(I know Coraline takes place in the early spring but it may as well take place in the fall because it is the ONLY Halloween movie)
I’m willing to admit that this was a weird summer. I must, anyway, because my reading list is here and it’s… here.
Kill the Boyband by Goldy Moldavsky
I have a lot of thoughts about this one. First of all, excellent premise and title.
Things like this, when they emerge every rare and wonderful so often, remind me of Jane Austen’s early work, called the Juvenalia, in which women behave badly. So rarely are women allowed to behave badly in media, at least, rarely are women allowed to behave badly in ways that aren’t designed by and intended for consumption by straight men.
I am a HUGE advocate of things like this. It’s why I eventually gave The Female of the Species a chance, and also why I loved it. Gone Girl is amazing, I’ll hear no argument against it.
This is YA Gone Girl. Instead of depicting a crumbling, toxic marriage, it’s about young women responding in toxic ways to their frustrations with the men at the center of their lives (in this case it’s a boy band). Toxic fandom is described realistically. Familiarly. Kind of frighteningly so. Also the girls in this book are all awful people.
They have mitigating circumstances (well… maybe one of them does). Still.
But as much as I want to be 100% positive, there are certain things I really didn’t like about this book. Let’s do a spoilery list.
- Fat shaming? I put a question mark because there’s… um… absolutely no reason for it as it shows up in this book. Apple, one of the girls, the most emotional, the most devoted one, is also fat, and it’s treated really poorly. The protagonist at one point thinks that maybe Apple is self-loathing because of her weight and that’s why she’s so fervently in love with the least popular boy in the band, because he’s more attainable and less likely to reject her and also that’s all she thinks she’s worth. But there’s no actual evidence of Apple’s supposed self-loathing, so, if we’re supposed to take the protagonist at her word, that’s stupid. What’s also stupid is that Apple is always eating for comedic effect and also always climbing all over the one boy they kidnap (sexual assault, she commits sexual assault… and I’m not really sure the book is aware of that) and it’s funny because not only is she… uh… sexually assaulting the guy, she’s also fat, so, you know. Every time this came up I rolled my eyes. There’s just no reason. There’s never a reason, really, but this may have been the most egregious example of fat shaming I’ve read, and I’m a huge JK Rowling fan, so. Yikes.
- … sexual assault. Apple gropes/licks/does other obnoxious things to Rupert P, tied up and helpless. As I’ve already said, partly it’s supposed to be funny because she’s fat, and also it’s supposed to be funny because he’s secretly gay. But… neither of those things actually makes the sexual assault funny. Now, one of the other girls was gray area raped by one of the other boys (this is a mid-late book reveal), and that’s treated fairly seriously, though I don’t think we’re ever supposed to sympathize with her fully, even after the reveal. This isn’t because of the gray area (she took all her clothes off in his dressing room and was otherwise clearly game for it… but she’s a teenager and he’s a grown man, and he took pictures of her and otherwise humiliated her afterwards, so, rape with a side of awful), but instead because she’s taking her revenge waaaay too far. I was really happy with that, but seeing as this book treats that rape thoughtfully, presenting the victim as a victim but also as the actor in her own story in a way that would make the rape-enthusiasts in the Game of Thrones writing room tremble in awe and shame (doesn’t take much, though. To be clear, what I’m saying is, the Game of Thrones writers are horrible), the “funny” sexual assault that Rupert P endures is just. Why?
- The gay thing. So Rupert P ends up murdered. We’re unsure of which girl did it. They all have motive and are all also horrible people. First thing’s first: he’s one of two gay characters present. The other is his secret boyfriend, whose lover is now murdered. That’s a trope fulfilled, isn’t it. Also, the murderer is his fake girlfriend. At this point I actually can’t remember whether she knew he was gay and was being helpful or if she really didn’t know, but I lean toward the former. Anyway, her motivation for murdering him is that he’s also a horrible person, very inconsiderate of her and her needs. I felt for her right up until it’s revealed that she murdered the gay man she’s been pretending to date to revenge herself of his inconsiderateness. Also, Rupert P is the most hated band member, hated by at least one of the other Ruperts, enduring occasional blackmail and frequent upfront homophobia from him. My thoughts as this story unfolded are basically summarized by this question: Why choose this band member to have as a punching bag and end up murdered?
These are all conversations, and in general I try to remember that everything is problematic. A story where girls get to be gleefully, horrifyingly awful without any meaningful redemption is welcome and necessary…
… but that stuff is… well. It’s certainly there.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan
Sad. Cute. Very sad, very cute, in that order forever and ever.
I wish I had something more to say but here’s maybe all that’s necessary: if you like YA, magical realism, and are prepared for musings on depression and suicide, you will really like this book.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Why aren’t more dystopian novels like this? Why aren’t more historical fiction/fantasy novels like this?
(I know the answer and it is that most things that get published are by white people)
The setting is Alternate Universe America, where zombies attacked and though slavery is sort of over, it’s not really, because white people have set up this establishment where black and first nations children are taken to a special school where they learn to be zombie fighters. Specifically the ones the book focuses on are girls taken to learn to be body guards for young white girls and women.
If you like zombies and would enjoy a refreshing dystopian book where racism is actually depicted and discussed intelligently, this is it. I also really liked Katherine. Katherine was good.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
I finally read this, by one of my favourite twitterers. I was pleased to see characters featured in his short stories collection, which I read last year, were the mains here. Adoulla Makhslood and Raseed bas Raseed are extremely entertaining, and sometimes endearing, with their banter and very different opinion set on the way of the world. And there’s also Zamia, who can turn into a lioness.
