know someone (as is the case of Dylan and Gretchen), but later realize you don’t know that person at all.

For instance – who would’ve guessed that Paul likes to wear tights and role play during medieval events? Nice girls finish last…and get taken advantage of as seen by the way Mr. Rhinehart takes advantage of Violet by having an affair with her the day she turns 18. Dylan is not actually Dylan at all…he’s John Michael…and despite his foul mouth and constant use of the word “yo”, he’s not as tough as he wants people to think he is. He’s actually a very conservative Christian who attends church every week with his rich parents. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley isn’t the conservative Christian she wants everyone to believe she is. In fact, she’s gay and she’s trying everything to hide her true identity from everyone, especially her Republican parents. After all, her father IS a well-known senator who HATES anyone that’s not straight. If he knew the truth about her it would destroy him and the rest of her family. What’s worst – she doesn’t hate Gretchen at all. In fact, she’s in love with her. As for Gretchen? She’s tough because she has to be, not because she wants to be. Her family is on food stamps and she makes her own clothes because she has no choice. Her mother is ill and the family constantly struggles with money.

In order to survive the house and everything in it – from demonic angels to creepy evil dolls to scary clowns to even whales and everything in between, the quintent must work together. However, when the quintent’s secrets are revealed to one another, they all feel such a strong sense of shame that they want to go through the house alone. However, they later learn that while they each have their own secrets, it doesn’t make them less and if anything, knowing the truth about who they are is what will not only bring them closer together, but also force them to want to stick together to support each other and to make it out of the house alive and beyond the house, to make it through high school alive, too.

Some of the novel’s strengths lie in the extreme attention to details, particularly with the imagery and descriptions of the house. It’s a very unique and clever book that while sticking to the main conventions of the horror genre, doesn’t fall into the trap of cliches. For example: there’s an entire room dedicated to whales and aquatic lives. I’ve never been afraid of whales and squids/octapuses, but I am now! I also really appreciated the way the novel took the very successful risk of having multiple narrators/points of views. Each chapter was told by a different character – Ashley, Gretchen, Dylan, Violet, and/or Paul. This allowed the reader to get up close and personal with all of the characters. Atwood did a great job of breaking them all down and creating an equal balance between each character’s voice so it never felt like you had too much of one character and not enough of another character. It also never got too confusing or overwhelming; five seemed like the perfect number.

So why four stars and not five? While I really enjoyed this book and struggled to put it down, it wasn’t perfect. There were still some things that bothered me with this book. One of the main things I didn’t like was Dylan’s character. He really annoyed me. I didn’t like his dialogue and I had trouble believing that’s how he would actually talk. I think there was an instance in the beginning where he said something along the lines of “I remembered to turn my swag on” which made me cringe. Do people even use the term “swag” anymore? I thought that died around 2008. “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” also sounded really awkward to me. I could believe him saying it once or twice, but constantly throughout the book? And no one ever comments on how weird it sounds? I had trouble buying it. Lastly, by the end of the book I was really annoyed by his constant use of the word “yo”. I think he said it but I feel like that would be something he’d say in the beginning of a sentence, not the end and reading it vs. hearing it – it reads kind of awkwardly and annoyed me as a reader. Lastly – his name is something completely different than what everyone calls him and no one knew this? I feel like the school would at least have his legal name down and probably call him by it on the first day of class. I just didn’t buy that as being his secret.

Also, reading this as a conservative Christian, I realize I’m a little biased but I did take some issues with the content of the novel. At times I felt like I was being attacked based on my views and like I was supposed to apologize or feel bad about being a conservative, Republican, Christian. I go to church every week the way Dylan/John Michael did – I don’t think that’s a “bad” thing in itself.

Lastly, demonic/fallen angels? The angels which are typically symbols for good, were made into symbols for evil. I wasn’t really okay with that imagery. I felt like the idea of Christianity throughout the novel was being shown in a negative light. Some of the jabs against Christianity/Republicans (such as the subtle George Bush reference…) felt a little over-done/cheap. I also thought of the impact/influence they may have on the novel’s target teenage audience which made me a little uncomfortable.

But overall I did really like this novel. It was very well researched, well written, and engaging. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

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Image Credits: Amazon

I recently enrolled in Professor Julia Chang’s Writing the Memoir class at Rowan University. One of the first books she assigned for us to read is Nick Flynn’s now out of print memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. My first impression of this book was 1. There must be a reason why this out of print followed by 2. I trust my professor’s judgement, despite this book being out of print, it must be good.

