Books: See How They Run

24644814
See How They Run by Ally Carter

I have been a loyal Ally Carter fan ever since I first picked up I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You in middle school, but I think it’s time to acknowledge that perhaps I am aging out of her target audience and her writing in general. I ran into the same issues with See How They Run that I did with Embassy Row, and I don’t know if it’s this series, or if I am getting too old for Ally Carter.

In terms of storytelling and crafting a plot, See How They Run is rock solid. The plot itself is engaging and is pretty much the only reason I finished the book as quickly as I did, because trying to wade through paragraphs of Grace’s internal dialogue is wearying. Like with Embassy Row, I found the portrayal of Grace’s mental illness to be really fascinating. I think Carter is good at bringing the reader into Grace’s headspace–I could feel Grace’s panic and confusion. But Grace’s immense guilt and self-blame, while understandable, becomes repetitive and tiring. I found it to be rather self-centered and I still do not like her much as a character.

The writing itself, while great with action and plot, feels a little too juvenile and naive for me. For a novel rife with conspiracy and international “politics,” it is very light on any real politics. The concept of having these novels set among teens in an international scene whose every action has international implications is very interesting, but also implies a sophistication and discussion of politics that does not exist. Of course, to do so would probably be a bit too heavy for sixteen-year-olds and the target audience, but it is one of the reasons why I struggle to like this novel. I think teenagers could handle a bit of politics.

It’s rather crazy to realize that I picked up my first Ally Carter book ten years ago and have read every single one of her young adult novels since then. Unfortunately, she still writes for the middle schooler/young high schooler that I once was when I first picked up her books, and I am no longer that girl. I wish her books could age with her original fans, but it also makes that they don’t. I’m not going to jump ship just yet, but I think it’s time that I acknowledge I can’t go into her novels with the same expectations that I had as a high schooler reading Gallagher Girls.

Books: The Invasion of the Tearling

22698568
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

This sequel to Queen of the Tearling does not disappoint, and even better, does not suffer from Second Book Syndrome! My mixed feelings about the novel have little to do with plot, which is always a good sign when reading the second book in a trilogy.

The Invasion of the Tearling follows Kelsea in her role as queen, where she struggles to balance what is expected of her as a ruler with what she envisions for the kingdom. In addition to the impending Mort invasion, she also has to deal with some personal issues, including her mysterious visions/disappearances into the body and life of Lily, a pre-Crossing woman who lives with an abusive husband, and whose link to Kelsea and the post-Crossing world is a mystery. These two parallel stories allow us to further explore the history and origins of this strange pseudo-medieval world.

I’m a bit miffed by how some people can label this series as young adult, because the writing and scenes can get pretty gruesome and graphic.

The biggest turn-off of the novel was Kelsea’s continued obsession with her own appearance and sexuality. While we do see some interesting character development in terms of Kelsea struggling with her “dark side” and finding alarming parallels between herself and her enemy, the Mort Queen, there is also way too much of a focus on Kelsea’s sexuality. She continually seeks validation in the form of male attention, and makes it seem like she is defined only by male attraction to her. For someone who tries so hard to escape the ugly shadow of her mother’s vanity, she is disconcertingly obsessed with being attractive, which is pretty disheartening, that this supposedly strong queen can only find meaning in being desired sexually. There are armies on her borders but all she can think about is why no one wants to have sex with her.

I also started to get some Game of Thrones vibes in some of the parallels. Hodor and Ewen are similar, simple-minded giants. Aisa and Arya are similarly small, young girls with big tempers who want to fight and train with knives and swords. These parallels weren’t necessarily good things, since it made Invasion of the Tearling feel less original, despite the interesting backstory and history of the world.

Naturally, that is why Lily’s story is so much more fascinating in comparison. She views herself as weak and shallow, and is seen that way by the people around her, but hidden inside is a backbone of steel, one that allows her to survive and endure her husband’s abusiveness. Wanting to know what happens to Lily and how her story connects to Kelsea is the biggest reason why I kept reading and endured Kelsea’s self-obsession.

Invasion of the Tearling ends in a really good place, and despite my reservations with the characters, has a strong and well-paced plot. I am definitely looking forward to finishing the series with the third and final book, which is to be released this year!

Books: Missoula

24984508
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Missoula was a really difficult book to read, not because it was bad or boring, but because it made me so angry I couldn’t read too much at once. It is one of those books that everyone should have to read.