Sometimes the violence/references to horrors in the past are stomach turning, at least for me, but not A Song of Ice and Fire levels of horror and our female voices are not in constant fear of rape. So there’s that.
This is definitely for a fantasy reader’s TBR pile.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
This was INCREDIBLE. A mystery novel where the sleuth has dementia and is mixing up her memories of her present-day friend, Elizabeth, who has gone missing (but no one will take her seriously), and her memories of her sister Sukey, who went missing when they were both young.
It’s so frustrating. It had me on edge. It made me look up this song on Youtube (but I did not leave a comment saying that’s how I got there). And the ending.
Yeah, I’d recommend this one too.
Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin
This is a nice, mostly fluffy romance about two women in their fifties. Two things: two women, and also, women in their fifties. Apparently it’s a rare thing in and medium, and as I’ve never encountered one of these before, I guess it’s true.
I liked it a lot, but because I was apparently in a mood all summer, all of the fluffiness got to me a little. Which is stupid because, a) That’s what this book is for, so why am I complaining, and b) It wasgood.
My one note is a note I’ve made before (I remember a similar complaint for When Dimple met Rishi): people doing very sexual things in front of their siblings/parents/children isn’t cute. At least, I don’t think it’s cute. I actually think it’s kind of a lot inconsiderate. In this book, whenever it happens (and it happens at least twice), it’s done so that whoever can remark about how happy his or her mother is now, which is great, but they don’t need explicit evidence of the sex their parents are having to know they’re happy together.
Orrrrrrr is that just me? IDK. There are other moments where the kids say things about her newfound happiness with her girlfriend that are about companionship and don’t involve explicit evidence of sex, though, so, I stand by this complaint. But my complaint about the fluffiness is because I was a dark brooding soul this summer and this is the only exception.
Depression and other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim
I have the unfortunate habit of forgetting large amounts of poetry after I’ve read a collection. But I do remember enjoying this. It was humane and honest and sometimes sad, and I think basically exactly what I wanted when I grabbed it off the shelf.
Read poetry! Start here.
The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill
I really like Kelly Barnhill. This book is grim, even compared to The Girl who Drank the Moon, though.
Grim and charming, I think, are the two words for a Kelly Barnhill novel. I’m definitely going to read everything else she’s ever written, because the combination works.
I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
On the subject of grim…
You really do need to read this. I kind of thought I’d read it and I’d nod along and though it would broaden my perspective a little, mostly it would be things I’ve already thought a lot about (and am currently thinking a lot about, because, current state of the world, and all), but one of the arguments she makes in here caught me by surprise.
She talks about how we need to stop talking about the “good man” because it directly contributes to normalizing abusive behaviours as typical of the “normal man.”
I hadn’t considered that, and she makes her case, and I’m actually not going to do that anymore. But even if she hadn’t made this specific point, this was still essential reading, particularly now, particularly for everyone.
Misery by Stephen King
I have a lot of things I’d like to say about this novel, and I think maybe I’ll write a billion-word essay about it one day soon, but for now:
- of the Stephen Kings I’ve read, this is one of the best
- like all other Kings I’ve read, the problems I have with it are the same: a little bit of the kind of weird, casual racism that you get in something like The Green Mile which is trying to talk about racism but isn’t really, and is actually contributing to a couple of stupid tropes (I do like The Green Mile, though); fat shaming (there is so much fat shaming in King books. I overlook it in It a little because at least Ben is treated as a fully human character in a way Annie never is, but, still); and a weird demonizing thing he does about maternal affection and control, which is sometimes intelligent and sometimes seems just a bit misogynistic
- the main character is a biiiiiiiiig woman-hater. Hates that his most successful books are about a woman, that women are his readers and biggest fans. Looks down on them.
- he’s at the mercy of a woman who will belittle the work he’s proud of, destroy it, even, force him to make something for her, torture him, kill him, eventually. And that… is extremely interesting.
You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks
I finished this in the early hours of today (the day I’m writing this, anyway). It broke me.
I picked it at the store yesterday because it had pretty cherries on the cover AND I AM ONLY NOW REALIZING THAT THEY ARE IN WHAT IS CLEARLY A BROKEN DISH WHAT HAVE I DONE
This is Gone Girl without the thrill – because Gone Girl is thrilling, allowing its enthusiastic readers/viewers to see their most selfish, violent fantasies depicted right in front of them in a way that women generally don’t get, because generally, the most selfish, violent women are either Annie Noakes-types or Elle Driver-types that men like Stephen King draw up. A heterosexual man’s idea of a villainous woman. Some of them, like Annie Noakes, are actually kind of interesting. But when we get to see a woman’s idea of a villainous woman, and when we get just a bit of a secret vicarious thrill, that is a rare treat.
But this isn’t thrilling. It’s still entertaining as hell. It’s awful. Awful things happen. And my favourite part is that the male character, Sam, horrible, misogynistic, awful man Sam, is horrible and he thinks that he has all the women around him fooled but he doesn’t. They know who he is, and the two protagonist women are, actually, worse than he is, and that is literally my only solace now that I’m done reading it.
I recommend this one if you have the stomach for it.
Now that it’s fall, maybe I’ll read something cheery. Galbraith has a new one and it’s huge and right next to me, so, I’m looking forward to that.