Top Ten Tuesday: Fiction Pet Peeves

Oh, fiddlesticks…the wtf topics keep occurring over at Top Ten Tuesday, so I’m making my own today. Since I did nonfiction last week, I’ll delve into fiction today. Here goes:

Top Ten Pet Peeves in Fiction

  1. The “woman of stone.” I love kick-ass women characters, but sometimes, in the pursuit of the ultimate bad-ass gal, the author will create a woman character so devoid of emotion that she is, in many ways, psychologically a man. Just the trophe the writer seeks to avoid by making the character a woman. I think it is ok to make women characters that do kick ass and take the time to do other things, like pause and cry, for instance. Nothing wrong with that.
  2. Atypical boys = homosexuality. I love quirk, but all too often quirk (lack of sports interest, nerdiness, awkwardness around girls, etc) in male characters is imagined as a gay character. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have an issue with the perception that there is only one way to be a straight boy, and anything beyond an interest in sports and chasing girls means he must be gay. I find this a lot in YA. Ugh…stop it.
  3. Contrived diversity/tokenism. Of course in the whitest of all White settings, the main character manages to have two chatty, Black girl best friends. Like, of course. For example, in the novel Moxie, we’re talking a very small Texas town that’s nearly 98% White. How, then, does the main character happen to find the only Latina, Black, and lesbian girls in town and befriend them in the name of feminism? Beats me. This is why tokenism sucks–it appears to be ‘diverse’ on the surface, but there’s no yielding of the dominant narrative and absolutely no knowledge of a different perspective is gained. The “color” here was for the purpose of symbolism only.
  4. Rape/torture porn. I’ve written about this a lot here, so I won’t go into super detail because you already know how I feel about this, but it goes like this: we don’t need any more excessively detailed descriptions of rape, torture, violence, sexual abuse, etc. on paper. We know what these horrors are and what they do psychologically and physically to a victim. If a writer does choose to explore those subjects in a book, I feel like it should be political/critical in nature or to emphasize the development or growth of a character. Simply writing about a woman getting raped over and over does not challenge the abuser or the act, it just assents to the notion that women should be somewhere suffering for the sake of good storytelling. Not cool.
  5. Love at first sight. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m tired of YA characters finding their soulmate on the first day of school as their lab partner in bio class. They have no chemistry, but he’s “hot” and after dating only once, they’re hopelessly and endlessly in love. Bitchhhhhh….please.
  6. Change through abuse. This is kinda related to torture porn, but in a different direction. Here, the love interest from bio class is an abusive jerk whose function is to change or “soften” the strongly-willed (usually female) main character. It’s a sad and very old, sexist trope–that “change” must occur through domination, the breaking of someone’s will. Also not cool.
  7. Forgiveness, always. I love the idea of forgiveness as much as the next gal, but sometimes the person hurting you is just so plain nasty that I don’t think forgiveness is possible. And that’s ok, Dr. Phil, because not everybody deserves to be forgiven. I’ve found this kinda kumbaya, “let’s-hug-it-out-at-the-end” b.s. in a lot of books where family dysfunction is at the forefront and it sucks, because let’s face it, sometimes family members will do more fucked up things to you than a stranger. It’s ok to say no to abuse and mistreatment, even by family members.
  8. Books where the writer describes the main character’s appearance. Yep, this is still happening. I always maintain that a good book need not describe the character’s looks–if the writer is doing their job right, details on their appearance never need to be explicitly shared. You can still have a fleshed out character without going into detail about how he’s a Harry Styles clone, ma’am. LOL.
  9. Very slow action. Like, reeeaaalll slow. Like, we’re on page 50 and the main character is just now leaving the house. Molasses in the plot, snails in the dialogue. First I’ll flip ahead, then it’s a quick DNF, next.
  10. Side characters with no real purpose. We all know this: books with a evil side character whose only purpose for existing seems to be to foil the main character’s intentions. Why are they so bitchy? Well, this is never explained. I understand that the novel isn’t from their perspective, and that’s fine, but if you’re going to make a side character psychopathic in their badness, a little insight is warranted, yanno?