Jon Krakauer is an extremely skilled writer. He very rarely gives his own input, but instead shapes the narrative and sends a message through how he arranges and pieces together quotes, interviews, and historical or educational background information. That is part of what makes this book so effective. As a reader, I was given the information I needed to form my own opinions, rather than having ideas force-fed to me. And my great takeaways from this book are extremely depressing.

Each individual sexual assault case discussed in Missoula seems horrible and extreme. But as I read about these Missoulian sexual assault cases and the ways in which they were or were not prosecuted, handled, and responded to by media, the cases also seemed eerily familiar, and for good reason. The assaults discussed in Missoula happened a half-decade ago, but the responses from the media and the surrounding town are so similar to what we still see today.

I decided to pick this book up because of recent events (namely the recent Stanford rape case that has been all over the news.) So much of the media and social rhetoric surrounding the case (before, during, and after the public backlash) is very similar to sentiments expressed in response to the Missoulian cases in which star athletes were implicated. It’s depressing how little has changed in the way that sexual assault cases are judged by the courts and portrayed by media, especially when the rapists are entitled athletes.

Unfortunately, as Krakauer is careful to note, and as the Stanford rape case shows us, Missoula is not an exception. In fact, Missoula’s statistics concerning sexual assaults and the investigations of these crimes are on par with the national average. That is the really scary part. This book seems like (and is) a very in-depth portrait and investigation of very specific town. It seems like this town is some sort of exception or extreme case. But it isn’t.

Reading this book has made me aware of and lose faith in our broken legal and justice system. This is a system that “promotes chicanery, outright deceit, and other egregious misconduct by trial lawyers” all in the name of “pursuing the truth.” It is a system where lawyers are not just allowed, but to some extent expected and encouraged, to attack the victims and do their best to ruin their reputations and create doubt about their characters. It is a system where cases can simply disappear if the attorneys’ office decides to claim “insufficient evidence” and not prosecute.

There are so many misunderstandings and presumptions about rape that books like this should be mandatory reading. Many universities now have mandatory sexual respect initiatives and workshops on what it means to consent. Perhaps sex ed in public schools should be expanding to include lessons on consent. America has many crises, and sexual assault and rape–especially acquaintance rape–is one of them. No other crime is as steeped in sexism and stigma as this one.

Books: A Tale for the Time Being

15811545
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings, too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves; for a while they are beautiful, and then they fade and die.”

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is funny, quirky, tragic, and steeped in Japanese and Buddhist culture. A very entertaining  read.

Ruth Ozeki crafts a very meta and existential story within a story, a pseudo-memoir that features the writer Ruth and her husband Oliver who live on an island in British Columbia and discover a diary written by a Japanese schoolgirl named Nao. As Ruth gets drawn into Nao’s story, the lines between reader and writer, fact and fiction get blurred.

A Tale for the Time Being is especially meta since it seems like a pseudo-memoir. Ruth and her husband Oliver share numerous similarities with the real life Ruth Ozeki and her husband, Oliver, such as occupations and even her mother’s name. As Ruth questions the blurred lines of fact and fiction in Nao’s story and seeks to find factual evidence to show that Nao is a real girl, we as readers must also question the story we read and the mediums of novel and memoir.

Ozeki ties quantum physics and to Buddhist ideology in an intriguing blend of science and spirituality. She brings up Hugh Everett’s multiverse theory — the theory of many parallel universes representing endless possibilities. What is to say that the story we read of Ruth discovering Nao’s diary is not simply another parallel universe? Perhaps in a parallel universe, this real life Ruth has really found the diary of a real life Nao who experienced all the things she has in life.

A Tale for the Time Being also touches upon a lot of contemporary Japanese social issues, such as school bullying, suicide, and post-World War II sentiment. In this way, it is deeply cultural. When Nao goes to spend the summer at her great-grandmother Jiko’s temple, she learns to follow the Buddhist way and create a separation between herself and worldly affairs. The “super power” she gains is not so much a true power as it is simply a different view of the world, one that is able to see beyond the superficiality and pettiness of things like school bullying. In Nao, we see a clash of cultures, a girl who is greatly affected by the capitalism and materialism of contemporary Japan, and also the more timeless traditions of Japanese Buddhism.

Ozeki’s writing is often humorous, but is also very blunt in depicting the stark reality of Nao’s life. Nao’s voice is so strong that, like Ruth, it’s hard to not care about what happens to her and become emotionally attached.

A Tale for the Time Being is a great first read from Ruth Ozeki, and I’ll be putting some of her other novels on my to-read list.