brushing the third act | 2019.04.21

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Review

Thomas, Angie_The Hate U Give

Publication: New York, NY : Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2017]

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Race Relations Fiction

Pages: 444 | 11 hours 45 minutes

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Source: MCL

It’s a common screenwriting rule that if there’s a gun in the first act, then it must go off in the third. This mantra has as much to do with foreshadowing as with setting your audience’s expectations. On my second read-through of Thomas’s The Hate U Give, I realized she had set such a stage, incorporating all the props that she had perfectly situated around her characters with an almost guru-like subtly of foresight.

We learn early that the suspected “gun” in the car door of the book’s initial victim of racial violence turns out to only have been a hairbrush. With this as the setting, the weapon that is at last seen firing in the book’s third act is the voices of those repeatedly subjected to racial prejudice. The idea seems to become, then, that a person’s most valuable weapon is their ability to speak out against injustice.

The main character of Thomas’s book reminded me of my first (and only, as I guiltily haven’t re-read To Kill a Mocking Bird since high school) impressions of what Harper Lee was trying to expose about the ugliness of societal prejudices through her characters. Thankfully, Thomas is able to do this without the white-savior complex that Lee’s editors ultimately pushed for in their publication of To Kill a Mocking Bird. In both these books, however, there’s a tension set early that the audience longs to see manifest in the resolution of an explosion. Yet how can we explode toward such a resolution without more death resulting from anger’s fallout?

I loved the honesty Thomas’s story presents throughout the narrative when dealing with the often-at-odds demands for respect versus forgiveness. Her main character has to decide what friends really matter to her, and this beyond the color of their skin. In this way, Thomas shows both sides of prejudice, and how saying you’re sorry another person feels the way they do is grossly insufficient in the realm of coming to grips with true understanding and actual communication toward growth.

I hope this book is read and taught in high schools for many generations to come, since the world Lee was writing about has certainly changed, or at least is still trying to. I also hope our society can find ways to explode toward a culture where perspectives can be heard before the gun shots that have taken too many lives already.

magical memory carpets | 2019.01.07

Among Others by Jo Walton | Review

walton, jo_among others

Publication: New York : Tor, 2011, ©2010

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 302

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Hardcover

Source: MCL

This is going to be long and obnoxious, however . . .

“It makes me melancholy to remember, but a little bit of the security and excitement comes through from the way I was feeling in the memory. Memories are like a big pile of carpets, I keep them piled up in one big pile in my head and don’t pay much attention to them separately, but if I want to, I can get back in and walk on them and remember. I’m not really there, not like an elf might be, of course. It’s just that if I remember being sad or angry or chagrined, a little of that feeling comes back. And the same goes for happy, of course, though I can easily wear out the happy memories by thinking about them too much. If I do, when I’m old all the bad memories will still be sharp, because of pushing them away, but all the good ones will be worn out.”

As my dearest friend and I met last weekend to muddle through drafts of our memoiristic essay collection that we hope will manifest itself into something someday worth sharing, I asked for her thoughts on this quote. We’re writing our book together to wear out the less pleasant memories, she agreed with another cheers of our glasses. Of course, there’s always melancholy when it comes to memories, and the writing seems to encapsulate the cringing in a type of sainthood sometimes. I love Orwell’s caution to fellow writers in his essay “Such, Such Were the Joys” where he states simply that “whoever writes about his [or her] childhood must beware of exaggeration and self-pity.” Because memories are slippery, and if we try to rush to the climax, we’ll miss the ecstasy of orgasm that often mirrors revelation.

If this book had been available when I was fifteen, I think my life might have turned out different, but that’s what we say, I’d wager, whenever we find a text (or any type of artist endeavor really) that resonates. I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower before the repressed memories of my abuse-filled childhood came back, and it didn’t jar those memories loose or change the forefront (a.k.a. consciousness) of how I saw the world at that time. But the change was probably there, brewing just beneath the surface. Maybe it’s not that a life’s course can necessarily change in its subsequent curves between this or that circumstance, but that a person’s perspective of those twisting paths might be turned ever so slightly aside to better perceive the options inherent to living in and of itself. Perhaps this is the magic of books particularly, in that they provide a kaleidoscope through which the reader (and sometimes the writer) can view and, hopefully, understand better the intricacies of not only the lives of others but of himself or herself. Any book or piece of art that accomplishes this depth of wondering introspection possesses the magic of time travel, which rings of both science fiction and fantasy together (I think we’ve found your magic carpets, Walton, huzzah!).

Yet such a journey is not to be rushed, I’ve become convinced (as I’ve stated above with probably too much boldness). Among Others took me just over six months to finish. I savored each fictionalized journal entry, not wanting the music of Walton’s reflective prose to end. While some reviewers expressed being overwhelmed by the endless stream-of-consciousness references to all the science fiction and fantasy books a mind could possibly hold, I’m excited to have Walton’s book on my shelf as a kind of experiential reading list. Not only does she give recommendations of authors and titles (some recommendations more flattering than others . . . Le Guin, Heinlein, Delany, and Zelazny seem to be among her favorites), but as I worked through Morwenna’s lists of her and Walton’s choice literary pieces while taking intermittent breaks from Among Others, I found the storyline of Walton’s book grew in depth and richness. Because reading is an experience that the reader can hold in his or her mind for eternity if the right notes are struck. Sharing those experiences through the sharing of great, or even just memorable (some might say you can’t have one without the other) books and writing and art in general can calm the anxiety of loneliness.

And loneliness is what Walton’s book is all about. This theme comes up again and again. The main character even chides herself for wishing (to the point of magic) for a group of likeminded friends, fearing that comrades gotten by selfish wish-making might negate the authenticity of such meetings of kindred spirits. So I found the book to be more than a collection of the author’s favorite sci-fi and fantasy recommendations. It’s immovably rife also with coming-of-age motifs, including the finding of the self in the face of mother-daughter relations, rumors among classmates, the desperation of trying to capture fresh memories before they go stale, and magic . . . always the magic of youth and what it means to hold onto that while the years gather.