Through the Eyes of a Non-Mosher

*This is an essay I wrote while studying abroad for a sociology class titled: Religion, Witchcraft, and Magic.*

Screaming Serenade: Punk Concerts as Religious Rituals

When thinking of an everyday religious experience, something that most people who deem themselves as “religious” participate in regularly, would be the notion of attending church or some form of mass or ceremony. We see this all the time, the streets lined up with cars around a church on Sunday mornings or Saturday evenings, people stereotypically dressed in their “Sunday best” because one has to be clean and proper while presenting themselves to God. Even though this is the first idea that arises when discussing religious experiences, in this essay I aim to discuss whether the theories of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim are prevalent in the more off-beat religious gatherings of today.

Imagine a dark and overly crowded room with low ceilings and sloped floors from constant pressure and movement. There is a small set of stairs leading down to a more open space, directly in front of a platform. Raised up around that open area is more standing room with a balcony to hold the mass of people up against. Everyone in the room is eagerly waiting, almost impatiently. Sweat is being absorbed into the air, mixing with other people’s sweat and excitement as it pulses through the room. Soon the lights will dim completely, allowing the colored light show to begin as the squeal of guitars and the loud beating of drums echo against the walls. The concert-goers scream with joy, their savior has come, has taken the stage and is going to preach to them in a way that they actually understand. I am recanting the scene that took place before me at the Underworld, a venue in Camden Town, London for a Chelsea Grin concert; a band notorious for their deep, guttural “screaming” sounds alongside their melodic vocals.

This concert, unlike any I had been to before, was a religious experience for everyone in the crowd. When it comes to the younger generation, especially with the people I was surrounded myself with that night, church every Sunday might not necessarily be a priority. Everyone has their reasons for either attending or not attending, conforming or not conforming, to a certain religious doctrine, and I believe that the people jumping up and down while violently pushing each other to the beat had found their own religious doctrine outside of a church and it was quite beautiful to witness, and I will allow for some religious theorists to reinforce this claim.

The first theorist is Karl Marx, born in 1818 and died in 1883, and he would probably disagree with the notion that rock concerts are like a religion, specifically because he dislikes religion so much. He believes that religion is unnecessary and he simply detested everything religious. He explains that religion is basically a painkiller; that it is a drug that takes our minds off of the real suffering that is occurring. The concert-goers, who belt out the lyrics almost before the lead singer can even get them out of his mouth, are using this concert as a distraction, as a drug from the real world that awaits them when the lights come on and the music rings in their ears. They come here to feel the beat echo through their hearts, to be a part of this collective feeling, which is the same reason that devoutly religious people attend mass or other forms of a congregation.

Marx says that religion is for the poorer people because they are the ones suffering and therefore need something to take their minds off of this terrible pain and that it becomes a way to solve their problems; this is one of the reasons that Marx dislikes religion to his extent. The concerts, therefore, are a place for anyone and everyone to join in on something that is a distraction for the real world. Perhaps Marx would actually equate a concert like this as a religious experience; however, he would dislike it as well if people were treating it like a religious ritual. He would want the people to see it simply as a concert and nothing divine, but that is not what the people see or feel when they attend these shows.

The next theorist is Max Weber who believes that religion, power, and domination are all interconnected. He lists out three different types of authority: traditional authority, legal rational authority, and charismatic authority. Focusing on the third form, charismatic authority can fit into my example of religious experience. Weber says that charismatic authority involves an individual who has extraordinary power to control and inspire devotion in other individuals, fully knowing that people will follow. It is almost as if these few individuals have a gift of grace. The list we came up with in class included prophets, leaders, and warriors, but I am going to add to that list lead singers. While at concerts like these, one main aspect that everyone tries to participate in is called a “mosh pit” which is where the people in the crowd open up a circle pit and simply run around pushing each other violently, dance as if entranced, and it usually ends with someone getting slightly hurt or even worse: trampled. Why would normal people participate in something that they know is going to hurt them? However, the minute the lead singer shouts into the crowd that he wants to see a pit open up, everyone instantly abides to his commands. They willingly enter themselves into situations that they can possibly get injured just because their “savior” told them too. No one seemed to question it and everyone in the pit was enjoying it so much, it was hard to retain my self control and not join them.

Anthony Kronman compiled Weber’s works into one place and he discusses all of Weber’s famous theories. In the chapter titled “Authority,” Kronman goes through Weber’s different versions of authority, giving adequate time to each type. For charismatic authority, Kronman says that Weber believes that: “Charisma is truly a revolutionary force…since it breaks up existing authority structures by introducing novel claims of legitimacy” (50). Generally, “screamo,” metalcore, hard-alternative-rock music is frowned upon in normal society, and they do a very good job of discussing this in their hard lyrics. Since it is not widely accepted, like some religions, the followers are only driven harder to prove their faith and loyalty to their leaders. These bands break apart the other forms of society that typically disregard them and they ultimately create a place for their fans to feel at home and feel a part of a collective experience. By doing this, these bands and lead singers legitimize their authority.