However, I found this memoir to be pretty “meh” overall.

The main overarching theme in this memoir is the art of telling stories or searching for stories throughout life. I love that the book works towards this theme and that the theme is supposed to be the glue that holds the book together, however, I didn’t really realize this was the book’s theme until the very end. We get hints at this theme, but it’s not made quite as clear as I would have liked it to have been.

Nick Flynn is a twenty-something year old man living in Boston. Growing up, he never had the opportunity to really know his father. Everything that Nick knows about his father is through stories – those told by others like his mother and those from the occasional letters that he receives from his father.

Individuals like Nick’s mother paint a pretty depressing picture of what Nick’s father is really like. Nick learns that his father is an alcoholic, that he’s a conman with a number of scams and schemes over the years including robbing banks, and that the police are constantly looking for him due to his failure to pay child support.

Nick also learns through letters that his father writes to him while in prison that his father is a writer. Nick’s father often writes him to tell him that his novel is going well and is on its way to being the next great American novel — earning the same ranks and acclaim as classics like The Catcher in the Rye. However, Nick never actually gets to see the story and has no way of knowing whether or not this story actually exists or if it’s merely another one of his father’s famous stories.

Nick’s own story is very similar to that of his father’s. He too, becomes an alcoholic and gets himself involved in drugs, namely cocaine. Nick also becomes involved in a life of crime while working on the boat smuggling drugs in and out. Is he destined to become his father?

It isn’t until Nick starts working for a homeless shelter, Pine Street, one of the largest homeless shelters in the country, that he meets his father. His homeless father becomes one of the residents. However, Nick shows no sympathy to his father. There are often times places when he doesn’t even seem to want to be around his father. It’s as if he’d rather hear about his father through the grapevine. Nick wants to know who his father really is, but he seems to be afraid to do so because he is so afraid of becoming his father, something that he seems to be on track to do.

At the very end of the book, Nick finally does interview his father along with other father-like figures who were involved with his mother before her suicide. He finds that his father’s book does in fact exist, but it’s actually a musical, much of which seems to focus on his alcoholism and how it lead him to prison. While Nick admits that about thirty pages of it are pretty good, he admits that it’s definitely not the masterpiece that his father made it out to be. He reflects on what this means by saying:

What would I do if it was a masterpiece, an overlooked classic? What then? Would our blood be redeemed? Would time be made whole? Would I still have such ambivalence about calling myself a poet? Would I have more? Would I have some idea of what it means to be a father, would I still be terrified of becoming one? He cannot die, he tells me, until his work is complete. Perhaps I am digging his grave, perhaps the book you have in your hands is the coin for his eyes. Perhaps the story of his masterpiece is his life raft, what he’s invented to keep himself afloat.

This is really the highlight of the book and where all of the little stories weaved throughout begin to make sense. However, After trudging through over 300 pages to get to this point, I was a little exhausted as a reader. The book felt as though it dragged on a bit and could have easily been told in only 200 or so pages. Once the book got to the point and began to make sense, it was over.

Still, as a whole it is obvious that Nick Flynn had an interesting story to tell and it made for an interesting read, even if it was a bit cluttered, confusing, and long-winded at times.


Turtles+All+The+Way+Down+transparent

Image Credits: John Green Books

Hey guys! It’s been awhile but I’m finally back with another book review. Now that school is out for winter break I have a few weeks of freedom to read whatever I want. Needless to say, I couldn’t read John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down fast enough.

For those of you who don’t know, John Green is one of my all-time favorite writers and quite possibly my favorite author who is not yet dead (I have a BA in English…I like a lot of classic literature written by dead guys…sorry.). However, that doesn’t mean I love EVERYTHING Green writes. I absolutely adored The Fault In Our Stars, Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, but I hated An Abundance of Katherines and was only lukewarm to Let it Snow  and Will Grayson, Will Grayson

However, with all of that being said, I absolutely loved Turtles All the Way Down. Here are the five things I liked the most about this novel.

