The Raven Cycle Reread: 2.16

Summary:

We start off with a broken down Camaro that presents several distinct problems. First, to restart it they’ll need a new battery. There is nowhere near them that sells car batteries. Second, Adam works for the only towing company in town and knows that there are State Inspections, so it’s going to take them hours to come pick them up. Third, this is the precise moment Ronan decides to throw a hissy fit, and Blue decides to call him out for it. Needless to say, there’s some swearing and neither party learns anything.

We’re still in Adam’s point of view, so any time Blue and Gansey interact in their efforts to solve the problem, the rampant jealousy really jumps out.

She and Gansey ducked their heads together to examine the screen and mutter about map options. The image of her dark hair and his dusty hair touching searing something inside Adam, but it was just one more sting in a sea of jellyfish.

After this Adam decides it’s time to keep the self-loathing party going, and when Blue continues to admonish Ronan for throwing rocks instead of communicating his feelings in a healthy way, Adam thinks it’s directed at him. He “simmers in shame and indignation,” this feeling only made worse by the fact that he’s the one who woke up the ley line and now Cabeswater is gone.

I want to make it clear here that I don’t want to trivialize Adam’s emotions re: physical violence. He’s processing his emotions in whatever way he knows how, which is 100% valid and also a process he needs to go through. Someone should give him a hug and it’s infuriating that nobody is doing that, so to take out my anger at the situation I’m doing my best to be lighthearded and snarky. Okay. Rant over. Back to the Gangsey in their car.

Gansey unilaterally decides he’s calling Declan to bring them a new battery, which goes over about as well as you can imagine. Ronan once again takes himself out of the conversation. Everyone else is still talking about what could have happened to Cabeswater. It’s Adam’s idea to ask Noah where he goes when they can’t see him, to answer the question: is Cabeswater gone gone, or just hidden from view?

Noah just blinked at him from the dimness of the back seat, his eyes liquid and far away. He was, Adam noted, nearly disappeared already. He was more the feeling of Noah than actually Noah.  

I find moments like these to be some of the saddest in the series, if only because we don’t know a Noah who isn’t ghostly. It makes me forget, often, that he fades in and out. That he’s so much less now than he was before Whelk got his grimy hands on him. Everyone forgets: the characters, the reader, Noah himself, until moments like this when he can’t participate in the discussion because he’s already gone, and we didn’t even notice him going.

But, like compensation for making us so sad, Steifvater hits us with the best scene. My favorite scene! Because when Declan arrives, well—I’ll just let y’all read for yourselves.

Ronan said, “Move up, move up” to Blue until she scooted the passenger seat far enough for him to clamber behind it into the back seat. He hurriedly sprawled back in the seat, throwing one jean-covered leg over the top of Adam’s and laying his head in a posture of thoughtless abandon. By the time Declan arrived at the driver’s side window, Ronan looked as if he had been asleep for days.

Amazing! Perfect! 11/10!

And, to add to the amazingness and perfection, Declan notices that Ronan’s leg is touching Adam’s. In fact, when that happened, “his expression tightened.” That’s a protective Declan realizing something about his little brother that might make life harder for him, and worrying. Declan has a lot to worry about already, with the assassin on his trail and everything, but it’s not unreasonable for him to be concerned about his brother having feelings for his best friend, given that they go to a southern all-boys school. Just something to think about. Declan doesn’t hate Ronan, he’s just scared. Terrified. Something Adam picks up on right away.

Anyways, back to the story. Declan gives them the battery. Ronan tells Adam why Declan’s face is covered in bruises. Declan sees through Ronan’s sleepy disguise and yells at him to keep his head down. Gansey de-escalates the potential conflict using some annoying version of the bro code that makes Blue feel patronized, but the minute Declan leaves, he apologizes. Everyone is tired, and angry, and Cabeswater is still gone.

It’s not looking up for the Gangsey, but really, when has it ever been?

Thoughts and Feelings:

The very first thing this chapter does is give us a big old plot hole. I’ve been very forgiving thus far about Stiefvater’s preference to end chapters with one-liners that double as cliffhangers. I don’t begrudge her the fact that it makes her books page turners, but if you’re going to do that at least pick up the narrative where you left off. In the last chapter, it ends with them parked outside the field where Cabeswater used to be. Keyword: parked. And then, all of a sudden, the Camaro breaks down and Gansey has to wrestle it to the shoulder of the road.

