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.
Today my bible plan told me to read Chapters 11 and 12 of 1 Corinthians. I was definitely excited to see this on my bible plan for today because 1 Corinthians is my favorite book of the bible. This book has taught me so much about what it means to be a Christian woman and the roles of a man and a woman and the relationship they should have with one another and with God.
When I read these chapters today, verses 4-15 of 1 Corinthians surprised and confused me at first. These verses say that women must keep their heads covered at all times, whereas men are to keep their heads uncovered. The first thing that came to mind was honestly Muslim women. They must always keep their heads covered – is this the same thing? Have I been dishonoring God my whole life? Are the Muslim women onto something?
I breathed a sigh of relief when I read verse 15 which states, “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” This verse seems to confirm that by a “covering” all that is really meant is hair. But what about women with short hair? Are they dishonoring God? How short is too short?
I decided to Google this issue for more information. Here are 3 sources I looked at:
I feel like most of these sources say “we don’t really know” combined with “it was a cultural thing”. I am leaning towards it being a cultural tradition or custom. If we look back to scripture in verse 2 Paul states, “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
Here, the word “ordinances” stands out the most. I assume an ordinance is a tradition, but what does Google say?
Okay, so not quite tradition but rather law – something much more serious. But whose law is it? Is it God’s law or is it the church’s? Context is everything here. I believe it was church law at the time since Paul is talking to the church of Corinth and helping them to remember their first love – the church. He is helping them to restructure since their church was filled with so much sin and unworthy of honor. In this verse then, Paul is praising them for holding the ordinances – or laws – of the church…the laws that Paul has put into place for them.
Verse 16 also stands out to me where it says, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the church of God.” Two words stand out to me here: church and custom. I think of the word “custom” the same way that I think of the word “ordinance” – as meaning “tradition”. However, I was wrong about the definition of ordinance, so I could just as well be wrong about the definition of the word “custom”, so let’s look at Google.
Oh look at that – I was right on this one! Paul’s use of the word “custom” here shows he was talking about a tradition. Furthermore, he was talking about a tradition that is very specific for that time period. I believe this means that it’s not a defined, universal law for all of mankind meant to survive the test of time, but rather it was a church law for this specific church or this specific region (the people of Corinth) during that specific time. We can’t know exactly how specific this law was for the people or exactly how Paul intended us to interpret it, but I think it’s safe to assume that this law was for a specific time period. The word “church” used in this verse further confirms that it was a church tradition, not a law ordered by God.
So, where does that leave us and women in the church today? Well, I don’t think it’s “wrong” for women to adhere to this old custom and to choose to wear a head covering, but they also aren’t required to. I think it’s their choice. However, I think that the head covering was a symbol during that time that pledges a woman’s loyalty to her husband. Verses 13-15 states, “Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair; it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” The covering was something specific for women that men were not meant to wear. I think our society/culture has created its own version of that today. Some of the above sources I looked at say that it’s wedding rings, but I don’t think that is quite right because men wear wedding rings, too. However, I think they are on the right tract. This is what I think it is:
Yes, I know sometimes men will wear an engagement ring these days, but it is still far less common and by some even considered “taboo”. Male engagement rings are also usually much more masculine than female engagement rings (the traditional diamond ring). In the past when Paul was talking to the church of Corinth the head coverings were meant for married women to wear as a symbol of their loyalty to their husbands. I think the engagement ring has the same purpose in our culture today. A woman who is about to be married wears it to show her loyalty to her husband. Once the woman is married she adds a wedding ring but the woman usually wears the engagement ring with the wedding ring. Either way, it is still a symbol of her loyalty to her husband.
Another verse from chapter 11 that stood out to me was verse 17 that states, “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worst.” Here Paul is condemning the church of Corinth for saying that the church is not uniting in a way that lifts up the congregation, but rather, it tears them down. When I read this I thought of the people of Corinth staring at women and whispering things like “Look at her hair, it’s not nearly long enough!” (assuming that the head covering was a woman’s hair and not an actual head piece). What good would that do? Paul is saying we shouldn’t be quick to judge and gossip and bring down people in the church, but instead we should unite and help each other out, for we are the body of Christ and when one member stumbles it is our job to help them back up.
