Ender's Game

Ender's Game
By Orson Scott Card

I hate reading books around the same time the movie is coming out because then it looks like I just jumped on the bandwagon. Truthfully, I have heard positive reviews of Ender's Game for years but because I was taking classes and then prepping for/taking my PhD qualifying exams, I haven't really had the time. It is pure coincidence.

This is the story of Ender, a child genius who is tapped to become the hero for all of humanity. There has been an ongoing war against a bug-like alien race that attacked humans decades before. Since then, children are trained from a young age to command in the military and defeat the enemy.

Ender is six years-old and already is predicted to be the one destined to end the war. He is a complicated child (with a slightly creepy relationship with his older sister) who fears becoming violent like his older brother. At the same time, he understands tactics and does whatever it takes to stop people bullying him (including kicking some major ass).

He excels in his military training, is promoted faster than anyone else in history, and demonstrates a natural ability to lead/strategize.

I don't know what I was expecting but I really enjoyed this book.

The battle training was really fun and I loved Ender's unique strategies. My favorite parts were his simulations on his computer: I was obsessed with the challenges and the symbolism involved.

It was definitely violent but never advocated such actions. In fact, the overall theme had to do with the problem of violent action over diplomacy.

I thought the side plot with the siblings was okay. Not really necessary and not totally believable, but I understood its purpose in the larger narrative.

I admit though that the end was a bit wonky. *SPOILER ALERT* Too many unanswered questions and what I call "reaches" where it is just too much of a stretch. The planet was destroyed but they are able to live there? And if the buggers could communicate with Ender, why didn't he figure this out before the war? Is there a guarantee that the new species will be nonviolent? How can he be so sure?


Regardless, this is a fun read. According to my main squeeze (who was in the Air Force for seven years) the school is very reminiscent of basic training. I appreciated feeling a bit more connected to his experience and felt that I had a new understanding (not that he traveled deep into space or had to battle intergalactic bugs, but still).

I am ready to see what happens next!


American Psycho

American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

This is a story about capitalism in America. More specifically, how capitalism has replaced humanity and decency. This is a story about greed, power, lust, and how we treat/view those around us.

This is the story of Patrick Bateman, a 1980s Wall Street investment banker ...and a serial rapist and killer.

I, like many people, have seen the movie several times and here is the best way to explain the difference between the two. Before reading the book, I would have given the movie, on the scale of violence and horror-factor, a 10.

After reading the book, I would now give the movie a 4 in comparison.

This book in INSANELY violent.

It is incredibly well written and feels painfully real in its descriptions, which are detailed and let nothing slide. NOTHING. By the end, I had to skim or skip the murder/violent sections because they are so graphic that I found myself feeling physically ill. Me. I can generally handle anything in a book but I had a really hard time with this one. I had to take breaks to go look at cute puppies or babies or anything that would make me feel like there was hope for humanity or life in general.

I would leave the book feeling as though I had just been witness to some atrocity, to someone's horrific murder, to a crime and act I would never be able to remove from my consciousness.

This book is anti-yuppies but, moreso, it is against the view that financial success is paramount in life. Relationships, if they cannot benefit your career and your bank account, are worthless. If they cannot make you feel powerful, if they cannot boost your ego in an unrealistic, deity-like sense, then you might as well eliminate such relationships (and people) immediately. It is about the horror of needing to climb over other people. It is about how disgusting we make ourselves internally when we strive for outer perfection. It is about the loss of humanism in the face of capitalism. It is about monsters in America and the fact that we make them with the pressures of popular culture. It is about what we have the potential to be.

Do I recommend this book? Yes and No. The underlying theme is really interesting, as are the issues and questions and plot at hand. But it is not for the faint of heart... or, more truthfully, if you have a heart, you WILL struggle to get through MANY sections. As an example, I said aloud, "If one more dog gets tortured, I just don't think I can keep reading..."  needless to say, this is not a light, pleasure read.


Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream
By Hubert Selby Jr.

This is the story of Harry, his mother, and addiction in America.

Harry, his best friend Tyrone, and his leading lady (for the moment) Marion are all profoundly tangled in the world of illegal drugs. They use, they sell, they would and will do just about anything to get their fix.

In many ways, their stories are just about what you would expect, save for subtle and thoughtful insight into their perspectives on their lives and behaviors. There is a believable rise and a believably tragic fall.

Where things are less expected are with his mother, Sara. Sara loves and cherishes her son, and while she tries to maintain denial about his drug use, he continually involves her by stealing and pawning her television. The stress is too much, despite her attempts to cover it.

