Love at First Spark: Book Blog Event Launch Post

Photo Credit: Dan Whale/Unsplash

How are you all doing book wanderers? It’s dreadfully hot nowadays where I am from. The sun is glaring angrier than ever to us people in the tropics. Summer is here and the heat is on, what are your plans for the sunny days ahead? Whether you are thinking of chilling it out on a beach or arranging for a family vacation and/or reunion in your home town, I am inviting you for the whole month of April to join me in a blog event I am hosting, dubbed as “Love at First Spark”, featuring 2017 #SparkNA authors. 

If you have recently visited this book blog, I recapped my bookish adventures here during National Book Store’s Group Book Launch of 2017 #SparkNA books last February 18. During the event, I was able to meet some of the awesome Filipino authors behind the latest sizzling romance reads to hit our local book stores. It was my first time to attend a #romanceclass event and I was instantly smitten by the warmth of this reading community. It was a great experience but with my addictive personality kicking and all, I know I needed more, so I decided to ask the authors for an interview so they may share all the fantastic things about their books.

Exciting, right?! Check the list of the participating authors below with their schedules so you may never miss a post for this blog event.
  • April 1: Ava Feliz (The Problem With Being Laura) --- read the interview here
  • April 2: Carla de Guzman (Midnights in Bali) --- read the interview here
  • April 8: Ines Bautista-Yao (All That Glitters) --- read the interview here
  • April 9: Clare Elisabeth Marquez (Simply Joie) --- read the interview here
  • April 15: Brigitte Bautista (Don’t Tell My Mother) --- read the interview here
  • April 16: C.P. Santi (Bucket List to Love) --- read the interview here
  • April 22: Katt Briones (Chasing Mr. Prefect) --- read the interview here
  • April 23: Six de los Reyes (Sounds Like Summer) --- read the interview here
  • April 29: Farrah F. Polestico (First to Fall) --- read the interview here
  • April 30: Chi Yu Rodriguez (The Art of Shifting Gears) --- read the interview here

There you go, please do come visit again on the designated interview dates. I can’t wait to share the adorable and swoony answers that I got. And a huge heartfelt THANKS to all the participating 2017 #SparkNA authors for gracing my humble book blog.

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher

You can't stop the future. You can't rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret. . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen doesn't want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her.

Then Hannah's voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes-- and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his small town. . .

. . .and what he discovers changes his life forever.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Razorbil
Publication date:  June 14th 2011  (first published October 18th 2007)
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble

My Thoughts:

TRIGGER WARNING: suicide, bullying, rape

I started reading “Thirteen Reasons Why” almost a year ago. I specifically remember that I brought the book to pass time while waiting for someone but sixty pages in and I am not enthused. Here comes the present time when tomorrow, Netflix will release a series based on this book. Out of curiosity, I thought that I should finish reading the book before then.

I have high expectations going in. Aside from the buzz it’s getting from the forthcoming screen adaptation, my paperback copy has five pages of praises from various readers--from authors to professional reviewers to ordinary readers like me. There is also a page listing all the accolades the book got. All that jazz and two hundred eighty-eight pages after, I report to you with great pain and sadness that I am still not enthused.

The book follows Clay Jensen as he listens to a set of seven cassette tapes with recorded messages from Hannah Baker, a girl from school who committed suicide. Apparently, Clay is one of the thirteen people responsible for Hannah’s death. Hannah’s rules are that these thirteen people should listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person who is mentioned next to their own name. As a safety precaution, Hannah had someone follow them around to check if they are listening and passing the tapes along. If any of them breaks the rules, another set of tapes will be released but this time, in public.
You can hear rumors,” I said, “but you can’t know them.”
The book has two point of views: one is that of Hannah as she narrates on those tapes and another is that of Clay as he listens. The format of the book though is not the usual kind of alternating first person point of views separated by each chapter. The reader gets to experience these two narratives simultaneously. When I say simultaneously, I mean literally as in two things at the same time. Hannah’s voice is often overlapping with Clay’s thoughts and vice versa. This is quite a distinctive format but I am not sure if the book benefited much from the uniqueness of its style. For me, the simultaneous narrative felt like two voices jostling for my attention and I have to muster every ounce of concentration I got just so I can continue reading.

And even when I eventually got used to its format, I still do not find myself on board with the book’s hype. Clay Jensen hitting the pause and play buttons for all the seven tapes has become repetitive and boring. The book has a small element of suspense going for it in the form of finding out how a decent guy like Clay landed on Hannah’s list. When the book finally did get to answer that question, the answer does not feel earned and acceptable. It’s like finding the last piece of the puzzle but that piece does not neatly fit and the puzzle is left with a gaping hole even after it’s completed.
I guess that's the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”
As for Hannah Baker, I tried my very best to connect with her just as Clay Jensen did. I hate to badmouth a dead person even if it’s just a book character but she was clearly a self-centered teenager not unlike the people she is accusing of being responsible for her death. She saw herself as someone who has a lot of love to offer (she wrote this really nice poem about it, page 177) but the truth is she has none to give because she did not care for herself first. Yes, the circumstances that happened and the people around her are mainly to blame but what I hated about Hannah was she did not even give a good fight before giving up. She willingly descended into despair instead and then staged this very elaborate revenge with the cassette tapes. She even added a detailed map and urged the unlucky thirteen to visit the marked places on the map so they can have a “full Hannah experience” and she had someone follow them around to check if they are really doing her bidding. So tell me if that’s not egocentric.

The book wanted to deliver an anti-bullying message, about how we should be mindful of our actions because even the smallest of gestures can start a deadly snowball rolling. It got that message across but you have to trudge through all that unsustainable narrative structure and Hannah’s self-destructing antics first. It’s just too bothersome and painful for me to read.

Diversity Watch:
As promised from my latest discussion post, I will list down and take note of the characters’ race and gender descriptions to get a general look of how diverse a book is. For “Thirteen Reasons Why” the only physical description for Hannah Baker in the book was that she is pretty with a long hair that she later cut short. There are a lot of names dropped in those cassette tapes. All are racially indeterminate. All mentioned romantic hookups are heterosexual in nature.

Photo: Netflix

Hannah and Clay are both white based on the poster. Here's a link with photos for the rest of the cast. I think they made it pretty diverse, in my opinion.

P.S. But those headphones should be yellow.

My Rating:

Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things
by Julie Buxbaum

Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Publication date:  April 5th 2016
Source/Format: ARC won from Faye of The Social Potato
Purchase links: Amazon | Book Depository 

My Thoughts:

This is my second time reading “Tell Me Three Things”. I was not able to post a review the first time (too bothered to stop and take notes because this thing is so engaging) so I read it again. No regrets.

This book is a perfectly devised scheme to bring down the defense walls of a guarded heart. And by a guarded heart, I mean my heart. Before I fully begin my review, let me tell you a little something about myself first. I do have a lot of experience in relationships online/onscreen—three in fact—and all have failed in the end. The first guy worked overseas, there was the difficulty of us living in different timezones, but we managed to chat everyday online. When he went home here in our country for vacation, we decided to meet but I decided that I was not physically attracted to him. The second guy, I saw briefly in person from a church activity and I was attracted to him. I got a bit brazen this time and I was the one who asked for his number from a common friend and initiated the texting. We texted each other mundane stuff everyday and eventually he said he liked me and so I asked him if maybe we could meet for a real date. He did not directly said no but everytime I come up with a way for us to meet, he would say that something came up and that there’s still next time. I got the cue that he really did not want to translate what we have into a real relationship so I stopped texting. The third guy was another one from church. Again, we became “textmates” and I thought we were a hit. And it really felt nice having someone greet me “good morning /night” and being asked caring things like “have you eaten yet?” everyday. We went out once but I felt a disconnect between who he was behind the phone and who he was in person. Our communication went cold and the next time I’ve heard of him, he was getting married. Long story short, from my personal experiences, virtual relationships do not work. So imagine me being smug and mighty when I saw the blurb of “Tell Me Three Things”. It’s about a transferee student who started a virtual relationship with Somebody/Nobody (SN) and I highly doubted myself being able to feel anything about it. I was dead wrong. The book worked its charms and made me feel a lot of things!

It all began with an email from SN offering guidance to our heroine Jessie Holmes in navigating the jungle that is Wood Valley High School. SN claims that for Jessie this place and these people are all new, but since he has spent all his life there, he is an expert. Jessie is the new kid in town who brought with her some baggage. Her baggage is that she lost her mother to cancer and her father remarried and moved them to a strange new place without even consulting her feelings about it. So Jessie is grief-stricken, angry, lost and alone all at the same time. She is an easy target but the girl is also sensible. At first, Jessie brushed off SN’s offer because she is aware that SN might be someone who is not what he is telling himself to be. What if SN is a mean girl playing a practical joke on her? Or an old pervy man pretending to be a teenage boy? But life in WVHS is proving to be a real challenge and exchanging funny witty emails with a stranger is a good distraction, so Jessie reluctantly accepted SN’s help.

Jessie’s loneliness on losing her mom is palpable in her thoughts. She counts the days it has been since her mother passed. She sees something and that something will always find a way to remind Jessie of her dead mom. The book is generous in dishing out Jessie’s grief and pain but she is not altogether a bleak character. People around Jessie sees her as someone strong because of the way she carries herself but the truth is (we know this because we are the privileged readers) she just tries so hard not to show any signs of giving up. She said it herself: she refuses to be “the sad girl”. I think a lot of readers will love Jessie’s character. I know I love her. She also loves books. She is a feminist. She is nice and fiercely loyal to people she cares about: her mom and her friends.

At the heart of the book is the connection formed between Jessie and SN. Soon Jessie and SN switched to IM-ing and started this tell-me-three-things game where they tell each other three things about themselves daily. Jessie starts to fall for SN and wants to see him in person but SN thinks it’s not a good idea. One of the book’s main storyline is Jessie deducing who SN is, a la Sherlock. I love the fun and fluff style element of mystery here. Jessie is a smart girl so it has been a wild ride following her around in her quest for SN’s identity. She suspects everybody, even her slightly evil stepbrother Theo or her new Wood Valley friend, Adrianna. Eventually there were three gorgeous boys left in the suspects’ line up and you guys--THE CHASE, THE ROMANCE--I JUST CAN’T WITH SWOON. I deliberately threw away all my bad personal experiences with virtual relationships and got carried away with the feels this book gives. Aaah, I cannot contain myself! I want to spill everything I know about SN! My feet is doing these little kicks in the air right now!

And it’s so,so much more than just swoon and romance. Because I can relate on this too well, I like how the book explores a lot on the absurdity of virtual relationships: how your personality on screen is the filtered and edited version of yourself in person, how it’s sometimes easier to type and say things behind the screen, how sometimes you continue texting with a distant friend without knowing that your relationship is starting to fall apart. It also touched on our human need to be actually seen, especially teenagers. It’s great that not only did the book made Jessie acknowledge that she wants and deserves attention from her peers or from her dad, the other characters are also shown in this light, too: Theo, Adrianna, her bestfriend in Chicago Scarlett, even SN.

Going in, I know that this is a good book because Faye of The Social Potato gave it a five star rating but I did not think that I would come to love this book so much. Pursuing a virtual relationship does not clearly work for me but this book does. Such sweet escape.

Diversity Watch:
As promised from my previous discussion post, I will list down the characters and provide their race and gender in text to get a general look of how diverse the book is.
  • Jessie Holmes – describes herself as ordinary looking, racially indeterminate character.
  • Scarlett Schwartz – Jessie’s bestfriend in Chicago, half-Jewish, half Korean.
  • Adam Kravitz – Jessie’s neighbor and 1st kiss in Chicago, racially indeterminate.
  • Theo Scott – Jessie’s stepbrother, racially indeterminate, openly gay.
  • Ashby – Theo’s bestfriend, racially indeterminate.
  • Caleb – SN Suspect #1, Jessie described him as a “Ken doll”
  • Liam – SN Suspect #2, long dirty blond hair, dark brown eyes
  • Ethan – SN Suspect #3, blue eyes, dark haired
  • Crystal and Gem – the resident mean girls of Wood Valley High, both blue-eyed and blond.
  • Ken Abernathy – one of Jessie’s new classmate in WVHS, racially indeterminate.
  • Mrs. Pollack – Jessie’s English teacher in WVHS, racially indeterminate.
  • Mr. Shackleman – Jessie’s gym teacher in WVHS, racially indeterminate.
  • Deena and her older brother Joe – people back in Chicago, both racially indeterminate
  • Adrianna Sanchez – Jessie’s classmate and new friend in WVHS, brown hair, brown eyes.
  • Agnes – Adrianna’s bestfriend, tiny girl with dyed red bob, large forehead and a nose that looks like someone pinched it hard and it stuck.
  • Heather – a student in WVHS who threw a party Jessie attended in, racially indeterminate.
  • Jessie’s general observation of everyone in WVHS is “so California blond”
  • In one of his emails, SN described WVHS as a “wasteland of mostly blond, vacant-eyed Barbies and Kens”
  • Jessie’s stepmother employs “house manager”, Gloria. There are also other Latino people in the house hired as cleaning crew, gardener, etc.
  • Jessie’s old home in Chicago was mentioned to be bought by the Patels (a common surname of people of Indian descent?)

My Rating:

Wandering Thoughts: Do Racially Indeterminate, Non Gender Specific Characters Hurt The Push For Diversity?

Image: Kaboompics

Wandering Thoughts is where I let my mind stray, think and talk about non-routine things. This is an avenue for bookish personal stories musings and discussions. This post is linked up to Book Blog Discussion.

Don't take me seriously, I'm just a clueless hag.

When we push for diversity, the obvious step of action is to denounce books that are racist or books that leave out the minority and mostly just depict white cis characters. We also hate it when art covers and screen adaptations are whitewashed. Or when stuff like Peeta Mellark’s leg amputation in The Hunger Games – a major plot point because this made him slower in Catching Fire—is not depicted in the movies. What I am a bit unsure of is how to deal with racially indeterminate,non gender specific (R.I.N.G.S. for short?) characters. Are these book characters hurting the diversity movement? Should authors confirm their character’s race and gender explicitly in text?

I have encountered a lot of books where it’s hard or impossible to tell the racial background of its characters. Sometimes, the only description of physical appearance provided through the entire book is “thick black hair”. It does not even say if the hair is straight, wavy or curly. I admit that when the narrative is so compelling, I find myself not bothered by the omission of the character’s race and skin color and might even give a high rating in my review.

I’ve also heard people in the reading community blasting down characters with vague descriptions of skin color--olive-skin, sun-kissed skin, caramel-colored skin, etc.—and found myself not sure if I completely agree with their opinion. I want to side with them because these people are surely championing diversity but I always end up on the fence. I do not want to jump the bandwagon on disliking something when I do not completely comprehend why it should be disliked. I want to know why characters with ambiguous skin color description gets the flak while omission of skin color does not, when these two boil down to them being both racially indeterminate. Why is it NOT okay for characters to have an ambiguous skin color while it is okay if they have no skin color in the book at all? Is there an erasure or an appropriation with ambiguous skin color that I don’t understand? From where I am standing, I am clearly clueless.

Now let’s just take aside these questions for later in the comments. For purposes of continuing this discussion, let’s just assume that there is no difference between a character with no mention of skin color and a character with ambiguous skin color. Both are racially indeterminate, just until we reach to the end of this post.

Once upon a time, Hermione Granger was Asian.

Now to drive to my other point, where I would like to relate my personal experience with arguably the most famous racially indeterminate character we have to date, Hermione Granger. I will first put emphasis on the words “personal experience”.  There are no hard science back-ups, no facts and figures here so you don’t have to see it the way I do. I know we perceive things differently so what may be true to me is not necessarily true to everybody. So here goes. 

I remember I have read the early Harry Potter books back when I was fourteen even before the movies were made (yep, I am that old). One of my best friends (Hi Mommy Steph!) was kind enough to let me and our other best friends (there were four of us) borrow her copies. Needless to say, I am instantly drawn to the only girl in the hero trio, Hermione (I pronounced her name “HER-MI-YOWN” back then), and I imagined her to have Asian features like myself. The description that lead me to this belief was that she was described to have brown eyes (my eyes are actually black but I’d like to think they turn brown in the sun) and bushy hair (mine is so thick and goes to different places without the help of hair products). We have to take into consideration that before Hermione, my encounter with strong women characters in the pages were mostly the Sweet Valley High twins (who were so blindingly white and blond) and Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics (also very white from the drawings, obvi). So when I saw Hermione’s description with no mention of skin color, I was eager and foolish and desperate enough to put her in my own brown Filipina skin even though the setting is in the freaking Great Britain. I know right, what was I thinking? But I saw myself in her. I aspired to be her.
Fast forward to the news of movie adaptation. Like the next potterhead beside me, I was excited to know who’s gonna play the characters from the books. I remember I first saw the picture of the three main actors in a newspaper article in the school library. Needless to say, I was in utter disbelief with the casting of Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. The movie people got it so wrong, I thought to myself. Ugh, I can still imagine the shattering pain of disappointment because I expected that Hermione will look like me and the movie people are telling me that she is white?! Anyway despite of my rage, I am garbage so I still went and watched the first movie (and the next movies after, of course) but I hated on the young Emma Watson deep through my bones the entire time because I felt that she made it rain on my parade or something. (Don’t worry, I absolutely love Emma Watson now.)

So once upon a time, Hermione Granger was brown in my mind. Then she became white in the movies and now she is black on the stage. The beauty of it is that her character is so big and universal and transcendent that she can fit to any skin color.

Newsflash: Colin Creevey is gay.

I’d also like to touch on the other half of the R.I.N.G.S. (I hope you notice that my acronym game is so Hermione Granger), the non gender specific characters. Being a cis-female, I am not an authority on personal experiences with gender issues but If you will, I’d like to bring to the witness stand another popular Potterverse character, Albus Dumbledore.

Prosecution: Professor Dumbledore, sir, please state to us your gender identity.
Witness: I am gay, J.K. Rowling said so in 2007.
Prosecution: But that was after all the books are finished and published. Are there textual backup of you being gay in the books?
Witness: *speaks softly just like in the books and so unlike in the Book 4 movie because movie people can REALLY get things so wrong* Well, there was no textual evidence that contradicts to me being gay but there were a lot of hints that can be implied that indeed I am. In Book 7, there was this picture, see Exhibit A, of a seventeen year old me laughing with my “close friend” turned nemesis, Gellert Grindelwald. Then there was this letter of mine, see Exhibit B, to Gellert where I poured all my intimate thoughts about the greater good. *raises his voice slightly and looks sternly behind his half-moon spectacles* Do I have to spell out my sexuality to you when it is not important to the storyline? Haven’t you heard of the “Iceberg Theory” where maybe my author may have chosen not say explicitly in the books anything about my sexuality because she trusted that her readers will eventually catch up with it? Didn’t Harry Potter himself got enraged with me also in Book 7 because I did not tell him everything about me before I died? *beams kindly* And have you forgotten that through the entire series, I am a champion of tolerance and I am adamantly opposed to the oppression of the minority? 
Prosecution: *in a weak voice, obviusly taken aback by the witness* No further questions, you’re Honor.

Stopping my lame pretend courtroom scene here, forgive me for I am no proper lawyer. I hope you get the picture. Although his sexuality was not explicit in the books, I've heard they are making him openly gay in the next Fantastic Beasts movie. And although some say the above-mentioned textual backups are not that tight, maybe all his talk and example about defending the Muggleborns is the closest we can get to him supporting LGBT+ rights. Come on, we cannot deny the larger than life legacy that old man Dumbledore left behind.

I am not saying that Queen Jo’s writings are faultless. To be fair, I would also like to shed a light on what she said about Hogwarts having LGBT+ students when there is neither explicit textual backup nor hints to that effect in the books. There is an abundant display though of hetero couples through the entire series, some with relationships having little to no importance to the storyline, but not once did she mention a homo couple. She could have at least inserted f/f or m/m couples in the Yule Ball in Book 4, or in Book 2 with the whole Valentine’s Day shenanigan courtesy of Gilderoy Lockhart. Couldn’t Queen Jo have at least mentioned a line or two about one girl wooing another girl or one boy pursuing another boy? I would totally ship Crabbe and Goyle in exchange for the priceless reaction from Malfoy’s face. (!) Also our hero Harry Potter, on his good old days,  was always surrounded by giggling girls in the books. Couldn’t he at least have one boy admirer following him around. Ooooh yes, there was one: Colin Creevey, bless him! Okay newsflash people, check on The Daily Prophet headlines tomorrow: Colin Creevey is gay!

I do not claim to be an expert in the Potterverse text, though. I honestly have the slightest recollection of Colin Creevey canon. Fellow potterheads, if you would please help out a friend here. Was there a mention in the books of him going out with anyone? No? Right, for the purposes of this discussion let’s just assume that if there was zero mention of his sexuality in the books, would a homosexual reader relate to his admiration of the boy who lived and imply to it as something even remotely romantic? Anyone, hmm, maybe?

Seriously tho, what do we do with R.I.N.G.S.?

Now that I am done prattling about my personal experience with a racially indeterminate character and musing about how probably a homosexual reader may relate to a non gender specific character, I hope you can see why I am on the fence with the efforts of completely shutting them down.

I am aware that my examples above are , albeit from a widely read book series, from way 2k-late by millenial standards. But still the issue at hand is all the more relevant now. There are still handfuls of racially indeterminate, non gender specific characters in this day and age and I think we simply cannot do away with them completely, what do we do with them? In a perfect world, R.I.N.G.S. characters are non-existent and we are not lacking multicultural, inclusive, and gender bias free books. But the world is not perfect, and I do not want to put up all these questions without contributing something. So here are some stuff that I think we can do with our current situation.
  • If you love a book with racially indeterminate and/or non gender specific characters, go interpret and imagine them however you like them to be. I cannot do this because I have zero talent in art but by all means, explore your interpretations with a fanfiction or fanart. Tag the authors and let them know how you see the characters in their books.
  • Vigilance is important in literary activism, that’s why from now on I decided that I will take note the race and gender of the characters in the  books I am reading and I will include another element in my review posts that I will call “Diversity Watch”. I am still working the details in my mind but basically it’s a list of the characters checking and identifying if their race and gender are explicity specified in text. It will have no effect on my star-rating but I hope it will at least add value to my review and award brownie points to books with diverse characters.
  • Speaking of vigilance, let’s hold all the authors accountable for what they write. Raise questions, call them out for books that hurt, stereotype and misrepresent the minority. Cheers and praise authors who write with fair character representation.
  • Continue our staunch support for marginalized, #ownvoices authors. Even the littlest things like sharing, hitting the like button and retweeting can do so much if we do it all.
  • We do not stop at pushing diversity in books. Let’s go all the way! Clamor for diversity in screen adaptation casting, especially if the book characters belong to the racially indeterminate and/or non gender specific kind. Screen adaptation of sci-fi and fantasy books have some serious potential in shifting the landscape of race and gender because it is set in different realms removed from the mold of our world. Let us not waste this opportunity to see onscreen a healthy mix of black, brown and white faces in kingdoms and galaxies far, far away. I say, don’t let them movie people get it all wrong again!
I hope my suggestions above may somehow make up for my basic cluelessness. They did not come to me as a prophetic vision from Dumbledore’s ghost or from some other sage R.I.N.G.S. character. They are inspired from hanging around the periphery of your Twitter threads and from reading and watching thinkpieces about diversity.

Now to conclude, I am not giving the authors a pass to be sloppy and ignore diversity but I think that the fellowship of the R.I.N.G.S (I hate myself for this pun but I know I have to) is not entirely a bane for diversity. Side note: My brain just did a quick rundown of the LOTR movies and I can’t seem to remember if there were any brown or black hobbits portrayed in them. This is a shame because Samwise Gamgee could have been brown! And imagine if Gandalf is also gay and him and Dumbledore meet in Valinor and gets married there, they are both great wizards after all right?! What, too far-fetched? No literary crossovers allowed? (Ugh, stupid movie people!) So moving on before the purists cast me with stones, I am willing to tolerate R.I.N.G.S. characters in books because although they are a bit problematic, they are not as bad as racist characters. Unless the ambiguously brown character is racist, because I still need an answer for my question on that. In the end, how we see and interpret these R.I.N.G.S characters are what’s important because it has the potential of making an impact. I mean, they are not necessarily evil because we, the readers, can turn them into something good for the movement. This is purely my take on the matter, the table is always open for any opposing views and I’m willing to listen and learn. So what do you guys think, is it okay for authors to sometimes leave skin color and gender out of text or not? Where do we draw the line of acceptable and not acceptable characterizations in reference to diversity? Hit me in the comments!

Review: Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay

Everything That Makes You
by Moriah McStay

One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.

And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?

Hasn’t everyone wondered what if? In this daring debut novel, Moriah McStay gives us the rare opportunity to see what might have happened if things were different. Maybe luck determines our paths. But maybe it’s who we are that determines our luck.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date:  March 17th 2015
Source/Format: ARC won from Francine of Not So Literary

My Thoughts:

Fiona Doyle had an accident while she was young and now bears a huge scar on her face. She is a talented but reluctant musician. Fi Doyle on the other hand, did not meet such an awful fate and at present, she is a lacrosse player, confident on everything that lies before her. Fiona and Fi are one and the same but they are also different.

The book encompasses a fairly long period of time. It started from Fiona’s and Fi’s junior year in high school and ended in their freshman year in college. The long timeline really helps with the narrative because it gives the readers more stuff to compare and contrast between the two girls. The girls are different in a lot of ways: whom to be friends or go out with, which college to apply to, etc. Not only are their personalities different but the same people around them react differently to each of them as well. For example, with Fiona, her brother Ryan treats her like a breakable vase who needs constant protection. With Fi, Ryan feels a bit of resentment because she is more talented in lacrosse than him. Some people who are friends with Fiona are strangers to Fi and vice versa

I don’t exactly know what the book is really trying to say. If there is a coherent theme, maybe I did not quite catch it. But it’s okay. Maybe, the book just wants to tell the stories of Fi and Fiona and how alike and different their fates can become. For me, the individual stories of the girls cannot stand alone or even if it could, it would be uninteresting. But together, it is fascinating.

What really pleased me while reading are those moments when I can anticipate the events in one of the girl’s stories because of some hints or foreshadowing from the other girl’s timeline. There are lots of times that I called beforehand what’s going to happen and when they do actually happen, it feels good, like I am a Seer or an Oracle or something.

Although both girls have their own depth and likable characteristics, I cannot say that I was able to deeply care for any of them. I am not saying that I did not enjoy the book, because I did. I assume that this is exactly where the author placed the readers: close enough to see but not near enough to be totally involved. Narrated in third person point of view, my reading experience was like that of a removed omniscient observer. In Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, Jake the Dog is friends with a powerful character called Prismo. In one episode, they both watch an alternate reality of Finn and Jake on a screen while eating pickles in a hot tub. I think my experience in reading Everything That Makes You is a little like that -- hanging out laidback with a cosmic level being, watching two alternate realities of the same girl -- and I relished every bit of it.

My Rating: