For the past 3 or 4 weeks my young adult Bible study group has been going through Gary Chapman’s famous book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. I was super excited when Pastor Eddie suggested that we go through this book together. I have heard many great things about the book but never read it. In fact, when Evan and I first started dating, even before we were officially an item, he revealed to me that his primary love language was Words of Affirmation. He also mentioned that one of the ways he preferred to give love was through Acts of Service. This all sounded good to me at the time, but now that I’ve actually read the book and discovered my own love language I am able to fully understand what it means.
The five different love languages are as follows:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Physical Touch
Words of Affirmation means that you prefer your partner or peers show love to you by giving you compliments or saying nice things about you. Being told that you look nice or that you did a nice job on a task are the kinds of things that would make you feel the most loved. In contrast, if someone uses words against you such as by saying negative things about you or being overly critical of your work you will not feel loved. I originally thought that this was my primary love language. It turns out it was neither my primary or secondary love language. However, it’s one I still find to be important.
For Evan, having Words of Affirmation as a primary love language means that I need to choose my words carefully when I communicate with him. It’s very important for me to send him texts throughout the day to let him know I am thinking of him and that he means a lot to me. For Christmas this year I wrote him a series of letters to open during different times of his life. These are letters to help him through bad or tough times, to lift him up and help him to feel encouraged or to simply make him feel good. With Words of Affirmation as a primary love language, these series of letters were the perfect gift for Evan.
On the flip side, if I were to get in an argument with Evan my words could become my most powerful weapon against him. Speaking out of frustration and using negative words and phrases like “How could you be so stupid?” Or “I really hate when…” would severely impact him and likely send him into a state of depression for days, even if I didn’t mean what I was saying at the time. Knowing this will make me much more cautious of how I speak to Evan even when I am angry. This will help me to love him better because I will be loving him in his own love language.
Evan always mentioned that Acts of Service was one of his favorite ways to show love. I’ll admit I didn’t quite understand what that meant until I read this book. Acts of Service means essentially helping your loved one with chores or tasks around the home; things that aren’t much fun but need to get done. Evan will often ask me if I have any errands I’d like him to take care of for me if he’s off of work on a day that I’m not (such as MLK day). I always say no, but I appreciate the gesture.
Evan also always says how he likes to imagine in the future when we’re married him going out and doing things for me such as picking up groceries or helping with laundry or dishes. These will all be considered Acts of Service.
However, Acts of Service is not my primary or secondary love language. I appreciate it, but to use Chapman’s own metaphor it’s not what’s going to “fill my love tank”. Evan might like to perform acts of service to show his love for me, but I’ll need something more to feel loved by him since Acts of Service is not my primary or secondary love language. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts taught us both not just how we prefer to be loved, but how we need to communicate love to each other in order to strengthen our relationship.
Quality Time is Evan’s secondary love language and mine as well. This took me a little bit as a surprise since I didn’t expect it to be either my primary or secondary love language. Prior to dating Evan I dated a truck driver that was never home and prior to that I was in a long-distance relationship with someone who lived over 1,000 miles away, so naturally I never saw him either. Throughout most of my relationship with Evan so far I’ve spent a lot of time both working and in school, so I don’t always get to see Evan as much as I’d like to. For these reasons I assumed quality time must not be quite as important to me and I definitely assumed wrong. Suddenly it makes a lot more sense why my past relationships didn’t work out and why I get so excited to see Evan and why I literally crave our Friday nights in when it’s just the two of us and we don’t see our friends or leave the house or do much of anything.
Quality time is about seeing each other and spending time together of course, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about really being with each other – really focusing on each other and not letting the outside world distract you when you’re together. It’s about making memories together and having a strong emotional bond, even when you’re not doing anything at all.
I always feel loved and cherished when I get to go on a special trip with just Evan and they always leave me feeling closer to him. So far we’ve been to Philly a few times, the shore, DC, and NYC together. I am hoping to go to Baltimore with him for my birthday and we’ve talked about taking some other trips together in the future.
Also, as I already mentioned our Friday night dates always mean a lot to me because we get to just focus on each other. Normally we stay in on Fridays and eat at home and just watch TV/movies together. However, last Friday we decided to go out after having a stressful week and desperately needing a release. Because our phones wouldn’t stop ringing and stressing us out, we made the joint decision to both turn out phones off for the night. We had a fun, stress-free night out where we were solely focused on each other. That is the definition of quality time.
For Evan he just wants to see me. He doesn’t care if it’s 5 minutes or 5 hours. For him getting to see me is what will calm him stories, make him feel loved and simply make him feel better. Just as words of affirmation can be used negatively and cause pain, so can quality time. I remember times when Evan got very upset because he was hoping to see me but unfortunately I couldn’t see him because I was too overwhelmed with work or school.
On the flip side, we’ve both had times where we met our secondary love language needs of quality time when I was having a bad day and he came over for twenty minutes just to pray with me and spend time with me until I calmed down and felt a bit better.
Receiving Gifts is the love language I always felt the most weird about and never imagined would be even remotely close to being my primary or secondary love language. I thought that Receiving Gifts was selfish and that if that was someone’s love language it meant that they were a spoiled brat that was simply using their mate for money and presents.
Boy, was I wrong. I am thankful that Chapman was able to open my eyes and help me to realize it’s okay to like and appreciate gifts and to feel the most loved when someone gives you a gift. Not all gifts have to cost money, and most of the time the very best gifts don’t cost anything at all.
After realizing this I am no longer ashamed to admit that Receiving Gifts is actually my primary love language.
I feel the most loved when people give me gifts because it shows me that they went out of their way to do something special for me to make me smile. If it cost money, I was worth the investment. If it didn’t cost money, then chances are it still involved a lot of time, thought, and consideration.
Evan has given me some really nice gifts over the past 16 or so months such as my Tiffany’s charm and my silver pendant. He’s also done some smaller things that mean just as much to me like writing me a lovely poem and buying me a gallon of ice cream (and then driving all the way to my house to deliver it) when he knew I was having a bad day. To me these are some of the sweetest gestures and these are things I think back and reflect on that make me feel the most loved.
Evan would never guess that receiving gifts is my primary love language (heck, I wouldn’t have even guessed that – it took me by surprise, too!). It might take him some time to adjust to this knowledge. The last thing in the world I would want for him would be to see him run out and by me some elaborate gift because he thinks that’s the only way I’ll feel loved by him. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Something small like picking up groceries at the store for us to have dinner or writing another poem or a love letter or even picking me a flower from his own front yard would all be very much appreciated gifts for me. I like these physical, tangible objects that I can touch, feel, smell, or look at. Little reminders that they came from him and he bought/made/created it because he loves me.
Last but not least is the love language of Physical Touch. This is another love language that made me feel awkward because I, like many others, typically think of Physical Touch on a sexual level. Knowing that Chapman is a Christian and that his book is possible in Christian circles (hence why my Bible study group chose it) made it even more awkward. Maybe it’s because I’m not married, but I can’t help but view sex as being sinful and having that as a primary love language being lustful.
But the truth is, it’s not like that at all. Sure, sex falls under the category of Physical Touch, but it’s not the only form of physical touch. There’s hugging, kissing, cuddling, and even just the brush of the cheek or the gentle pat on the shoulder or back rub. While physical touch is neither my primary or secondary language, it is still one that is pretty important to me. There’s nothing better than that moment where I see Evan for the first time in a week and he gives me a big hug and kiss to greet me. I will also never grow tired of constantly holding his hand or falling asleep in his arms when we watch TV together after church on Sundays.
I think that all five love languages should be spoken in every relationship for the greatest chance of success. However, knowing you and your partners primary and secondary love languages and choosing to speak them to each other will certainly make your bond much stronger and will keep what Chapman defines as the “love tanks” constantly full. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. You also don’t necessarily need to be in a relationship. This is a book that anyone can benefit from as it will teach you to love and understand everyone better – from your spouse to your friends to even your children or co-workers. 5 out of 5 stars, highly recommend.
Broad Street is a novel that focuses around the life of Kit Greene and her new-found best friend, Margo Bevilacqua. This novel opens up by telling the story of how Kit recently broke up with her cheating boyfriend, Dale. Dale has always been a musician and Kit has always been in the background. Through Dale, Kit has gained valuable experience regarding the ins and outs of the Philadelphia music scene. On the downside, through Dale, Kit seems to have lost two very valuable things: 1. Her sense of identity and 2. Her voice.
