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 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.
So…writing about pineapples was pretty fun yesterday. Today’s topic? Much less than fun, though I’m betting I’ll have a better click through rate (CTR) on it. People apparently don’t care to read that much about my hatred of pineapples (their loss!), but always seem to be interested in relationship drama, or the lack thereof because ‘Merica.
For Day 11 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge I’m supposed to write about my relationship status, or lack thereof.
I’ve been single since October, so it looks like I’ll be discussing why.
I broke up with my boyfriend of 13 months in the middle of October, the night before we were supposed to go away for a weekend to celebrate our 1 year anniversary, something we had planned pretty much since we first got together. Needless to say, that trip never happened.
He probably thinks I broke up with him because he was sick and wasn’t sure if he was going to make it for our anniversary trip. Sure, it didn’t help at all. It was the final straw for me, really. But I’m not that heartless. Of course I didn’t just break up with him because he was sick. There was so so so much more to it than that.
I loved him very much, and the decision to walk away from our relationship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also something that was very necessary.
I thought he loved me for the longest time. Our relationship meant the world to me. I would have done anything for him, and in many ways, I think I did. A year ago I swore we were going to get married. I thought that by now I’d be engaged, or almost engaged to him. I was so sure he was the one. But well, obviously I was wrong about that.
For awhile, the longer we were together, the closer we were going to get. I was a trucker girlfriend, and for awhile, the distance while very hard, was making us stronger. We, or especially myself, would get so excited to see each other because it happened so infrequently. If we saw each other more than twice a month it was unheard of.
I began to really identify as a trucker girlfriend at this time. That was my main identity and I was proud of it. I knew what I was doing was hard. What girl wants to be with a guy that she never ever gets to see? But I kept told myself it was worth it…I had a great boyfriend and we loved each other very much and it wasn’t always going to be this way.
Some days being a trucker girlfriend were harder than others. I would sometimes cry a lot because I missed him so much and I’d worry about him constantly. Sometimes it just got so lonely. I had a great boyfriend that I loved to death and who was my best friend. I wanted to do and share everything with him, but it oftentimes wasn’t a possibility because he always had to work and go out on the road.
Our relationship was becoming more and more serious. We even spent a week in Disney together! It was such a great time. I got to spend like 18 hours at a time with my best friend who I swore was the love of my life for an entire week. That was practically the equivalent of every day we’ve ever been together since we first started dating. It was so hard to go home and say goodbye to him after that.
I think Disney strengthened our relationship for awhile, but it didn’t last…
I think that some of the ways we viewed each other began to change after that. We began to realize we weren’t as similar as we thought we were, and even if we had a lot in common, our families did not.
Realizing this began to put a real strain on our relationship. Our parents never met, but if they did, I don’t think it would’ve went over well at all. We came from very different backgrounds. But we loved each other and that’s all that mattered, right?
But here’s the thing, when you’re raised a certain way you usually believe that is the “right” way and all other ways are wrong. It’s not intentional, it’s just how it is.
I was raised to value education and to work to have a nice home and a nice car and things like that and to take pride in myself and my things. Vacations weren’t a priority — they never really took place. We all worked, studied, and enjoyed our home instead. We weren’t overly luxurious people by any means, but we had nice, expensive things that we worked hard for. It was more important for us to use money on our home and car and education and things like that than it was to have a cheap home and car and go on vacation.
His family was the opposite of that. They “just wanted to have fun”. They did work hard – but it often seemed like for all of the wrong reasons. They were sometimes obsessed with having money, but they were greedy with it. It was spent on things like vacations — and they weren’t educational or what I’d consider “traveling” – they were amusement parks and always the same ones multiple times throughout the year every year — it seemed kind of unnecessary. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just seemed a little weird because I wasn’t raised that way.
I think family had different meanings for both of us too. We were both close to our families but in different ways. Maybe we were in different parts of life. I wanted independence, but I wanted it with him. I was more than willing to be tied down to him. I wanted marriage and kids and a life of my own with my husband. He wanted to go on vacation with his parents and he did all the time. He’d choose that over spending time with me — and he’d choose it all the time. I wouldn’t have done it. I didn’t see him much. If it came between seeing my boyfriend more or going on vacation without him, I’d choose the option of seeing him more even if it meant giving up a family vacation or 2 (or like, 7).
As our relationship progressed, we learned more about each other and I thought more and more about our future and what it would be like to be married and raise a family together. But I stopped hearing the wedding bells. I didn’t see the love filled bliss anymore.
It was horrifying.
I saw a messy “home” in a run down trailer park in the middle of nowhere.
I saw old,broken, run down cars.
I saw my son who never saw his father and was always hurt and missing him.
I saw myself, a stay-at-home mother struggling to make ends meet and trying to explain to my children why daddy was never home.
I saw a garbage bin full of my hopes and dreams.
I began to question if this is what I wanted, and the answer was no.
That was not by any means the future I had imagined for myself or what I wanted. I wanted to go to New York. I wanted to finish my novel and be a bestselling author. I had a possible opportunity in California I wanted to explore. I wanted to go to grad school. I was considering getting my second cochlear implant since the first one was so successful.
I wanted to know that my boyfriend loved me as much as I loved him — something I was beginning to question.
I wanted a husband and a loyal father. I didn’t want to have to worry about daddy being home, where daddy was, what he was doing, whether or not he was safe, and when he’d be home.
I didn’t want to have to think of what to tell my children for why daddy missed yet another baseball game, another holiday, another birthday.
I didn’t want to live in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere.
I wanted a big house with a beautiful garden and nice lawn in a nice neighborhood. I wanted to know my neighbors and for their kids to be friends with my kids.
I didn’t want to be just a trucker wife that let her husband do whatever he wanted why she stayed home and waited for him.
I. WAS. SO. SICK. OF. WAITING.
I spent all of last summer doing nothing more than waiting. Waiting for him to call, waiting for him to text, waiting for him to come home, waiting for him to pick me up. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
And I was putting my life on the backburner. I was putting off my hopes and dreams and keeping myself from being who God destined me to be. I was a trucker girlfriend and that’s all I was. And it seemed like soon, that identity would be ripped away from me, too.
We were falling apart. We could no longer ignore our huge differences and our upbringings and who we were and what we wanted from life. Our future was becoming messy and muddled. The time away was getting to us. We were getting lonely. We were fighting. He was talking to other girls and cheating on me. I was getting mistrustful and paranoid.
I got kicked out of the trucker girlfriend groups. I never really knew why. But that’s when it felt like I really lost it all — because at the time, that’s all I had.
It felt like getting kicked in the face at first. I was already down and now the people who were supposed to be the only ones that could understand me, were kicking me further to the ground. But maybe, that’s exactly what I needed.
I needed to get angry. I needed to break. I needed to say “Screw this lifestyle. I’m not a trucker girlfriend…I’m so much more.”
After that I began to see myself as more than just a trucker girlfriend. I was a person with my own identity and my own hopes and my own dreams. I supported him and his career and his hopes and dreams so much…the least he could do was support mine, right?
I was unhappy at work. I needed a new job. But there was one thing I had going for me — awesome health insurance. I needed to take advantage of that and get my second cochlear implant while I could. I never understood why, but he was less than supportive. He was very pessimistic. He didn’t think insurance would cover it. He was so supportive with my first surgery, it was weird that he was the opposite with the second. But I was only just considering it — I didn’t know if I’d go through with it yet, so I tried to ignore it.
I was writing more and more, too. My memoir was about half finished. I intended to finish it during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I was very serious about it. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to get it published and I knew the perfect way to go about it — to go back to school and get my MA in Writing at Rowan. He didn’t support that either. He thought it was too expensive and I was already so far in debt. He wanted to help me. He would help me financially, I just had to wait for him to build up his career. I dismissed this, too, and tried to ignore it. He has a point, he was right. He said he’d help me. But I didn’t realize how I didn’t need his help at all. His money and his opinion didn’t matter at all.
Then there was California — which I couldn’t really ignore. I had a HUGE amazing opportunity that was about to come to light — but it would be in California. It was exciting, but also terrifying. It was all the way across the country. But it was the perfect opportunity for me. He drove and was on the road and never home anyway, so surely this wouldn’t mater that much, right? We’d just do a long distance relationship until we got married which would only be a little harder than what we were doing. But he didn’t see it that way. He wanted me to do what would make me happy whether it be California or staying with him. But I couldn’t have both. One or the other.
I’m sorry, but if he loved me, he wouldn’t have made me choose. He’d want to do anything to keep me, even if it meant moving to California (or at the very least, allowing me to go there) to be with me.This was a huge game changer and eye opener for me in my relationship.
I would’ve done it for him without thinking. I waited for him all the time. I compromised. I gave up so much of me and my life for him, but he wouldn’t for me. And it wasn’t all work, either. Sometimes I couldn’t see him because he chose his family over me. He’d rather go on vacation with them then see me. And I knew it and accepted it, as much as it hurt.
And I mentioned that to him then, too. You love your family more than you love me. I said. He admitted it. He said yes.