1 Corinthians Chapter 12 further discusses the body of Christ and the role of the church and its members. In verse 26 Paul says, “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” This reminds me of what Pastor Lex DeLong has preached – we are all united in Christ. We are one body of Christ and when one of our brothers and sisters of Christ falls, we all fall. When one of us rejoices, we all rejoices. We are all made up of one.
I don’t think this is the case in a lot of churches today and that makes me really sad. There are too many churches that are quick to judge, scorn, and gossip when one of the members sins or goes through a rough patch in life. Not only is that unbiblical, but I think that is sin in itself. God doesn’t want us to scorn other church members. I think he would want us to confront the individual and to help them to correct their behavior, but that’s it. The key word here: help. He would want us to help our brother or sister in Christ back up and if we’re gossiping and judging, that is not helping.
When I read these verses I also felt extremely thankful and blessed to belong to such a wonderful church now – Washington Baptist Church in Turnersville, NJ. We are not perfect, as nobody is except God, but I do believe that we are doing an incredible job with striving to become the kind of church Paul talks about in the bible in chapters like Corinth. I know that from my experience being a member of this church we are a group of people that make up the body of Christ that really does care for and love one another. Some churches I’ve been to and you’re just another nameless face. Yes, our church is small, but I truly believe that even if we grew exponentially, this would still be the kind of church where everyone takes the time to get to know everyone and to pray for each other. When someone is hurting in the church, we all feel it and when someone is succeeding, we feel their joy. We’ve cried together as a church, but we’ve also laughed, smiled, rejoiced, and ate way more than we probably should (we’re a church that really loves food :)).
Are you looking for a new church to attend? Washington Baptist Church would love to have you! Come join us for Sunday School on Sundays at 9:30 followed by our sermon at 10:30. For more information:
For those of you who don’t know, a few months ago I joined the NJ Writer’s Group. This is a group of individuals that meets about twice a month at the Margaret Heggan Library in Sewell, NJ. The group is open to anyone in the area I believe ages 16 and up. We meet in a library conference room and discuss writing strategies, book publishing, and other related topics. Sometimes we even have assignments.
For our January 12th meeting our assignment is to write a 1-3 page story using an inanimate object as the main character. This is certainly a unique and challenging assignment. Initially I wanted to use this exercise as an excuse to get back to writing my crazy cheese story I started back in college. However, I realized that story is far too advanced and complex now to be able to tell a part of it only 1-3 pages. I decided it was best to start over from scratch for this new project.
Writing short stories has always been a bit of a challenge to me. I am a novelist by nature. 1-3 pages is hardly enough for me to complete a single thought. I knew if I was going to tell a story in 1-3 pages, I’d have to focus on one main even or scene. I began to brainstorm some ideas and came up with the idea of a story about a couple’s first date — told in the perspective the woman’s makeup products.
I began to think about the kinds of things women would ask each other after a first date, things that people would assume, and why a woman might wear makeup for a first date and if the products could talk, what they’d say. The biggest thing that came to mind was sex. Many men and women will go on a first date and wonder if they’re going to have sex. Friends will ask if the new couple had sex, or when they’re going to have sex. Women may use certain makeup products to draw more attention to themselves to increase their chance of receiving sex.
I didn’t like this way of thinking. As a Christian, I didn’t want to write a story about sex.
But I did just that. I even made one of my main characters a stripper.
As I grow closer in my walk with the Lord, I have had a stronger and stronger desire to use my talent, or my writing skills, in a way that glorifies and honors the Lord and brings his word to his people. That was my goal with writing this story. I don’t have the impression that most of the members of the NJ Writer’s Group I intend are believers. I have the ability to bring the Lord’s word to them. It may be the only time they hear it. I took advantage of this opportunity.
I write about sexual immorality and promiscuity in my story and why I believe it to be biblically wrong. I even quote Galatians 5:19-21 which states:
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Seeing Through the Eyes of Truth
“You’re home early,” Violet remarked. She was wedged inside her home – a red plastic makeup bag .
“It’s not that early — it’s 9 o’clock”, Ruby replied.
“You guys are never home before midnight anymore,” said Violet.
