Music Monday: Where the Devil Don’t Go

“Where the Devil Don’t Go” by Elle King

I discovered Elle King this year, and fell in love. Her music is gritty, fun, and spot on. Here entire album, Love Stuff, is golden.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Black’s latest novel features her signature edgy characters and sinister undertones. And while her worlds aren’t places I would want to visit in real life, there is a vibrant life to them. King’s “Where the Devil Don’t Go” is dark, while still having the pulsing forward motion of Black’s novel. And these characters are on a mission. And there will likely be blood involved. These aren’t goodie two-shoes characters, and I could definitely see this as Hazel’s theme song. And the fae of Black’s novels are definitely devils of a sort. Incidentally, I would also consider this an excellent song for a Supernatural fanvid.

The Start of Me and You

by Emory Lord

4/5 stars

Knowing what happens is different from knowing how it happens. And the getting there is the best part.

I’ve been reading infinitely more contemporary YA this year it feels like. Much like with All the Bright Places, I picked this one up for the Indiana setting. Luckily, I enjoyed The Start of Me and You much more. The novel follows Paige, who’s first boyfriend passed away in a freak swimming accident a year ago. And while their romance was burgeoning when he died, Paige has spent the last year in grief and shock. And now for her small community she is forever linked to a boy that passed all too soon. But this will be the year that she gets back out there. And she’s got her eye set on her old crush Ryan Chase. And her developing friendship with his cousin Max may be the in she needs for the relationship. Paige has a list of things to accomplish this year to get her life back on track, and she fully intents to attack it head on.

Yes, this novel is a contemporary romance. But, like most good YA novels, at it’s heat it’s a coming of age. Paige’s coming of age is complicated by that it is happening in the shadow of an awful tragedy. She feels a responsibility to her first boyfriend. But it was also a new and largely innocent first romance. So there’s a lot of internal conflict for her there. And the conflicts, whether internal or external, in this novel hold a lot of simple truth to them.

I loved the friendships in this book. Whether it was Paige and her girlfriends. These girls were there for each other in all the ways that mattered. They could throw together impromptu parties when one had a disappointment. They offered each other shoulders to cry on. They were each other’s go to when needing out of a tough spot. They still had their disagreements and tensions. But they worked through them. And in a realistic way. And the larger friend group they developed with Ryan and Max was also charming. I love that Ryan and Max both got to be complex and good characters, while still being vastly different.

I love the quirky details of this novel. Like Paige and Max’s inside joke about Pride and Prejudice. Paige wants to be an Elizabeth, but Max insists she is a Jane. And shows her that being a Jane is not a bad thing. I do feel Jane often gets a bad wrap, I was glad to see Lord saving her reputation a little. I also loved all of the quiz bowl bits. Who doesn’t enjoy a good quiz bowl?

The Small Backs of Children

by Lidia Yuknavitch

3/5 stars

Everyone I love is an artist. None of us know what we mean.

A girl grows up in an Eastern European nation ravaged by war. A photographer takes an award-winning picture of this girl in a moment of turmoil. We follow this photographer and her group of artist friends, as well as the girl, who’s lives become unquestionably linked.

In a lot of ways I am still processing this book. If you’re looking for a literary read, this is for you. It’s told in extreme third person. Not necessarily in the Mantel vein, with lots of he’s rather than ever learning Cromwell’s name. Instead, we never learn any of our character’s names. The girl is the girl. The writer the writer, and so on and so forth. It creates a distance from everything going on. As a reader I was forced to consider everything pretty objectively because I was not allowed to get close to any of these characters.

I was drawn to the idea of this novel. That we exploit disaster, and real people’s lives, for what in many ways becomes entertainment. I spent a semester in a media ethics class exploring such ideas, and I was excited to dive into them in a literary forum. And we did in a roundabout way, kind of. Mostly we followed the dysfunctional relationships of this close-knit artistic group. Instead, I was left guessing what about the girl’s life was true, and what was fiction. But, that is obviously the point. What do we really know about these lives? I was searching for easy answers, for Yuknavitch to give me a point-of-view. Instead, I was reminded this isn’t how it works. Like all ethical issues, it’s so much more complex and gray.

The artists of this novel were so wrapped up in their own little world, seemingly detached from the real world and what is going on in it. I recognized the truth here, how easy it is to get wrapped up in our own artistic pursuits, or perceived artistic genius. But it is our duty as artists to explore truth, in whatever form we consider it. And we need to be aware of the wider world. At times I wondered if the narrative of this novel verged too much into the realm of heavy prose for the sake of providing complex, literary prose. But, then again, that may have been the point too. It was clear that all of Yuknavitch’s choices here were very deliberate.

There is a lot to unpack in this short novel. It’s got a lot of depth to it. I obviously am not completely there yet. But it is well worth the effort.

When We Were Animals

by Joshua Gaylord

2/5 stars

Sometimes you hide away a memory because it is so precious that you don’t want to dilute it with the attempt to recount it.

When We Were Animals was not on my radar at all. But I helped a customer find it a couple of weeks ago, and ended up going to read the summery. When We Were Animals follows a high achieving girl, Lumen as she must deal with her strange town in which teenagers go wild during puberty. It seemed right up my alley.

I feel a little bit in the minority in that I was completely let down by this book. It seemed like it was going to be right up my alley.

Yes, Gaylord uses turning feral–I don’t know that I would classify them as full werewolves even if their transformations are linked to the lunar cycle– as a metaphor for the wildness of adolescence. But, we’ve seen that before. And I’m obviously willing to go on that ride again. I volunteered in a heartbeat upon reading the dust jacket, but I didn’t feel Gaylord offering me anything particularly new. Rather, he a lot of literary prose to make it sound like it was supposed to be new.

And, it wasn’t the prose itself that bothered me. In fact, it was what kept me reading most of the time, even if it felt a little much. And while it was good, it also kept us at a distance. It kept things from feeling immediate. It was all viewed through a literary fog for me.

I had huge issues with our protagonist. This was a coming of age story. But Gaylord seems to put Lumen up on a pedestal. She’s a goody two shoes. This in and of itself does not bother me. In fact, I recognized a lot of my own adolescent self in Lumen, fascinated by all things adult, and wanting to know all about them, but hesitant to step into that world herself. Still, it felt like we were putting Lumen up on a pedestal in an uncomfortable way. Even when she does start to breach, she doesn’t do anything particularly shocking . I don’t necessarily believe her future narrator when she talks about how dangerous she can be. Neither do I know why this danger has stuck so vividly with Lumen when she fought against it so hard. I was fully aware that this female coming-of-age story was written by a man. And I am not a person that thinks men are incapable of understanding that transition, or drawing complex, interesting female characters. Lumen didn’t feel complex or interesting to me most of the time. She felt idealized.

Also, there’s an awful scene in which a boy attempts to rape our protagonist. It’s a complicated scene in terms of consent as she eggs him on. But he is not breaching at the time of the scene. And I just don’t get it. It rubbed me all kinds of wrong. Yes, many, many women have to deal with unwanted sexual advances and rape. So why did Gaylord write a scene in which he seems to trivialize it. It was being used as an easy plot device, and I was not on board.

There were all kinds of other little moments throughout in which I think I was supposed to think things were edgy or be disgusted by actions, but it just didn’t click. I also realize it was supposed to be a fine line between the teenager and the feral beast. Many teenagers today are completely capable of many of these actions. I’m supposed to fear this. I liked that it was just an accepted rule of this world. But, I don’t know that it always worked. This was not helped that we didn’t get a really good look at the breaches because Lumen wasn’t involved. Even what we did see was from the view of an outsider.

Many, people have enjoyed this book. And I was compelled to keep reading, even as I wasn’t really sure where the plot was headed. It just was not my thing in the end.

None of the Above

by I. W. Gregorio

4/5 stars

The biggest difference between boy and girls is how people treat them

Krissy has it all: a promising track scholarship, two lifelong best friends, a boyfriend. And then she discovers she’s intersex, and she starts questioning things about her life and herself. Unfortunately, her classmates find out before she’s ready, further complicating her journey. Krissy has to come to terms with who she is, and what this new information means for her identity. I was almost afraid to start this book because I was worried that I’d built up too many expectations around it and I was going to be let down. But it was great. And Krissy was great.

I don’t know if I’m just overly weepy lately but some of the bullying Krissy went through got me crying. It’s been a while and it’s always hard to remember how cruel teenagers can be. I know I say that after books like All the Rage, and even P.S. I Still Love You. But it’s always a slap. And in this instance it feels particularly harsh because Krissy is having to deal with something that fundamentally changes her sense of self. She doesn’t need teenagers being immature and awful on top of that. But, unfortunately, this book mirrors real life. And a lot of the time, teenagers can be immature and awful.

The tone in the book was wonderful, candid and raw. It didn’t feel overly dramatic, but neither did it make light of what Krissy was going through, what questions she had, ect. In addition to a great personal narrative, it provided some great information on what it means to be intersex, helping to challenge the hard gender binary. At the same time, it never felt too heavy. Krissy’s journey never got lost in melodrama, which is great because otherwise it would have felt exploitive. It never felt exploitive. It felt honest and respectful.

I was somewhat terrified going into reading this book. I had a lot of hopes and expectations for it; I was afraid I had a few too many. Had I hyped myself up so much that I was bound to be let down? It wasn’t absolutely perfect. There were a few minor plotting pieces I would have loved to see ironed out. Some character flips felt like they came out of nowhere. Other things could have used some more breathing room. But, this was a great novel. It lived up to my hopes. And, while it did make me cry at parts, I was pleased as punch upon finishing this book.

The Invasion of the Tearling

by Erika Johansen

4/5 stars

This, I think, is the crux of evil in this world, Majesty: those who feel entitled to whatever they want, whatever they can grab. Such people never ask themselves if they have the right. They consider no cost to anyone but themselves.

The Invasion of the Tearling is the sequel to last year’s fantasy the Queen of the Tearling. In the Invasion of the Tearling Kelsea is dealing with the fallout of the stopped slave shipments to the Mort. War is coming, and she’s being forced to make tougher and tougher decisions. Meanwhile, she’s being shown pre-crossing visions. And position, and her sapphires, might be changing her in ways she never anticipated.

I love the Johansen continues to create a lush world. And this go-around, it felt less jarring for me. Johansen paints specific imagery, and I continue to get to know more details. She’s not throwing everything at me at once, but she establishes that there is a lot to know. Within the Tearling we stay in pretty familiar ground within New London. Presumably because Johansen essentially introduces us to a completely new world with pre-crossing America. And she manages to establish it in a very vivid, real way in very little space.

When the flashback portions of the novel started I wasn’t sure I was on board. I wanted to spend more time in our fantasy world. I didn’t want to get to know a whole new world that was basically a dystopian future, although I guess that could be argued of our fantasy world as well. Her pre-crossing America was good dystopia though. It was heightened, but still felt like something plausible.

This back and forth through time allows Johansen to pose even more questions, while continuing to string us along about questions central to the first novel. For instance, we still don’t know who Kelsea’s father is. And while it was a central question of the first novel, it only comes up enough in Invasion of the Tearling to acknowledge we still don’t have an answer. Johansen has the pacing down. Whether it’s knowing how to continue to string along her readers while keeping them invested, or when to switch back and forth between times without losing the reader. She eased us into the past, allowing us to spend more time in Kelsea’s visions as time went on and we were more comfortable there.

Kelsea as a character in this novel became even more interesting in that she started to become corrupted a little. Johansen established she isn’t always going to necessarily make morally upstanding decisions. She’s got a little more grit to her. And while I sometimes wanted the old Kelsea, it’s perfect development.

For me, this was a successful sequel. I feel satisfied, and completely unsatisfied at the same time. I need to know more. Who is Kelsea’s father? What is Kelsea’s link to this woman from the past? Who is exactly is the Fetch? What clues has Johansen planted that I’ve completely missed?

Music Monday: Young and Beautiful

“Young and Beautiful” by Lana del Rey

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Do you remember what you said to me once? That you could help me only by loving me? Well-you did love me for a moment; and it helped me. It has always helped me.

Yes, “Young and Beautiful” was claimed by the Great Gatsby. It was the star of the soundtrack. But, when I hear it, I can’t help thinking of Lily Bart. Here is a woman who has seen the world. She’s held it, and society, in the palm of her hand. But time is passing. And with every day she’s facing the fact that she’s aging, and there are new young, beautiful girls. And she’s an unmarried woman, a dependent in so many ways. She knows how to play the game. But she’s trying to figure out who actually loves her for her. She’s conflicted, and her veneer is beginning to break. And she’s definitely got an “aching soul.”

This novel remains Edith Wharton at her best, and you should gobble it up. Read my further review here.