03.04.10

Book Review: Wake by Lisa McMann

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:30 am

Wake by Lisa  McMannFor seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people’s dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie’s seen enough fantasy booty to last her a lifetime.

She can’t tell anybody about what she does — they’d never believe her, or worse, they’d think she’s a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn’t want and can’t control.

Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else’s twisted psyche. She is a participant….

I broke one of my sternest personal reading rules with this book.  That rule is, don’t start a new book at bedtime, just in case it’s so good that it makes you stay up all night reading.

And guess what happened?  Yep.  Stayed up all night reading.  Was so keyed up by the time I finished (and possibly a little overly affected by the nightmares and dreamscapes of the book) that I had to re-read an ancient copy of New Scientist cover to cover before I was able to settle down enough to get some minimal shut-eye.

Check out that cover.  It was almost enough to give me nightmares on its own.  I don’t think I’ve seen a cover so perfect for a book as this one is for Wake in a long time.

I really admire what Lisa McMann has done with this novel (which is the first in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read #2, Fade): she’s taken a paranormal plot that could have gone in a lot of directions, many of them not so great, and turned it into a taut psychological thriller with a deeply sympathetic main character, Janie.  Janie’s experiences of falling into other people’s dreams are frequently genuinely frightening, although the stereotypical sex dreams offer plenty of smirk-worthy material too.  The novel’s tendency to jump around dates and times helps hurry the plot along without coming across like a self-conscious construct.  It also works well to introduce the staggered relationship that Janie slowly builds with a boy in her year level, Cabe, who keeps to himself but seems to be as full of secrets as Janie herself.

I also appreciated that Janie is a main character who comes well and truly from the wrong side of the tracks; her mother is a hopeless alcoholic, and Janie has been teased all her life for being “white trash”.  She’s been working in a nursing home since she was fourteen, saving for college and to buy little luxuries not covered by her mother’s welfare cheque, like food and clothes.  However, Janie’s circumstances aren’t massively played out; she’s quietly accepting of her crappy circumstances, and determined to work around them.  She’s kind of a nice change from angst-ridden middle-class teenage heroines that often populate contemporary YA fiction, without being treated by the author as some sort of lesson in tolerance and class issues.

The only criticism I have of Wake is that the characters besides Janie and Cabe are fairly superficial; on the plus side, this helps keep the plot moving at breakneck speed, and stops the reader from being bogged down in their minutiae , since half the time we’ve gotten a glimpse into their unconscious thanks to Janie, anyway.

Anything else I could share about Wake might end up as a spoiler, so I will conclude by saying that there’s some unexpected plot twists (well, I didn’t see them coming, anyway) that shouldn’t be ruined, and you should pick it up for yourself.



19.02.10

To-Be-Read Pile: Three Werewolf Tomes (Sort Of)

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:53 pm

The following books are on my to-be-read pile (which, like for many people who love books, is in reality a series of piles, and some shelves, and a wistful with for more reading time); expect reviews when I finally get down to reading them.

Shiver by Maggie StiefvaterShiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, after hearing great things about it, and finally got around to getting my hands on a copy.  Gorgeous cover, and I’ve become a fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s thanks to her blog and that Kraken video.  I’m looking forward to this one a lot.

Lonely Werewolg GirlLonely Werewolf Girl, by Martin Millar

Lonely Werewolf Girl is an expansive tale of werewolves in the modern world. The MacRinnalch family contains elegant werewolves, troubled teenage werewolves, friendly werewolves, homicidal werewolves, fashion designers, warriors, punks, cross-dressers, musicians – an entire Clan of Werewolves, involved in conflict from the Scottish Highlands to London, and several dimensions beyond.

I picked this one up in the bookshop, not having heard ot it before, but doesn’t it sound like fun?  Plus, the edition I own has a very flattering comment from Neil Gaiman on the back.  That man could convince me to buy just about anything.

SteppenwolfSteppenwolf, by Herman Hesse

This Faust-like and magical story of the humanization of a middle-aged misanthrope was described in The New York Times as a ‘savage indictment of bourgeois society’. But, as the author notes in this edition, Steppenwolf is a book that has been consistently misinterpreted. This self-portrait of a man who felt himself to be half-human and half-wolf can also be seen as a plea for rigorous self-examination and an indictment of intellectual hypocrisy.

All right, so it’s something of a departure from the other two, for a variety of reasons.  But werewolf (or man-wolf, however you want to play it) as metaphor is just as compelling to me as werewof as actual werewolf, and is something I’m tinkering with in my own fiction writing.


10.02.10

2010 Amelia Bloomer List

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 am

The annotated biography of books on the 2010 Amelia Bloomer List is now up.  The Amelia Bloomer Project was created by the American Library Association to recognise feminist books published for readers from birth to 18 years.  The project has been running since 2002, and always provides a great, although heavily US-centric for obvious reasons, resource.

Of the 2010 list, there’s a lot that catches my eye, particularly The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, which is on the middle grade list.  I’ve wanted to read Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Feministing‘s Jessica Valenti for a while, and there’s some familiar names on the young adult fiction list.  The only one I’ve read so far, however, is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, which is a powerful tale of obsession, eating disorders and a friendship gone horribly awry.  Needless to say, it’s not a happy read, but I think it’s an important contribution to the pool of fiction that deals with young women’s experiences with anorexia and bulimia.

I’ll be using this list to help with acquisitions for the titles that are relevant to readers at my library, and I can’t wait to read a few more of them.  In the meantime, any recommendations of books from the list would be greatly appreciated.

08.02.10

Of Twilight and Sexism

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:53 pm

It’s been kicking around for a few months now, but I wanted to comment on Sady at Tiger Beatdown’s post, The Edward Cullen Underpants Conundrum.  I think said post offers one of the most original and level-headed discussions of Twilight mania (and people’s discomfort with it) that I’ve come across.

Because there’s more than just literary criticism or high art/low art debates to the dismissal of twilight fans as “Twihards” and the looking-down-upon older women who are fans.  There’s a snideness levelled at them that you just don’t seem to see aimed at other fans of highly successful authors whose books trip into the pop culture realm, like, say, Dan Brown.

Part of it is sexuality.  Part of it is sexism.

Now, as a cranky loose-moralled feminist type, I will be among the first to say that the books’s promotion of abstinence and obsessive relationships disturbs me greatly.  And there’s a lot of ink that has been spilled over that fact, by people probably more clearheaded than me.

The interesting thing, which I think Sady really highlights, is that despite or because of this (and I’m sure arguments can be made for both, and I’m sure there’s truth to both for individual fans), is that the books (and, undeniably, films) seem to lend themselves to a highly sexual reading; seem to provide a conduit for sexual fantasy in a way that even other frequently-slashed popcult phenomenons like Harry Potter just don’t.  I would argue that is has got to be in part because the books themselves are completely sex-obsessed; they’re just coming at it from the perspective of abstinence rather than consummation (at least until the fourth book).

Sady writes:

“…Edward Cullen is porn. Weird, pre-sexual, socially conservative, deeply repressed and fucked-up porn, but in a world where ladies’ sexy feelings are fenced in with shame and warnings of danger from Day 1, is it any wonder that porn which consistently ties sex to death and fear and the urgent need for repression is selling to the girls? I mean, consider: Edward Cullen has no characteristics, as a person, other than wanting to “protect” Bella and being beautiful and gorgeous and perfect all the time. (And also an insufferable asshole, but that seems more like a mistake than a purposeful effort to give him a personality.) He has no goals in life other than being with Bella. He is over a hundred years old, and he’s never had sex with another person. He’s never wanted to have sex with another person. There is not and will never be a person or a thing or an event that is more important to him than (eventually) having sex with Bella. He is an object designed for the gratification of female desire. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything, and he’s so beautiful you creamed yourself. And that’s it.”

Sady’s main point, the conundrum her title refers to, is that Edward Cullen as a character (and Robert Pattinson as an actor, now) is the focal point of the kind of sexual objectification that is usually in the domain of men; she refers to Pattinson as a “male Megan Fox”.  Objectification is usually a male privilege, and seen as a male prerogative, and it’s discomfiting to see it being utilised so forcefully by a group of fans that are largely (but not entirely) comprised of teenage girls and young women.

And this is where the sexism comes into it, and is arguably discrete from the quality or lack thereof of the Twilight franchise.  Because, while the series may be eminently mockable for a number of reasons, that fact that it’s so beloved to females shouldn’t be one of them, and yet this is happening.  There’s been a number of posts to oh-snap blogs like Lamebook and various sites in the Cheezburger empire in which guys are mocked for acknowledging that they – gasp! – might have read or seen and even enjoyed a foray into the world of Edward and Bella.  Like all good eighth-grade insults, there’s a lot of questioning of the victim’s sexuality, and a lot of feminisation as ridicule.  Because, seriously, being a girl is, like, the worst thing ever.

Twilight itself may display a world view that’s deeply uncomfortable with sexuality, but those who would mock it for daring to appeal to a feminised fan base are revealing themselves to be the flip side of the same coin.