Monday got you on the cool side of the color wheel? There’s a playlist for that!
It’s a two-fer Tuesday on
with double the tracks for twice the fun!
Literature is a bit more diverse than film, but it is interesting that John Green is the breakout personality of YA lit when you have best-selling female authors like Maggie Stiefvater participating just as much in the media machine with significantly less brand recognition.
Here is a tongue-in-cheek reversal of arguments heard so often from the gatekeepers of superhero nerdery.
Originally posted on Feminist Dragons:
What is it with dudes and their never-ending cry of “Diversity! Diversity! Diversity!” ? Ugh, it doesn’t MATTER what the characters are like! Only the story matters! And we all know that those fanboys love to complain about how there’s no representation of LGBT (or are they calling it GLBT now? IT’S SO HARD TO KEEP TRACK OF LETTERS) or not-white people.
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I could not have guessed how much I would enjoy this book:
The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder
Hannah and Zoe are lifelong best friends struggling to find a way out of their rural New Jersey town, part of that invisible population of poor white kids. There will be no affirmative action or diversity scholarships, so Zoe works on her fashion designs as she keeps Hannah company eavesdropping on private-school classes and shilling hot dogs for tuition. Crashing a rich-kid party starts a chain of events that leads to Zoe and Hannah leaving town on a spontaneous road trip, Thelma and Louise-style. The two make their way across the country committing crimes and practicing intangible qualities, running from their parents and the law as they barrel toward an explosive finale that promises to give them everything they need or destroy them altogether.
Wow. What a book. A few months ago I “tested a test” for prospective teachers, and was rewarded with $150 in vouchers for books from Penguin. This was the last book I bought, an impulse purchase for fun that was almost deleted from my cart at the last moment. Fate must have been whispering in my ear, because this was a book for me. Two smart, complicated heroines with very real problems and different personalities who still see the value in each other. What drew me in initially were the fantastic title and the premise of a road trip. I love road trips in life and fiction, and the one in the novel does not disappoint. We experience the novel from Hannah’s point of view, and what at first appears to be a wild, unexpected journey is eventually revealed to be planned to the point of inevitable.
Each chapter, rather than being numbered, is headed with an intangible quality like loyalty, insouciance, or audacity. These both reference the titular museum, created by Zoe for her autistic younger brother to help him learn to relate to others emotionally, and the theme of events in that chapter. In the first couple of chapters I thought I had a grip on the kind of character Zoe was, and that idea was blown to bits by novel’s end. The whole narrative arc is a good metaphor for adolescence itself: many older teens feel they have a grip on the world, maybe even know “everything,” but once they actually leave the nest they realize nothing is what they thought it was and they have more power over their lives than they ever imagined.
The Museum of Intangible Things explores a lot of heavy topics, and it offers one of the most interesting perspectives on mental illness I’ve ever read. Maybe the most interesting. It is through the loving lens of Hannah that the reader is gradually exposed to Zoe’s full truth, and Hannah’s internal struggle mirrored my own as I tangled with what is real in such a situation.
Whether the ending of this book is tragic, satisfying, realistic, or a bit of magical realism is entirely dependent on who you are as a reader. My only complaint is that there is an epilogue à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, wrapping things up that would have been better left open to speculation. It stole some of the novel’s impact, and seemed more like the author’s bid to make a few final thesis statements on life than something that served the story. That said, I cannot wait to get my hands on Wunder’s other book, The Probability of Miracles.
In case I didn’t get my point across: READ THIS BOOK! If you’ve already read it, tell me what you thought in the comments.
I’m not really sure why I keep posting the
playlist for a book before I’ve reviewed it, but I have two theories:
The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
Most people (of European descent) know of the folktale collection compiled by the Brothers Grimm, but few know about the women who told them the tales. One of these storytellers was Dortchen Wild. Second youngest of the Wild family, neighbors to the Grimms, Dortchen was an empathetic girl will a skill for herbalism and a long-running crush on Wilhelm Grimm. Against the backdrop of the Napoléonic Wars their collaboration and eventual romance unfolds, the darkness all around matched only by the darkness in Dortchen’s own home.
One of the things I loved about Bitter Greens, apart from the fairy-tale and deeply-researched historical fiction aspects, was how complex the writing was. Three stories intertwined like the strands that form a braid, echoing each other and moving the narrative forward. The writing in The Wild Girl is no less rich but, because the scope of the novel is so much smaller, at times it feels as though there is not enough story to justify the novel’s nearly five-hundred pages. The A-plot is ostensibly the romance between Wilhelm and Dortchen, but it is often swamped by the brutal realities of Dortchen’s day-to-day life. Where the arcs of Bitter Greens‘ three heroines called back to each other, in The Wild Girl it is the stories told by Dortchen that call back to her own life. Many fairy-tale themes crop up in the two-decade-long tale of her romance with Wilhelm: sisters going to a ball while one stays home to do chores, magic rhymes, and the transformative power of a really awesome dress.
Some of the themes of The Wild Girl struck so close to home that I have to admit they tempered my enjoyment of the story. Dortchen’s experience as a civilian during a war that seems like it will never end, with her country first being invaded and then used to supply soldiers for the conquerors to invade other countries, hit a little too close to home for this American. While many would argue that America is the Napoléonic France of our situation, from a civilian standpoint my country was violently attacked when I was in high school and we’ve been at war with multiple countries ever since. I am married to a Marine who began his service right after 9/11, I have taught preschool and cared for infants on military bases, half of my friends enlisted straight after high school, and I have been groped in airports in the name of “safety” more times than I can bear to think about. My youngest brother currently has plans to enlist. In 2008 we were promised an end to this war and it hasn’t materialized yet, so I related to the climate of worry though my struggle has not yet grown so dire as Dortchen’s.
The other major plot of the novel is Dortchen’s relationship with her extremely strict father. As the war worsens and he becomes more stressed and worried, he devolves into outright abuse of his daughters. I will only say that the descriptions of this abuse are realistic to the point of triggering, if you have a past in any way similar. In her author’s note Forsyth mentions the plotting of these passages giving her nightmares. I do appreciate her commitment to leaning in when writing about the uglier aspects of life. I have always loved fairy tales because they are just as dark as life can be. Sometimes darker.
There is much to love about The Wild Girl, even if my personal experience prevented me from embracing it as fully as I did Bitter Greens. Germany (specifically Hesse-Kassel, here) is a beautiful, sweet country done justice by Forsyth’s realistic tale of romance between a dreamy writer and an apothecary’s daughter. It may be a bit long-winded, but it’s an easy trap to fall into for lovers of history and literature alike (and an author sticking to a historical timeline.) People who enjoy Austen or Little Women will like the early passages with Dortchen and her siblings, fairy-tale lovers will be rewarded throughout.