Finally, there is Emile Durkheim, who came after Marx and Weber, but still pulled from some of their ideals. In regards to the lead singer being a God-like figure to the fans in the venue below them, and the whole concert being a religious experience, I believe that out of all theorist discussed, Durkheim would agree the most with this. Durkheim’s theory explains that religion is important to the sense of social purpose and that it ultimately builds the morals of society that everyone follows. In relation to this, God is an abstraction through which we cement our identities and roles in society. These roles, and society in general are worshipped by the people when they are allowed to worship collectively. The screaming, sweating, fist-pounding participants in the crowd are collectively “worshipping” their “god” on stage before them and they are given a sense of purpose by being here. As an outsider, someone who is unfamiliar with the music blasting through the speakers and the artists on stage, I did feel like anyone and everyone was welcome to join this group of people. There was not just one set of people in the room; the crowd varied in age, gender, race, etc. signifying that their group is a diverse one and it was very easy to join in because it was such a collective experience. There are the different roles, from those that stand ground right at the foot of the stage, to those creating the most pit, and ending with those that stand in the background who simply nod along with the music. Everyone may have their different roles, but as mentioned before, it is still very collective.

So how is a rock concert like a religion? Tobias Werler and Christoph Wulf address this idea in their book Hidden Dimensions of Education: Rhetoric, Rituals, and Anthropology, which is a collection of articles and essays by different authors. The chapter “Pop Concerts as Modern Religious Rituals” by Ruprecht Mattig found in this collection firmly discusses this topic. Mattig takes a performance by pop artist Robbie Williams and points his attention “towards [how] pop concerts…show, the anthropological function of religious rituals for modern societies” (149). Mattig questions why the “thousands of people [come to] sing a song about angels together in ecstasy” and firmly states that his belief is that these people are “performing a modern religious ritual” (151). Obviously, there are those who hold a disbelief in this type of music and also truly believe that a rock concert cannot be a religious experience, it is, in fact, a substitute religious act, and Mattig goes on to use Durkheimian theory to back up his ideas. He, too, points out Durkheim’s theory of the collective experience which allows for “courage and ardour” in those that participate in these rituals. However, the courage does not last forever, says Mattig, so therefore the people have to come and perform these certain types of rituals again in order to feel the same transcendence, or as Durkheim says that these religious rituals give the participants: “impressions of joy, of interior peace, of serenity, of enthusiasm which are, for the believer, an experimental proof of his beliefs” (152). And this is why pop concerts, rock concerts, all types of concerts are still selling out stadiums and performing every day and night.

Nothing proves these ideas more than from the concertgoers themselves. Alternative Press remains a very reputable magazine for all things alternative music, from new bands and concerts to interviews with artists and fans and anything that could be affecting the alternative world. Their online site contains many great articles written by fans and other lesser-known journalists for the magazines. For example, the article “The 9 Phases Of Post-Concert Depression” written by Cassie Whitt, provides an excellent example of what fans feel when the lights come on and the stage clears. Whitt examines how when the fans leave the venue they believe that their lives have been either touched or changed or both, by the artist. Starting with “Euphoria” and going through “Reflection, Realization, Reality, Feeling Outcasted, Stalking, Lake of Impulse Control, Acceptance, and Living” which all fully support Mattig and Durkheim’s notion of having to continue performing this ritual in order to maintain the euphoria that comes from it. Obviously, Mattig and Alternative Press are not scholarly articles or sources, but perhaps that fits the subject completely. These fans and concert-goers are finding alternative means to fulfill their need for a collective experience and also to perform the religious rituals that give them such transcendence and euphoric feelings.

Marx would agree with the notion that the people see these concerts as a religious ritual that they can participate in, but he would severely dislike it. To him, religion is a facade that is there to disguise the pain that the poorer people are feeling, which is exactly what a good portion of the fans are there to feel: something that distracts them from the pain of their daily lives. Weber would probably agree with this theory as well because he can see the impact that the band, lead singer, artist, and their charismatic authority have on the people that attend the concert. He can see that the fans and band together have created their own “world” that they can all feel at home in. Durkheim, overall, could agree the most with this essays purpose in proving that a screaming, hardcore concert is an alternative to a religious experience. At this concert, the lead singer is the God, the lyrics are the doctrine and the teachings, and the fans that fill the stadiums and venues are the practitioners and believers that come to feel something within them, just like those that attend church every week.

Works Cited

Kronman, Anthony T. Max Weber. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1983. Print.

Mattig, Ruprecht. “Pop Concerts as Modern Religious Rituals.” Hidden Dimensions of Education: Rhetoric, Rituals, and Anthropology. By Tobias Werler and Christoph Wulf. Münster: Waxmann, 2006. 149-64. Print.

