Friday, 7 April 2017

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited
by Becky Albertalli

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
This is the first Becky Albertalli book I've read, and I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There was so much hype surrounding Becky's books that to begin with I didn't see what all the fuss was about...but then I got totally pulled in by all the cuteness and pretty much loved it by the end.

I loved that it included such a diverse cast of characters. Her parents? An interracial female couple, one lesbian and the other bisexual, and one of them is Jewish so the MC and her siblings are also Jewish (and the love interest too). Her sister is a lesbian who dates a Korean-American pansexual. The main character is fat and has anxiety, so it has body and neuro diversity too. I can't say whether or not all of it is good representation, because not all of those identities represent me, but nothing stood out to me as being badly done.

Basically, I loved the diversity part of it, and I loved that it wasn't made into a huge thing... first and foremost, the book felt like it was a cute coming of age romance, it didn't stray into Issue Book territory (those have their place, but they should not be the only representation of diversity) even when it was calling out ignorant comments or stereotypes.

Her anxiety bothered me a little bit...but not because it was done poorly. I think it was well done and I love that her taking her meds was just casually mentioned and not made into a big thing, and I love that it showed that you don't have to be defined by that. But, I'm one of those people that's pretty susceptible to second-hand anxiety so her anxious thought process wasn't always fun to read about (although, because she's taking her meds, she her anxiety doesn't flare up too bad in the book).

I hope some people read it and understand a bit better how anxiety can mess with your thought process though, because I've seen anxious characters dismissed as annoying/clingy before in reviews of other books because it's never acknowledged that it's anxiety, so it was nice to see that represented in the book.

The romance in the book was predictable but cute. It's one of those stories where the reader knows from very early on how it's all going to play out (literally nothing surprised me) but it takes the character most of the book to catch on. I kind of hated the Will stuff for that reason, but Reid was great, he was such a little ball of adorable and I loved his relationship with Molly (and I really appreciated the fact that the romance wasn't used to "fix" her).

And I really really loved that family was such a focus of the story. Especially that it showed cousins who were also friends -- growing up, one of my cousins was also one of my best friends and it was an interesting dynamic and it's one I don't see explored often but I wish it was.

Overall, I really liked the book. I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5 (or 4, because I'd round up).


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Half Rant, Half Review: Jughead by Chip Zdarsky

Note: the cover/synopsis I use is for the volume 1 (which includes issues 1-6), but I read the individual issues and I think I've read all of the ones that are out now so the review is for all of them.

by Chip Zdarsky

Summary: In the grand tradition of comic book reboots like ARCHIE VOL. 1, Archie Comics proudly presents... JUGHEAD VOL. 1--from the comics dream team of Chip Zdarsky (HOWARD THE DUCK) and Erica Henderson (THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL)!

Riverdale High provides a quality education and quality hot lunches, but when one of those is tampered with, JUGHEAD JONES swears vengeance! Well, I mean, he doesn't "swear." This is still Archie Comics after all.

Collects JUGHEAD issues #1-6, plus bonus features.
I'm only vaguely familiar with the old Archie comic world...I never read the comics themselves, but I've grown up watching adaptations based on them.

I wasn't very familiar with Jughead's character, is what I'm getting at.

I watched the first episode of Riverdale not realising what it was about until a few familiar characters showed up and then I saw all of the controversy about the way the writers of the show* wrote the Jughead character and it made me want to read the new series of comics about him.

Basically, in the comics Jughead (from what I've seen) has always been written as asexual and aromantic (heavily implied), and the new writer of the comics has went with that and confirmed it on the page. Jughead is canonically touch averse and aroace...but if you've seen the show, you'll know that the writers decided to erase that part of his identity** by having him be romantically involved with Betty.

Erasure and/or staight-washing of LGBTQIA+ identities is wrong and harmful, and asexuality and aromanticism are right up the top of the list of identities/orientations that are rarely ever represented in the media and when they are, it's almost never good representation (which perpetuates ignorance and harm towards actual people who identify as aro/ace-spec).

Check out the #AroAceJugheadOrBust hashtag on twitter for more on that.

...And this has been my long-winded way of explaining how I ended up reading the Jughead comics (and why, in spite of the things Riverdale may get right, the writers are still pretty awful). Now onto what I actually thought of the comics.

I pretty much loved them. I'm not a huge comic book reader (not for lack of wanting to be, its just overwhelming choosing where to start and keeping up with them once you do), but ones like this make me wish I was, I love the art style and the characters so much, especially Jughead.

Jughead is such an excellent protagonist. He's funny and he's a good friend and he is such a wonderfully positive example of aroace representation done right. He isn't struggling with who he is, he knows exactly who he is 100% cool with it and his friends know and they're accepting and cool with it too.

The comic still acknowledges little moments of ignorance from his friends and some of the misunderstandings that aro/ace people often face but it does it in a way that doesn't darken the tone of the comic, it doesn't make the story revolve around his aromanticism/asexuality and... and I just really loved that. A lot. I hate when LGBTQ+ stories make it seem like that's all that the characters are rather just part of them.

The plot of the comics weren't really my cup of tea. I think I'd have enjoyed them more when I was much younger, but while I wasn't too interested or invested in the overall story arc, the characters made it easy to enjoy in spite of that.

I'd rate them 4.5 stars out of 5. I really enjoyed reading them and they've made me want to see more good representation of ace/aro-spec people in fiction and it's made me angry about the fact they erased that part of his character on the show because the writers are too ignorant and incompetent to write his character well without using romance as a crutch.


*I mean, the Jughead kiss isn't the only crappy thing it pulled. There was the girls kissing girls for attention thing and the whole statutory rape by an authority figure nonsense too. And the Gay Best Friend trope. I've seen some people say the racial diversity is good, but I'm not the right person to judge that but if it's true, it just sucks that they're failing so spectacularly in other areas.

**Even if they make him ace-spec somewhere down the line, it'll be like they tried to present his asexuality in a way that people who aren't ace (or aroace) can accept...which makes it clear that his character is not, never was, and never will be intended to be good representation for ace/aro people. He never fell anywhere in the middle of the spectrum, he wasn't grey-a or anything, he was firmly ace and aro.

Monday, 27 February 2017

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Note: There will be a few spoilers in this review. Not major ones, I don't think, but it's hard to explain my thoughts properly without them (but you can skip over those and get my general opinion of the book without the specifics -- the spoilers are in between the "Timelessness" header and stop after the "END OF NEGATIVES" one).

On the Other Side
by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Summary: Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It's the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she's become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won't open.

Evie's soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it's too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow , some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love . . .
I am very conflicted about this book. It's one of those marmite books that people will either love or hate depending on their tolerance for sweetness in a story -- some love it, some will find it sweet to the point of being sickly. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, and I read the book on a good day so it worked for me.

Overall, I would say I liked it and I really enjoyed reading it (or rather, listening to it)...but I had some issues too (surprisingly not with it being sweet and twee to a fault).

I actually started reading the book last year and just could not get into it, then I had the chance to review the audiobook so I decided to give it another go. I don't know if it was the timing of it, or the change of format, but I actually really enjoyed listening to the book. The narration is excellent and I highly recommend the audible version.

Now...onto the issues (and I want to make it clear that, in spite of these issues, I don't think it was a bad book--and I'll get to the positives after the negatives are out the way--these were just the things that prevented me from loving it). I'll break this down into sections:


First of all, the time period of the book. Carrie has said that she didn't set it in a specific time period because she wanted Evie to be timeless, for people to relate to her story even years from now... The problem is, that didn't quite work.

The conflict of the story, the catalyst that sets everything else in motion, is a very dated issue and it's one that does not work in a contemporary setting and is way harder to relate to now. The gist of it:
Evie's mother doesn't want Evie to get a job as an artist (or any job at all, she's to be a wealthy stay at home wife and mother). She wants to arrange her marriage to a rich family friend whom she knows Evie doesn't love. And Evie eventually caves to this pressure...because her brother is gay and she wants to marry a rich guy so she can support him financially because she assumes their parents cut him out of their lives when he comes out (more on that ridiculousness soon).
If the story were set maybe 50-60+ years ago, an adult woman allowing her rich mother to dictate her life the way she does in the story would be believable and understandable and easy to sympathise with. Even the gay element would make sense because back then being an openly gay man was a criminal offence, and their rich parents would have had the power to have her brother sent to a psychiatric hospital to undergo awful "treatments" for being gay.

But that plot line does not work in a modern day setting. Evie and her brother could very easily move out and find jobs (she didn't even for one second consider compromising temporarily on her dream of being an artist and just getting a regular job to pay the bills). It might not be the comfortable lifestyle they're used to, but they would've been happy and free to live the lives they wanted.

A timeless story does not mean a story that isn't anchored to a certain point in time. There are books written or set hundreds of years ago that are timeless...not because the time period was left vague, but because at the heart of the stories are emotions and moral conflicts that are part of being human. They're timeless because in spite of all the differences between Then and Now, people still connect to the humanity in the stories. Deliberate removal of time period doesn't make a story timeless.

By refusing to choose a definitive time period for the story, it vastly altered the way the characters and their motivations and circumstances are interpreted.

Basically, I get what she was aiming for with the timelessness, but the execution of it doesn't quite work. The whole conflict in the story was really, really contrived and weak.

Her Brother

Now...the next issue. I really, really, really didn't like the weird straight saviour thing it had going on. Like I said above, it was so contrived and didn't sit well with me at all (but perhaps I'm just being over sensitive).

Evie gives up the man she loves because her brother is gay, and we're supposed to view it as this big noble sacrifice but it was just...eugh. She doesn't even give him a say in the matter, she just decides that because he's gay she has to support him financially which is so obliviously condescending. It didn't make sense and it really bothered me.

Had it been set in a time when someone could be locked up (in prison or in an institution) for being gay then that would've made sense. Then, her need to "protect" her brother would've been totally valid because she would have something she was actually trying to protect him from other than...well, not being rich anymore (and even that was just something she assumed would happen, not something certain).

Again, it just felt really condescending that she thought he wasn't capable of taking care of himself without her "sacrifice" -- he was a 20 year old man. He needed her love and her support, he did not need her to be his straight white night swooping in to save the day by sacrificing her own happiness so he could continue remain wealthy when he came out.

The implication that, had she not made her big sacrifice, he would've ended up on the streets or had to remain in the closet, unhappily marry a woman and live a miserable lie was just ridiculous. His safety wasn't in question, he would not have ended up on the streets if he came out. There was no reason, beyond financial gain, for her to do what she did to "protect" him.

Basically, him being gay was just used as a plot device in her story and I hated that. Vincent was a character who just happened to be bisexual, while Eddie was a Gay Character -- and a Gay Character whose whole story revolves around his gayness...and worse, it wasn't even about him, it was just used to create conflict in Evie's story.

So...That bugged me. A lot. It's not even that it was outright offensive representation, just kind of ignorant, but it bothered me a lot (even more so after reading the novella and having her "selflessness" perpetuated even further).


Beyond those things, there was a lot I really liked about the story.

The characters were sweet and easy to care about, and I absolutely loved that Jim's character was just a genuinely good guy who got along with Vincent because I hate when characters are vilified for no other reason than they're seen as competition to the love interest (or main character) of the story -- life, and people, are more complex than that and I like that the story showed those complexities.

I loved that LGBTQ+ characters were included, especially the fact that the love interest of the story was a bisexual guy which doesn't happen often in fiction (although the gay representation was kind of problematic, as mentioned above).

And the magical realism...for the most part, I loved it (some bits were a little unoriginal, like there's a scene that is really similar to a thing that happens in Once Upon a Time). It's not the type I'd usually read -- most magical realism I've read (and adored) has been thoroughly set in our world, just with magical elements casually woven into it... This one, it felt like it kind of straddled the line between fantasy and magical realism, but I liked it.

Overall, the book is really cute. I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5 (if I'm rating the audiobook specifically, I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5 purely for how much I enjoyed the performance -- I'd definitely listen to any audiobooks Carrie narrates in future). I do look forward to seeing more of Carrie's books in future, in spite of the issues I had with this one.



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