But her story also involves the use of legal drugs. She gets a call informing her that she may be chosen to participate on a game show. In order to look her best, she starts taking diet pills. Her drugs are the ones available to regular people every single day: over the counter drug pills, coffee, cigarettes... the stuff that we try to convince ourselves is harmless and somehow better than any illegal substances.

The most genius aspect of this book is also what makes it an enormous challenge to read: the writing style. Selby brilliantly uses the structure and sound in his writing to reflect his characters' dispositions as well as the stress/tension of their situations. When they are sober and lucid, so is the writing. When they begin to tumble into trouble, when they are high, when they are panicked, when they are jumbled and confused and desperate, so is the writing style. This could mean pages and pages on end where it is unclear who is speaking to whom, no punctuation, no distinction between narration and dialogue, etc.

Artistically and in terms of method: brilliant and beautiful.

Readability and in terms of ease of reading: difficult to swallow.

But I get that this is part of the point. I felt just as jumbled and out of control. I wanted an anchor to ground me. I needed something steady, but the deeper into the book I got, the less steady ground I had in sight.

It required a lot of breaks.

Read it, but be prepared to have to grab on to something to hold you steady.


Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
By Jay Asher

This is a story about teen suicide.

More accurately, this is the story about blame and responsibility.

Thirteen Reasons Why is about Hannah Baker, a teen who killed herself, but not before sending out a set of tapes to people who had some part to play in her suicide.  It is narrated from two perspectives: through the content of her audio tapes and through the perspective of Clay, one of the recipients of her tapes. Through their combined stories, we learn about the circumstances leading up to her fatal actions and also the repercussions for those who now have to deal with life after suicide.

I wasn't sure what to think when going into this. I was worried that it would glamorize suicide to young adult readers or make it seem like a decent choice.

I wouldn't say that it glamorized suicide, but I would say that it glamorized those who commit suicide as being eternally mysterious and unattainable and, more troublesome, it glamorized being a victim.

Depression is a serious issue. As are bullying, peer pressure, sexual harassment and violence, etc. And I appreciate any YA text that tries to tackle these issues, but this one missed the mark.

As a teen, I experienced many of these issues, either firsthand or through the experiences of friends. However, Hannah experiences everything firsthand-- everything horrible (or not even that bad but she chooses to roll around in the drama of it) happens to her within a short amount of time. In the last week of her life, she gets in an accident, witnesses a rape, inadvertently is involved with the accidental death of another student, and loses her virginity in pretty awful circumstances.

By far, my main issue with this book is what it says about being a victim. We have this character who is sassy, bold, and unafraid to speak out against sexism, harassment, bullying, etc, but then this same girl allows everyone else and every situation to victimize her. She continually complains that no one saved her. She complains about what everyone else should have done. She cries about people not reaching out.

This from a character who not only witnesses and DOES NOTHING to stop a passed-out peer from being RAPED, but cares nothing for the emotional impact of her tapes or of the possibility of differing perspectives.

She speaks with an empowered voice but eventually commits suicide.

So, her suicide becomes her way of getting attention and making other people feel bad about themselves and their mistakes.

It might sound like I am harboring tension for those who commit suicide. I understand depression and hopelessness, I understand the severity of such feelings, but I also understand the intended audience for this book and what this story suggests.

 Hannah gets power over other people by killing herself. This seems problematic, no?

Why can't she find personal empowerment and succeed in life DESPITE what others have done to her? Why can't she show young readers how temporary high school drama is, how little it matters, how much life and hope there is after you can get out and make an existence of your own? WHY CAN'T SHE SAVE HERSELF???

I wanted her to send these tapes to people she felt had wronged her, but then shown them how little power they really had over her by going on with her life like a champ, not giving up but then feigning any sort of empowerment/strength.

The final message was a good one: think of other people and what they might be going through. But it didn't really show up until the last couple pages. Hannah spends so much time complaining about the people who didn't care about her, yet she shows no regard for anyone. It was obnoxious.

Would I recommend this book? Not really. Do I need to do the cliche: Here's 13 reasons why I do not recommend this book? No, I do not.


Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice
By Anonymous

This is “true” diary of a girl in the 1970s who gets involved with drugs.

This book is insanely popular with middle schoolers or young readers…probably mainly because it talks so much about drugs and there are also some descriptions of sex. This is some serious contraband for a 12 year-old.

I am not twelve.

I read this book because it is a classic in terms of YA lit, particularly those dealing with ‘real issues’ for teens.

Let me sum up my experience and opinion with this quote from the book:

“Another day, another blowjob.”

