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.
I know I shouldn’t have expected much from this book and honestly being someone who is completely obsessed with J.D. Salinger’s classic, The Catcher and the Rye I shouldn’t have picked up this piece of trash (it does not deserve to be called a book) in the first place, but curiosity got the best of me. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The thing is I just really love Holden Caulfield and I’ve missed him and was excited about the possibility of seeing him brought back to life again, even if it was 60 years later, with a new story. However, this isn’t the aged version of Holden Caulfield that I thought it would be.
This piece of trash starts off with Holden Caulfield in a retirement home. He seems to be surprised by the fact that he’s old and I’m left wondering if he has dementia or Alzheimer’s or another degenerative disease. He is really confused which seems out of character for Holden. However, I tried to put that past me and give the book a chance. But the thing is California makes it hard to give this piece of trash a chance because the more you read, the worst it gets.
This piece of trash didn’t really have a plot or a point or a purpose or any kind of organized structure. I guess that explains why the book was self-published (I mean absolutely no offense to those who are actual credible writers that self-publish…I just mean for this guy clearly there were no other options – who would want to publish this garbage under than him?). Most of this piece of trash is just about Holden wandering around aimlessly. He escapes his retirement home and then just goes to New York and Boston and randomly comes across people from his childhood like Stradlater. Phoebe’s there too and Holden’s obsession with her is downright creepy and leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable. I can understand how Holden would still see his sister 60 years later, but Stradlater? Really? And I mean it’s 60 years later – there’s a chance he could’ve even been dead to be honest. The chances of Holden staying in touch are slim to none and the book even seems to acknowledge that in a way; Holden seems surprised to find Stradlater. It doesn’t make much sense; it just feels like the author’s lame attempt to re-write The Catcher in the Rye and you don’t mess with a classic.
There’s some new characters in this piece of trash, too and they come off as well, trashy. Charlie is one of the main characters and I’m totally confused on who she is and why she’s in this sad excuse of a book. I think she was one of Holden’s students? But when was he ever a teacher? Did he ever even go to or finish college? California never addresses those questions – he just randomly places her in the book and the next thing you know she’s having a threesome with her boyfriend and the elderly Holden Caulfield. It’s sick and there’s no reason why it needs to be in the story at all.
Another noteworthy character in this piece of trash is J.D. Salinger himself. Yes, because it’s totally normal to write a spinoff of a book and to throw the original author in their randomly. Sure. Salinger has no purpose in being in this book, but then again neither does anyone else. I have no idea what was even going on in this part of the book. I know Holden found a notebook and he went to return it to his son but his son was J.D. Salinger? Or did I misread it? Does California even know which is which? Sometimes I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing. It made no sense. If Salinger was his son then everything would be backwards. Salinger is older than Holden? I don’t even know…
But I haven’t even gotten to the best part of this trash. Have I told you about Holden’s bladder yet? Now I know it might sound weird for me to talk about Holden’s bladder and you might think it’s something you really don’t need to know about, but trust me when I say that John David California wants you to know about Holden Caulfield’s bladder. In fact, California went so far as to make sure he wrote about Holden’s bladder no less than every 2-3 pages throughout the entire novel. I don’t think this piece of trash has a point at all, but if it did I bet it would probably have something to do with Holden’s bladder.
What do I mean by “Holden’s bladder?” I mean just that. I know every single time Holden has a full bladder, when he think he might have a full bladder, when his bladder is so full it causes him pain, and when he doesn’t realize he has a full bladder until it’s too late. I already mentioned that most of the novel involves Holden aimlessly wandering around. I lied. He’s not “just” aimlessly walking around – he’s also urinating on everything in sight because his bladder is always overflowing and there’s never a bathroom around but if there is one Holden would rather not use it. Why does the reader need to know this? We really don’t, trust me, California. The only reason I can think of as to why the sad excuse of an author decided this was important was because it was a sad attempt to show that Holden is 60 years older and obviously developed urinary incontinence.
California’s portrayal of an elderly Holden is disgraceful at best. He seems to play on the stereotype that all elderly men live in retirement homes, can’t control their bladders, and are confused. This isn’t just stereotyping, it feels like blatant ageism. Holden deserves better than this.
After reading 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye I’m left feeling disgusted and ashamed to even admit I’ve read this. It also makes me want to go rushing back to the original classic The Catcher in the Rye. I bet I’ll love it and appreciate it now more than ever.
