13 reasons this book made me homicidal: a review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Cover of "Thirteen Reasons Why"
Cover of Thirteen Reasons Why

I picked up Thirteen Reasons Why recently because it was on my list of “to read” and it had received much critical acclaim. Also it was one of two books I’d brought with me while traveling (not including the two I read on mom’s Kindle). I figured it might be okay, at least.

Allow me to give you 13 reasons I dislike it. And by “dislike”, I mean “hate psychotically.”

[TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND ASSAULT]

[SPOILERS]

1. Support of the “Well, she didn’t technically say ‘no’ so it’s not technically rape, right?” trope. The character who gets raped [I’m talking about Hannah; the other character who gets raped is tossed aside like a piece of garbage, her views never explored] is herself unsure if it was rape or no, which is very common because we all get taught that we’re dirty and naughty unless we shout no! in a loud voice — but we’re trained from an early age to never say no, because then the menfolk might get violent. That’s not what I have issue with; I have issue with the book itself seeming unsure regarding the conclusion. If the character who’d been raped could not unequivocally call it that, then another character who knew about it (there were three) should have been clear. Without that clarity it seems the author is saying he agrees that it’s “grey-area rape”. Anything short of enthusiastic consent is rape. Not saying no does not equal consent. The fact that the character was crying and clenching her teeth just to get through it should have alerted the others who knew about the situation that it was rape. Instead, we get vague hand-waving of “well maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t,” and this is wholly irresponsible of the author and holds up standards of misogyny and rape culture.

2. The structure of the book is highly manipulative. The reader is lead on a very deliberate route, leaving no leeway for interpretation. Asher has a conclusion that he wants you to reach and he makes sure you reach it. This leaves you feeling used and abused once the book is done.

3. Horrible characterization: there is no sympathy for Hannah Baker. She’s badly written. Hannah is portrayed as cold, calculating, selfish and childish. Suicidal people get portrayed as selfish all the time, so this is an old, tired, trope. Instead, you feel sympathy for Clay Jensen, who is a basically good guy [even thought he’s been raised steeped in patriarchal rape culture but that’s not really his fault and despite it he seems to turn out okay, at least] who is in love with Hannah. He had no idea how deeply disturbed she was, and feels she didn’t really give him a chance to help her. The added blow of giving him the tapes will give him guilt and anger towards her, which is unfair and childish: suicidal people usually don’t plan big manipulation games like this. We’re too lost in our own pain to even fucking care about how our deaths are going to affect others — and no, that’s not being selfish, that’s called having bodily autonomy. Also, if you can’t understand what it’s like to just want to die because you’re in so much pain, shut the fuck up about suicidal people being selfish. You have no idea.

The attitude of Hannah, the whole “I’ll just kill myself and THEN won’t they be sorry!” makes her look like a spoiled child, and not someone who’s truly in a lot of pain.
Continue reading “13 reasons this book made me homicidal: a review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher”

30 in 30: Day 29 (in which I talk about Harry Potter some more, but don’t worry I SWEAR it’s the LAST time…for NOW.)

Teenage Severus Snape (Alec Hopkins) in Harry ...
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Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)

I realise I’ve been talking a lot about Harry Potter in the past few weeks, but you’ll have to bear with me as I do so again with this particular topic. Warning, thar be spoilers ahead. (Major fucking spoilers for the last book/movie, so if you haven’t read or seen it by now DO NOT READ THIS POST.)

The Harry Potter series is full of character deaths. Perhaps not so many as other fantasy series, but a fair whack. They’re all written well enough to bring at least a tear to the reader’s eye — who didn’t choke a bit at Cedric Diggory’s death (especially in the film, with Amos screaming in anguish “That’s my boy!”), or sob like crazy when Sirius went beyond the veil in the Department of Mysteries? These characters were unequivocally seen as good guys, so their deaths hurt.

Not as much, however, as Snape’s death in the final book.

Many of you didn’t trust Snape after the ending of Half-Blood Prince, which I suppose is understandable — myself, I always trusted him, and knew the reasons behind his actions would be revealed and he would be good at heart. I was pleased to see myself vindicated, even as I cried out every drop of moisture my body possessed.

In Snape’s final moments, he gives Harry all his memories, and in a single chapter JK Rowling tells a devastating love story: that of Snape’s hopeless passion for Lily, how every action on his part was to protect her only child. She shows Snape’s pain in following Dumbledore’s orders to the very last — to have to kill the only man who had granted him his trust, his only real friend. And his refusal to accept that Harry Potter’s fate is to die — that they’ve been raising the child like a pig for slaughter, that soon all that remains of Lily in the world will be snuffed out, extinguished like a candle not allowed to burn out its full life.

Had Snape not been bitten by Nagini, had he not died giving Harry his memories, we never would have known all this. He never would have been vindicated. Harry would never know the truth — that Snape had grown fond of him, had grown to view him like the son he never had.

And so it is that Snape’s death is not only the saddest I can think of, but also the most satisfying — it’s only in death that he is redeemed, only in death do we see the true Severus.

And only in death do we get that ridiculous fucking name for Harry’s kid.

This is what makes Severus’ death so truly poignant and heartbreaking. It is not until all sides of the story are known that we can see true goodness, brought about by nearly impossible choices.

30 in 30: Day 15 (in which I am fairly whimsical about the Rootabaga Country)

Cover of 1922 edition of Rootabaga Stories, by...
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Your “comfort” book

Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandberg.

I first read this book when I was fairly young. The stories ‘were born of Sandburg’s desire for “American fairy tales” to match American childhood. He felt that the European stories involving royalty and knights were inappropriate, and so set his stories in a fictionalized American Midwest called “the Rootabaga country” filled with farms, trains, and corn fairies.’ [1]

Alongside the traditional fairy tales brought over to North America from Europe, I grew up in Canada reading Rootabaga Stories, and they spoke to me much more strongly than the Brothers Grimm. There was a sense of adventure alongside a definite level of ridiculousness in the stories; they were crazy enough that you could believe they were true.

You get to the Rootabaga Country by train, and I’m sure it’s this book that created my childhood love of trains (that, and travelling by train from Vancouver to LA and across to Albuquerque and back again in an awesome trip that involved Disney Land and Universal Studios).

There’s something very reassuring about the idea that you can get to a mythical land if you just go far enough in a train, or on a bike, or by bus.  The idea that escape is always an option, if life gets too bad.

That is why we read fiction, after all. To escape into another world, if only for a few hours. I’ve spent my life finding new ways to escape every situation — so is it any wonder the books that bring me comfort are the ones where that fantastic land is just around the corner, and I’ll see it if I just squint my eyes the right way?

Time and time again I pick up this book and read through it, and find myself content in the knowledge that if it is so far, so early, and so soon, that I can get a long slick yellow leather slab ticket with a blue spanch across it and I will ride where the railroad tracks run off into the sky and never come back. [2]

Graduation from Hogwarts: the end of Harry Potter and my adolescence

Unless you live under a rock, you’re aware that the final Harry Potter film was recently released. If you know any fans of the series (statistically speaking, you probably do), you have somewhat of an inkling just how big a fucking deal this is.

For me, Harry Potter ending represents the ending of my childhood. Sure, I didn’t like the movies when they first came out (for many reasons that deserve their own blog post, really), but after the books ended the movies became the last thing to look forward to. Now, the final film has released, and its leaving theatres at the end of summer signals the imminent end to my adolescence.

Ok, ok, I’m almost 25 and so technically my adolescence ended about 6 years ago. Biologically, at least. Socially and mentally, I’m still a teenager. (Socially because no one really treats you like an adult until after the magical age of 25, and mentally because a) when one is treated like a teenager one tends to remain in that mindset and b) I don’t really want to grow up.) When I started reading Harry Potter, I was a really fucked up teenager. I was floundering, lost in depression and bad choices. One morning Mom woke me up by flinging a book at my head; I opened it up and started reading, and from that moment on my life began to change.

Continue reading “Graduation from Hogwarts: the end of Harry Potter and my adolescence”

30 in 30: Day 14 (in which I briefly talk about the Chaotic Canine, as portrayed by Thomas King)

Favorite character in a book (of any sex or gender)

This is kind of a difficult question. I mean, I’ve read like a thousand books (I wish life had achievement trackers like WoW does) so choosing one character out of all those stories is sort of a monumental task.

But, eh, what the hell. Coyote from Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King. First of all, I love the book, highly recommend it — it’s funny, poignant, and succinct. King is a master storyteller and humble, too (I recommend listening to his CBC Massey Lecture, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative), and after having the aforementioned novel assigned last semester in class I’m pretty excited to read his other works.

Coyote is the Chaotic Canine. He’s referred to as Coyote, but it never actually says that he appears as such — he could be human too. He’s always getting into trouble, or causing it. In Green Grass, Running Water his thread runs throughout all the stories, but mainly the creation story that pops in every few chapters and blends both Native and Christian imagery (it is even hinted at that Coyote is responsible for Mary’s “virgin” birth, which is pretty funny).

The main idea behind Coyote is that if there is Order, he will introduce Chaos to disrupt things. Because Order left alone lets things stagnate, and then we never grow. It is only Chaos that allows things to flourish — and as Chaos naturally gives rise to Order, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Order appears, Coyote disrupts it, Chaos reigns, Order appears again.

I think it’s obvious why he’s my favorite character. He’s an agent of chaos (like me) and he’s hilarious about it. To paraphrase from the book:

Talks-to-Coyote: “Where were you when the Rangers were shot, Coyote?”

Coyote: “I was in Toronto.”

Talks-to-Coyote: “When was that?”

Coyote: “…when were the Rangers shot?”

It’s like the Eddie Izzard sketch about how we lie about everything as kids: “I was dead at the time! I was on the moon, with Steve!” That’s Coyote.

 

30 in 30: Day 12 (in which I pick apart Anne McCaffrey’s “feminism” and tell you why ten year olds really should not read her books (or my posts, truthfully))

A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times

Ugh. I really really really wish I could say The Black Jewels Trilogy for this one, but unfortunately I keep on losing my copy of that one and haven’t replaced enough times to have read it more than five times (I have read it four times). So in the interest of full disclosure…Freedom’s Landing, by Anne McCaffrey.

Don’t judge me! I was young! I did it for the money sex scene!

To be fair, though, Freedom’s Landing is a pretty good book, even if it is a prime example of some of Ms McCaffrey’s Favorite Tropes (that sounds like it should be a holiday dish of some sort: Favorite Tropes! Made of tears and repetition!).

She does ease up on the RACE A GOOD, RACE B EVIL (because A is for Aryan and B is for Black, see?) thing a little bit, but then puts all the blame on RACE C (for…cookies. They are a NEVER food!). To wit: book starts off with the Catteni established as the Bad Guys (with the exception of one, Zanial, who’s “good” even though he did try to rape the main character within the first 10 or so pages of the book) and the Terrans, Rugarians, Deski, and…some other alien races I’m forgetting the names of being the Good Guys. Catteni go around subjugating planets and taking slaves. One of the uses for slaves: making them colonize less-than-friendly planets for the Catteni, who will then move in and take advantage of all the slaves’ hard work. Apparently this works very well for them, and is important, as it is the basis of the entire book.

So, Kris Bjornsen and her fellow slaves get dropped on this planet…along with Zanial (it’s her fault she’s there, by the way, because when he made a move to grab her and rip her clothing off, she hit him over the head with a blunt object and then went to toss him in a deserted street of the main town of Barevi, only to get gassed because of the slave riots), whose life she saves by convincing the self-established leader of the slave-colonizers that Z would be useful.

By the end of the book it’s revealed that the Catteni are being controlled by a greater, EVILLER race, the Eosi (so I suppose they’d be Race E), who possess Catteni and make them do really gross things (like vote Republican). It is also revealed that Zanial has an amazing cock.

Because oh yes. Kris falls in love with him. And they totally do it. And it’s actually pretty hot, granted, but perhaps not the best thing for an impressionable 10 year old to be reading. Not because of the sex scene — I’m fully sex positive, and think kids can learn about sex and know about it a lot earlier than we give them credit for  — but because of the relationship dynamic.

Continue reading “30 in 30: Day 12 (in which I pick apart Anne McCaffrey’s “feminism” and tell you why ten year olds really should not read her books (or my posts, truthfully))”

30 in 30: Day 11 (where I talk about the Duke’s flat soda)

A book that disappointed you

The Duke’s Ballad, by Andre Norton.

It was just fucking crap is what it was. I started reading it and it seemed to be starting a bit slow, but I persevered. I was on vacation after all, and it was one of the three books I had. I wasn’t going to NOT read it on account of it starting slow.

Worst. decision. ever.

There was the point in the book, this magical point, where I realized how crap the book was and how much better off I’d be if I just lit it on fire and threw it in Lago Atitlan. This magical point was also just past the point where I couldn’t stop reading it because it would drive me crazy if I didn’t finish it.

I finished it. It was flat like old soda. The characters were flat, the story was flat, the romance was flat, the tension was flat. I felt nothing for the main character, aside a wish she would die at some point. I sort of wished for them all to die. The protagonists were vaguely good as the antagonists were vaguely bad. Wasn’t much reason for either. I think there was some magic in it at some point, but I can’t be sure because it was 5 years ago and it was fucking terrible and there’s only so much therapy can block out.

So. My recommendation? DON’T FUCKING READ IT OMG MY EYEEEEESSSS.

Just saying.

 

Oh, and by the way? The duke? WAS THE BAD GUY. The book is about how he’s not really that bad, just misunderstood, or something, and the protagonist writes him a ballad when he dies. It made no sense because there was no clear motivation for anyone’s actions. It was a giant pile of WTF.

30 in 30: Day 10 (in which I ramble off into existential bullshit about the nature of writing)

A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. The book was assigned for a Creative Writing class I had back in 2004 (Hi, Vinnie). I took one look at it and rolled my eyes, thinking Whatever, I’ve been writing for years. What can this book possibly have for me?

Let it be said now, I was a fucking idiot when I was 17.

Goldberg’s book provided invaluable insights on the process of writing. I didn’t even think process was important, but the book made it clear that it was all there is. End result is nothing. Writing is life. You must live it.

I devoured the book. I read every inch of it and implemented practices from it into my life. It helped my writing grow in leaps and bounds.

Now, six and a half years later, I’ve pulled the book off my shelves again. I’m going to reread it. Implement the practices again, with six and a half years of knowledge added to my brain since the first time I read it. See what changes. See what I didn’t remember so well. See what I never forgot.

Being a writer is a neverending career. You never hit some imaginary level of “Grand Illustrious Master of the Pen” and then you’re done, no more advancement to go. There’s no level caps, and your achievements are more like Feats of Strength*** — they’re personal, things to look at and think “Yeah, I did that.” A lot of other folks — except your writer friends — won’t care.

And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Writing may make you a hermit. What are you going to make of that? — that’s the question. (Shakespeare had it wrong.)

What I’m going to make of that is some damn good stories. And poems. It’s not about outward recognition — yes, I’m nervous when I do put my stuff out there, and that’s part of the process too, that trial by fire of can you stand by your work enough to put it out there and take the criticism, but that’s not why I write. It informs my writing and makes me a better writer — I never would have won the Slam had I not lost it first. But it’s not why I write.

I write because I have fire in the head. And I’ll burn if I don’t let it out.

Until later,
-your drugged up on painkillers Katje

 

***Yes I know I play too much WoW shutupshutupshutUP.

30 in 30: Day 03 (in which I review PORN — I mean, part of the Kushiel series)

The best book you’ve read in the last 12 months

This one is harder to answer because I’ve read fewer books in the past year than I usually have. (Yes, you read that right.) Most of the books I’ve read have been non-fiction, which usually means that I haven’t actually finished them yet. And I have trouble picking a non-fiction book as the “best” that I’ve read, because that’s not how I measure their worth — I measure their worth in how USEFUL they are to me (also what KIND of useful — Silver RavenWolf’s books are good as doorstops or toilet paper, so are a lesser kind of useful than ones I’d actually get good knowledge out of…also SRW’s books could probably be classified as fiction, so I guess it’s sort of a moot point).

So. I haven’t read that many fiction books in the past year. That I can remember. I actually don’t really remember much from week to week.

Which means I’m choosing a book I just finished, because it’s fresh in my mind and it’s by one of my favorite authors. Kushiel’s Justice, by Jacqueline Carey.

Continue reading “30 in 30: Day 03 (in which I review PORN — I mean, part of the Kushiel series)”

30 in 30: Day 02 (in which I’m actually pretty serious about The Fifth Sacred Thing)

Day 02 – A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking about

I’ve been putting off writing this post, because I was playing World of Warcraft. (You thought I was going to say something thoughtful or poignant, didn’t you? Silly. You should know by now.)

Truth is, there are a lot of books that I wish more people were reading and talking about — they range from actual literature to my own to feminist theory. The one I settled on is a piece of fiction.

Continue reading “30 in 30: Day 02 (in which I’m actually pretty serious about The Fifth Sacred Thing)”