Breakups are hard for everyone, especially when the relationship was long-term, and Kit is no exception. Weiser does an excellent job setting the mood and showing the emotional side of Kit’s breakup in a way that is not self-depreciating or self-pitying. Sure, Kit has a broken heart and is making some stupid decisions as she tries to pick up the pieces, but the last thing in the world Kit wants is your sympathy or worst yet – your pity. Instead, Kit is determined to move on with her life and recreate her new Dale-free identity.
In order to help Kit out of her slump her friend Noelle invites her to a party at her friend Pete and his girlfriend, Margo’s house. Kit and Margo immediately bond over their shared interest in music and their love for female musicians. The solution to all of Kit’s problem seems to rest in the creation of a new all-girl band, one that includes her as the bass player and backing vocals and Margo as the lead singer.
But starting an all-girl band is not as easy or as simple as it sounds. It involves constantly going through drummer after drummer, a fierce cat fight with another competing band, the Pussy Willows, endless dates and night of regret, friendships and love and heartbreaks and fights. The music never stops, but neither does the drama.
At it’s surface, Broad Street was exactly the kind of novel that I should have loved. It was set in Philadelphia, the same city I live twenty minutes away from and travel to each day for work. I saw much of myself in Kit – she worked in Philadelphia as a copywriter and loved music. I work in Philadelphia as a Web Content Writer and love music as well. We’ve both made out fair amount of mistakes with dating and relationships in the past and seem to be searching for something more in life.
Also, the book was published by Philadelphia Stories and dedicated to Carla Spataro. Many of my professors at Rowan University worked for or were somehow involved with this publisher and Carla Spataro used to be a professor in my department. Although I don’t know Christine Weiser and am not familiar with any of her other works, I am very familiar with the publisher and Carla Spataro.
However, the book ended up falling flat and being a bit on the disappointing side. It wasn’t completely terrible, but it did seem a bit long-winded and pointless at time. I kept waiting for something big to happen, but nothing too interesting ever really did happen. The band practiced and had drama. They got a show and their was drama but they still played. Kit got drunk and had sex with someone from one of the bands and woke up with a lot of regret the next day if she remembered it at all. Charlie is some guy who is sweet that she never gives a fair chance to who is always kind of in the background. Margo always has a big mouth and is kind of bad ass but not the main character. The end.
I really wanted to see Kit make a name for herself or find herself but I’m not sure she ever really did. It seems like the band is close to getting a record deal at the end of the novel, but you’re not entirely sure if they do or not. It kind of seems like the end of the band may be within hindsight since Margo wants to go back to school to study agriculture. Margo seems to find herself more than Kit ever does. Margo is also in many ways a much more interesting character and I almost wonder why she wasn’t the main character to begin with. I would definitely be interested in reading a sequel if it was told from her point of view.
Another thing that turned me off with this novel is the writing itself. The writing was very clumsy at times, especially towards the end. There were many typos especially in regards to having some missing words. I liked the first person point of view, but I think it could have been stronger. Despite being in Kit’s head through the entire novel I still felt like I didn’t really know her or what she was thinking or feeling. She still felt really distant to me and again I’m not sure this was the right character to use as the narrator; the novel probably would’ve benefited from having Margo as the main character and narrator.
I don’t regret reading Broad Street, but it’s not something I’d recommend running to the book store or going out of your way to read, either. 3 out of 5 stars.
Image Credits: Amazon
When Amanda McDonough was four, she was diagnosed with mild hearing loss. Her hearing loss didn’t require any special treatment – yet and Amanda made it clear to her parents that she did not want to be treated any differently. Furthermore, Amanda begged her parents to keep her hearing loss a secret.
As Amanda grew older, her hearing loss continued to gradually decline, making conversations more and more difficult for her to hear and her secret harder to keep. By the time Amanda was seven her hearing loss required her to use hearing aids, but that didn’t stop Amanda from trying to keep her hearing loss a secret. Amanda would wear her hearing aids to please her parents, but the minute she arrived at school she would toss her hearing aids in her backpack, ashamed that they would reveal her diagnosis to her friends and other classmates. She tried her best to get by in the hearing world, the only world she knew at the time, with her hearing loss. She did not yet know that Deaf culture and American Sign Language was an alternative option.
