Writing Rewind #12: Wings of Fate Chapter 8 Part 1

I’ll straight up admit that I’ve been putting this next installment off on purpose, because it includes the storyline I’ve been dreading. The romance subplot. My reasons for hating it will become more prevalent next time, but this is the set up to it…

Now that I’m older, I’ve actually done a total 180 on my stance regarding the main “romance” of this story, so revisiting will be difficult because I basically want to erase the entire thing and pretend it never happened. But I’m going to do my best to dissect all the issues without imploding from the massive cringe-fest that is about to unfold.

Last time on Writing Rewind, we found out what the mysterious mission is all about! It involves a floating land in the sky that was definitely not influenced by Castle in the Sky from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, no way no how. What adventures are in store for us this time as we vault into Wings of Fate Chapter 8: The Hated Day?

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Oh boy. It’s a Matthias-centric chapter. Brace yourselves for the avalanche of “cold” and “icy” character descriptions!

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That entire first paragraph is an abomination and deserves to DIE. I cannot fathom why I felt I needed to describe Matthias in vivid detail EVERY SINGLE TIME HE’S MENTIONED. He’s basically the Tin Man meets Mr. Freeze meets Frosty the Snowman, WE GET IT, GOOD GOD.

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There. Short, sweet, mostly to the point. And not a “cold” descriptor to be seen…

Next, after Robin spills the beans about the mission and gets Heiwa and Daisuke in trouble with their commanding officers, they are out on the deck with Shirotaka when a little accident happens, and our favorite mute magical girl falls overboard…

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She can fly, she can fly, she can flyyyyyyy!!!!!! And this portion’s not too bad, but it’s got too much fluff.

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I’ve noticed that Past Allie certainly leans toward repetition, or saying things in a roundabout way that could be explained in a much shorter fashion. I’m verbose, basically. And it ain’t cute. And I think it is definitely the worst it’s been in this chapter.

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Wow, look at that! The same revelation with much fewer words! It flows a lot better this way, without all the excess.

Next, Heiwa takes Shirotaka up to Dr. Black to tell him about her ability…

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Why, oh why, does Dr. Black feel the need to pontificate so often? Might as well stamp “I’M A SECRET VILLAIN!” on his forehead.

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I think Dr. Black needs to keep it subtle. Not be so… forthcoming. Like, Heiwa asked one question and he goes off on a rant, and it’s not necessary at all. Also, I think he’d be more upset by the lack of positive reception to the mission reveal than he lets on in this version, so him keeping his response short will work better. Gotta keep some element of suspense.

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There we go! Look how much better it is when all the babbling is chopped out!

Next, Matthias’s frigid ways continue…

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Uh, oh! Something’s up with Mattie! What could it be?

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The set up of Matthias’s hissy-fit and Tango’s musing can definitely be handled in a more… fluid way. Keep the mystery without beating the reader over the head with it. Matthias’s behavior is weird, but it can be shown and not told.

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Much better! Enough to show that Mattie is behaving like an asshat and Tango is perplexed by it without being too wordy. The theme of the week seems to be trimming the fluff, and I gotta say, seeing all the superfluous bits getting shaved away is making my hatred of this plot-line wane, just a bit.

After Matthias blows up in spectacularly unprofessional fashion at Pilot, the commanding officers begin to speculate about his pissy mood…

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So, Tango knows – or thinks she knows – why Mattie is behaving like this. That can be said in far fewer words, and the remaining words can be shuffled around and tweaked to make the passage flow better.

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Clearly, the romance being set up is between Tango and Matthias, so this portion is meant to set up the fact that Tango knows him better than the others and views him in a more positive light. And by cutting some parts out and reworking some others, that message will come across a bit clearer.

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Okay, so this part of Chapter 8 wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but next time, the real cringe sets in. Will we find out why Matthias is acting like such a jerk to everyone? Will Tango be able to improve his mood, or will her intervention make things worse? Stay tuned, for the exploration of the most regrettable romantic subplot of my early writing career!

For some less regrettable writing, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Manga Monday #5: Absolute Boyfriend (vol. 4-6)

*Warning! This post will contain MAJOR spoilers!*

Last week, I re-examined volumes 1-3 of Yuu Watase’s shojo manga Absolute Boyfriend, and this week, I’ll be tackling the end, volumes 4-6!

I went into the tail end of this series expecting to be blown away, and in all honesty, I wasn’t – I kept both feet planted firmly on the ground. But a few key points still stuck out, and I still find this series just as charming and funny on the second go-round as I did on the first. I do, however, now realize why a part of me prefers the Jdrama to the manga, when the opposite is usually true.

20171001_2145091421252900.jpgFirst of all, I am immensely glad that the series retains the humor factor the entire way through. The little bits of comedy, especially regarding Gaku and his “job,” and Night’s tendency to nearly expose his secret to others, make for a nice break from the more dramatic portions of the story, especially as the main narrative barrels toward the end and the emotional scenes become a priority. The art remains fantastic as well; totally pleasing to the eye and continually engrossing.

Of all 6 volumes, I think volume 4 is the weakest. First of all, I TOTALLY FORGOT about the “Mini-Night” story-line. While some meaningful revelations and interactions occur during that particular plot, it still feels like “filler.” Even the side-plot that occurs concerning Miyabe, one of Riiko’s friends, during this time didn’t strike me as vital to the plot. I understand the genre of this manga and what the standards are for this type of story, but I think the latter half of the plot seems to fall victim to the preoccupation with the love triangle, and it’s more of a detriment than a strength. It’s present in the first half of the series, but as the story builds and the love-triangle plot starts to take center stage, it began to bug me. And, as I said in the last post, I am all for a good love kerfuffle, but this one started to grate on my nerves. I mean, at least Riiko straight up admits she doesn’t know who she “really loves,” since she has feelings for both, but the pettiness between Night and Soshi and Riiko’s constant, “I don’t know” mentality gets a little stale after a while.

The pacing suffers a bit in the latter volumes; certain parts, like the finale, feel rushed, while others seem aimless. I didn’t realize volume 6 takes up only half the tankobon, and the other half is two little one-shot stories totally unrelated to Absolute Boyfriend. BUT, they are both pretty cute, and well worth a read!

My biggest beef on this read-through is Soshi’s character. I hated the way Soshi behaved when he found out about Night’s “figure” status, as he amped up the jealous/forceful factor to about a 9 on the “he needs to calm the eff down” scale. It’s understandable for him to be frustrated, of course – the girl he loves is torn between him and a man who is not technically “real,” and if that were me, I’d feel like a grade-A loser – and his reaction is… less than pleasant, to the point where it does teeter a bit over the “too intense” line. And while Riiko can be a bit of a waffle sometimes, and wishy-washy like a lot of heroines tend to be, I think Soshi genuinely needed to chill. He does, eventually – but my opinion on his character really soured in the latter half of this series. Especially when he kisses Riiko while she’s sleeping. Not cute, Soshi. Not. Cute. And the “YOU DON’T DESERVE HER… no wait, I don’t deserve her… BUT YOU DON’T DESERVE HER EITHER” got old real quick.

Though I’m older now, and some of the events and decisions made in this manga no longer resonate with me or stand out as something I can relate to, I do still massively appreciate the way this manga ends. Even when I was a teenager, I didn’t expect Riiko/Night to be endgame. It was just not realistic, and I applaud the mangaka for not taking some absurd, Pinocchio-esque “I’m a real boy!” twist to make it so that Night will be able to remain in Riiko’s life permanently, without consequence. And I will admit, I got a little choked up when Night’s body fails and Riiko desperately tries to wake him, only to realize that he’s gone forever. I remember openly sobbing over it when I read it the first time, so I’m not surprised it still yanked at the ol’ heartstrings. Boy, that pummeled me right in the feels, even so many years later. Their relationship was never going to last, but that doesn’t make the ending any less significant, and by the end, I felt as though I had witnessed real growth in Riiko (and, to some extent, Soshi ) thanks in large part to her relationship with Night, and her experiences with him seemed to make her a better person overall. It’s a bittersweet ending that is handled exceptionally well, which seems difficult to pull off for a series of this nature.

All in all, Absolute Boyfriend doesn’t hold quite the same allure for me as it did when I was a teen, but it still contains messages and stories that are relevant today and it is an entertaining read all the way through, despite some parts that gnawed at my nerves. Through a tedious love triangle and a bit of inconsequential “filler,” Absolute Boyfriend still nails the comedy and packs an emotional wallop where it really matters.

Next Monday, we’ll tackle either Tokyo Mew Mew by Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi, or Tsubasa: Those With Wings by Natsuki Takaya. Until then!

Manga Monday #2: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 1-3)

While scanning my shelves for the next series to revisit, I tried to remember the first time I read Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura, but drew a total blank. After some more thought, I realized that, although I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least the first couple of volumes, I never finished it. And I’ve never seen the anime. So, although I have a vague idea of what the premise is (I know singing and shinigami are involved)… I have no idea how it ends. So let’s fix that, starting with volumes 1-3!

~Reading Break~

20170909_103548Full Moon o Sagashite follows Mitsuki, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from a fatal sarcoma in her throat, but her dreams of a singing career and reuniting with her lost love Eichi prevent her from undergoing the operation that will save her life. When two shinigami appear to intercept her fate, Mitsuki is granted the ability to transform into a healthy, 16-year-old version of herself so she can spend the last year of her life accomplishing her goals. The manga ran from 2002 – 2004 and was completed at 7 volumes.

Now, I’m pretty sure, when I read this several years ago, I only got through volumes 1-3. I bought the first 3 volumes back when Borders was still around (they closed in 2011) and collected the rest from online retailers over the years, but never finished the series. But I do remember really loving the premise and the story, so although I’m not sure why I never finished it, I’m determined to amend that!

After volume one, I wasn’t too invested in the characters or the narrative. Mitsuki is a really, really sweet protagonist; but almost unrealistically so. Maybe I’m just jaded (very likely) but she’s so nice and selfless it comes across as almost… grating. Even her rare moments of anger are tied to how kind and caring she is, as she’s usually angry on someone else’s behalf. She reminds me a bit of a sugar-coated version of Tohru from Fruits Basket (which I will be rereading for this series) but her endless cheer and optimism makes it difficult to connect with her, though she did grow on me a little during the next two volumes as her vulnerabilities (besides her illness) are made clear.

One half of the shinigami team, the bunny-eared Meroko, also irritated me quite a lot, though the small peek into her history during a side story in volume 3 was a nice glimpse into why she acts the way she does, and makes me curious about her past life. However, the other half, Takuto, intrigued me from the start. As his story unfolds, showing how close he was to Mitsuki’s life when he was alive, his history with singing, and the circumstances of his death, I found myself more drawn into his story than anyone else’s. But Izumi, another shinigami with a somewhat darker personality and outlook, is my favorite, so that probably explains the sort of character personalities I’m drawn to in stories like this. The shinigami are responsible for most of the humor (one panel with Jonathan, Izumi’s partner, had me actually laughing out loud) but also provide a unique commentary on life/death and repercussions of drastic decisions, which I look forward to seeing more of in later volumes.

Although the plot has a bit of a stuttering start (lots of shinigami rules and intricate plot details get thrown around during the set-up phase, plus a lot of saccharine fluff from Mitsuki) the plot really starts to pick up in volumes 2 and 3, as the complexities of the shinigami roles and the truth behind Mitsuki’s past unravel. The plot starts off fairly light-hearted as Mitsuki embarks on her signing career as “Fullmoon” with help and hilarious commentary from Meroko and Takuto, but it does get pretty deep starting in the second volume, providing an engaging balance between comedy and drama. A couple of plot twists seem a little forced and out-of-nowhere (Dr. Wakaoji’s identity, for instance) but other revelations (Oshige and her boss, Takuto’s past, and the big reveal at the end of volume 3) unfold in a more organic, natural fashion, which makes me eager to read volume 4 and see what happens next. It’s not all sugar and rainbows, and now, 3 volumes in, I both dread and eagerly anticipate how certain info-bombs will impact the story going forward.

I will say that Mitsuki being twelve does bother me a lot more now that I’m older. Even though she can transform into a 16-year-old when she’s her alter ego, “Fullmoon,” she’s still like… a literal child. So some plot points and interactions with characters comes across as creepy to me, instead of sweet. For instance, when Eichi told her he loved her, he was 14 and she was 10. Why is a 14-year-old boy confessing love to a ten year old? I do not find that cute, sorry. I get that the circumstances are different (they grew up together in an orphanage, she helped him through personal struggles and vice versa, they supported one another when they had no one else) but the gap just makes me find Mitsuki more naive than anything else. But, like I said before, maybe I’ve just grown jaded in my old age.

The art is fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of intricate, ultra-cute-style character designs. Mizuki is a memorable character, and her hairstyles are exceptional. The costumes for the shinigami are adorable, but also make them stand out and implies hints into their personalities – Takuto is really finicky and hot-and-cold, like a cat, for example. It’s an art style that might not appeal to everyone, since it lends itself more to the cute/big-eye trend, but it’s pretty standard for a magical-girl series and I found it very appealing, since it’s easy to differentiate between the characters due to how distinct they are.

All in all, Full Moon o Sagashite provides an interesting blend of humor, romance, and compelling questions about death, life, and second chances. Even if it’s difficult to connect with the too-sweet heroine, the mysteries of the side characters make me want to keep reading, and the plot really starts to gain traction as the drama and emotional points overtake the comedy and fluff aspects. Next Monday, we’ll finish off this series with volumes 4-7! Stay tuned!

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

Manga Mondays #1: Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai

Back in my teenage years, I was a big-time manga collector, and now, in my twenties, I still have shelves full of different volumes and series. While my anime preferences trend more toward the action-based/sci-fi/fantasy/mecha titles, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Wolf’s Rain, Inuyasha, Attack on Titan, Last Exile, and Cowboy Bebop, my manga tastes stray more toward the “girly” fare. And one such series is Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai, which ran from 2003-2008 and was completed at 10 volumes.

I read Beauty Pop quite a few years ago, and all I remember is that it’s about cutting hair and I thought it was hilarious. Also, the lead female was a bit unconventional for a shojo title. But that’s all I’ve got, so it’s time for a reread!

~READING BREAK~

Alright! I initially planned on reading just the first 3 volumes for this post, but ended up powering through all 10 because I got sucked in, just like I did when I read it all those years ago. Beauty Pop follows 1st year high-schooler Kiri Koshiba, a girl with a gift for hair-styling, and her interactions with the S.P., or Scissors Project, a club run by 2nd year Shogo Narumi and his friends Kazuhiko Ochiai and Kei Minami, who are determined to be the top makeover/stylist team in Japan. Naturally, many hair-related hi-jinks ensue.

20170904_084322.jpgOverall, the series has a nice, meandering pace; there are over-arcing stories that run through the course of the series, but also several smaller, more episodic narratives that unfold in conjunction with the major plot-lines, and they are well balanced, so the story never loses the flow. A couple of the side stories kind of fall flat, but overall, the narrative is charming and engaging. The character relationships are also handled exceptionally well; there is as much, if not more, focus on friendship between the main cast (Kiri and her best friend Kanako get a nice subplot, Ochiai and Narumi have a lot going on, and lots of minor characters who encounter the S.P. have interesting and relatable issues to face) than there is on the romance. Typical “real world, growing up” problems are also handled  and touched upon quite a lot, as the characters grapple with decisions that will impact their futures, their relationships with family, their education, and their ties to friends. The more romantic elements are hinted at and briefly explored in the early volumes, but don’t really progress until the last 3, so it isn’t the main draw of the plot. This is not the standard, but the plot of the manga is definitely more focused on the comedy/slice of life/coming of age stories, which is a nice change in tone from more “dramatic” titles in this genre. Plus, the emphasis on hair-styling/makeup is intriguing, as it allows for exploration into personal ideas of beauty and the way society looks at people versus how they should be seen.

For example, in one bit, Kiri gets blamed for something that happens to the S.P. club room after she winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of immediately assuming that she did it and getting angry, Narumi asks her about it, she says she didn’t do it, and he believes her. I half expected him to fly off the handle and go on a total rage campaign against her in a fit of manufactured drama, but no – she says she didn’t do it, and he accepts her word. It’s a great way to show how their relationship has grown to that point, and to subvert some familiar tropes of the genre.

Beauty Pop is also more of an ensemble effort than it is focused solely on one character. Some get more page-time than others (Kei, for example, doesn’t get any chapters where he is the main focus, and neither do Iori and Seki) but most of the characters get a fair amount of development and show real growth over the series. This allows for a greater range of stories to be told, as readers glean insight into Narumi’s confrontational relationship with his father, Ochiai’s ambitions clashing with his personal relationships, Kiri’s personal history with hair-styling, Kanako’s struggles to juggle friendship and love, and Billy’s difficulty choosing between duty and family.

Also, the art is great; it isn’t flashy, but the characters all have a unique style, and there isn’t anything too distracting that draws away from the story. All the different hair-styles are also cool to see, as Kiri and Narumi work their magic on a plethora of side-characters.

As I remembered, Kiri is definitely an unconventional shojo heroine, which makes this series stand out from several others. She has a laid-back, generally aloof personality that clashes spectacularly with her high-strung, temperamental counterpart, Narumi. She’s hilarious, a real breath of fresh air, and a good chunk of her story focuses on past trauma and whether she truly wants to be a beautician, and her struggles coming to terms with her dreams and her past. My only quibble with Kiri as the heroine is that, when the inevitable love triangle rears its head, you don’t get much of her perspective, especially in the later volumes. However, on the flip side of that, there is a lot of emphasis put on the two male characters of the triangle, which, at least in my experience with manga, goes a bit against the grain. But, since Kiri’s thoughts on the matter are barely touched upon, the ending doesn’t pack quite enough emotion as I would have hoped for. But in terms of the general “building up” of the romance over the course of the volumes, the progression is subtle for the most part. Narumi’s initial derision for Kiri fades slowly as they learn more about one another and gradually start to work together, but their interactions develop in a way that feels organic and natural. Ochiai’s blossoming crush on Kiri has an impact on his friendship with Narumi, as he mainly struggles with his budding feelings on his own until the triangle reaches a climax, though Kiri and Kanako’s friendship does suffer a minor snag once Ochiai’s motivations become more clear. So, although the triangle is such an overdone trope, it doesn’t feel hastily thrown in; most sides get a fair amount of development, but I wish we could have had more of Kiri’s perspective. I will say, now, as an adult, some of the “romance” comes across as more “stalkery” or “cringey,” but isn’t really presented as such. Then again, maybe I’m just out of touch.

When I first read Beauty Pop as a teenager, I was drawn in by the comedy and the unusual focus on hair-styling and beauty, and now, all these years later, that allure still rings true. I didn’t laugh quite as much as I did, but I was still drawn in by the story and the characters. It’s a light-hearted title that presents familiar tropes in an unconventional and unexpected fashion, breathing new life into a genre that can easily get stale.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

I’M WITH YOU on the road…

I’m taking my YA novel I’m With You on a virtual book tour starting TOMORROW!

Here’s the LINK for the tour, if you’d like to keep up with the stops! I wrote up some fun guest posts and there are a couple of interviews, which I hope folks will look forward to reading. And in conjunction with the tour, I’ve got some additional news…

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I’m With You is now only $1.99 in ebook format (down from $4.99) and $9.99 in paperback (down from $12.99)! Check it out if you haven’t yet!

Here’s the Amazon LINK if you’d like to take advantage of the deal!

Summary: When fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan eavesdrops on a conversation between his father and two mysterious strangers, his life–and the life of his little sister, Remiel–is changed forever. After their father makes a startling decision, the Morrigan siblings are forced to flee the only life they’ve ever known and embark on a dangerous adventure across the nation of Empirya. With the help of a disinherited vagabond, a cynical violinist, a fire-juggler with a fierce temper, an aspiring mechanic, and a cheerful librarian, Ciarán and Remiel must fight to escape those who have been hired to hunt them. But will Remiel’s dark secret prevent the Morrigan children from finding a place they can truly call home?

Book Favorites: Childhood Edition

Here’s a list of books that I read in Elementary School, grades K-6, ages 5-12, which have stayed with me in some way, whether it be their story-lines, their inspiring characters, or an especially scarring scene. Most are from the later stages of primary schooling, but all of these titles have had an impact on me and continue to influence my writing to this day. This was before the age of the ebook, so I read all these books the good ol’ fashioned way, and I have fond memories of eagerly perusing the aisles in Barnes and Noble and Borders, waiting for a particularly intriguing spine to catch my eye…

The Silverwing Saga by Kenneth Oppel
I downloaded and read Oppel’s book This Dark Endeavor recently, and was immediately reminded of how much I loved his Silverwing books when I was growing up. The first book in the series, Silverwing, is one of my all-time favorites, and I read both Silverwing and Sunwing multiple times. I never expected to become so attached to books about bats, but the characters – Shade, Marina, Ariel, Orestes, Chinook, Frieda, Zephyr, Griffin, Luna, Java, Ishmael, Goth, etc – are so excellently written and the world-building in the novels is superb, I was engrossed from start to finish. I loved them so much I did a science project about bats when I was in elementary school. Shade and Marina’s adventures captivated me, the bats of the Vampyrum Spectrum terrified me, and I’m planning a reread in the near future. I also haven’t read the prequel novel Darkwing yet, so I should probably add that to my list!

The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
Honestly… did anyone not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kidWe read the second (and likely, the most well known) book in the series in class (not sure which grade, maybe second) and I loved it so much my mom read a couple of the others to my sister and me as bedtime stories. I remember flipping through The Silver Chair to read ahead because I couldn’t wait to know what happened next. I have to say, my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but The Horse and His Boy is also high on the list. And I can’t leave out The Magician’s Nephew, which was actually the last one I read, despite it being the first book chronologically. I’ve read this series many times over and it never loses its appeal. For me, C.S. Lewis’s rich words and descriptions, his charming characters, and the fantastic, magical world of Narnia come second only to Tolkien and Middle Earth  when it comes to fantasy.

Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy
This is actually one title that I don’t have much to say in regards to the plot, because I don’t remember much of it. All I remember of the plot is that a young girl finds two dolls behind the wall in the attic of the house she is staying in, and they sort of become friends to her. But I do remember being utterly fascinated by this book when I read it, to the point where I read it again immediately after. And yet, I forgot about this book for a long time and even forgot the title. However, after some recent sleuthing, I was able to track it down and ordered myself an old copy, so I can get reacquainted. Hopefully it’s as magical as I recall.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My third grade teacher pulled me aside one day before our SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) period and asked me if I felt up to reading a book that was considered a bit out of my age range, and I happily agreed. The story of a spoiled, but dejected girl and her desire to discover the rumored “secret garden” as well as uncover the mysteries of the cries she hears at night was definitely difficult to read at that age. In fact, I went through and read it a second time just to be sure I understood it, and I’m glad I did, because once I had a clearer understanding of it, I felt that I could appreciate it more. This book taught me to pay close attention in order to see something for its true value; which could also be seen as a theme in the novel. I definitely credit this book for establishing my love for the “classics.”

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
*cries forever*
I’m in my twenties now and just thinking about this book makes me emotional. WHY DO THEY LET CHILDREN READ THIS? I mean, we read it in sixth grade, but still… it packed a wallop. Worse than Old Yeller, even. But it did teach me a valuable lesson about loss and the love of a boy for his dogs, so I am glad that I read it, even if it did make me cry. And boy, did I cry…

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Before I had Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and Anthem, to ponder, there was The Giver. We actually read this book aloud in class, but I don’t remember which grade it was – probably fifth or sixth. I do, however, remember the profound effect this novel had on me. Jonas’s struggles to understand the time and memories before “Sameness” took over society resonated with me, and I still remember realizing what “Elsewhere” meant. This book was haunting, but in a good way, and I credit it for helping establish my love for science fiction and dystopian fiction.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
We read this book in fifth grade, and I re-read it last year once I heard they were attempting a new film adaptation. L’Engle brought new ideas, fresh characters, a fusion of religious/spiritual and scientific thought, and a unique perspective to the fantasy/sci-fi genre with this book, as well as the subsequent titles in the series. The concept of “IT” still scares me, even now. There are still a few titles in the overall series that I haven’t read yet, but I hope to finish them someday.

Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye
I read this book on my own when I was in sixth grade. I adored the title character, Hermux Tantamoq – largely because he was a mouse (I was very fond of rodents in my youth, not sure why) – but also because he was an unlikely hero with a heart of gold, and that made him all the more likable and easy to follow. This book is part mystery, part adventure, and all entertaining, with a great cast of characters and a plot that uses a familiar formula, but has a ton of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. I’m talking mole journalists, a rejuvenation potion, and mice who fly planes. I also just learned this book has sequels, so you can guess what I’ll be reading in the future…

The Tales of Dimwood Forest by Avi
You can probably sense a theme, here… I like books about animals, and that was especially true during my early years as a reader. Specifically, I liked rodents; of both the winged and non-winged variety. Redwall would be on this list but I didn’t read it until 7th grade. I actually read this series out of order; I started with Poppy and Rye, then Poppy, then Ereth’s Birthday, then Ragweed. Regardless, this series remains a fond favorite from my childhood and I literally (as in, two seconds after I wrote the previous sentence) JUST DISCOVERED that there are two titles in the series that I haven’t read, so I’ll be adding those to my “to-read” list in short order. I was enthralled by the tales of the brave mouse Poppy, the foul-mouthed porcupine Ereth, and the quiet, determined Rye, and a special shout out to Brian Floca, who did the illustrations. I can still clearly picture the characters in my head and I loved the way he drew them.

 

 

Forced To Read (But Actually Enjoyed): High School Edition

Students of all ages – even those who enjoy reading novels of various genres and styles from a multitude of time periods – are forced to read books throughout their academic career. As a lifelong, avid reader, I usually didn’t mind being assigned to read books, but I know for some people, being forced to read seems to suck the enjoyment out of it and turns reading into a chore, regardless of whether they like the book or not. In my classes, there was often a clear disparity between people who “loved” a book we were assigned and could appreciate it despite it being an assignment, and people who “hated it,” which generated intriguing discussions.

During my time at school, there were a couple of books that were given as an assignment and, despite literary legacy and widespread appeal, I ended up hating them (here’s looking at you, The Scarlet Letter), but, had they not been assignments, I might have enjoyed them more. On the flip side, there are several novels that I was forced to read during my English classes and I loved them so much they are now my personal favorites.

Here are the novels from my high school years that I was assigned to read but actually enjoyed on the initial read through!

Shane by Jack Shaefer
I honestly don’t know why Shane stuck with me as much as it did, because when I found out we had to read it, I dreaded it. I had to read this book over a break during my 9th grade year, and I remember coming back and discussing it with the rest of the class, only to discover that I was one of only a few who enjoyed it. The stump, man. The stump. The symbolism was so on point in this book. I’m not a huge Western fan, but there are a few titles that have impacted me in film (The Searchers, Stagecoach, McCabe and Mrs. Miller)… and yet, Shane is the only Western novel that I loved reading from start to finish. It’s a pretty straightforward, simple read – but despite that, it hits hard. It’s not a big, action-filled book rife with Western tropes, which I think makes it all the more of an effective story about working together, overcoming obstacles, and it redefined the image of a “cowboy” for me.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
I. LOVE. ETHAN. FROME. SO. MUCH. It is one of my favorite books of all time, and one that I absolutely need to reread soon. This was another book that we read over a break and when we came back to class to discuss it, I was one of few voices who spoke positively of it, and I could not fathom why. It’s a simple book, and yet, it’s so powerful – the tale of a man suffering from crippling indecision and who grapples with his own growing desires and a staunch sense of moral obligation, which culminates in a disastrous sled ride. I remember getting to the end and realizing that it was the most realistic, if depressing, conclusion that the characters could have come to. It’s not a happy book by any means, and, even though it’s basically a book  about crushed hopes and dreams, which discusses futility, desire, and the cruelty of fate, that’s why it worked so well for me – and that final plot twist at the end hit me right at the heart. That pickle dish haunts me still – such an effective symbol.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I was the only person in my 9th grade English class who liked A Separate Peace. Literally the only one – which still confounds me. We had to read it the summer before classes started and I haven’t read it since, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy. I just remember Gene’s conflicted feelings and jealousy toward Phineas and his guilt over Phineas’s accident being so clearly depicted and well-written that I could almost feel it myself. It’s a novel that resonated with me because it felt very real, and all of the characters felt like they were actual people, not just names and descriptions on paper. It was a novel that was both blatant in some ways and subtle in others, spelling some messages and events out clearly while leaving others to be inferred, which is always a plus for me. Also, my hatred of Brinker lives on to this day.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
We had to read this novel over the same summer we read A Separate Peace, and my class definitely preferred this one as a whole. This book redefined my personal definition of scifi. I always pictured science fiction as aliens and the like, but thanks to books like Fahrenheit 451, my horizon has broadened for the better. The book presents intriguing ideas about censorship (as books are outlawed) and depicts an image of a corrupt society that discourages nonconformity. Firemen are literal firemen in this world – they set fire to books and banned materials instead of putting fires out. But ultimately, the book presents a hope for the future and belief in the ability of humanity to rise from the ashes. I find it extremely ironic and hilarious that this book is frequently challenged, likely because it supposedly encourages “dangerous” ideas about rebelling against social construct or whatever.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
This is a book that I fully expected to hate. I found the entire premise of the novel extraordinarily unappealing and dreaded when I saw it on the syllabus. Ultimately, my expectations were totally wrong and I ended up loving this novel. Like an ogre, this novel has layers upon layers, which are continually revealed through the interactions of the complex characters with each other and with the infamous Nurse Ratched. This book explores the dark side of life in an asylum (as it was back in that time period) and does not shy away from the horrific realities of mental illness / the poor treatment of the mentally ill, and presents a compelling, yet haunting commentary on authority and control. And the film adaptation is one of few that I’ve seen that remained faithful to the novel and evoked the same emotions that I felt from reading it. To this day, Chief Broom remains one of my favorite literary characters.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This is one of few books I read after I saw the movie adaptation; specifically, the 1990 version. I actually stumbled upon the film partway through when it was on TV one morning, and was utterly horrified by some of the events that took place, but completely engrossed nonetheless. The images of two significant death scenes still haunt me. I was assigned to read the book over the summer in 10th grade (I think…it may have been 11th) and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. It was just as compelling as the film version, with greater insight into certain events/characters and how the mentality of the boys changes as their time on the deserted island grows bleaker and more hopeless. The descent into savagery is both disturbing and captivating. It’s chilling to think that the dystopian events of the novel could potentially happen in the real world…to a group of children, no less.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I don’t think this one needs much explaining. I’m fairly certain that every person in my 10th grade class enjoyed reading this novel. TKAM is a beautiful book. Atticus Finch is like, the epitome of a hero character. No, I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman, nor do I ever intend to. I want the magic of TKAM to remain unblemished in my mind.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The circumstances under which I read this book are a bit strange. We were assigned to read it during the summer before 11th grade… and I put it off until literally the day before my assignments were due. This is a 450+ page novel, mind you. I did finish it in one day… mostly because I really didn’t have a choice, but also because it gripped me right from the start. It’s not a happy book. It’s very grounded in reality. Reading about the various Joads, and their hopes for the future as they venture west to embark on a new life… I honestly anticipated a happy ending. But The Grapes of Wrath was one of the first definitive examples I’ve ever read of an ending that, while there is a glimmer of hope left, the lives of most of the Joad family are in shambles. Things just get progressively more awful as the book goes on, and there’s very limited reprieve. They get to their destination, the place they’ve been dreaming of, and things just get worse. This book hit me hard – even harder than Of Mice and Men, which I also loved. I honestly thought Steinbeck couldn’t produce anything sadder than Lennie and the rabbits… but that was before The Grapes of Wrath.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I have a conflicted opinion of Dickens – his writing is renowned and revered for a reason, and I would never deny that he is a brilliant writer, but his books are always hit or miss for me. It is literally either the best of times or the worst of times whenever I pick up a Dickens title. I like A Christmas Carol. I hated Great Expectations. I absolutely LOVED A Tale of Two Cities – it is my all time favorite Dickens novel. It was assigned to my 12th grade English class and remains one of my favorite books today, even though it is, admittedly, a difficult read. I’m actually glad I was assigned to read it because I likely never would have read it otherwise. In this tale about the contrasting political and social structures of London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, Dickens weaves a compelling story with brilliant characters, delivering powerful messages about life, death, justice, and forgiveness. Sydney Carton is a hero, and his final words are some of the greatest ever written.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Like Fahrenheit 451, BNW paved the way for my enduring love of classic scifi. I was hooked right from the baby-shocking bit… that sounds wrong, but I just mean that the entire section shocked (no pun intended) me so much I had to know just how messed up the rest of the “utopian” society presented in this book was. And it totally delivered. The ideas presented in this novel are jarring, as is the picture Huxley paints of a warped future in a World State where “everyone belongs to everyone else” and “Lord” is replaced with “Ford.” The characters are all flawed, to some degree – making no clear hero, though one might say John is the closest to such an idea. To put it simply, the book expresses how messed up the future can become when conformity rules all and aberrations are seen as a threat. When I think of how long ago this book was written, the themes and content presented becomes even more alarming. The entire book is brilliant and it made a big impact on me. I absolutely consider it my favorite scifi novel of all time, and that is not likely to ever change.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The character of Jane Eyre is, to put it simply, a literary badass. She refuses to comply by the restraints foisted upon her by society, follows her own path, and has a strong sense of morality and dedication to her faith. Though she loves Rochester, she refuses to marry him once she learns he is already married. She is stubborn and spirited and totally admirable, and, as she is an independent female protagonist from a male-dominated time period, that really stuck with me. That, and the novel itself, presenting captivating ideas on feminism, morality, love, and spirituality  is exceptionally written and I was hooked from the start. Jane herself might be my favorite literary heroine of all time. And Rochester, a well-developed character in his own right, is a total catch, okay? Despite the whole crazy wife debacle, I like him even more than Darcy!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Honestly… did anyone not like this book? The writing is utterly beautiful and the themes are well placed throughout in various symbols and the actions of the characters. The characters themselves are conflicted, intriguing, infuriating, multi-faceted, and their motivations, while at times unclear, are what kept me turning the pages. I have never hated a character more than I hate Daisy Buchanan. It’s a book that can be interpreted in many different ways depending on how each reader envisioned the characters – some may see Gatsby as a hero doomed by love, some think him a fool chasing an idea and denying reality. THE GREEN LIGHT, PEOPLE. It resonated with me as it did for Gatsby.

BONUS: Junior High

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This is the only book from 7-8th grade that has gone on to become one of my favorites. I loved the book so much I finished it in one sitting and then went through it again. For me, this book will always stay gold…see what I did there?