And it crushed me. Family is important — but I wanted to be more so. We’ve been dating for a year at that point. I wanted to BE his family. I wanted to be his wife, but I was realizing, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
I thought about everything. My hopes, my dreams, my love. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. I went on a lot of walks to parks and random areas to sit and cry. At times I wanted to die. Other times, I felt like I was already dead. I had choices to make and it was terrifying. Where did I go? Did I take risks and try to follow my overly ambitious dreams? Did I give up my boyfriend — who might have been the love of my life and “the one” to do it? Or did I marry him and keep my mouth shut and settle down with a life that’s a bit less than what I hoped it would be?
It wasn’t an easy decision to make and it wasn’t something that was made over night. But after I read Thrive by Mark Hall from Casting Crowns, I knew my answer.
I have been surviving. Barely. More like struggling. Breathing through a clogged straw. Settling.
God didn’t make me to suffer. He didn’t make me to suffocate. He didn’t make me to settle. This is NOT how he wanted me to live my life.
I was made to THRIVE.
God didn’t want me to throw away my dreams for some boy. If he was really “the one” he would’ve supported me and my dreams and brought out the best of me. He wouldn’t have made me choose.
God wanted me to follow my dreams.
I gave him one chance. One more chance to prove he loved me that he could support me that this could work and that maybe he was the one. One more chance.
He blew it. We never went on our anniversary trip. Instead, we had a huge argument on the phone. I hung up. He never called back. I never bothered to apologize or forgive him for hurting me. It was the end of an era.
On that night, I decided I wasn’t going to be a trucker girlfriend anymore.
I was so much more than that.
I choose my dreams.
I have now been single for about 7 months. It’s not always easy. Sometimes I still really miss him. I still get mad that he never called me back. I still wonder what could have been. But I know this: my life got so much better when I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t (a trucker girlfriend) and chased after my dreams and became the best possible version of myself.
I’m working a wonderful job now where I’m much happier. It’s not in California, but it doesn’t need to be. In the Fall, I will not only be a graduate student at Rowan, but I’ll be a college professor teaching first year writing, too! The first draft of my novel is complete and the second draft is about 90% complete. I’ll be focusing on this and trying to get it published through my career as a graduate student. I’ve gotten right with Christ and have even recently been baptized.
I’m not a trucker wife.
I’m a dreamer.
I’m a doer…doing BIG things.
And this is just the beginning.
I’m not opposed to the idea of being in a relationship. I could meet the right guy and end up in a relationship tomorrow (not likely, but you never know). If the right guy comes along I’d be more than happy to go out on a date and take it from there. But I’m really content with being single right now.
I know one thing, too. I will never put myself, my hopes, my dreams, and/or the person that I am on hold for a man. Never again.
Relationships are a two way street. Not one person supporting, loving, and doing everything for the other. For now on, I will always choose my dreams. And, the right person will be part of that dream. They will be for me and my dreams, not someone that will make me choose. Because when it comes down to “love” or my dreams, my dreams will win every time.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free through GoodReads in exchange for my honest review.
Despite the old (often true) saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”, I am still a firm believer that there are some books you look at once and the moment you see the cover, you immediately fall in love. That’s exactly how I felt with Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank With Me. Everything about it was so beautiful. I love the Robin’s Egg Blue color used on the background, the perfect choice in typography, and most of all, the mysterious looking top hat and eye glass on the cover. It was simple, but complex enough to capture my interest.
I also knew I was going to love this book because after reading the back cover and the description on GoodReads, I saw that this was a book about a writer in the process of writing a novel. Being a writer in the process of writing a novel myself I can relate to this story all too well.
However, what I didn’t realize at first was that this book is less about a writer writing a novel and more about Frank, a 10 year old child with autism.
I read a lot of books and I meet a lot of characters in those books, but it’s been a long time since I met a character I loved as much as I loved Frank.
Despite having autism, Frank is such a lovable and charming little boy with a level of intelligence well beyond his years. His special trait that really makes him stand out isn’t necessarily his autism, but rather, his exquisite fashion sense. Whereas other 10 year boys are sporting t-shirts and grass-stained jeans,Frank is dressed better than Jay Gatsby and Charlie Chaplin combined with his top hats, suits, ties, and even cuff links. Naturally, the other kids at school make fun of him for this and even his new principal goes against him, but I found myself rooting for him the entire time. I wanted more kids to dress like Frank — he was adorable and smarter than the other kids!
Be Frank With Me doesn’t just glorify autism, either. It shows you the realities of it, good and bad. While Frank is absolutely adorable, he is also an unintentional trouble maker. He accidentally injuries his mother. He burns down the guest house. He is impulsive and quick-thinking. Sometimes, his intelligence and his quick-thinking mind gets the best of him. But you can’t even be mad at him when he gets himself in trouble.