Ok, back to studying…

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Review: Asking for It

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Review for “Asking for It” by Louise O’Neill (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book hits you like a sledgehammer. It’s sad, it’s sadistic, it’s cruel. It makes you angry. You want it to be false, pure fiction made up by an ambitious author. But you know from the headlines dealing with this topic that it’s all true, way too realistic.

Emma O’Donovan is an 18 year old high school student in a small Irish town. She’s gorgeous, smart, a promising student, surrounded by beautiful friends and a loving family. In the standard YA novel Emma would be the stock ‘mean girl’ character, the popular bitch, the Queen Bee we love to hate. Because the story is told through her point of view, you are privy to all of her thoughts, many of which are downright obnoxious. In the first pages of the book you learn that she is actually quite insecure–she’s shallow, narcissistic, and jealous of anyone who makes an effort to be part of the same attention that she desperately seeks. When it comes to boys, Emma must be noticed. When they don’t, she wonders why.

One night, Emma and her friends go to a party. She flirts with other boys, including the boyfriend of one of her friends. She drinks heavily, she has consensual sex with one of the guys there. She willingly takes a pill that a partygoer gives her, which causes her to lose consciousness. She awakens on her front porch with no underwear and her dress turned inside out, sunburned and bleeding, with no memory of the night before. Pictures of her gang rape by 4 male classmates are uploaded on social media. People make comments. No one questions the boys. Everyone hates her.

Emma is left to deal with the consequences of that night, and they are awful. Her friends shun her, her parents are ashamed of her. The community blames her. She acted like a slut, she got what she deserved. She took drugs. She drank. She flirted with other boys, and yes, did have consensual sex with one of the accused at the party. She changed her story to the police. She contacted another of the accused boys after the incident. The bullying that she is subjected to by her peers was some of the most sadistic instances of harassment I’ve ever read before. It’s terrible.

Louise O’Neill’s decision to make Emma O’Donovan’s character an unlikeable one was a bold move. No one feels sorry for this victim, and in a lot of ways, YOU don’t either. The author’s choice to portray Emma in all of her flawed humanness forces you to confront your own prejudices about what rape is and what a rape victim is supposed to ‘behave’ like. It’s a spot-on, timely book; specifically in today’s age, where we are still (in 2016, mind you) debating the very definition of rape and consent.

The ending was just that, an ending. It isn’t happy. Nobody apologizes to Emma, nobody gets their day in court. Nothing is wrapped up. The scorn of the community continues, and Emma’s emotional torture (by others and upon herself) does not end. She will deal with this ugliness for the rest of her life, and she knows it.

This is a book that makes you pause and think. It’s not so much plot driven as it is a character study that is meant to challenge our understanding of what a rape victim is. In a perfect world we would extend Emma our support because she was taken advantage of without her consent. We would care. Sadly, we don’t. Louise O’Neill reminds you that it still isn’t a perfect world, and crimes like this continue to go on, whether it’s in Ireland or America or anywhere. It’s an ugly story, and I was all too glad to read and learn from it.

Review: Sweet Lamb of Heaven

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Review for “Sweet Lamb of Heaven” by Lydia Millet (2016)

Rating: none

DNF’d at 60% in my Kindle.

I’ve been on a DNF kick lately, stopping books left and right because, well, f**k it…I have the power of Grayskull and I can. My TBR pile is a beast right now, and I firmly believe that life’s too short for bad books, slow books, stupid books, books with no point. DNF is not always a bad thing: sometimes I’ll stop reading because I just can’t get into it right then (not the right mood, season, or mindset) and I’ll come back to it a year or two later and it’s the best thing I’ve ever read. It’s happened before. I normally don’t review DNF books, because I try to bring you complete and thorough reviews, but it was clear with this one that what I got was all I was going to get.

Anywho, at the beginning of this book we meet Anna, who is pregnant with a child that her dick of a husband, Ned, does not want. She has the child anyway, a daughter she names Lena. She eventually chalks up the loss of the marriage and leaves Ned and moves across the country to Maine. Ever since the birth of her daughter, Anna has been hearing a voice that only occurs when her daughter is around. Throughout this book are blurbs from Wikipedia and other sources on what could possibly be the source of the voice–psychosis, possession by demons, etc. It’s boring to read. Ned eventually catches up with Anna, and about here was where I stopped reading.