What road? When did they start driving again? Was it at some point during the several sentences of description about what a car engine sounds like when it dies? It’s sometimes a good choice to just throw the reader into a new scene and forego transition. It keeps the narrative moving, it avoids boring scenes where all characters do is move themselves from one place to the next. And never mind the fact that the decision to give up on Cabeswater, to leave it behind and go somewhere else to figure out what happened, might have been an interesting moment for us to see. You can’t start a chapter with “and then” when it’s not continuous from the previous one!

To make a long complaint short, we’ll refer to my post-it: “PLOT HOLE! u can’t”

I have another complaint, though, but I’m not going to beat this one over the head. I already mentioned Ronan’s temper tantrum, but that paragraph of character description made me angry. Like, an actual feeling of rage coursed through my body. Here’s why:

The thing about Ronan Lynch, Adam has discovered, was that he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—express himself with words. So every emotion had to be spelled out in some other way. A fist, a fire, a bottle. Now Cabeswater was missing and the Pig was hobbled, and he needed to go have a silent shouting fit with his body.

The first sentence is fine. The last one is also fine. In fact, it even borders on acceptable. I like the bit about the “silent shouting fit with his body,” it feels true to character. But what comes in the middle? “A first, a fire, a bottle?” This is Mary Shelley writing, and by that I mean it sounds like a teenager in a horror fiction competition is doing her very best to write about an edgy boy. It might not stick out to anyone else, but I’ve been close reading this writing for going on a year now, and I’m sensitive to poor description. Here is some that does not do Ronan justice and should be pointed out.

In an effort to make this part not all criticism, I’d like to reiterate the point already made above about the image of sleeping Ronan tangling his legs with Adam’s, and Declan’s reactions. Those were good bits of descriptions in this chapter. I liked those bits. They made me happy. I already said why, so I won’t get into it again, and I will also let my poor hands rest from typing by ending this post here. See you soon for chapter 17! I promise.

Best Character Moment:

There was a breath’s silence. This was where Gansey, if he were Ronan, would swear. Where if he were Adam, he’d close his eyes. Where if he were Blue, he’d snap in exasperation.

But Gansey merely rubbed a thumb over his lip and then drew himself up. He was instantly cool and elegant, all true emotions placed in an undisclosed location.

Best Turn of Phrase:

The engine ticked like the twitch of a dying man’s foot. Adam rested his forehead on his knees and curled his arms behind his head.

All at once, Ronan snarled, “This car. This fucking car, man. If this was a Plymouth Voyager, it would have been crushed for war crimes a long time ago.”

Action: Meh. 5/10

Magic: Unless you count the Pig dying at a supremely inopportune moment magic, I’m afraid you’re all out of luck. 4/10

Comic Relief: Blue and Ronan have a fight, but it’s more exasperating than funny. 6/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 2.15

Summary:

As you may remember from two chapters ago, the Gangsey has finally decided it’s time to go back to Cabeswater. Yes, you heard, me right: after 14 chapters of doing exactly nothing, we’re going back to the forest that drives the plot. Is it overdue? Yes. Am I going to complain any longer? No.

This is an Adam POV chapter, so it wouldn’t be complete without a nice long rumination on how he’s somehow less than his best friends. This time we go back to the seed of his friendship with Gansey, a thinly veiled rumination on class distinction and the luxury that leisure time really is. It also manages to be pleasantly queer in its descriptions of Gansey’s grace and charm, going so far as to throw Ronan a compliment as well.

And he was the boy with the most beautifully interesting car and the most savagely handsome of friends, Ronan Lynch. He was the opposite of Adam in every possible way.

For all of you who think that Adam’s bisexuality isn’t represented in narrative, I beg you to look at the above passage. To go back to the book, actually, and read this whole chapter. Adam loves beauty! He doesn’t care where it comes from!!

The story of their initial meeting is that Adam biked past Gansey on his way to school. The Camaro was broken down, like it always seems to be, and Adam offered to fix it. Gansey played into one of the classic “I said I don’t want to be your bf because I want to be your husband” memes and said no, which made Adam incredibly sad and full of self-loathing, until he was like “I want you to teach me how to fix it myself.”

Long love story short, Gansey put Adam’s bike in the back of his car and drove him to school, asked him what he knew about Welsh kings, and the rest is history.