I’m also left with two words to say:
I’m sorry to Mr. Salinger who never wanted this book released and who went so far as to have it banned from the US (I had to order it online specially to obtain a copy). I’m sorry for not respecting his wishes. I’m sorry that the book was ever written. I’m sorry the book was published. I’m sorry the book is banned from all parts of the world and that more people are still reading this piece of trash.
Holden deserved better and so did Salinger.
I just finished reading In Search of the Proverbs 31 Man by Michelle McKinney Hammond. This book caught my attention as soon as I spotted on the Used Books bookshelf at the Amazing Grace christian bookstore a week ago. I was really intrigued by the title, In Search of the Proverbs 21 MAN. Proverbs 31 has always been one of my all-time favorite bible passages. It told me everything I ever wanted to know about what kind of woman I should strive to be — a Proverbs 31 woman. But I completely forgot about the fact that behind that great woman, there was a great Proverbs 31 man, too. Also, being single, I am still in search of my Proverbs 31 man, so I decided to purchase the book and see what it said.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars because I do wish it could’ve went a little more in depth. A couple points were repetitive, redundant, and at times a little generic, but giving it only 3 stars seemed way too harsh because it was a good book that I did learn from. Here are 4 of the main points I learned after reading this book.
1. The connection between men and women. I honestly never really considered this point before. I love how the author, Michelle McKinney Hammond breaks down the connection of men and women. She explains that man is made from God (which I already knew) and that woman is made from the rib of man (which I also already knew). Then she goes a step further and explains that when woman was created, there was a piece taken out of man. That piece is missing. He still needs that piece to survive, which is why he needs woman. This just totally blew my mind. It makes perfect sense and it’s that complicated of an idea, but it was one I never thought of before. The need for a man and a woman to coexist alongside each other isn’t done on a spiritual or emotional level, but it is a physical need and one that goes far beyond just sex.
2. The orders of men and women and why women must submit to their husbands. I never realized there was an order before, I just heard repetitively that woman must submit to their husbands. Now I’ll be honest and say that this is a concept I often struggle with. I am by no means a feminist and I don’t typically support the feminist movement, but I do want general equality between men and women and I don’t want to feel like I’m just letting a man control me and push me around. But that’s not what submission is at all. See, as Hammond explains in her book, women must submit to men because of their order. The order goes like this God – > man -> woman. God always comes first. Because God created man, man must dedicate his life to serving God and striving to be as Christ-like as possible. Woman was created from man. Therefore, it is her order to submit to her husband. This is her priority. It is still her priority to worship and serve God, but the man rules over the woman. The man is closer to God than the woman is because the man is a direct creation from God whereas woman is a direct creation from man. This goes back to point one.
3. What to look for in terms of a future husband. If you’re single like me you should still be thinking in terms of what you should be looking for in a husband. I felt better reading what Hammond has to say about this because I think that’s what I was doing a lot in my last relationship which ultimately helped me to decide to leave my relationship because I didn’t see the future I wanted. If you’re single you should be looking for a Proverbs 31 man to be your husband. It should be a strong man that has a deep love, appreciation, and understanding of God. He should love and cherish you very deeply and passionately and not be afraid to show his love for you. He should offer you security through his job and financial wealth and have the ability to truly support you and care for you. That is his responsibility not just as a man, but as the head of the household which is precisely what a Proverbs 31 man should be according to the order of God.
4. How to prepare myself to become a Proverbs 31 woman. If you’re single like I am, then you shouldn’t just be focusing on searching for a Proverbs 31 man to be your husband, but you should also consider all of the ways you are a Proverbs 31 woman and what areas need more help. For me I could probably bear to be more patient, communicative with my partner (well in this case, future partner) especially during times of trouble, and above all else, I need to learn to submit more to men. I need to learn to let men approach me rather than be the one to approach them. That is not the right order. Men were built like hunters who hunt for their lovers. It is natural for a man to approach a woman. Woman should be waiting for men to approach them and then they should be willing to submit. That is the proper, biblical order. It is also something I tend to be pretty bad at — I tend to wear my feelings on the sleeve and jump at the chance to display love and affection even when it is not returned. I need to work on this and strive to be less like well, me, and more like the godly Proverbs 31 woman.
I really did enjoy reading Michelle McKinney Hammond’s novel, In Search of the Proverbs 31 Man. I think this book will definitely be helpful for me in understanding my responsibilities as a single woman and also what my future role as a wife and a Proverbs 31 woman will be.