As far as the writing, it’s actually good. It rambles at times, a stream-of-consciousness kinda style that never really grew on me. Because the main character hears voices only when her daughter is around, there’s a heavy case here for an unreliable narrator. There is a sense of foreboding and dread, which was very skillfully played all throughout this book, but that was about it for me. This novel is being marketed as a psychological thriller–and in a way, it is that–but there was never a ‘thrill’ here for me, just circles of weirdness and Wikipedia entries and me wondering if I should even continue to bother with Anna because I don’t know if she is crazy or not.

Another reason I am reviewing this book (even though I didn’t finish it) is because I do recommend that people out there read it. If possible, please report to me what you got out of it, if anything at all. Pretty pretty please…

[Note: I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and W.W. Norton Publishers in exchange for an honest review of this book.]

 

Review: The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

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Review for “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” by J.T. Leroy (2001)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I’ve decided that I don’t care about the controversy or authorship ‘hoax’ that surrounds this book. I treated it as fiction from the start, because I strongly doubt the intelligence of anyone who would really think that a 16-year-old wrote this book. If you want to read about how a smart middle-aged woman fooled a bunch of dumb hipsters with her supposed ‘autobiography’, a quick Google search of “J.T. Leroy” will fill you in on all the details. It is an interesting story, though. Shit, even I have to admit that I LOL’d…

Anywho, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” is a set of interconnected short stories that follow the life of a young boy named Jeremiah, or in this case, J.T. Leroy. In the first few pages, Jeremiah is stolen by his drug addicted, prostitute teenage mother, Sarah, from his foster parents’ custody. The majority of the book follows young Jeremiah’s life with Sarah (on the streets, traveling the country as a lot lizard) and without her, where he is consistently abused by evil people in the most evil of ways. He depends on Sarah even as he is abandoned by her time and time again, leaving him with a desperate need to be loved by anyone, no matter the cost.

With that being said, I don’t know if I was quite ready for the sheer volume of controversial subject matter here. As a book reviewer, I pride myself on having reading nerves of steel: fearless, unafraid, and unbothered by the most taboo of subjects. Little did I know that I would eat my words with this novel, because this one puts ‘disturbing’ in a completely different category altogether.

I won’t spill all the beans here but I will say that in terms of content this book is pretty much a snuff film on paper. There are graphic, detailed descriptions of physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, incest, scatological references–you name it, it’s there. There is nothing at all enjoyable here in terms of descriptions, settings, or characters. The horror, the abuse, and the bleakness of Leroy’s book is constant and unrelenting. There are some traces of great writing here, but it’s diminished by the author’s love of shock value. Therefore, I didn’t care for this at all.

I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you have a super-strong tolerance for gore and the darkest parts of human nature.

In the end, thank God this was a short read.

Thank God this book was fake.

Whew.

Review: Project X

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Review for “Project X” by Jim Shepard (2005)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Three words: provocative, disturbing, puzzling.

Loved this book.

Project X is about a familiar topic in contemporary literature–school violence. The story is told by Edwin Henratty, for whom the word ‘outcast’ is an understatement. He’s a middle schooler with a laundry list of issues: he’s socially awkward, isolated, always in fights, always in trouble, picked on by both teachers and students, with parents who try but fail miserably to understand his problems. His only friend is a fellow outcast, Flake, and together they begin to plan ways to get back at everyone in school who ever caused them misery.

The kicker with this book is not the ending, because you already know it will be a violent one: it’s just a matter of time, opportunity, and method. The people in and around these boy’s lives are completely oblivious to their plight, rendering them powerless to change the inevitable conclusion. As the two boys go about the planning of their hideous revenge, one can only wonder if someone or something could have stopped them. Their plan is fragile at best, yet the pain they are experiencing is so acute that it becomes the only thing that motivates them to go forward, the reason they get out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes this book so truly heartbreaking, because you are forced to view these characters not as killers, but real children experiencing real pain.

The voice of this novel was perfect. I have never read Jim Shepard before, but I was amazed to discover that he was a middle aged man, writing in all of the nuances of an 8th grade boy. The dialogue is current and perfectly believable, the characters completely fleshed out. There is also a healthy dose of black humor here too, which I liked. The tone is serious but not preachy, as Shepard leaves the complex problem of mass violence unanswered and up to the reader to figure out.

Needless to say, I liked this book immensely.

Book Q & A Monday, part 5

Ahh, Spring Break! A much-deserved break from class for me. I’m gonna read all of the books I can and get you guys some reviews!

Favorite author?

Too many to name here, but I’ve always worshipped at the throne of Sylvia Plath’s awesomeness. I first came into her writing by reading a poem in my 7th grade literature class called “Spinster” and, for some reason, I recall right then and there being extremely moved by her words, like, somebody-read-my-journal kind of “moved” by it. She is the first writer whose style I can remember truly patterning myself after–trying to make sense of the rhythm of her words, her life, her thought process. The Bell Jar is still one of my favorite books. I have her collected poems, her unabridged journals. I even did my undergrad thesis on her work. She is extraordinary to me and always will be.

Author I wish people would read more?

Hmmm…Richard Lange. He’s a writer out of LA who writes a lot of noir-type crime fiction and short stories. It’s dirty, it’s violent, yet not too dirty or violent–but it’s not for the weak either. I’ve reviewed a couple of his books here and even though all of his books aren’t A+, I still love his books. I check his website, I follow him on Twitter, just to see if he’s put out something else. I will read anything he writes. Hehe.

Favorite childhood book?

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I loved that book when I was a kid, I read it to my son when he was a baby. It’s a powerful message about unconditional love.

Other classics: Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Miss Nelson is Missing! by James Marshall, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

 

 

 

Book Q & A Monday, Part 4

A book that made you cry?

Jesus…so many. If I had to name one from recent memory, however, it would be A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I reviewed it here a while back but was still in a “good book” haze when I tried to write about it a couple hours later and couldn’t think of a thoughtful way to put how I felt about it into words. One day I will write a thoughtful review on it, but man…lemme tell you…that book, if you ever care to delve into it, is deep. It is about the innermost thoughts of a child whose mother is dying of cancer, thus he invents a ‘monster’ to deal with his grief. It is a YA book, but honestly I think it is for anyone who has ever lost someone and does not know how to begin to deal with their feelings about it. Its one of the most honest books on a subject that I’ve ever read in my life.

Most overrated book?

The Twilight series. I only read the first book, Twilight. It was so god-awful that I threw it into the trash when I finished it. Fished it out 30 minutes later and drove up to Goodwill and threw it in a donation bin. When they asked if I wanted a tax credit, I told them ‘nope’ and drove away. I would have left it in the trash had it not been for my overwhelming need to keep books in circulation, no matter what the subject matter is.

Most thought provoking book?

Another doozy here because there’s been so many. In recent years, however, I read and really thought that There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz was quite profound. Even though it was written in 1991, it is still timely and relevant, especially because when it comes to poverty and hopelessness in inner cities because not much has changed in 30 years. It is a work of nonfiction about a single mother of 8 children living in a housing project in Chicago. The book follows the family for 2 years as LaJoe deals with raising her 5 youngest children in one of the worst neighborhoods you can imagine–horrifying living conditions, crime, poverty, gangs, drugs, snipers on rooftops, bullets that fly through walls, etc. It is a tragedy, but there is something hopeful about the ending.  Very thought provoking.

Favorite classical author?

I’m really into Shakespeare–his sonnets and his plays. I also love Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Henry David Thoreau.

Favorite classical work?

Hamlet. I read it in high school and I’ve loved it ever since. I can quote some of those lines over and over and never get tired of them because they’re so damn beautiful. I even found a recording of it and taped it to my belly when I was pregnant with my son and played it before I went to bed, every night until I delivered him. Strangely, he never would kick me during those times (a sign from above that he actually liked it–ha!).