  1. How well researched it was.
    Most people don’t spend hours upon hours googling microbiome bacteria, “Clostridium difficile” or “C-diff”, but Green did. He knows all about these conditions, how people get them, how many people get them, and where they get them. He knows when old cells die and new cells are born. He probably understands biology better than most biology teachers do. Green most certainly did his homework in order to create a character who is able to obsessively research these conditions and talk about them in a way that is accurate and makes sense. Furthermore, he is able to present them in a way that is interesting and makes me want to know more about these conditions. I find myself understanding and sympathizing with Aza’s character. Maybe we aren’t ever who we actually are after all. She has a point…how do we really know that we are well, real? Are we real at all?
  2. The way it didn’t turn anxiety into a cliche.
    People with anxiety worry a lot. Everyone knows that and it’s become the same tired and true cliched mental illness. But it doesn’t have to be. We all as outsiders think we know all about anxiety. But the truth is we have no freaking idea. We are completely clueless.  And Green does an excellent job reminding us of that.Everyone worries all the time, therefore everyone has anxiety, right? Wrong. Have you ever created a callus on your hand because you couldn’t stop picking at it as a way to ensure you’re real? Does that callus on your hand never heal because you can’t stop picking at it? Do you have to change the band-aid several times a day because you’re so worried that you have an infection and you’re going to get C-diff and die? Do you drink bottles of pure alcohol hand sanitizer because you’re convinced it’s the only way you can cleanse the inside of your body, killing bacteria, and ensuring you don’t get C-diff? This is Aza’s life with anxiety. It goes far beyond simply being worried.
  3. Davis Pickett.
    If fictional characters could win boyfriend of the year awards, Davis Pickett would be the one to beat. Can we just stop and talk for a minute about how much of a gem he truly is? He realizes that he going to be made famous due to his wealth and all of the crazy stuff going on with his dad, but he doesn’t want any of that. He wants real, true, genuine friends like Aza. And he also got stuck essentially raising his 13-year old brother. He never asked to be a father, but when he had to step up to the plate and become one to his brother, he did. He didn’t want anyone to turn in his dad or submit any tips initially because he wanted to protect his brother. He even pays Aza and Daisy thousands of dollars in reward money to keep them quiet. But then at the end he himself tips off the police so they can find his dad and him and his brother can live in peace and find a small trace of normalcy. Everything he does is in the best interest of his brother, not him. He’s definitely not selfish.Thinking of his selflessness (is that even a word?), just look at his relationship with Aza. As Green so carefully points out, dating someone with anxiety is HARD. Aza’s anxiety is so severe that she can’t even kiss Davis because she fears he will infect her with his microbiome bacteria and cause her to develop C-diff. Sometimes, she can’t even bear to see Davis and instead has to resort to just texting him. But none of that matters to Davis. For Davis, Aza being Aza, anxiety and all, is enough. He loves and support her despite her mental illness. He couldn’t care less about the fact that she can’t kiss him. How many other guys would be so accepting of something like that?
  4. The theme of loyalty.
    I would definitely say that loyalty is one of the key themes in this novel. We first see the loyalty between Aza, Daisy, and Davis when they accept the award from Davis and agree not to tip off the police or share any of the information they have. They value the friendship more than anything else.As previously mentioned, we also see loyalty between Davis and Aza. Aza tries really hard. I really do believe that. However, she’s not exactly the greatest girlfriend in the world to Davis. But Davis understands and he loves her anyway. He is loyal to her, even when she doesn’t have it within her to text him for days on end especially after she is hospitalized following her car accident and anxiety episode. He makes it clear that he will always be there for her, through thick and thin.

    I would also say that there’s a strong sense of loyalty between Aza and Daisy. Sure, they don’t always get along and I don’t think Daisy always understands Aza’s anxiety, but even when they fight they are still loyal to each other. Their fighting doesn’t last for long and they always work things out. I also love how at the end Daisy really seems genuinely interested in learning more about Aza and her anxiety and how she can help and be more understanding and a better friend. Aza also seems to want to work on herself to improve and be a better friend to Daisy. Their friendship is one that requires a lot of work and effort, but it’s their loyalty to each other that makes this friendship so strong.

  5. The Star Wars fan-fiction.
    As much as I hate to admit it, I actually did really like the Star Wars fan-fiction that Daisy wrote. It was so well crafted and it felt real. As a reader I could see how invested in it Daisy was and I like how even though it wasn’t really Aza’s thing, she was a good sport about it and read it in the end. I liked how it also caused tension in their relationship and how even though Daisy was good at it, she still had some major issues with it like the question of whether or not it was promoting bestiality by having Chewbacca fall in love with a human. Even though I don’t like Star Wars and don’t follow it, I could understand everything that was discussed in the novel relating to Daisy’s fan fiction. It was very well done.

 

John Green’sjTurtles All the Way Down was a very unique, well-written, and well researched novel that I highly recommend especially to those who are interested in learning more about anxiety. 5 out of 5 stories. Now the only question is, when can we expect another masterpiece from Green? 🙂



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