Hey guys! I know you already know by now what I’m going to say; I SUCK at the 30 Day Writing Challenge. It’s May 14th and I’m only on Day 8. But in my defense, at least I’m writing on a regular basis, right? Also, some of my entries have been really long and detailed…one of them even had to be broken in 2 posts!
So anyway, Day 8 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge asks me to write about a book I love and one I don’t.
If you’ve been following my blog, it should come to no surprise that I LOVE The Catcher in the Rye. I mean, I did recently write about how I’m obsessed with J.D. Salinger and everything. If you’ve been following my blog for a longer time, you might even remember my rant on how awful I thought The Hunger Games to be; it’s probably my #1 most hated book of all time.
These two novels are vastly different from one another. However, I can easily compare and contrast them to show why I loved one and hated the other. Here’s why I loved one and hated the other.
I had very different expectations for these two novels. When I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I was a junior in high school. I never heard of the book before. I thought based on the title this book would be about baseball or something. I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it, but I had to for school. I never expected to love it as much as I did.
In contrast, my expectations for The Hunger Games were extremely high. I first read this book my senior year of college, when it was exploding with popularity and the first film was released. I was required to read this book for my Writing Children’s Stories class, but had every intention to read it on my own even if it wasn’t part of my required college reading. I heard so much buzz about this book that I had to see what the big deal was. I also loved the concept/idea around it. I knew it had to do with a dystopian society and it sounded fascinating. However, the book never came close to meeting my expectations. It was incredibly disappointing.
These two books vary greatly on their use of dialogue. Catcher in the Rye has a fair amount of dialogue. The reader gets to see how Holden interacts with several characters including his teachers, Phoebe, Sally, Jane, etc. The dialogue helps to keep the story moving and brings it to life. While the novel is told in first person by Holden and we primarily are exposed to Holden’s thoughts and views, we can still get up close to other characters from the dialogue.
On the other hand, The Hunger Games uses very little dialogue. Katniss tells us what is happening. We also get long chunks of text that describe the setting and scenery. After reading this book I still didn’t feel like I knew Peeta, even though he was one of the main characters. All of the characters were easy to forget and I didn’t connect or relate to any of them. It was a really boring, long-winded story.
Character Driven Vs. Plot Driven
The Catcher in the Rye is definitely a character driven story. There is no doubt about it. Without Holden Caulfield, you have no story. The story is about Holden’s state of mental health, his thoughts, his feelings, and his actions. It makes him easy to remember and connect with. I really love the character driven style.
In contrast, The Hunger Games was definitely plot driven. The story is about a society where food is scarce and there are too many people to feed. The characters really don’t matter that much in this story. You can get rid of Katniss (please do, she is so annoying) and/or Peeta, and still have your story. I felt that with the plot driven story, I could never really get to know the characters all that well. They weren’t memorable or easy to connect or relate to. They were just kind of there taking up space on the page.
I think that the writer’s histories and their own personalities and maybe even the time periods they grew up in had a lot to do with their writing style. It was very very different.
J. D. Salinger is a classic writer, and I have always loved classic novels. Classic writers took their writing VERY seriously, and it shows. Salinger was fanatical about his writing, even if he didn’t publish it all and often said he regretted ever writing Catcher in the Rye. He would lock himself up for hours on hours every single day to write. He didn’t want a life outside of his writing at all. He’d write, revise, edit, rewrite, rinse and repeat. The result? A well-planned, well researched, well-written novel.
Salinger also had one sole purpose for his writing: for his own personal use and enjoyment. I don’t think Salinger’s intention was ever to make a lot of money off of it. I know it probably influenced him (why else would he submit to The New Yorker?), but he hated the fame that came with it. Also, much of his writing is based on personal experience, especially in The Catcher in the Rye. I think his writing was in many ways his way to collect his thoughts and ideas for his own peace of mind/mental health.
Suzanne Collins is a very different kind of writer. She is much less experienced and was likely just writing for fame and money. I don’t see her novel as leaving a lasting impact on people the way Catcher in the Rye did. I also don’t think much of her life was influenced by this novel. The Hunger Games didn’t give me the impression that Collins spent a lot of time doing research or revising her work. Actually, it was just the opposite. The Hunger Games read like a first draft to me. It was very messy and sloppy and as a writer, I was very disappointed in the sloppy writing from this “famous” author.
These are just a few of the differences between The Catcher in the Rye and The Hunger Games that explain why I loved one and hated the other. Have you ever read either (or both) of these novels? What was your opinion of them?