When Amanda was in her early 20’s, after contracting an illness she woke up from a deep sleep to the realization that she was now profoundly deaf. All her life she had feared becoming deaf, but when she finally did become deaf, she felt a sense of relief. McDonough stated, “At first, I panicked. I tried knocking loudly on things. I tried yelling. I tried hearing anything. But it was all gone. I sat down at the edge of my bed, staring at my reflection in my full-length mirror as the sun came up in the window behind me, and to my surprise, the young woman looking back at me smiled. I suddenly was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of relief. I was deaf, and I was relieved.”
It was at this moment that Amanda claims to have accepted her deafness, yet she still strived to operate in the hearing world that she has always known. This is why a few years later she opted for cochlear implant surgery in hopes or regaining some of her hearing back. While the cochlear implants helped her to be aware of her surroundings and worked as a tool for her to navigate the world of sound, it still wasn’t the cure for deafness that she had hoped for it to be. Amanda still found herself struggling to get by in the hearing world, so she turned to Deaf culture hoping that she’d be able to better fit in there.
Up until this point Amanda’s only exposure to Deaf culture was through working as a background actor on the set of Switched at Birth. She had taken some American Sign Language courses in high school and observed some of the other castmates signing, but she was nowhere near fluent. She wasn’t a perfect match for the Deaf community either. By the end of the novel Amanda seems to have accepted that she will always be in between both worlds. Instead of striving to be a perfect match for the hearing world or a perfect match for Deaf culture, she lets her guard down and focuses on simply being herself and striving to use her voice to make life better for those with hearing loss no matter which world they belong to — the hearing one or the Deaf one.
Amanda McDonough has a captivating story; there aren’t many memoirs out there about deaf women, let alone deaf actresses. I was initially drawn to her story since I saw so much of myself in her. While I am not, have not, nor ever will be an actress, I still am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient and I’ve faced many of the same struggles and challenges in life that Amanda has faced. However, despite having this knowledge and knowing that I should relate to her story, I had a difficult time connecting and engaging with it.
Ready to Be Heard was self-published through Balboa Press. Amanda did an amazing job designing the cover and marketing her book to make it appear professional and credible, but unfortunately the poor writing gives away the fact that the book has been self-published. From the beginning of the book with the opening scenes focusing on Amanda’s birth readers know they will be in for a long ride. Amanda had an interesting story to tell, but she muddles it with unnecessary details including these very scenes. She continues this trend throughout the book by telling readers about every boy she’s ever dated (most of which she never gives names to), and every small and at times completely insignificant detail about her life in a linear fashion from birth to her present day. The result is a story that drags in many places and becomes slow to read, despite it only coming to a total of 232 pages.
Furthermore, Amanda positions herself as a distant narrator by using no dialogue throughout the novel and little to no scenes. She becomes the annoying friend who never seems to come up for air as she tells us everything about her life, without ever actually painting a picture for us to see the action taking place. For example, we are told that she struggled to hear her friends and to maintain her friendships in grade school once her mild hearing loss began to gradually decline. However, we are never actually shown what this looks like. We don’t get to watch Amanda struggle to hear her teachers and friends or to see her being left out from clubs or activities. We as readers are left to do the guest work on our own, which makes it difficult for us to truly get inside Amanda’s head and to feel any kind of sympathy for her.
As a fellow cochlear implant recipient, I also had a hard time believing everything that Amanda said, specifically in relations to her cochlear implants. I got the impression that Amanda was retelling information that was told to her, but that she never actually took the time to fact check. One of the biggest mistakes that Amanda makes in telling her story is explaining to readers that her internal cochlear implant was implanted into her skull. This information is not only untrue, but something I found to be widely offensive to anyone who has a cochlear implant. Often times audiologists will lie to patients who may be considering cochlear implants by telling them that the procedure is dangerous and involves brain surgery. This is a lie that I was told for most of my life and one of the main reasons why I held off from getting cochlear implants for so long. Once I got older and was told the truth I realized that I had been lied to for most of my life. The internal piece is never inserted in the skull; it’s placed under the skin behind the ear. The reason why audiologists lie about this is because they don’t want their patients to get implanted, they want their patients to continue to wear and purchase hearing aids so that they can make money off of them. Telling patients that cochlear implants are placed in the skull is a scare tactic that they use to discourage them from getting the procedure. After reading this false information I found it difficult to trust or like Amanda as a narrator; her inaccuracies caused me to shut down as a reader.