This is an actual quote from the book. I immediately laughed, read it out loud, and then laughed with Austin. It has now become my favorite quote of all time. Not really.

First off, I am pretty sure you would have to be a moron to think that there is ANY chance that this is a true story. Either that, or you grew up in an afterschool special made in 1956.

This chick goes from trying drugs, to being addicted, to dropping out of school to deal, to becoming a crack whore, to running away, to being gang raped, to ending up in a mental hospital over the other evil druggies trick her into taking drugs after she has decided to sober up…to, I really do hate to spoil this well-written and conceived ending, over-dosing and dying within a year or so. It is so absurd I could hardly deal with it.

This is the book that a clueless parent gives a kid when pot is found on the school grounds… “This will scare him/her out of ever trying drugs!”

The lesson of this story is this: if you try drugs once, you will fall apart completely and you will die.

Do you hear me?


I am not advocating drug use, but I would appreciate kids getting an honest or realistic depiction of the repercussions. You know, like grades suffering or hanging out with the wrong crowd and the trouble this can lead to…. Not becoming a crack whore within a few months.

As a kid, I was terrified of trying drugs because I feared realistic repercussions to my academic life, my relationship with my mom, and possible damage to my body (my lungs, especially). I was not afraid of getting gang raped by a bunch of LSD-loving boutique owners in San Francisco or of getting slipped drugs at a party and ending up beating myself up to the point where I am locked in a mental institution. These were not my concerns… as I had a brain.

I can’t lie… I hated this book. I rolled my eyes so much that I got a migraine. I can’t even write about it anymore due to the intensity of my hate.

Do not go ask Alice, do not go ask her anything.



By Justine Larbalestier

You might notice that I am reading a LOT of YA novels lately… and while I adore YA lit, this really isn’t about a quest for easy-to-read pleasure. I am in the midst of forming and reading a bibliography that will form the foundation of my PhD qualifying exams as well as my eventual dissertation.

This book was recommended to me by my dissertation chair and YA lit lover/scholar. He thought it would be an interesting addition to the bibliography.

This is the story of a high school girl, Micah, who, you guessed it, is a compulsive liar.

The boy that she has secretly been hooking up with has been found dead, apparently murdered. She is a social outcast because of her constant lies, including telling people that she was actually a boy, that she was born a hermaphrodite, that her father is an arms dealer… I don’t really blame them for thinking of her as someone to avoid.

Additionally, she makes repeated references to some family illness that she inherited and talks about the gaps in her family history and her parents’ obvious preference for her little brother.

Because of her strange demeanor and continual lies to the police, she almost immediately becomes a suspect in the murder.

Here’s the thing about Liar: there is a twist that happens. If you take this twist literally, this becomes one of the stupidest books I’ve ever read.

But if you don’t… then something far more interesting is going on, something complex, something worthy of being used in my PhD bibliography and dissertation.

I wish I could discuss the stupid twist and I wish I could tell you what I think is really going on… but I am not really one to ruin books. And, to be honest, I am curious if you are able to read between the lines and find truth for yourself.

Read it and let me know.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
By Stephen Chbosky

I’ve had this book on my to-read list for years. I don’t know what it is, but I just could never bring myself to open it up and actually read it. It probably would have stayed there for many more years to come, had I not been shadowing a YA lit class where this was a required text.

It wasn’t at all what I expected. Though, granted, what I expected, now that I think about it, doesn’t really make too much sense. Basically, I imagined that the entire story had to do with leaning against a wall at a high school dance. Great plot, right? I don’t know what I was thinking.

Anyway, I read the book and there was no wall-leaning.

This is the story of Charlie, a boy experiencing the joys, confusion, and strangeness of being a freshman in high school. The entire novel is written through letters that Charlie writes to some anonymous person whom he feels he can trust with his story and personal admissions.

He makes friends with an unlikely senior, Patrick, and his step-sister, Sam, who function as guides, companions, teachers, and confidants for him.

This book covers drugs, sex, lies, sexuality, family, personal-conflict, depression, angst, the value of literature, social hierarchies and their ridiculousness… you name it, almost every high school issue is there for the taking.

I really enjoyed this book! It was an easy read and I found myself constantly compelled to read another letter, just another letter, well, maybe one more…

Charlie is a unique character yet somehow also completely in-tune with a very real and often overlooked mentality of being in high school. It’s a confusing age and a confusing time, and his navigation is painfully honest and incredibly insightful.

I regret leaving this book untouched for so long. I was wrong to do so. WRONG, you hear me?!

Learn from my mistakes and read this book!
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