Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bibliovile: YA and Why Me?

               Hi. It’s time for Terrible Book Exchange volume three. This one finally saw Sue best me in picking out the worse book. You know the deal. There’s sex and children, and thankfully they never meet. Sue will go first, because I got a little heated.

               The Roar, by Emma Clayton

               I knew life was about to get interesting when Mick and I walked into the library to pick out books for round three of the Terrible Book Exchange, and instead of walking upstairs with me to the adult section of the library, he took a sharp left toward the young adult section. He returned after about thirty seconds with Emma Clayton’s The Roar, a dystopian young adult novel about twelve-year-olds who are special. The basic synopsis of The Roar is that the entire population of the world is living in the northern third of the planet. They were pushed up there by The Animal Plague, in which all of the animals went crazy and tried to kill people. Humans basically poisoned everything to kill off the animals, and then fled up north and built The Wall. Our main character lives here. His sister disappeared a year ago, and he insists that she is still alive. (Spoiler alert, she is). Mika has an adventure to find his sister, discover The Secret, and probably save the world or something like that. This book also has fifty-four chapters, which is insane. So instead of summarizing, I decided to just provide my train of thought as I went through each chapter. Here it all is. All fifty-four chapters of it.
               Ch 1: This seems like a wannabe crossover between The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and His Dark Materials, except all three of those series are good.
               Ch 2: If you have twins, why would you name one of them something normal like Ellie and the other something awkwardly spelled like Mika? Also, the author keeps emphasizing that the twins are half-Italian and half-Indian. Indian like subcontinental or Indian like Native American? Why is their heritage so important?

               Ch 3: Parts of this seem like a straight ripoff of His Dark Materials. All the way down to the powerful, rich government employee kidnapping thousands of children and the presence of a golden monkey.
               Ch 4: WTF is The Roar? Also, ‘disorientated’? Did you even use spell check?
               Ch 5: Why is a representative from a program called “Fit For Life” giving out cupcakes?
               Ch 6: Out of nowhere and with no explanation, the author just dropped in the fact that some of the children, including our main character, Mika, are mutants. No big.
               Ch 7: The scary old man is threatening the girl named Elli by saying he’ll kill her whole family and her pet monkey. Not sure why. Maybe because she can levitate objects in her sleep.
               Ch 8: Mika’s psychologist is a crazy old person who just so happens to know everything. She tells Mika to play a game, and that it will help him find his sister… Okay, crazy old lady.
               Ch 9: Is it a requirement for male main characters to be lame and whiny? Because Mika is lame and whiny.
               Ch 10: It’s a good thing our two main characters are twins. That way all the plot holes can be filled in with twin powers.
               Ch 11: Mika’s psychologist has mysteriously disappeared. The characters who can unravel the plot always do.
               Ch 12: Oh good, child torture.
               Ch 13: We just got introduced to the love interest in the most awkward way ever. “He watched her walk away into the darkness, feeling as if she were taking a little piece of his soul with her. A piece he would never want back.” Dude, calm down. You’re twelve.
♫ The next book's about Grace, Ellie 
(This is an adapted quote from the song
"Grace Kelly")

               Ch 14: This kid sleeps in his missing sister’s bed every night and he hasn’t let his parents wash the sheets in over a year. Gross.
               Ch 15: Mika and his friends play in a competition in which they fight in Pod Fighters. So, Ender’s Game.
               Ch 16: Naturally Mika and Audrey the Love Interest win.
               Ch 17: Mika wins some ridiculous prizes in this competition.
               Ch 18-27: Okay, so I read these chapters in bed and I didn’t feel like stopping every two minutes to write down my thoughts, so I’ll just lump it all together.
What happened: Mika starts to see trails of light around everything. All the kids who won the competition get to go on a bribery vacation with their families. The government runs a bunch of scary tests on them. They learn how to SCUBA dive. Mika gets shot with a harpoon gun by another twelve-year-old.
My thoughts: They say “oh my odd,” instead of “oh my God,” and it irritates me. What kinds of shitty parents are these that they let their children participate in competitions that involve harpoon guns? I love that in young adult fiction, no one can see through the government conspiracy but the twelve-year-olds. Good for you, twelve-year-olds.
               Ch 28:  Nothing really happened in this chapter.
               Ch 29: Audrey’s mom calls someone out for being sexist. You go, Audrey’s mom.
               Ch 30: Isn’t this book supposed to be about Ellie? How come we haven’t read about her for a really long time? Also, wtf is The Roar?
               Ch 31: The villain, whose name is Mal Gorman (which is a pretty good villain name, to be fair), is supposed to come off as really sinister and creepy, but he just… doesn’t.
               Ch 32: Mika can move things with his mind.
               Ch 33: There’s a big event at the arcades that all of Mika’s classmates are going to attend. I betcha that something will happen there.
               Ch 34: I was right! All of the children are going to be implanted and totally controlled. Except for the mutants. Those darn mutants.
               Ch 35: The competitors have moved to a place that is totally a prison.
               Ch 36: Why are there so many chapters in this book.
               Ch 37: Ellie! She’s going to the same place where Mika is!
♫ Mutant girl, you are beautiful!
(This is the singer Mika, like the main character)
               Ch 38: WTF IS THE ROAR.
               Ch 39: Apparently The Roar is something that happens in Ellie and Mika’s heads when they get mad?
               Ch 40: Aaaaaaand, nothing.
               Ch 41: Nope.
               Ch 42: Mika has this sort of invisible dog named Awen that confuses me.
               Ch 43: Mika’s classroom bully turns out to be insane.
               Ch 44: I get that this is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic story, and that class struggles are a common theme, but do they really have to shove it down the reader’s throat in every single chapter.
               Ch 45: It’s odd that with only 10 chapters left, the author would waste time and ink on chapter 45.
               Ch 46: The children are going to war! Although if there’s no one left in the world, who are they fighting?
               Ch 47: I have a feeling that none of the plot is going to be wrapped up in the next seven chapters.
               Ch 48: Oh, I guess everything is just going to be crammed in. The poor riot, the government retaliates, Mika and Audrey steal a Pod Fighter. Also, I am nine-tenths of the way through this book and I still have no idea what The Roar is.
               Ch 49: Oooooh, exciting. Audrey and Mika flew over The Wall. Now maybe they’ll get to learn The Secret. So many capital letters.
               Ch 50: Apparently the world is not a barren wasteland like everyone has been told. Is that The Secret?
               Ch 51-52: Apparently the government aren’t the worst of the bad guys, they’re just one step down from the really bad guys. The really bad guys were the super-rich people who faked The Animal Plague to move all the poor and middle class people to the north so they could enjoy nature – because that’s what rich people want – nature. Not money and material things.
               Ch 53-54: Well, apparently there’s going to be a sequel.

But did it get a happy ending?
(Mika, who this is, has a song called "Happy Ending")

               I’m sure you will not be surprised to hear that I did not care for this book. It was not as egregiously awful as Choosers of the Slain, and it wasn’t as poorly written as Sonnet to a Dead Contessa, it just wasn’t my style. But as I was reading, I had to keep reminding myself that this book was not written for twenty-three-year-old graduate students. It was written for fifth graders who don’t like reading, but their reading teacher wants them to read one book a month. It was written for twelve-year-olds who have a kid at school who’s mean to them and want to read stories about other twelve-year-olds defeating their bullies and being exceptional. It was written to help kids who hate reading or have trouble focusing finish a book with fifty-four chapters. And it accomplishes that goal! This is totally a book that those twelve-year-olds would find engaging and would be interested in enough to finish. So although I personally did not care for The Roar, and found lots of it entirely nonsensical (like seriously, wtf is The Roar?), that doesn’t matter. It wasn’t written for me. 

               Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells, by Lisa Cach

               Sue got me with this one. I thought, for sure, that nothing could more offend sensibilities than Choosers of the Slain. That nothing could represent a worse version of feminism than Sonnet to a Dead Contessa, where all feminists are murderers, but I was wrong.
               Because there’s Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells, by Lisa Cach. If you’re wondering what type of book this is, she’s also written The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid. It’s a sex book. Really, I thought Sue was dipping into well-trod (heh) ground, since How to Marry a Duke was a sex book, but she really showed me an important lesson; I liked How to Marry a Duke much more than I thought I did. Plus, there’s like, three sex scenes in it, and they’re not that great.
               Basically, I could tell you all you need to know about Great Aunt Sophia’s Soap Opera in one piece of information. The main character starts out a feminist, ends up married to her abuser, and it’s supposed to be a happy ending.
               Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe I came up with that explanation before the end of the book and refuse to categorize it in a fair light. Maybe two marriage proposals happen within 10 pages of each other, and I have every right to hate it. Everyone in this book is awful. I don’t know if they went for it, but they managed to hold my attention out of pure hate. This is the anti-Skin of the Wolf, which wasn’t as bad as it was boring. I yelled at a book for the first time in my life, and then probably about a dozen times more after that. It’s a literature soap opera, a cavalcade of stupid intricacy and plot twists on top of reprehensible characters and nonsensical decisions. Put that on your god damned book jacket.
               Fine. This book. A Women’s Study major (guess if the other characters immediately beset her for wasting her own time) gets a summer job living with her great-aunt, the titular (heh) Sophia. While there, she is caught in a love triangle between the quintessential love triangle—one handsome but cocky and brutish man, and one handsome but less confident smart man. All these choices!
               Grace is the Women’s Study major. She’s a frumpy feminist from Seattle, where frump lives. She’s practically Donald Frump. She’s slightly overweight, fashion deaf, and constantly anxious, because she’s a feminist and you can’t be a feminist without being either that or all the way lesbian and also her hot friend is a lesbian, so practical double whammy. She’s got red hair and turquoise eyes like some sort of lesser Targaryen. She’s going there not only to help a relative when she needs hip surgery but also to get her dissertation done for her Ph.D.
Imagine this sketch, but with less authority and confidence

               What’s her dissertation on, you ask? Well, see, she’s very convinced that more attractive women lead worse lives, and wants to interview her formerly beautiful great-aunt who is now, ech, old, and therefore, miserable. Let’s review the thesis. MORE ATTRACTIVE WOMEN LEAD LESS LIVES, SAYS FEMINIST STUDY. First of all, just, what, okay, let’s say strawpeople so we’re not so sexist, and also, what kind of supervisor allows that thesis? A school of thought dedicated to empowering women and reducing the power of gender norms isn’t going to look kindly 80 pages of scholarly thought concerned with judging women in less-than-stellar life situations.
               “Hey, I’m in a relationship that disappoints me personally, emotionally, and has held me back professionally due to a male-driven society’s belief that having children makes you incapable of holding a professional job due to other responsibilities.”
               “Hm. You shouldn’t have been so hot, it’s practically your fault.” WATCH OUT FOR THAT IMPLIED “YOUR FAULT” ONE, IT’S A THEME.
               Grace is no stranger to this attitude, as she silently judges every single person she comes into contact with within the first all of the pages of the book. Like, you’d expect her to grow as a character, see the beauty within as hers is expressed (we’ll get to that later), but nope she fools herself into thinking she’s both doing it less and more than she used to within the same paragraph.
               I’m gonna be honest. Before we go on, I’m not sure if this book got me in exactly the way it’s supposed to—like, am I supposed to yell at people for making stupid decisions and having stupid thoughts? Real people do in real life, I suppose, although I still maintain this is some of the worst strawwomanning I’ve ever seen. I’m going to assume I’m supposed to root for the protagonist as, you know, that’s kind of the literary definition of the word. Also, during this time-out, I’m going to say, this review is going to continue on the social-justice track I’ve started it on, but to be fair, it’s the author that really primed the pump for this, making the main driving motivation about a ridiculous and unbelievable feminist theory. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, bar some sort of Freaky Friday scenario occurring soon, so I’m writing this through my own identity lens as a man, straight and white as I’ve ever been. Anyway, time in on this awful book.
               Here are the people she meets in her Great Aunt’s house:
1.       A sixteen year old maid who talks about how all the guys are looking at her chest, so, score one feminism until it’s revealed that actually women like it when you do that like the male gaze isn’t supremely off putting.
2.       The requisite hot beefstick with grey eyes because there’s a radioactive dump around here that makes people’s eyes weird ass colors or something. He’s the main love interest and also the worst person in this book.
3.       The requisite quiet and sensitive smart character who, no joke, is the 2nd worst person in this book. What a delectable triangle Grace has got on her plate!
4.       The Great-Aunt who, admittedly, gets choice lines and maybe tricks you into getting a small amount of Stockholm Syndrome cause she seems like she really hates everyone like the rest of us do.
               The plot of the book concerns the great aunt trying to free Grace from her cooped-up, sexless attitudes by turning her into a bombshell, which in this case means dumb and hot. The great aunt, to her credit, keeps claiming it’s about confidence, and Grace seems to only interpret that as physical attractiveness because all feminists are secretly cowards and just jealous (although with the thesis Grace is writing, she certainly is).
               Why is Declan the worst person in this book, despite being the love interest we’re supposed to root for? Well, he sexually assaults our main character several times, for one thing. Like, seriously. Like, straight up, gonna need a court-mandated counselor type thing. Her first night in the house, he’s drunk and has her alone in the room (because, naturally, she was playing the classical music she has memorized on the piano), and feels her up despite numerous verbal confirmations that this is not, in fact, what she wants. We’re supposed to be okay with it, because Grace actually wants it, because women are liars when it comes to boundaries with their bodies. When the phrase “gently trapping” and “dragging her toward him” come up, we’re in a bind here. He also verbally berates her, and gets turned on by her recounting of the most embarrassing moment of the past months. Then, he humiliates her as her friend walks in. It’s okay though, because, like, later he feels bad. And actually, he wanted her too! THAT DOESN’T MATTER, MAN.
               Later, she makes several attempts at protest during foreplay, and each time he doesn’t let her talk. After they screw for the first time (spoiler, like most sexual and emotional assault victims she has confusing feelings regarding her assailant), this exchange goes down;