Yet, despite all of the flaws with Ready to be Heard, I still see potential. I think that the biggest issue now is that Amanda was so excited to tell her story that perhaps she rushed to publish it before it was ready. My biggest piece of advice to Amanda would be to hire an editor and do a full revision and then republish it as an updated (and improved) new edition. The things that Amanda should focus on the most in her next version are creating scenes (showing readers things rather than just telling them what happens), cutting unnecessary details (we don’t need to know about every single man she’s ever dated on how her parents decided to name her Amanda), adding in dialogue (this may require Amanda to do more research and interview people including her parents, former teachers, and former doctors), and working to clean up some of her California slang so that the book reads more naturally and smoothly.
As it is, Ready to Be Heard is a good story that simply hasn’t been told well. I would give it 2 out of 5 stars with hopes that one day it will be republished and all of the writing flaws corrected.
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.
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.
Wow, long time, no post. Am I right? I apologize for being so quiet on here lately. My initial plan was to dedicate much of my summer to get back into blogging and updating my marketing and deaf awareness social accounts, but then I ended up going all over Pennsylvania and spending a lot of time in Chicago and investing more time into studying and before I knew it summer was over and none of those goals got accomplished. But hey, I’m here now and that’s something, right?
Anyways, guys – we need to talk about Coraline.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Coraline it is a really creepy and really really really freaking weird children’s novel written by Neil Gaiman. This book was published in 2002 and became a movie a few years later (I’m not sure when exactly but I want to say the movie came out around 2007…does that sound about right?)
I was assigned to read this book for my Seminar I course this semester. When I found out it was going to be my required reading I went and watched the movie on Netflix right away. I have heard a lot about the movie and have been meaning to watch it for some time. On the surface, Coraline reminded me a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, two movies I always really loved. Now that I know that Coraline had many of the same producers and masterminds that those other movies had, it makes a lot of sense.
I thought the movie was interested. I liked it and couldn’t stop watching it, but I also thought it was one of the weirdest, creepiest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I love horror movies but the only ones that ever really did a good job of scaring me are the Saw movies. I found most other horror movies to be completely comical.
Coraline was scarier to me than any of the Saw movies were.
…And the book was better than the movie but still somehow even more horrifying to me. I don’t know if I loved it or hated it. I thought it was super freaking weird, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t have to have the book read for class until September 20th. Last night was probably the worst time I could’ve read it since I was running on about 3 or 4 hours of sleep total (isn’t grad school fun?) but I started reading it during my commute to work earlier in the day and I couldn’t put it down. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep not knowing what was going to happen to Coraline next. It’s been awhile since a book captivated me as much as this one did, so there’s no denying that despite my concerns about the book’s weirdness, it was extremely well written.
But, Mr. Gaiman, I have a few questions for you now, none of which were included in your little Q&A session for the book’s 10 year anniversary edition. Here are my questions:
1. Why in the world is this book considered a children’s book?
I have friends that have young kids who have seen the movie version of Coraline and love it. If you’re three or even five years old and can handle Coraline, more power to you because despite your young age, you are stronger than I am apparently. I would never tell my friends or anyone not to let their kids read or watch this movie. It’s so well crafted that I don’t think you should deny a child the right to watch the movie or read the book if they want to.
But, at the same time when I have kids of my own I don’t think this is ever going to exactly be one of my reading recommendations for them. I might even be the kind of mom who keeps her copy of it under lock and key and tries to shelter their kids from discovering it.
My reasoning has nothing at all to do with the book’s craft, but everything to do with the creepiness of this book. I was afraid this book would give me nightmares last night and I’m 27 years old. The book literally talks about an “other mother” and an “other father” and the mother is really evil and literally plucks kids’ eyeballs out and replaces them with buttons. Is it me or is this not horrifying? How many kids saw this movie or read the book and were suddenly petrified of their dolls afterwards? I mean I’m always kind of petrified of dolls – they are creepy to begin with, but after seeing Coraline I think I’d kill anyone who handed me a doll…
2. What kind of a relationship does Neil Gaiman have with his own parents?
I’m not trying to sound like Sigmund Freud or anything, but Neil Gaiman must have some serious mommy issues to write a book that is this messed up.
But while I think the other mother is much more evil and disturbing, I wouldn’t say the father is off the hook exactly.
What was Gaiman’s inspiration for making his characters like this and is it a positive or a negative portrayal? In the book’s reading guide it seems as though Gaiman wants his readers to connect with the idea of their parents not having time to play with them as kids. I think that is a common theme in children’s books, but Gaiman is going much deeper than that with his portrayal of Coraline’s parents here.
The other mother is completely evil and creepy. Did Gaiman have a rough childhood with his mother? Would his mother or has his mother ever caused harm to him perhaps in a way that she believed would be to his benefit (like how the other mother wants to love Coraline and give her a happy life, but at the expense of her eyeballs?).
Were Gaiman’s parents divorced? Did his mother steal him away from his father as a child (kind of like the idea of kidnapping presented throughout the text?) Did it break his spirit (kind of like the idea of how the other mother stole the children’s souls)? Was Gaiman’s mother evil and manipulative and abusive not only towards Gaiman, but towards his father as well? Was his father simply “whipped” and living in a “whatever your mother says goes” kind of world when Gaiman was a child? Coraline’s other father just seems way too absent and nonchalant and a stark contrast of the other mother in this novel. Even Coraline’s real parents seem to have some issues and tension between them where the mother seems to play a dominating role and her real father is just kind of there.
Or – did Gaiman have a great family life with very loving, perfect parents and perhaps he used that as the inspiration to show children that even though their parents might be busy they still love them and their real parents are better than any kind of substitute they could ever dream of, no matter how mice or similar other people may seem?
Either way, it definitely seems as though Gaiman’s own experiences with his parents could have influenced this book.
3. What is with all of the mice?
Just when you think Coraline couldn’t get any weirder – there is a freaking mouse circus. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. What kind of drugs was Gaiman on when he wrote this book? No, seriously.
It’s really weird, but at the same time this could potentially be brilliant.
Circuses have been in the news a lot over the past decade or so – the time of Coraline’s peak. One of the main reasons why people are so angry about circuses is due to the treatment of animals used. We all care about animals like elephants and tigers and seals and horses and lions which are often used in these circus shows – but what about mice and rats? Do they even count as being animals?
We slaughter these animals in mass quantities because we don’t think they matter. We seem them as being dirty, disgusting, diseased, evil, and not worthy of life. We perform clinical trials on them. We do all kinds of tests on them. If the rat or mouse dies in the process we don’t even grieve for them, we just simply take out the trash and go on with our lives.
This is where Gaiman is doing something really unique. Gaiman does what he does best and brings in the really freaking weird character of Mr. Bobo – most frequently referred to as “the man upstairs”. The man upstairs is training his mice and he seems them as being talented and kind of brilliant for their ability to perform music and hundreds or thousands of tricks. I don’t think anyone would argue that Mr. Bobo takes great care of his mice; he even talks about buying them new cheese to help them out a bit. How many other people would do this for mice or rats? I don’t know of anyone who would go through all of that for a rat. I know me personally if I see a mouse or a rat first off I’m grabbing my cat, Picasso, and making him kill the little menace, and that’s only if I feel like being nice that day.
I’m wondering if Gaiman chose to perhaps include the mice/rats in his book in this way to make a political statement on how we view animals and animals rights.
Or – is this something larger. Is it a political statement on how prejudice we are? How we view good and evil?
The latter statement seems like it may be a bit more accurate.
Because think of this. Most of us will look at a rat or a mouse as being evil, whether it does or does not actually bother us. Sure, a rat in the subway is probably filled with disease and if it bites us we’re probably going to get infected and die and that’s evil. But then there are still domesticated rats and mice that people actually keep as nice little house pets. Are those still evil?