We rocket back to the present and are told that Gansey hates being still (for a guy that hates stillness it sure did take you a long time to get off your ass and go back to Cabeswater, but I digress). Everyone is in the car and Gansey is talking to the Pig like it’s a person, which I hate, and Ronan is playing terrible music, which I love. Adam is catching images and the magic is ramping up and the mood is excited which I’m trying to mimic with this run-on sentence and then

Cabeswater is gone. Like, was-never-there, everyone-was-on-something-and-dreamed-it gone.

The field went on and on. Scrubby grass gave way to a wash where a stream must have been, and then continued on for more acres of grass. Hundreds of acres of field.

There were no trees.

Chapter over.

Thoughts and Feelings:

Although this chapter is distinctly short, at least they’re doing something, you know? They’re in the car, they’re moving, and now that Cabeswater is gone they’re forced into action! That’s good. I’m excited about that one, even though it comes with the absence of magic.

Something that I want to address, though, in this short little post before I go do some research for my Chaucer essay: the whole “the real Gansey” thing is starting to make me a little bit annoyed. Every person is made up of the layers and layers of artifice we use to make ourselves palatable to other people. (Sorry I sound so pretentious but I have a lot of feelings about this so I’m trying to be precise). It’s not about what’s “really” underneath, because what makes up a person is a combination of what they think, feel, and do. And Gansey is out here doing things and hiding them under the idea that it’s not the Real Him, like his displays of wealth are some mask that we shouldn’t consider. But he’s choosing to put the mask on! It is an inherent part of him!

I just think it’s a really odd message to be sending out in a young adult novel, that if we hide our actions behind the sentiment that it isn’t the “real us,” then it shouldn’t reflect back on us. Our friends should be able to see the mask slipping and know who we really are. And this is just a small mention of that, but I’ve heard it so many times in the first 15 chapters of this book alone that it seems to have struck a nerve. But that’s all I have to say on that, let’s get to the ratings.

Best Character Moment:

Noah played the drums on the back of Ronan’s headrest. Adam, for his part, was not wild, but his did his best not to appear unwild, so as not to ruin it for the others.

Best Turn of Phrase:

They didn’t speak. Why would they speak? Adam slid into class and kept his head down and listened, trying to learn how to clip his accent. Gansey, a furious sun, glowed from the other side of the universe, his gravitational pull too distant to affect Adam.

Action: Some movement. I’m not mad. 8/10

Magic: The magic is that the magic is gone! Trippy, but effective. 6/10

Comic Relief: None. 2/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 2.14

Summary:

So here’s the thing. Irish universities do this thing where they give all the students “reading week,” which is to catch up on studies and decompress from midterm essays being due, etc. Instead of doing what was recommended, I went traveling for a week to 3 separate countries and, needless to say, was behind on work. Couple that with a general anxiety disorder and the mental block that builds up when I don’t do something for a while, and you can understand why it’s been almost a month since I’ve posted anything.

But I’m back! Forcing myself to do this! Getting back into the swing of things is going to be tough but I’m really going to try to get these going regularly and post some travel/general life updates, since I was enjoying doing those as well. And hey, why not tell you about the books I’m reading? Content™, folks, I’m going to try and create it.

What better way to ease myself back into The Raven Cycle than with a chapter about the women of Fox Way? Here we go.

Emily from a month ago post-it-noted that this is it, this is the kind of chapter that sets this series apart from so many others. All the characters are rich, including the side characters and the parents. Finding parental figures with personalities other than the generic “overbearing” or “free-spirited” is near impossible, and Maura Sargent alone would be a treasure. Having Calla and Persephone makes this book a winning lottery ticket.

So, the plot: the women are bored. They’re going to test the limits of how psychic they are. We love them for it.

On days off, when the mixed drinks emerged, it often became a game. Maura, Calla, and Persephone scavenged the house for magazines, books, cereal boxes, old decks of tarot cards—anything with words or images… Maura called it continuing education. Calla called it turning tricks. Persephone called it that thing we could do if there’s nothing on television?

Calla is drunk (we’re happy for her). Persephone isn’t (Persephone doesn’t need us to be sad for her, because she’s sad for herself). Before we can see about Maura’s mental state, the doorbell rings, and in walks the Gray Man. He doesn’t want a reading, which is refreshing. He says he’s doing research for a novel. Nobody believes him.