Whitt, Cassie. “The 9 Phases of Post-Concert Depression.” Alternative Press. Alternative Press, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.

Call Me By Your Name

I‘m going to preface this by stating that I did the worst thing any avid, professional reader–like myself–could do: I saw the movie first. Honestly, what’s probably worse is that I didn’t even know it was a book. I just thought it was a super romantic and transgressive movie. While I’m not wrong in thinking that, the book truly adds to the feelings I experienced when watching the film adaptation.

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Published by Picador; Media Tie In edition on October 3rd, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Romance, LGBTQ, Identity, Heartbreak
Pages: 256
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I almost don’t even know where to begin writing this review; it was simply soul crushing (just like the movie was, but even more so). I needed a palate cleanser after reading a few YA books one right after another–don’t get me wrong, it’s still my favorite genre to read, but I needed something deeper. After seeing the movie, and discovering that it is, in fact, a book, I knew I was going to read it. So why not choose the present? And this book seriously took my breath away.

But I think I’ll begin by stating the obvious: this book is hot. It’s definitely hot in the way a trashy erotic novel has a clutching, slow build that sets the reader up with pure arousal before finally allowing the release when the two main characters meet together, but also in the way that Aciman creates the most romantic relationship I have ever read. Ever. And I’ve read plenty of books that contain relationships forming, breaking apart, re-creating, dying, flourishing, etc. And nothing has compared–to this day–to the beauty and rawness that Elio shows to us as the narrator.

What never crossed my mind was that someone else…in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was (25).

The book is told by Elio years after his life with Oliver in the small Italian town, which is not how the movie portrays their meetings–it showcases it as it’s happening, not told years later. But this doesn’t lessen the romanticism of it all as fifty or so year old Elio reminisces, albeit painfully, on his seventeenth year at his home when Oliver, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, came to work with Elio’s professor father and their relationship blossoms. That’s, of course, the horribly watered down version of this tale, so I apologize for my poor summarizing skills. But what’s important is that Elio is seventeen, living in a wistful little beach town where the heat is tremendous and he doesn’t know who or what he is yet. He’s seventeen and we’ve all been there–unsure of ourselves, unsure of others, unsure of almost everything, but more importantly his sexuality. And what he finds in Oliver is what he didn’t even know he was looking for.

“Do you like being alone?” he asked.

“No. No one likes being alone. But I’ve learned how to live with it.” (76).

Like my previous reviews, I always want to include some critical analysis and literary tools to my thoughts on the book. In order to successfully show his readers the conflicting relationship between Elio and Oliver, Aciman’s writing style is extremely important–he couldn’t just throw together their dialogue and scenes, and he triumphs in showing us so much with so little. If you’ve ever read some of Hemingway’s short stories (particularly Hills Like White Elephants), then you might be familiar with his diction and dialogue choices. Specifically, the lack of flashy word choices and obvious sentences–Hemingway does away with those and makes his readers think about what he’s really trying to say. This is, whether consciously or not, what Aciman implores with his writing. Obviously, we know that this story is about a steamy romance, full of sex and heartbreak, between two men, but this is never explicitly stated (of course, regardless of the sexual scenes). The 21st-century terminology for LGBTQ love is endless, but Aciman doesn’t implore any of these. There is a special subtly to Aciman’s writing that allows for anybody to fill Elio and Oliver’s relationship. Since this story is about Elio finding his own path, coming to accept himself and what he desires in life, and needing to acknowledge and move on from the changes he cannot control, but this story could really be applied to anyone’s romantic life, which is definitely why the story is so deeply moving to anyone who reads or watches.

Another stylistic choice Aciman implores is that, in the movie, we don’t see Elio’s slight stream of consciousness that showcases his seventeen-year-old rambling brain, full of emotions and thoughts and desires and hatred towards himself, his family, Oliver. Being seventeen and unsure of your own identity isn’t a clean process; by having Elio go back and forth in the same sentence (that could be eight or more lines long) Aciman forces the reader into the messy brain of a young, confused man.

This book is a must for anyone who a) saw the movie (and if you did, then seriously, you need to read this because you are missing out on so much more background and future between the two) or b) anyone who wants to feel the heartbreaking whirlwind of a romance between Oliver and Elio because Aciman doesn’t just tell you about their flourishing love, but makes you feel it in your own soul, you feel the crushingness of Oliver leaving to return to the states that summer and then you feel their aging as the years pass for Elio without seeing Oliver, but never forgetting. We all have our own Oliver–that person who will haunt and materialize throughout our lives, both in good and bad shapes. He or she is the person we can never forget, nor want to because they made us who we are. We couldn’t be in our current or future relationships without having their love at the beginning of our life; without learning who we are through them. And Aciman gives us this story to reminisce through so thank you, Mr. Aciman.

I’m going to leave you with the most beautiful part of the whole book:

“You are the only person I’d like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense. And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist. Sometimes I have this awful picture of waking up in our house in B. and, looking out othe sea, hearing the news from the waves themselves, He died last night. We missed out on so much. It was a coma. Tomorrow I go back to my coma, and you to yours.” (240-41).

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Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

14 May 2016

Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Welcome to the Victorian era: there are horse drawn carriages, exponential growth in industry and science, and, most importantly, men continue to rank as the superior gender simply because of women lacking a certain genital. Being oppressed as ever, women were not only still inferior in more ways than one, but were absent from the pages of literary texts and bookshelves among all classes. Perhaps this is because women had a larger societal role to play besides spending their leisure time writing–in fact, women did not have leisure time even in the upper class. Either way, many of the famous stories to come out of this period did not feature women and were written by men for men. One example would be Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886.

The lack of women within this text is evident–the role of women is to simply be a maid of Dr. Jekyll, a prostitute outside on the streets, or the maid that witnesses Mr. Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Other than these few characters, women do not grace the novella with much of a presence. Because of this, the story is commonly read as misogynistic and takes on a feminist lens when discussed. Taking a feministic read of the novella to argue about the lack of women, and therefore what Stevenson was thinking when writing, is not necessarily incorrect. However, in this essay, I aim to discuss that though there is a lack of biological women in the text, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inhabit the characteristics of females, therefore, rendering any additional female characters as unnecessary.

Firstly, women are not completely void from the text. In a way, in regards to the maid that watches Hyde’s gruesome murder, they do play a small role. Without that maid watching, the hunt for Hyde would not have begun, or would Dr. Jekyll be forced into choosing between his two sides. As Charles Campbell says, women are the “key to a reading of the novel as it concerns the suppression of sexuality” (310). He suggests that: “The men of the novel are the city incorporated as lawyers, doctors, scientists, and sadists; they are associated with fog, lights and interiors. The women are the city as sexuality, innocence, sentiment, and victims; they are associated with street life, the outside of buildings and doors” (316) and this critic is not incorrect, but he misses a bigger point throughout the text. The maid did not necessarily have to be a maid. It really could have been any passerby, male or female, but more likely male since the women were constantly off performing their duties. This shows that women in the text, though seeming to have a role, are still unnecessary.

The Victorian period was the starting point for many new discussions regarding sex, as showcased by Antonio Sanna’s work: “The late nineteenth century saw an explosion of discourses on sex and sexuality” (Sanna 21). Sex became a part of a conversation; it was not totally accepted, but it was a curious subject and earned its place in discussion. Furthermore, “the attacks and campaigns against sexual excesses such as masturbation and coitus interruptus, which had lasted for the whole nineteenth century and were commonplace in medical literature, now focused on homosexuality” (22). Perhaps sex became a familiar subject because homosexuality became a more familiar action, which is why many critics see “The all-male pattern [in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde]…[suggests] a twist of thought that Jekyll’s secret adventures were homosexual practices so common in London behind the Victorian veil” (Nabokov 187) and these critics are not incorrect. They see Jekyll’s “secret pleasures” as a “strong argument” for the exclusion of women in the text (Linhan). Suppose that Jekyll’s secret pleasures and need for Hyde is because of his undisclosed homosexuality, this is a further point that women are unnecessary. Men are able to find love and release from their needs with other men, therefore taking on a “feminine” role as the second partner in certain erotic escapades.

Continuing with the erotic, as discussed by Parker in How to Interpret Literature chapter on Feminism, the term “the gaze” is used when talking about women’s role in literature and movies. “The masculine subject gazes, and the feminine object is gazed at” (170); the only use of women in a text, and also on screen, is to be looked at, to be gazed at. Their sole purpose is to serve as an idealistic image for the protagonist, generally a man, to physically look at and that is that. This then turns erotic when: “Written literature often lingers over a narrator’s or a focalizer’s erotic gaze at a focalized character and often at a focalized woman” (172). Since the feminine object, a female character, is constantly being looked at and described, the gaze of the narrator can seem erotic and obsessed to some extent. And this is probably why scholar Laura Mulvey claims that “This is what men do: they look, and they look in abusive ways; and this is what women do: they are looked at, and they remain passive” (173). Perhaps this is why there is a large push for female protagonist novels, especially in the young adult genre of fiction to be written, since women generally did not have much a part to play in literary scenes. Stevenson’s novella then could be seen as a fantastic example of not objectifying women to the gaze, seeing as women do not play a large part in this novella. However the gaze is still present, it just is not directed at women.

The reader is constantly drawn to Hyde’s physical appearance. Mr. Enfield attempts to describe Hyde to Mr. Utterson in the first chapter: “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable…He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity…He’s an extraordinary looking man” (Stevenson 11-12). Immediately the reader, alongside Utterson, contemplates how atrocious this man must be, therefore transforming Hyde into the “looked at” and the reader into the “gazer”. The descriptions continue: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to [Utterson] with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice” (17). I understand men to lack such eloquent vocabulary especially when describing another man, at least today, but the speaker spends ample time lingering and reporting on what Hyde looks like more than once. The speaker goes into such detail, narrowing down to the way he talks and smiles, not just his physical stature–crossing the line to the erotic and forcing the reader to tag along. This further exemplifies Hyde as the feminine object, and the speaker–and therefore the reader too–as the looker, willingly crossing the line into eroticizing Hyde.

Though the descriptions of Hyde are not as pleasing as a woman would be described, when contrasted with Dr. Jekyll, the gaze turns even more erotic. Jekyll is described as “handsome” whereas Hyde is distasteful (20). The speaker enjoys focusing on the hands of both men, showcasing Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde through his hands. Jekyll recounts a morning when we woke up to realize he was actually Hyde:

My eye fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll (as you have often remarked) was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde. (54)

The reader is led through this long-winded description of the difference in hands; Jekyll’s hand being attractive, masculine, whereas Hyde’s hand is baser and off-colored. Once again, even though Hyde is not represented as attractive and feminine per se, the notion of spending time to describe and stare at the men’s features connotes the gaze as previously mentioned. Forcing the reader through this descriptive session, submits him to perform the gaze as well as sealing the image of the men’s physical features for the reader to revert back to when thinking about the two characters later. Furthermore, by setting up Jekyll and Hyde to be described so specifically and so often, renders the description of women useless, since the gaze is forced in a different direction, this time towards men instead of women.

More so, the few female characters are the ones performing the gazing and looking, as exampled by the maidservant who witnesses the gruesome murder of Sir Danvers Carew: “It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window, and fell into a dream of musing” (21). The maidservant happened to sit down next to her window and watched as an older man, Carew, approach Hyde to inquire about something, but instead of answering, Hyde simply beats Carew to death with his cane before running away–all witnessed by the maid. While she watched Carew down on the ground, she contemplates his appearance: “the girl was pleased to watch [his face], it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content” (21). This is an obvious example of a woman taking on the role of the gazer, and the object of the gaze is a well-off gentleman. This maid servant’s only scene in the novella is this one, where she slightly objectifies Carew and serves as witness to Hyde’s murder. After this scene, she is never brought up or mentioned again. She lacks any purpose outside of this one task, which is sure to anger some female readers, forcing them to take a feminist approach when analyzing this text.

When using a feminist lens to interpret literature, the scholar must ask what type of agency do the women in the story get? In the case of this novella, the women, much like all women in the Victorian period, lack agency completely. Not only is the reader introduced to the women who are of the lower class, maids or prostitutes, therefore suggesting that they have no outside agency other than the orders they get from their masters or what they must do to obtain money, but the reader comes to the realization that the women lack agency because the men of the text have taken over their agency. Jekyll’s main servant, Mr. Poole, takes charge of delegating the housekeeping and performing any acts Jekyll insists. Not only this, but Poole is the one who confronts Utterson about Jekyll’s state of mind, proving the man has worrisome tendencies like a woman might: “Mr. Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner, when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole. ‘Bless me, Poole, what brings you here?’ he cried; and then taking a second look at him, ‘What ails you?’ he added, ‘is the doctor ill?’ ‘Mr. Utterson,’ said the man, ‘there is something wrong.’” (32). Poole, though being the head of Jekyll’s servants, goes out of his way to contact Utterson out of fear for his master, which even as Utterson believes to be quite out of the ordinary. Poole treats the ever-changing Jekyll delicately, feminizing a man with multiple accolades. The men perform tasks commonly suited towards women: Poole rushes over Utterson’s home instead of sending a female servant over, therefore giving her some agency; Utterson and Poole are the only who tend to Jekyll/Hyde, never letting any of the female staff near him.

Continuing with women’s lack of agency, Jekyll himself embodies the characteristics of a female by, in a way, giving birth to Hyde. By finding a way around traditional birth, Dr. Jekyll proves that women are unnecessary to the final extent–now men can create a different life without the use of a woman. Obviously, Jekyll does not physically go through pregnancy, but he does bring life to a different form from his own body, much like how a woman gives life to something created by her body. In fact, the first transformation into Hyde resembles that of labor: “The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death” (50). Though I have never given birth, from other descriptions and images, the process seems horribly painful and not too dissimilar to Jekyll’s transformation. Additionally, in a way, when a person has a child, they are no longer a singular person but instead two: constantly watching out for another human being, feeding, caring, and loving a small person. Jekyll has created, to some extent, another person to now watch out for and care for, and when he realizes that Hyde became too much for him to handle, and he tries to subdue Hyde’s power, Hyde only forces himself farther into Jekyll’s life.

A man has taken over not only the basic tasks like running errands and caring for a household, but now reproduction as well, showcasing that women are completely unnecessary. Many “[Suspect] that Hyde is Jekyll’s illegitimate son” (Nabokov 187), but he is much more than that. Jekyll disavows what he has done by taking on the role of a father figure of Mr. Hyde: “[I] had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference” (Stevenson 55). Hyde certainly is a son, a teenager even, but in reality, Jekyll has taken on the motherly role by creating and caring for this extra being. Mothers are the caregivers of their children, rearing them while the father attends to the other more masculine tasks, and in some scenes, Jekyll deals with an unruly teenager and has to raise him a certain way–therefore taking on both roles of the mother and father. Even further, “Hyde was ‘knit’ to him, he writes ‘closer than a wife,’” (Linehan 204). Jekyll does not want to admit that his creation forces him to a maternal role, however, the evidence is apparent–a mother to child bond is certainly closer than that of a wife and husband, nothing can oppose the link between the mother and her newborn baby. Therefore, nothing can oppose the bond between Jekyll and his Hyde.

The lack of biological women in the text is apparent, however Stevenson makes up for that lack by creating the men to take on women’s roles. The main question, however, remains: why does Stevenson create his male characters to perform feminine duties? During this time in Great Britain, women’s suffrage movements were taking on the streets and government. There were seventeen different societies created, all devoted to women’s suffrage, in the span of a few years that then created the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Myers). This article featured on UK’s International magazine notes that: “Britain did not leap from no voting rights at all to full suffrage, but that there were many bills taken to parliament and many small gains ahead of the 1918 declaration of suffrage for women, and then the declaration of full suffrage for women in 1928” (Myers). Some of these smaller bills included rights to hold property, agricultural rights, and more. Women rose more and more out of the dirt that their male oppressors shoveled over them, and perhaps this novella is a conversation at that. The women advocated for more rights, as they should be, but throughout this time, some men were left behind. Most men were likely to disagree with their wives and sisters, people they have had innumerable control over for the better part of their lives, suddenly rising to challenge their government; and these men were left to tend to things some of those fighting women may have left behind. In a way, gender roles flipped with women taking on government and men left to take care of the house. Perhaps this is the conversation Stevenson implements in his novella–the gender rolls overturned forcing the men to take on the feminine roles.

Stevenson has been called many things–misogynistic comes to mind–but what about feminist? I am not suggesting that by showcasing women as lacking is in any way feminist, but perhaps this lack shows that women are off fighting the battle for equal rights. They aren’t on the streets toiling around, performing meaningless tasks, but instead, they are at parliament arguing for their societal freedom. This, then, forces the men to take on those female roles because their wives, sisters, suitors are battling for their rights, which leaves the men to take care of the children, the home, and ultimately to their own devices. Therefore, instead of looking at Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stevenson as anti-women, one should read the novella through a lense of women’s empowerment.

The claim that women are unnecessary may not seem that empowering for women, but in this tale perhaps it can be seen as such. Instead of viewing women as a threat against the male dominance as they attempt to counteract the ardent dominance, which would have been considered the reason for the lack, Stevenson renders women as unnecessary. Women are unneeded in this text because the men have taken over the mundane and everyday tasks that a woman would normally be forced to perform. By depicting them as nonessential, Stevenson showcases that women do not need to be the only humans undergoing the stressful tasks of the everyday world–like housekeeping, running errands, and birthing children. Women should welcome this notion of being unnecessary because for once they will have a break from stereotypical womanhood. Men are obliged to finally cover their wive’s tasks, no longer portraying women completely and utterly necessary in order for life to continue.

Stevenson, whether conscious or unconscious, has created immense dialogue for women for centuries to come. Most of this conversation will revolve around the lack of women in his most known text, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but as I have attempted to point out in this essay that there is a concrete reason for the absence–the women are off, battling the British government and the men are finding ways to cope with their loss, learning to take on the mundane and feminine tasks that they never would have thought to cover, but end up enjoying those duties. Poole takes pleasure in running errands for Jekyll and Jekyll takes pleasure from “birthing” Hyde and creating his dual-personalities. In the end, men actually enjoy, to some extent, performing feminine tasks; this shows women as unnecessary, not because of misogynistic tendencies, but instead puts women in a place of equality.

 

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Charles. “Women And Sadism In Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde: ‘City In A Nightmare’.” English Literature In Transition 1880-1920 3 (2014): 309. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Closer than a Wife’: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll’s Significant Other.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism 292 (2014): n. pag. Gale. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Sex, Secrecy, and Self-Alienation in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 204-13. Print.

Myers, Rebecca. “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 27 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2016.

Nabokov, Vladimir. “A Phenomenon of Style.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.184-88. Print.

Parker, Robert Dale. “Feminism.” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 148-84. Print.

Sanna, Antonio. “Silent Homosexuality in Oscar Wilde’s Teleny and The Picture of Dorian Gray and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” Law and Literature 24.1, Silence (2012): 21-39. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2016.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 7-62. Print.

A Darker Shade of Magic

When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.

Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.

What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.

Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).

As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.

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Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.

The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).

What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:

“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).

This Savage Song

Of course, I had heard of Schwab’s other series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic, and had been interested in quite some time (don’t worry, I am currently reading that one now!) but I hadn’t really heard much about her earlier duo. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was the same author at first since she uses only her initials on the Shades of Magic series.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Friendship, Romance, High School, Fear
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


To begin, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given a book here 4.5 stars out of five. I don’t even have a half star image to use.

As we pass the first-week mark of 2018, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our environment. The North East where I live is still frozen, but Chicago is thawing out on this balmy, 34 degree Monday. San Francisco was just hit by a moderate sized earthquake a few days ago and I’m assuming parts of southern California are still on fire, but since the news only reports on things for about two days and forgets about them, how am I ever to know? Things certainly haven’t changed immediately in the political sphere of the US and even though it’s a new year, new you, I highly doubt that they will. While the women of the Golden Globes made their voices loud, people are still laughing about it on Twitter and such. And what was I doing during all of it? Finishing Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song. I had originally picked up her A Darker Shade of Magic to read first and after reading a few pages I knew I would like it too much that I didn’t want to get sucked in right away–I wanted something lighter, I suppose. And that clearly didn’t happen. This Savage Song is breathtaking–and, more importantly, relevant.

“What do you want?” chided Leo. “To be ordinary? To be human?” He said the word as if it stained his tongue.

“Better human than a monster” (81).

Schwab tackles the question: What makes someone a monster? And while not not successful, can this question ever really be answered? Based in a world where monsters, like the ones from our childhood nightmares, exist, This Savage Song directs the readers’ attention to how a label or an identity can be changed. August Flynn is one of our two main characters and he is, more or less, a monster. As one of only three known Sunai–the deadliest and most unknown monsters out there–the reader would like to assume that he’s creepy crawly like how the other monsters (Malchai and Corsai) are, but he isn’t. August is a timid boy, cute but probably not sexy, too young for me no doubt, but all around sweet. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he doesn’t want to be what this society has already labeled and created him as.

On the other hand, our other main character, Kate Harker, is a human but does this make her any better than August? She might not kill people and feed on their souls, but she’s still…a bitch through and through. Her father runs the north end of their city, Verity, and forces people to pay for his protection from the things that go bump in the night. Kate really only wants to please her father and make him see that she is capable of running a corrupt empire like he does.

She was her father’s daughter. A Harker. And she would do whatever she had to do to prove it (119).

August lives in the southern part of Verity, the war-torn half that offers as much protection as possible–but still isn’t enough–and doesn’t force the residents to pay for it. North and south sides are obviously opposing, the north and Harker’s domain want control of the entire city to build a greedy corporation that “protects” people from the monsters Harker himself controls. The Flynn family in the south, though far less wealthy and resource heavy, are honest and good people. They don’t want a war, but they realize that they cannot let Harker take over Verity for his horrid reasons. In a way, Schwab’s tale takes from Romeo and Juliet. To warring families with children of the same age that team up together to fight the battle their families created for them.

Of course, there’s bad guys and fight scenes ensuing all over the place as the reader inches closer and closer to the climax, but something that never really happens, while I, as a fangirl, was certainly craving it, was August and Kate never had a romantic moment. Sure there were times when I could feel the tension crackling off the pages myself, but even in the end, there was never an embrace or a kiss or anything. And I left both shocked and pleased. Sure, Schwab could have finally let the fangirl’s dreams come true and let Kate and August be together–perhaps this happens in the next book, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it yet–but she didn’t. Schwab chose to exclude that crucial part of any good YA romance-type book because, at least what I’d like to believe, is that this book isn’t about Kate or August really. They are just the examples, the vessels used to further discuss her main, overarching question of who is the real monster?

“And you?” asked Kate…

When August answered, the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. “Lost.” He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. “I’m what happens when a kid is so afriad of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently” (308).

I could pick up the first five YA books on my shelfie and find at least one kiss scene in each of them–and don’t get me wrong, I love the kiss scenes, when my heart fills and flutters and happiness pools inside me cause two people that aren’t even real are happy–but by omitting that scene from This Savage Song, Schwab forces the reader to think closer about who is the true monster in this story. Is it the actual monsters? Sure, they do horrible things and are creepy, and are rightfully labeled “monsters” because they kill and eat people. But then there are people who think they’re doing good, but end up doing bad–like Kate’s father for example, or August’s older brother Leo. These characters might not look like monsters in the traditional sense, but their beings are monstrous.

There are too many people in power right now who aren’t technically a Malchai or Corsai or Sunai, but they still are monsters. Women are still mistreated left and right, and have to work in solidarity to at least be heard (hinting at the Golden Globes again) and even when we do speak out, we’re mocked or cringed at for not letting Guillermo del Toro be happy for winning his (rightful cause he is a great director) best director. Our president doesn’t care about us citizens unless we’re in the one percent and a white male. He could care less about anyone else; he only himself like Kate’s father. He might as well have branded his minions with T’s under their eyes, like Harker does his.

So while people hashtag New Year New Me, maybe we should really be looking at our own actions and those of the people around us. Just because we are human, doesn’t mean we are not monsters.

He was a Sunai–nothing was going to change that–but he wasn’t evil, wasn’t cruel, wasn’t monstrous. He was just someone who wanted to be something else, something he wasnt (351).

 

Replica

I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.

Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.

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Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.

The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.

Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.

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The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!

And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.

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So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.

In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.

What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.

Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).

And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.

Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.

She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:

Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).

How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.

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Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.

Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.

But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.

Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).

Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.

Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).

She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.

If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!

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Strong Female Protagonist

I feel so strongly about this comic; everything about it speaks to me as a writer, as a young adult (okay I’m 22, but still), and most importantly, as a woman.

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Strong Female Protagonist writing by Brennan Lee Mulligan; illustrations by Molly Ostertag
Published by Top Shelf Productions on November 25th 2014
Genres: Comics, Feminism, Coming of Age
Pages: 220
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


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First, I’m going to express my love for the title: Strong Female Protagonist. Mulligan and Ostertag are pretty much me when it comes to procrastination, and but then run with it. This title sounds like something they typed into the file’s title just to be able to find it on their desktop later–and that is the brilliant part of it. It’s so commonplace that you can insert any female into the title. It tells the reader exactly what they need to know, what they should know, about the piece. This comic, like Paper Girls, is in silent conversation with the feminist talk of today. As I’ve noted in my Paper Girls 1 and 2 review, the mere fact that this comic follows a girl, instead of a boy lead, already turns the stereotype of comics on its head. Comics used to be a hobby for boys, and I think it’s safe that to say to some extent it still is. Most of today’s comics feature male superheroes or female leads wearing barely any clothing on–who is that for I wonder? Don’t get me wrong, though, the male lead comics are still entertaining for anyone of any gender, but that’s why I love comics like this one and Paper Girls. Girls are now the superheroes, but they aren’t without their flaws or regular pants and shirts. In some cases they are children, like in Paper Girls, or college students, as in SFP, who try to juggle school, friendship and romantic relationships, and supervillians.

This brings me to the other amazing part about this comic: the storyline. There is no cheesiness to be found here, folks. Ostertag and Mulligan have thought about how a real teen hero would react to her hidden identity and sudden super strength. Alison Green never once enjoys being called a hero–she much prefers being unnoticed all together. She knows that as a superhero for the town, her profession comes with broken relationships as well as hatred from the common people. No tax-paying individual wants to deal with a destroyed city once Mega Girl and her gang are done battling some radioactive villain. So Mega Girl faces a lot of backlash. On top of this, Alison is still young–young enough to be unsure of her path and who she wants to be. Does she want to hang up her cape? Is being a superhero for a town that seems to hate her really worth it? Is she suffering as a consequence? Sure, I’m not a superhero during the day, but I was once a college student and understand the struggle that resides in someone who separates themselves too far–between school, romantic interests, social life, and a job, it’s hard to know which way to turn when they all need you at once.

Ostertag and Mulligan create this young woman and give her the ability to be a hero, though she doesn’t need to have super strength in order to do that. The reader watches Alison repair relationships with her younger sister and family, the relationship hurdles that all growing teenagers find themselves in; as well as friendships when she does decide to take off the mask. How does she handle a drunken, but offensive statement from a friend? Or a friend that uses her as a punchline? So Ostertag and Mulligan use super strength as a medium to converse about the real issues, issues all young women are facing today–hatred, confusion, frustration, identity, masculinity and patriarchy, our own bodies, and so on.

Finally, the art style is just so lovable. It comes across as classically comic-like as well as sketchy, something that someone drew offhand and then was told it was good enough to be turned into something–there is something remarkable about that. This comic doesn’t need perfection in the drawing, or realism for that matter–the storyline is certainly real enough. By keeping with the classic cartoon-like style, the illustrator shifts the focus to the dialogue and plot line, as well as keeping with the 180 degree comic twist. So it looks like a regular comic, feels like a regular comic, but is made for strong women who want to be everyday heroes.

Please read this comic if a real female superhero is your cup of tea–no skimpy, tight “superhero turned stripper” outfits. Also read this comic if you like classic comic art style, funny, but real relationships, and overall coming of age tales. I desperately want the creators to come out with Book 2 in trade paperback, but for those that cannot wait, please continue reading their amazing work at: strongfemaleprotagonist.com.

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