“Roxxy didn’t seem like she wanted to stay out very late tonight”.
“That bad, huh?” Violet snarled.
“No, it wasn’t bad — just…different.
“Okay, tell me everything. Where did you go? What did they talk about?”
“Well they just went out to a diner. Nothing fancy at all. It was pretty quiet.”
“That doesn’t sound at all like Roxxy. This was just the warm-up, right? The calm before the storm?”
“What do you mean by that?” Ruby asked.
“Roxxy isn’t a diner kind of girl. She’s either a “wild night out at the bar”, or “expensive luxury dinner” kind of girl, or both. Usually both. And quiet? Pfft. As if.”
“Yeah…but like I said…she was different tonight. It was just a quiet night at the diner. There was hardly anyone there. All I could hear was them two talking and some faint music in the background.”
“What did they order?” Violet asked.
“Nothing major. I think he ordered a hamburger and she just had one of those wrap things. And coffee. They drank a lot of coffee,” Ruby replied.
“They didn’t even sell it,” said Ruby.
“Roxxy going out on a date and not drinking? That’s a first!”
“Well, she didn’t really have the option. Jared picked the place.”
“She could’ve left”, replied Violet.
“She didn’t want to. She was really into him. They had a nice conversation going.”
“Well, what did they talk about?”
“Lots of things. It was really quiet so they were able to talk a lot. They actually had some deep and meaningful conversations.”
“About what?” Violet inquired.
“Religion mainly. He seems like a religious guy.”
Violet burst out laughing, clearly in disbelief. “No way. I don’t believe it,” Violet said in between bursts of laughter.
“No Ruby is one hundred percent correct. I was right on top of her lashes the whole time. I saw that she was really into this guy,” said Maxie.
“See! I told you!” said Ruby.
“But this is Roxxy we’re talking about. Roxxy is as far from being religious as you can get. Did everyone forget, Roxxy is a stripper.”
“Yeah, normally. But like I said, she was different tonight.”
“Did he know she was a stripper? Usually, that’s the whole reason guys ask her out…” Violet stated.
“Oh he knew alright.”
“But he didn’t take her home like all of the others do?”
“Was he blind? Deaf? Stupid? All of the above?”
“No, he actually seemed like a really good guy.”
“So what exactly did he say about religion?”
“Actually he used it to talk to her about stripping.”
“Really? How so?” Violet asked with wide-opened eyes, clearly stunned by Ruby’s response.
“I…I don’t know. He recited some bible verses. Lectured her about being prideful and causing people to sin. Something like that.”
“Galatians 5:19-21”, Maxie replied.
“Wait, what?” Ruby and Violet replied in unison.
“That was the verse,” Maxie replied, “Galatians 5:19-21: ‘The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“How do YOU know? Violet asked.
“I was there, unlike you,” Maxie replied, plus Roxxy opened it up in her bible the minute she got home. I was still on her lashes; I read it with her.
Violet pouted before replying, “I don’t know why you and Ruby got to go tonight and I didn’t. Ruby didn’t even do her job tonight and I don’t know why she’d use mascara over eyeshadow…you really don’t do anything anyway.”
Maxie and Ruby shook their heads and rolled their eyes.
“She didn’t need you. She wanted to be more modest I guess.”
“Then how come Ruby still got to go?”
“Can’t answer that for you, but I can ensure you she stayed in her assigned seat tonight. Her date didn’t have a single lipstick stain on his shirt collar.”
“She really didn’t kiss him at all?”
“Nope. And I don’t think she will anytime soon.”
“Is she even going out with him again?” Violet asked.
“Yeah actually he mentioned bringing her to church on Sunday,” Ruby replied.
“Since when does Roxxy go to church?” Violet inquired.
“Since meeting her new boyfriend, Jared, and getting right with the Lord”, Ruby replied.
“Wow. This sounds serious. Do you think we’ll be replaced?”
“I don’t know. She seems determined to put her stripper days behind her, and fast. Hate to break it to you, Violet, but I think you’re already on your way out the door. Her dark violet eyeshadow was always just part of the act. But don’t feel bad, I’m sure I’ll be right there behind you.”
Violet never got the chance to reply. Before she knew it Roxxy reached into her red plastic makeup bag. She pulled out both Violet and Ruby and tossed them in the trash, saving only Maxie. She no longer wanted to cover her eyes or draw attention to her sinful lips. She needed only to keep her eyes popped wide open to see the truth that has always been right there in front of her.
Image Credits: Yale
In the mid 1900’s, Virginia Woolf published a collection of essays. Among these essays was “The Angel in The House”, an essay where Woolf describes her life as a female writer. During this time period, women were beginning to gain more freedom than what they had in the 19th century, but they were still often viewed as inferior to their male counterparts. Woolf discusses this by using the angel in the house as a metaphor for female purity and wholesomeness. Women during this time period were expected to be modest, innocent, pure, or simply angelic.
In “The Angel In The House”, Woolf describes how she fought hard to kill the Angel in the House. This represents the author’s struggle to break free of society’s expectations of women. She doesn’t want to play the role of the pure, angelic, innocent woman anymore. Woolf also mentions how playing the role of the angel in the house can hinder a woman’s writing. She explains this by stating:
For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel in the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must – to put it bluntly – tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard (Woolf 46).
From this quote we can infer that Woolf wished to speak honestly in her writing about such taboo topics as sex, morality, and human relations and that her honest opinions went against what the majority of women were expected to think or feel. Perhaps Woolf wasn’t the picture portrait of an angelic woman she was supposed to be. However, breaking free of this stereotypical role was no easy task for Woolf as she further elaborated:
She was always creeping back when I thought I had dispatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe (Woolf 46).
Here I think it is important to remember Woolf’s struggle with mental illnesses such as depression (which ultimately lead her to commit suicide years later). I think that Woolf’s struggle to break free of society’s norms and the roles she was expected to play took a toll on her mental health and helped to aid in her depression. It is sad to think that a women just simply couldn’t be free to live her life on her own terms during this time period.
In addition to the expectation of living a pure, modest, angelic lifestyle, women were also viewed as being inferior to men. Men had so much more freedom in their life and especially in their writing than woman had. They could speak or write freely without having to worry about what society would say. On the other hand, there were some topics that were simply off limits for women to speak and to write about. Woolf once again hints at her desire to write about human sexuality, a topic that seems to get squashed by fear of what society, or men in particular, would think reading such work written by a women. Woolf elaborates on this point by saying:
To speak without figure he had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, would be shocked. The consciousness of what men will say of a woman who speaks the truth about her passions had roused her from her artist’s state of unconsciousness. She could write no more.
Woolf seems to be hinting that she has strong sexual urges or experiences that she wishes to release in her writing. Perhaps she is using her writing as an outlet to not only tell about her desire, but further explore and examine her own personal sexual feelings. However, the fear of what society and men specifically would say and think about her keep her from writing her true feelings and opinions. Women during this time were viewed with utmost innocent and were not supposed to have any sexual desires. It was a double standard for men, who were free to feel lust, passion, and exhibit sexual longings and desires.
Although Woolf brags about defeating the Angel in the House, she admits that she couldn’t bring herself to overcome the inferiority brought upon her by the opposite sex. No matter how strong her yearning to write about her true feelings were, they were always repealed by the stigmas. She could never truly be her true, open and honest self. The work we read by Woolf offered only small parts of who she really was inside.
Sexuality is something that Woolf struggled with throughout her life. A basic Google mentions that Woolf was sexually abused by her family and was also bisexual and struggling to hide lesbian affairs and her true feelings regarding sexuality. Others suggest that Woolf was actually a lesbian, but felt that she had to pretend to be straight for society’s sake. Woolf was also known to repress her sexual desires, which is something I can see in “The Angel in the House”.
I wonder how Woolf’s writings would have differed if they had been written today. Now we live in a time period where feminists are still fighting for equality, but women have many more rights and are much closer to achieving equality than they were in the mid 1900’s. Also, gay marriage is a hot topic that is becoming more and more accepted within our society. I think that if Woolf was alive today her writing would be much less censored because she wouldn’t feel the need to refrain from speaking her mind as much. I also think Woolf would be less of a feminist and more of a gay rights activist fully embracing her rumored lesbianism and I don’t believe she would have ever gotten married to any men.