Frank takes everything literally. He doesn’t understand emotions or sarcasm or double meanings. He understands facts, statistics, and a black and white view of the world which is precisely why Johnson chose to call her book Be Frank With Me. Despite all of the challenges Frank causes the people in his life like Mimi and Alice, he is still perfect just the way he is. Nobody wants Frank to change. They love him just the way he is, suits and all.
Be Frank With Me forces the reader to reconsider everything that they ever assumed about autism in the past. Anyone with basic knowledge about autism will pick up on the fact that Frank is autistic fairly easily, yet the novel never actually uses the word “autism” or any variation of it. I believe that Johnson did this intentionally. Frank cannot be defined by his autism. He is so much more than autistic. He is sweet, caring, loving,very intelligent, charming, and incredibly dapper. Above all else? Frank is completely unforgettable.
I decided to read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore after hearing my friend talk about it and spotting it at the library. A book about a bookstore? Well, I love books, so this must be something I’d love, right?
I was not disappointed.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour bookstore is more than just a bookstore. It’s a bookstore filled with magic and secrets just waiting to be decoded. The bookstore simply needs the right person at the right time to decode the messages. Clay Jannon is that person.
Clay begins working as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore after losing his job in marketing at a bagel shop, NewBagel. However, it turns out to be more than just a job and more than just a bookstore. Clay becomes friends with the bookstore owner, Mr. Penumbra rather quickly and soon learns that the bookstore is far from ordinary. He is given some rather unusual instructions such as the importance of keeping a logbook and not to read the books from a specific corner of the store — books that are placed on the Waybacklist.
It doesn’t take Clay long to realize that these books aren’t the same as regular books and that the “customers” that come to Mr. Penunmbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore aren’t really customers at all. Rather than buying books, Mr. Penumbra’s most frequent visitors all borrow books from the Waybacklist, and the books are filled with strange codes that they spend years trying to comprehend or decode.
Clay soon learns from Mr. Penumbra that these codes are written and read by members of a society known as the The Society of the Unbroken Spine, the leaders to be exact. They are known as their Codex Vitae, which are like memoirs of their lives and they possess wisdom and knowledge on key elements of life, one of the biggest of which is the secret for longevity or perhaps even immortality. How will you live on even after you are long gone?
Clay may not be an expert at cracking codes, but if there’s one thing he is good at it’s marketing and technology. After running a semi-successful Google Adwords campaign, Kat Potente, a member of Clay’s target audience, wanders into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Clay soon learns that Kat is an employee of Google, and the possible key to decoding the books from the Waybacklist.
The two of them launch a campaign with Mr. Penumbra himself, believing that if they simply use Google’s technology such as their book scanners and computers, they should easily be able to decode the books and find out what the secret to immortality is.
However, much to their dismay, they soon learn that there are some things technology is not, nor will ever be capable of doing. Decoding Aldus Manutius’ Codex Vitae is one of those things. This is because while Google’s machines are capable of reading codes and analyzing them, they fail to really LOOK at the code.
The code was written entirely in a special font known as Gerritszoon. This is a popular font that is frequently in stores, on computers, and everywhere else imaginable. It is even used in Mr. Penunmbra’s shop sign. It turns out, Manutius was really good friends with the founder of this font, and the font is the real key to decoding the message.
After doing his own research that includes completing a mission from an outsider to track down the original punches for the Gerritszoon font, Clay discovers the font is very unique in that each letter contains different shapes and indentations that represent a message. Once Clay figures this out he is able to decode the message in his Codex Vitae, which is simply:
Thank you, Teobaldo
You are my greatest friend
This has been the key to everything.
I loved Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore because it is the perfect blend of old and new technology. I related to both Clay and Kat because I work in the field of digital marketing. Google and technology like Google plays a large role in my career, and I do much of the same marketing that Clay has done for NewBagel and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour bookstore. I also love books (physical books, to be specific) and bookstores. I always believed that no matter how advanced we as a society become with our technology, it will never fully be able to replace books.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore successfully demonstrates the importance of books. It shows us how there are some things books can do that technology cannot. It shows us how to be better researchers and listeners. We can’t simply rely on technology for everything and we can merely look at the surface of things like text, we need to go deeper to really understand what one another is saying.
The final message, or what Manutius hid in his Codex Vitae was disappointing to many members of the Unbroken Spine, but it was actually far more significant than they realize. Manutius is saying that friendship and fellowship is one of the secrets to success or immorality. We cannot succeed in life alone, we need to depend on one another to understand life, to progress, and to make contributions to the world that help to make our short time on life worthwhile or memorable so that we will be remembered long after we die.
Technology may continue to advance in time, but there is one thing that is certain: it will never be able to fully replace traditional books and the unique magic and stories they contain.
Let’s face it, breakups suck. Sometimes they can come seemingly out of nowhere at the most surprising or inconvenient times. Sometimes we know they are coming. Maybe you’ve been arguing with your boyfriend or girlfriend for weeks and can’t seem to resolve your issues. Maybe one of you is moving far away from town and the other can’t or won’t join you.
Or maybe you never saw it coming. Maybe you loved that person with all of your heart and soul, but they drifted away from you because they didn’t feel the same. Maybe you even caught that person in the act of cheating…ouch!
Regardless of what the cause of the breakup was or whether or not you saw it coming, it doesn’t change the fact that breakups suck. However, with or without that person, life must go on. If you’re a writer, a breakup is no valid excuse to give up on your dreams and quit your job as a writer.
But what do you do if you find yourself needing to write about your ex? If you’re a songwriter like Taylor Swift then you might want to use your songwriting skills to help you cope with your breakup. This can be a great way to help you express yourself and deal with your emotions. However, it can also come at a risk. You don’t want to sound bitter or catty. If you’ve never dabbled in the art of songwriting before you may want to avoid it altogether at least until you start to really get over your breakup just so you don’t end up sounding too bitter and making a fool out of yourself in the process. Hey, we can’t all be Taylor Swift (although I wish I could be!)
However, one challenge you may face as a writer is dealing with how to write about your ex if you were in the process of writing a novel that they played a role in. If you’re working on a piece of fiction then it probably won’t be too hard for you to just further fictionalize the character or cut them off altogether, but what happens if you’re writing a memoir or a piece of nonfiction that your ex plays a bigger role in? Sometimes it is not practical to simply cut them out of the picture. Sometimes writing about your ex is completely unavoidable. Sure, it’s never easy to write about your ex especially during a recent breakup, but there is a way to do it without sounding bitter. Here’s how:
1. Only write what’s necessary. Let’s be real, writing about your ex may feel like torture. Did you have an amazing relationship and then have it all unexpectedly fall to pieces? Were you in love with someone that wasn’t in love with you? Did you have a horrific, messy breakup? Whatever the case may be, you can pretty much bet on the fact that your breakup has you feeling at least a little bit lousy and chances are you’d rather not think about it now, let alone write about it. This is why the first and most important step is to only write what is necessary. If you can cut your ex out of the story without jeopardizing your plot or story line, DO IT. If you can’t, such as the case for me and the memoir I am currently writing, then the trick is to only write what is necessary. Writing about your ex is hard, so why torture yourself with excessive, unnecessary details?
2. Tell the truth. Here’s another challenge you may face when writing about your ex: telling the truth. You’re going through a breakup and it sucks and you’re hurting. The only things you want to write now is probably about how horrible of a person your ex is and how you feel they deserve to be cast in a pit of fire. But really think about your relationship — was it always this horrible? What drew you to that person and what made you stay in the relationship for as long as you did? There’s a good chance that person had some good in them. Focus on the good and tell the positive side in the story.
Sometimes there really may not be a positive side to tell, and that’s okay, too. You could very well be writing a story about a nasty, abusive relationship and how you survived it (though I hope to God you aren’t because that’s just awful). Good or bad, you should always tell the truth and nothing but the truth about your ex when writing him into your novel. Don’t turn him or her into a criminal when everything wasn’t all that bad just because you’re hurting now and don’t make him or her out to be a saint if he wasn’t really all that great of a person.
3. Give yourself a break. Writing about your ex is going to be hard. You may have to write about all of the best parts of your relationship and this will remind you of the fact that it’s all gone now. Or, you may have to face the reality that you loved that person and their way of thanking you for your love was by cheating on you. You will be forced to relive, re-experience, and reevaluate your relationship, and quite honestly, watch your heart break all over again in the process. It will not only be painful, but emotionally draining as well. For this reason it is important to give yourself a break. Write down a couple of paragraphs and when things get too hard or too painful to continue, take a walk and get some fresh air. Chances are when you return you will feel refreshed, renenergized, rejuvenated, and prepared to write a better story anyway.
Writing about your ex will likely be the hardest part of your story, but that’s no reason to abandon your writing project. Remember, if you walk away and give up on your writing, your ex wins in the end. He or she already broke your heart, do you want him to ruin the writing project you’ve already worked so hard and invested so much time and energy on, too? I didn’t think so. When you follow these tips you’ll be able to continue on your story writing about your ex with grace without sounding bitter or angry in the process.