               “I never asked for it,” she taunted.
               “But you did, Grace. EDITOR NOTE NO SHE DIDN’T DUDE In a hundred ways, you did. But most of all, you wanted me to make the decision for you.”
               This is straight up rapist logic. Like, I’m not even going to make jokes, man, that’s straight up rapist logic. Just because we get to see inside her thoughts and know that she was indeed physically attracted doesn’t mean it’s okay to do her because you are pretty sure she wants to. The phrase “I’m not sure I want this,” is literally spoken aloud.
Big Boi is disappointed in you
               The other point in this love triangle of misogyny is Dr. Andrew. He’s set up as the sensitive, smart, respectful type who comments on Grace’s weight and asks if she has an eating disorder. Yay sensitivity! Along with a physical trainer, he helps Grace to lose 12 pounds in three weeks or an “oh my god see another doctor” amount of weight. He claims that, sure, evolution means that guys get boners for hot chicks, and also tries to change Grace’s diet, habits, activities, and desires all while being extremely off-putting, awkward, quiet, and invested in his own life. There is no reason for him to ever be a viable option, so naturally the book is centered around Grace trying to win his heart by becoming a bombshell.
               She does this by taking the titular (again, hah) lessons from her great aunt. This is where she learns valuable lessons like “don’t communicate your feelings”, “make the day all about him and what he wants to do”, “don’t challenge him intellectually”, and other lessons from 1925. The line For God’s sake, don’t tell him how you feel comes across as a particularly memorable piece of advice.  Note: I have not been married for years, but as a person in what I would consider very successful long term relationship, this is some of the most terrible advice I’ve ever heard.
               Grace protests feebly about these, but quickly shuts up because secretly she likes clothes and having guys look at her boobs. Her main concern is being seen as a slut, because as well all know, feminists are notorious slut-shamers. I will say, this book’s idea of promiscuity alternates so wildly between “get it while gettin’s good” (hey now you’re getting it) and “if a man says you want it, you probably do”(oh god no). It’s good to feel attractive. If you want guys to stare, then go for it, lady. Just, you know, do it for you. If you do it to cause another man jealousy so that he will want you, then is that actually empowering?
               It brings me to another point. This book is pretty clearly marketed towards women, a type of person this book seems to hate. Why do women seem to like things that are so so very mean to them? Why is Cosmo still in business, when all it does is make women feel bad about themselves? What about the Bachelor, which shows beautiful women offered up on a sponsored platter for a man to freely choose from? And if you like the Bachelor, that’s fine. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an adult who can separate women on TV who are obviously awful from a desired outcome of your life. But think about a recent episode: Two women can’t place Indiana on a map of the United States. Later, they make out with a really hot guy. You don’t think young girls will internalize that?
               Girls are socialized to feel bad about themselves. It’s a massive problem. No wonder, when books like this exist. The main character is simultaneously being told she’s lost too much weight and might have anorexia and that her diet is unhealthy and full of too many calories. By the same person. It’s a no-win scenario in Grace’s world. Be several pounds overweight and have an eating disorder or lose weight and have an eating disorder. Choose the confident sexual assailant or the meek emotional abuser.
               There exists a strange moment where Grace has a moment of clarity. She writes in her “research notes” (which are wholly unacademic at best), Maybe it doesn’t matter how a woman lives her life. She could be a bombshell sex kitten or a spinster with a pile of books, moldering in an ivory tower. One has the same worth as the other, and could be as right for Author as the other, depending on the circumstances. Hey, yeah, you’re getting it! Good for you, I’m really proud that you’ve realized your self-worth is based on your own attitudes and oh no you’ve gone and agreed to marry a guy just because he said “I love you” once, didn’t you.

               You’ll notice I didn’t rag about the writing, mechanically, at all. It functions well as a medium for an awful message. There’s a couple things that ring extremely true, references to childhood thoughts and experiences that are universal, but every single piece of writing devoted to these awful characters and absolutely terrible message is skill wasted. 
              In essence the book’s message is this: Find your self-worth in the arms of a man, and if he’s awful to you, you just have to bang him until he does a single romantic action.

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