And why is our first human instinct always to kill the rats and mice we found walking the streets? Why don’t we ever think to stop and pick up the animal or call animal control and to get them help and see if we can cure them of their diseases? We would do that for a dog or a chicken or any other animal. Why are rats and mice different?
And to further drag this point along. Let’s compare the mice to the other parents.
The mice – whom on normal non-Gaiman terms would be considered evil, filthy things, seem to represent something good, perhaps one of the only things that are good in this novel.
The other parents start off in the book as being good. We normally think of our mother and father as being loving, kind, and supportive of us. They are meant to protect us from all harm. Originally the other parents were supposed to be better versions of Coraline’s own real parents, but we soon found out that they actually weren’t as kind and loving and supportive as they seemed to be. They wouldn’t have protected Coraline or kept her safe. In fact, these two individuals we automatically assume are going to be a positive force in Coraline’s life are actually EVIL and a source of harm to Coraline and all whom they come into contact with.
That’s kind of an interesting little juxtaposition there, isn’t it?
4. Is Neil Gaiman wiccan or a witch or something?
Of all of the parts of the book, these were the elements that bothered me the most as a Christian. Gaiman seems to want to chalk it up as being just magic based on the reading guide and his answers to the questions in the Q&A for the 10th anniversary edition of Coraline but this is more than just Hansel and Gretel era-magic. I mean – tea leaves? Really? Miss Spink and Miss Forcible seem like true witches.
But are they evil? I think it’s debatable honestly. I don’t usually see them as being evil or bad the way you’d normally view a witch. This kind of goes back to the idea with the mice – something often seen as being evil is actually good.
But what is going on with those dogs? The images didn’t seem as strong in the book as they were in the movie, but they were equally as disturbing. They literally have a collection of dead dogs in their home. When their dogs get sick they don’t seem to really jump on helping them. I mean I know they take the dog to the vet and everything but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they kind of WANTED the dogs to die so they could stuff them and grow their collection.
And doesn’t this kind of fit in with the theme of the dolls? Stuffed animals are like dolls right? It’s better to kill real, living things, to substitute them for stuffed items that can be whatever you want them to be or something along those lines? Creeeeeeeeeeeeepy, but it is what it is, right?
Also, who can forget that weird little song Coraline sings about be a “twitchy, witchy girl?”
Is Coraline the witch? Hmm…it’s possible.
5. Does Gaiman believe in God? How does Gaiman view God?
The whole magic and witchcraft stuff is only a small part of a larger whole in Coraline. He seems to be really commenting on bigger issues connecting back to religion and his views on God. I don’t think it’s any wonder that my Baptist friends aren’t all a big fan of this novel because these parts made me a little uncomfortable and these are some reasons why I may hesitate in recommending this book or movie to my future children one day.
First off, let’s talk about the other mother again. Who is she really? She is very evil almost like Satan, but I guess not that evil. Is she playing God? The novel does talk quite a bit about how the other mother created a world for the children and she’d create a world for Coraline if she’ll only agree to live with her. It explains how she could create something new every day so that Coraline would never be bored, but there is no outside because she hasn’t created that yet.
Christians believe that God created all things. We can have paradise in heaven if we only follow Christ and accept him in our heart. Coraline can have all things if she only allows her mother to sew buttons in her eyes and stay there forever. It’s different, but similiar, no?
Also let’s talk about those souls that the other mother is collecting from the children. This seems really really satanic to me. You always here of those sayings of “I sold my soul to the devil”, isn’t that exactly what these kids here have done? Are they in hell? It sure as heck doesn’t seem like they’re in heaven, that’s for sure.
I also want to mention that this doesn’t seem to be the first instance where Gaiman has commented about religion and God, for better or for worst. He has another novel for adults called American Gods. Now, I haven’t read it at all and have no idea what it’s about so I can’t really say anything other than this: it makes you wonder.
These are just five main questions I had after reading Coraline. Now that I’ve written them all out and analyzed this book in over 2600 words I can’t say that I am anywhere closer to knowing the answer to my questions. In fact, I’d argue that I have even MORE questions and I don’t even know if I liked the book or detested it.
To describe this book in just one word, only one word is needed to sum it all up: