Review: Ophelia After All

Title: Ophelia After All

Author: Racquel Marie

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Released: Feb 8 2022

Rating: ★★★★★

“Hamlet would make a great lesbian.”

Racquel Marie, Ophelia After All

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an audio ARC.

Racquel Marie has nailed her debut. I spent a long time putting this review off, because I didn’t want to write a series of shallow praises and forget about it, but really dig my hands into the soil and feel into the root of everything I love about Ophelia After All. (Gardening-themed idioms are allowed for this book, right?) From a cast of characters full of lovable young adults coming into their own to themes of self-identification and the queer yearning for happily ever after, Ophelia After All reveals a beating heart full of love and exploration.

From the publisher:

Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.

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To Live & Survive: A Study of The Ones We’re Meant to Find

[This essay was written for a university topic on metaphor and the Fantastic in fiction. It contains spoilers to Joan He’s novel.]

(Eduardo Vargas)

Joan He’s sophomore novel for young adults, The Ones We’re Meant to Find, is a science fiction exploration of a world beyond the point of global climate disaster, suggesting how the age of technology in which we live may adapt to a world becoming increasingly less inhabitable. The book is also an experiment in what it means to be an individual person, posing questions of how we relate our humanity with technology and emotion. The speculative and metaphoric nature of The Ones We’re Meant to Find is apparent from its science fictional premise, but a close reading of not only the social and ecological critiques within, but also a philosophical character study of protagonist sisters Kasey and Cee, are worthy of attention.

As a science fiction novel, and therefore a member of the speculative fiction genre, The Ones We’re Meant to Find asks the reader to reflect on what we know of the world as it is. This is one of the bases of speculative fiction and its many subgenres. As Neil Gaiman writes:

“Fantasy — and all fiction is fantasy of one kind or another — is a mirror. A distorting mirror, to be sure, and a concealing mirror, set at forty-five degrees to reality, but it’s a mirror nonetheless, which we can use to tell ourselves things we might not otherwise see.” (Gaiman 2)

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Trans Narratives, Overlooked: A Review of Detransition, Baby

Title: Detransition, Baby

Author: Torrey Peters

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

“She knew that no matter how you self-identify ultimately, chances are that you succumb to becoming what the world treats you as.”

Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby

We’re all familiar with the textbook trans experience. Born in the wrong body, we grow up knowing we aren’t the little boys or girls the world expects of us. We change our voices, bodies, names, and behaviours to transition into the gender we were always meant to be. We face a certain set of challenges posed by a society struggling to keep up with our sudden existence. Our circle of friends and family shifts and changes as we grow into an entirely new person.

In reality, the lives of trans people are as unique and chaotically ordinary as anybody else’s. Torrey Peters dedicates her debut novel “to divorced cis women, who, like me, had to face starting their life over without either reinvesting in the ilusions from the past, or growing bitter about the future.” Thus the emotional premise is established for Detransition, Baby, nominated for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, exploring the intricacies of womanhood, family, and transition in its many forms.

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“Welcome to Leftover Bay!” A Review of Sugarcoated

Title: Sugarcoated

Series: Leftovers (Book 1)

Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Fourteen Press

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

He was, I realised with a sinking feeling, perfect assistant manager material.

Sarah Epstein, Sugarcoated

There are so many things I have to say about this book and its author, all of them glowing praise. After reading this wholesome indie YA romance, I can say with absolute certainty that I could never be let down by Sarah Epstein. I am so thrilled that Sarah’s seemingly effortless style and skill have transferred without a hitch into a new genre. I expected nothing less and I have not been disappointed.

Sugarcoated introduces us to Sophie Duchamp, a sixteen-year-old artist who has lost her creative spark. Her boyfriend has left her for her best friend. Her family is crumbling, with her adored father moving to New Zealand to find a fresh start, Sophie is lonely and miserable, so she snaps up a job at the new candy store to save up for a flight to Auckland to escape her life in Leftover Bay. Seaside Candy Co is where Sophie meets Simon, an instant rival for the position of junior assistant manager who annoys her completely. That’s why she can’t stop thinking about him… But Simon isn’t the only work complication. Sophie’s new boss seems to have taken a certain interest in her that makes her profoundly uncomfortable. It’s all she can do to find the sweetness in her endless list of problems.

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Review: Circe

Title: Circe

Author: Madeleine Miller

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Released: 2018

Rating: ★★★★★

“The grudges of gods are as deathless as their flesh.”

Madeleine Miller, Circe

*This review contains spoilers*

Madeleine Miller’s award-winning second novel, Circe, is an absolute spectacle of a story. A deep-dive into the psyche of one of The Odyssey‘s most intriguing players, the book follows the life of the infamous sorceress Circe, from her lonely youth in the halls of her Titan father Helios to her equally lonely exile on the uninhabited island of Aiaia. With each turn of the narrative, we see Circe’s relationship with mortals, nymphs, gods, and even her own divinity change and adapt in much the same way as she magically changes men into gods, gods into monsters, and monstrous men into pigs with her latent powers.

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Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Title: The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Author: Joan He

Publisher: Text Publishing

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

The problem with oceans? They always seem smaller from the shore.

Joan He, The Ones We’re Meant to Find

The Ones We’re Meant to Find follows the dual-perspectives of two sisters — Cee and Kasey — who live in the aftermath of worldwide climate catastrophe. Cee has been stuck on an island for three years, desperate to leave and find her lost sister. In the eco-city designed to protect humans from further environmental chaos, Kasey searches for answers when her sister vanishes into the ocean without a trace. It is a story of love, an exploration of the ecological consequences of capitalism, and an experiment in what it means to be human.

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“None Stranger Than Itself”: The Uncanny Horror of Monsters and Men

[This essay was written in 2020 for a university class on the Gothic tradition in Western literature.]

Dracula (1931)

Gothic literature is latent with the unknown and the unknowable. Recognisability in the face of otherworldly horrors compounds an already unsettling narrative, and as explored below, seeing ourselves in what we do not understand chills us more than the outright inexplicable. Two works of the Gothic canon, Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, both aim to hold a mirror up to personal identity and repressed desire through the use of external, unfamiliar evils, in recognisable forms of flesh and blood, exemplifying the literary technique of the uncanny. Freud’s identically titled essay, The ‘Uncanny’ (1919), explores this relationship between familiarity, unfamiliarity, and horror. Freud’s interpretation claims fear is based in repression, revealing something inner that had been psychologically concealed. Using the notion of the German heimlich, meaning homely and familiar but also private and concealed – and its inversion meaning unfamiliar but revealed – Freud concludes that “everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” (225).

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Book Review: Stay Gold

Title: Stay Gold

Author: Tobly McSmith

Publisher: HarperCollins

Released: 2020

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Stay gold, Pony. The world needs you. Stay gold when it’s hard. When it’s lonely. When it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.

Tobly McSmith, Stay Gold

*This review contains spoilers*

Tobly McSmith’s debut novel Stay Gold follows the dual-perspectives of Pony, a transgender boy trying to live stealth (living and presenting as a boy without anyone being aware of his trans identity) at his new school, and Georgia, one of the popular cheerleaders who has sworn off dating until graduation. The two unsuspecting seniors lock eyes across the courtyard and so begins a complicated romance with both wondering how they can stick to their intentions when sparks are flying between them.

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April Reading Wrap-Up

April was a very eclectic reading month for me this year! A handful of the books I read were for one of my uni classes on epic literature, so it was a little expansive for me — which is something I always enjoy! I’ve also been in such a variety of moods when it comes to what I choose to read next. Overall I read six books this past month (including audio). Onto my reviews!

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The son of a drug king, seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter is negotiating life in Garden Heights as he balances school, slinging dope, and working two jobs while his dad is in prison. He’s got it all under control – until, that is, Mav finds out he’s a father. Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. Loyalty, revenge and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. So when Mav is offered the chance to go straight, it’s an opportunity – in a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing – to prove he’s different and figure out for himself what it really means to be a man. (Synopsis from Walker Books.)

I absolutely adored The Hate U Give and loved Maverick in particular, so I really enjoyed the insight into his more formative years. Concrete Rose is nothing like Starr’s story in THUG, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a story about different issues faced by economically downtrodden, obviously primarily Black, communities, but still with plenty of King Lord drama we’re familiar with. I enjoyed seeing how each character develops into who they are when they’re older in THUG, and seeing lil baby Seven and references to newborn characters I already know and loved.

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Book Review: Azadi

Title: Azadi

Author: Arundhati Roy

Publisher: Penguin

Released: 2020

Rating: ★★★★★

The history being peddled by Hindu nationalists … is turned into mythology and mythology into history, has been very ably perforated and demolished by serious scholars. But the tale was never meant for serious scholars. It is meant for an audience that few serious scholars can hope to reach.

Arundhati Roy, “The Graveyard Talks Back”

Arundhati Roy’s collection of essays on the fight for freedom and the rise of fascism in the Indian subcontinent, and the power of language in shaping people’s ideas about the social structures of power is a compelling read. Not only does Roy paint a fierce picture of political struggle but also explores how the language of struggle can play a role in shifting the reading of history itself, and asks whether or not this language will bring separate struggles together, or keep them apart.

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