The women let him stay because he can recite poetry, and they give him alcohol because he can recite it in the original Old English. The Gray Man is very handsome, so the conversation is very flirty, especially on Maura’s part. They eventually decide that it’s time to impress him, and this is when we realize how good at their jobs these three women really are.

“Would you do the honor, Mr. Gray?” Maura handed him the deck of cards. “You’ll have to ask ‘top or bottom’.”

Mr. Gray gravely accepted the responsibility. He asked Calla, “top or bottom?”

“Three of cups. And top, of course,” Calla said, her smile plum and wicked. “The only place to be.”

Hell yeah.

Calla and Maura trade correct predictions on which card is at the top or the bottom of the deck. Persephone raises the stakes (and becomes queen of the observable world) when she says the king of swords is 16 cards from the top and she’s right. Legend.

She’s also right about the fact that the king of swords is Mr. Gray’s card:

“The king of swords is a very powerful card. He’s strong, but impartial—cold. He is very, very good about making decisions based on facts instead of emotion. No, it’s not a terrible card. But I’m picking up something else off it. Something like…”

“Violence,” Calla finished.

Once they’re done reading him for filth, the Gray Man admits he’s a hit man with little to no prompting. There’s a moment of shock, everyone gets over it, and they all have another drink and a nice conversation. When the Gray Man asks Maura out, she says yes. It’s all very civilized, until he leaves and you find out that Calla stole his wallet.

Thoughts and Feelings:

I love this chapter. I mean, I already talked about it being a gem just due to the amazing side characters that this book gives us, but as a chapter? As a way to humanize the Gray Man and make him a deeper and more complex antagonist who’s not very antagonizing at all? Simply amazing.

I want you all to think back to book one, where we had that absolutely nasty chapter in which Barrington Whelk came into 300 Fox Way without an appointment and demanded a reading. He was a prick. I was uncomfortable. I did not like reading that chapter and I didn’t like talking about it. This chapter is basically a thesis paper on why the Gray Man is infinitely preferable to Barrington Whelk, and it got an A.

I’m a fan of all the flirting that Maura does being connected to violent threats and meaningful glares. Only Maura would flirt with a known hitman. The morality of these women is both fluid and amazing. Also, I’m never particularly afraid for Blue’s life, because I truly do believe that the Gray Man would get himself killed before he ever laid a finger on Blue. I also believe that, after witnessing this interaction, he’s not malicious and wouldn’t hurt Blue unless there was money in it for him. The ethics of that are sketchy, but at least he didn’t kill his roommate because Daddy’s credit cards stopped working, you know?

The last thing I have to say on this topic is that Persephone is a Virginian Luna Lovegood. Go ahead, try and change my mind. You can’t. Because I’m right. That’s all I wanted to say.

Best Character Moment:

He did absolutely nothing to make his words easier to accept. It was impossible to tell if he was asking them to believe him or to humor him or to fear him. He merely laid out this confession and waited.

Finally, Maura said, “might be nice to have someone deadlier than Calla in the room for a change.”

Best Turn of Phrase:

At that moment, the doorbell rang. Maura swore delicately: one well-chosen and highly specific word. Calla swore indelicately: several more words with rather fewer syllables.

Action: Ah, the action present in inaction *chef’s kiss* 7/10

Magic: I don’t even need to explain myself. 12/10

Comic Relief: Drunk Calla and Persephone watching Maura violently flirt with a hit man should be a Netflix Comedy special. 10/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 2.13

Summary:

This chapter begins with probably one of the most relatable sentences Stiefvater has ever written:

Blue very much liked having the boys over to her house.

Dude! Me too! Have the boys over every chapter!

We get an explanation about why this is that involves how she sees the boys differently when they’re in a space that’s definitively hers, especially since around her family she can’t lay claim to it the way she can around an outsider. It’s hard to be a human battery in a room full of psychics, something we so often forget about Blue.

Only Gansey and Adam are visiting today. Ronan is somewhere else and Noah is elsewhere, so after a quick Gansey OOTD (green shirt, fancy coffee, restless energy) we get right down to business. They’re trying to decide whether or not today is the day they go back to Cabeswater, and there’s two sides: team “there are rules regarding the energy that we don’t understand, so it’s too dangerous and we shouldn’t go”, and team “who cares we’re going anyways.” Can you guess which one comes out on top?

[Maura] would see a rich boy dressed and coiffed like a newscaster—but his eyes were like the dreaming pool in Cabeswater. He hid the insatiable wanting well, but now that she’d seen in once, she couldn’t stop seeing it. But he wouldn’t be able to explain it to Maura.

And he would never really have to explain it to Blue.

There are some fun side plots, like the consumption of Maura’s horrible-tasting psychic tea and, as with every Blue POV, finding Gansey’s vulnerability attractive, but the fact remains that this is a Decision Chapter and the decision has been made. Calla has something to say about it, but Blue and Gansey are teenagers, so there’s no reason for them to listen.

Blue and Gansey both remember Adam at the same time. Gansey takes the opportunity to ask Blue about the murderkiss as promised. Actually, he calls it “that no-kissing curse thing,” which is a mouthful and made me really glad I invented the term murderkiss. It really rolls off the tongue.

They have a small, heated argument during which Blue tries really hard to pretend like she isn’t attracted to Gansey and fails miserably. Instead of facing her failure she runs outside to inform Maura they’ll be going to Cabeswater as soon as Ronan arrives, and to ask about the scrying bowl in the attic. Maura lies, Blue calls her out on it, and then Maura admits to using it to look for Butternut (the colloquial term for Blue’s absent father).

Because they forgot about Adam again, Blue’s surprised when she catches Maura and Call looking at him. My post-it note here said “Adam!!!! Bby boi!!!!!” which I think is most people’s reaction to any mention of Adam Parrish, but certainly not Blue’s.

He sat in the reading room by himself, the diffuse morning light rendering him soft and dusty. He had removed one of the three tarot decks from its bag and lined all of the cards face up in three long rows. Now he leaned on the table and studied the image on each, one at a time, shuffling on his elbows to the next when he was through. He looked nothing like the Adam who’s lost his temper and everything like the Adam she had first met. That was what was frightening, though—there’d been no warning.

The grown-up psychics decide someone needs to talk to him, and Calla announces it won’t be her. There’s a lovely train wreck analogy in which Adam’s described as a derailment, because he’s taking quite a bit of time to come off the tracks, but he’s coming off nonetheless. Because they’re psychic, I assume they knew that Adam could hear them the whole time.

He has a very healthy response to the whole derailment issue: “that would mean I was on the tracks to start with.” Sad and self-aware, that’s our Adam.

And then, probably my favorite part of the whole chapter, which I will copy below as not to mar it with my poor summarizing skills.

Gansey appeared beside Blue in the doorway. He shook his empty bottle at her.

“Fair trade,” he told her in a way that indicated he had selected a fair-trade coffee beverage entirely so that he could tell Blue that he had selected a fair-trade coffee beverage so that she could tell him Well done with your carbon footprint and all that jazz.

Blue said, “Better recycle the bottle.”

Whatever works, Blue. Whatever works.

Thoughts and Feelings:

I love this chapter with a particular fierceness because it looks both backwards and forwards at some of my favorite Blue and Gansey moments (known to fandom as Bluesey, which is a very cute name).

Blue is surprised when Gansey refers to her using her real name because she’s so used to Jane. That’s amazing. That’s adorable. I’m going to shut up about it before y’all get annoyed with me. Then, we get the first appearance of Blue and Gansey’s romantic yogurt consumption. I know, I know. You’re asking: how the hell can yogurt consumption be romantic?

Well, when it’s yogurt with fruit on the bottom and one person likes the yogurt and one person likes the fruit and they share the experience of consuming a delicious and nutritious snack, how can you not pass out at the pure and unadulterated romance? That’s right, you can’t.

And then, lastly, it’s the way that Blue and Gansey interact. With Adam, Blue completely freezes. Unless she’s angry, she loses any semblance of character she previously had. Instead, when she’s with Gansey, it’s very Elizabeth and Darcy. They have these quick, witty conversations that start with one of them (usually Blue) angry and end with both of them laughing. An example:

“Isn’t every female relative of yours in this house somewhere?”

Blue whispered furiously. “Don’t be un-un—“

“Couth? Uncouth?”
“Disrespectful! My grandmothers are both dead.”

“Well, Jesus. What did they die of?”

“Mom always said ‘meddling’.”

That’s how you develop a romance, people.

(We are going to ignore the plot-hole of Blue knowing how or when Artemus’s mother died because it’s small and insignificant, but I do want to brag about my knowledge of the series by pointing it out. So, I guess we’re not going to ignore it. I’ll shut up now.)

Overall, my feelings about this chapter can be summed up in one sentence: Thank God, we’re going to Cabeswater.

Best Character Moment:

Gansey took a drink of his healing tea. Maura’s chin jutted as she observed the lump of It heading down his throat. His face remained precisely the same and he said absolutely nothing, but after a moment, he made a gentle fist of his hand and thumped his breastbone.

“What did you say that was good for?” he asked politely.

Best Turn of Phrase:

Gansey completely forgot they were being secretive and let out a tremendous laugh. It was a powerful thing, that laugh. He only did it once, but his eyes remained shaped like it.

Action: The promise of future action is enough for me. 7/10

Magic: I don’t think Maura’s tea quite did the trick. And anyways, she spent the whole chapter being distinctly unhelpful. 4/10

Comic Relief: Gansey insinuated that Blue’s family keeps the male relatives live in the basement! Classic comedy! 11/10

The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown

I spent last weekend at Dept. Con 5, which was billed as Dublin’s biggest YA convention. I found out about it on Instagram, where I follow Savannah Brown because I admire most everything she does and love looking at pictures of her cat (whose name is Ladybug—amazing! Unprecedented! 10/10!). Having never been to a convention of any sort, starting out in Dublin was probably a smart move. It was a relatively small crowd that seemed to have a good sense of community; the Irish writers had friends in the audience and stuck around to hear their fellow authors speak on their work. I can’t say I loved every second of it because I get tired and hungry pretty fast, but let’s say I loved exactly 5/6 of it. That’s a pretty good ratio, so shoutout to Dept. Con 5, which is where I bought my copy of The Truth About Keeping Secrets.

I binge read it in one night and now I’m here to talk to you about it! I know, I know, it came out a while ago, but at least I’m within the same year of publication. That’s better than I usually do. Without further ado, I’m going to stop telling you about my life story and move into talking about the book (I’m going to try and be as spoiler-free as possible, but no promises. If you’re ride-or-die on knowing nothing, I would stop reading here).

It starts off with the image of Sydney’s father lying in his coffin. If you think this is morbid, you’re right. Welcome to The Truth About Keeping Secrets, where the book is about “death, grief, gay” (by the author’s own admission). The setting is small town Ohio, which doesn’t particularly need an introduction. As someone who’s spent a meager two weeks there, those words send a visceral reaction of being held in a vise-grip of community that knows everything about you and can make you feel simultaneously overexposed and incredibly alone.

Sydney’s father was the only therapist in town, and he died in a car crash that Sydney can’t quite believe was an accident. I haven’t written many funeral scenes in my own writing, but when I do the eulogies are always Fault in Our Stars level beautiful and poetic, exactly what the reader needs to hear to get the waterworks going. Brown is supremely brave in not taking that route: Sydney’s eulogy about her dad is stuttering and uncomfortable and implies that maybe one of her father’s patients killed him over a secret. While she’s talking, the Homecoming Queen shows up, and Sydney can’t figure out why.

So that’s the set-up. I wouldn’t say it’s a simple plot, but it’s straightforward. Sydney gets a vaguely threatening and homophobic anonymous text, she reacts, she tries to figure out what’s going on with her father. But the strength of this book isn’t necessarily in the plot. You could call it a thriller but I wouldn’t say that. This is simply Sydney’s story, complete with grief and anxiety and the unique pain of falling in love.

The best parts were towards the beginning, when Sydney was given pages and pages and pages in which to grieve.

The terror of it all was almost funny. Truly. The pain was ludicrous, completely unreasonable, completely alien; I found it impossible to believe that this sort of feeling could even exist, that the boundaries of human suffering extended this far. As I collapsed back into bed, I realized that, if good and bad feelings lived together on a scale, I’d never experience the good equivalent of the badness I was feeling. Ecstasy lives somewhere in the clouds but misery tunnels, deep, deep, to the centre of the Earth and out the other side.

Cockroach flesh. Itchy insides, fingernail-peeling. Pins and needles everywhere, inside, outside, upside down.

It’s not grief captured on a page, but it’s as close as I’ve ever seen.

The story moves beyond this, because it has to in order to keep any semblance of a plot. We move through time fairly quickly, once June is introduced: the Homecoming Queen with a secret, one of Sydney’s father’s patients who takes a particular interest in her. She starts driving Sydney to school, helping her deal with the grief. We can see Sydney falling in love with her and I don’t know about you, but I was chanting “remember her boyfriend, Sydney,” because close female friendships are a minefield of gay pain and Sydney’s been through too much already.

Of course she didn’t listen to me.

June took a breath and spoke, totally devoid of emotion, like she was reading off a grocery list. “I don’t like myself very much.”

How? I said that out loud too. “How?” It wasn’t patronizing, but it wasn’t really meant to be encouraging, either; it just didn’t compute. How could a girl like that not like herself? And then after, without thinking, I told her. “You’re everything.”

June pretended not to have heard. “I just don’t.”

The emotional buildup to this relationship does its job well. It happens slowly, it doesn’t come out of nowhere, Sydney considers how unhealthy it might be and how ill-advised. The foil set up for June, Sydney’s childhood friend Olivia, does her job well. June and Sydney choose each other over the whole middle of the novel.

That and the fact that Sydney has started attending a support group, and meets Leo, who never felt fully real to me which is why I’m not going to talk about him much. He was one of the weaker characters, unfortunately, because he had a lot of potential, but he did end up feeling a little flat. In the end, though, I was just glad Sydney was making more friends. She needed them.

Meanwhile, the thriller plot hasn’t gone away. Whoever is harassing Sydney continues to escalate, nobody believes her when she says something is wrong, classic YA. What changed the game for me was the ending.

I didn’t see the “who” coming. We’re given a beautiful red herring that’s executed perfectly, the clues are there when you comb back through the novel. My main issue with the ending was that it wasn’t given the space to breathe. I think Brown was trying to make a statement with the consequences of the harrasser’s actions, and I agree that 100% happy ending would have felt unrealistic. However, the scene at graduation felt gratuitous. I spent twice as much time thinking about the logistics of it, the outrageousness of the spectacle, than I did feeling any sort of satisfaction at the outcome.

During her panel, Brown said that she and her editor went back and forth over the ending a couple of times. I wouldn’t say the ending ruined the book, but I felt like the author had an endpoint in mind for Sydney’s emotional state, but not much else. If she’d given it 30 more pages, I think it a lot of the problems I had with it could have been eliminated. That said, me calling it “the weakest part of the book” is a totally relative statement. I loved this book. I loved Sydney’s voice, I loved the care taken with regards to representation and diversity, I loved how human and flawed all these characters seemed.

I’m not going to include a quote from the end of the book because I want whoever’s reading this to grab a copy from their local library and read it themselves! It’s somehow both a quick read and a deep one. It has emotional impact but it won’t leave you laid up in bed all day. All the perfect markers of a YA book. And you can support a lovely young creative person who was incredibly kind when I was a nervous wreck at her signing!

Read the book! Only good things will come of it.

a day in cork

Turns out I really do like talking about the places I’ve been since I learned how to buy train tickets online! Who would’ve guessed? So I’m back to talk about the trip I took to Cork, which I enjoyed despite the time crunch of needing to be back at the train station to catch the 20:25.

(orange houses!!!!! these are only here because i appreciate a neighborhood that knows how to coordinate a theme)

Cork is around a 3 hour train ride from Dublin. It would’ve been much faster if we hadn’t stopped at 20 stations in between, but then I wouldn’t have been able to see the cows and sheep as we slowed down, which would’ve been a huge missed opportunity. I also sat next to some interesting characters, but if odd train company is what you’re looking for in a day trip, my experience was down to luck. Whether you call chatty seatmates good luck or bad luck is down to you.

Now, I’m traveling with a group of English majors from my home university, so after walking around and getting first impressions of the city, we went immediately into a used bookstore to browse for half an hour. I have to say, it was a lovely bookstore. I’m not used to seeing many secondhand bookstores in America but here they seem to be everywhere, and it’s one of my favorite things about living abroad.

(if it seems like all I do is take pictures of aesthetically pleasing bookshelves, you’re correct. it is all I do)

Beyond bookstores, my friends and I were interested in food and art and pretty much nothing else. The English Market was nice because the man who sold me a bagel with smoked salmon also sold me an apple sponge that had enough powdered sugar on the top to suffocate a grown man. There’s a park just outside that we ate in, valiantly fending off the seagulls, that was sunny and nice and had a fountain with no water that we sat on.

As for art, there was a pretty small gallery that had an exhibition on stained glass and a movie about Caribbean immigrants that was confusing and interesting. I wasn’t so sure about all of the plaster casts of famous sculptures on the ground floor, but I did enjoy the collection of paintings they had on the second floor. A game I like to play in museums is to ask everyone I’m with which painting they would Goldfinch. Goldfinch (v.), meaning, which painting would they take if the museum exploded and they had one free pass. I’ve noticed saying the phrase “if the museum exploded” in front of the security staff hasn’t made me any friends, but it’s a good game if you’re find yourself in a gallery with nothing to do.

(this photograph was strongly enhanced by the fact that I was playing the pride and prejudice 2005 OST through my headphones. would highly recommend)

There was also a flea market going on, which, in my quest to become broke, I explored thoroughly. I spent a lot of time dialing phone numbers on a broken rotary phone and explaining to my friends that 911 was chosen as the U.S. emergency number for its speed and ease to dial. They were shocked. The phone entertained us for far longer than I’m willing to admit. On to the next activity.

(all jokes aside, I almost bought the rotary phone. it was amazing and I don’t regret any of the time we spent together)

By far my favorite thing to do when I travel (besides buying books I don’t need) is explore religious buildings. In Ireland, those are overwhelmingly churches and cathedrals, where for a small fee you can walk inside and admire the stained glass, stonework, and whisper to your friends because it feels rude to speak at a regular volume inside a church.

The church we went to was called St. Anne’s and for around 4 euro we were allowed up and into the bell tower, where they conveniently left a songbook so we could play Ode to Joy on the church bells for the whole town. My friends pointed out that it probably gets annoying, hearing tourists play the same songs over and over again, especially since it took us a while to get good at it. I pointed out that she only said that after we’d been yanking on the bells for ten minutes, and it was probably too late.

(sorry, townspeople! although I was in my high school band for a year so it probably wasn’t that bad)

The best thing about St. Anne’s, though, is that if you keep going up they have an observation deck and then if you go down they have a churchyard where families come to play with their children and dogs. We spent a lot of time on the observation deck making noises at birds and looking at Cork spread below us, but we spent even more time in the churchyard, lying on the grass and reading. I met a dog named Benji and was witness to a bunch of kids chasing a soccer ball for hours. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons I’ve spent in Ireland.

(we climbed to the top of a church to look at another church)

I’m not going to pretend that I have any restaurant recommendations or that I’m a seasoned traveler who knows exactly what I’m doing and can rate this city on a scale of 1 to 10. I do know that I had a lovely time and took plenty of pictures that haven’t yet seen the light of day and deserve to.

So, that was my day in Cork. We got dinner and a pint or two, headed back to the train station where I left my phone in the bathroom and had it returned to me by a nice group of girls dressed to go out, and went back to Dublin.

Okay! That’s everything! Thanks for coming to my TED talk and visit Cork because the people were nice and the church was beautiful (I could say that about every city in Ireland, but it’s true for Cork too! Promise).

life update (again)

I know that I literally posted one of these a little while ago, but in that time I have traveled 3200 miles and crossed one (1) ocean in order to start my semester abroad in Ireland! So this whole new country new culture new taste of Guinness thing has me pretty busy, and I don’t have the motivation to write anything fun. Just a disclaimer, if that’s what you came here for.

I’ve been spending the majority of my food money at the secondhand book shop across the river, which is basically a library with the late fees up front. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself. But other than that I haven’t been doing many things with books, since a lot of the new young adult stuff that I would get from my library at home and then endeavor to review here hasn’t made its way up to the secondhand section of the bookstore, and I’m simply not willing to buy anything new, so instead of doing that I thought I’d start a little travel series!

I’ve been to a bunch of places in Ireland already, since I’m trying to travel mostly within the country, but I will be traveling more as the term goes on. If I like writing about places I’ve been, I’ll do more, and if I don’t, then I’ll stop doing them altogether. Either way, you’ll see whatever I can manage to put together and either you’ll like it or you won’t. That’s how it goes.

To start with something easy, I’m going to tell you about Dublin! Yay, Dublin.

I live in a small apartment with people from my college that’s like a 25 minute walk from most of the fun places in the city. That means I end up taking the bus a lot, which I would like more if I hadn’t been in the splash zone of a rogue lad as he threw up last night. That’s university, I suppose.

(This is Dame Street. It has pretty red buildings and pedestrians with no sense of personal space and wheely bags.)

As a human being, the most important things I do are eat and sleep. I’m not going to show you where I sleep because (a) I don’t think you care and (b) it’s not clean right now, but I WILL show you a meal that I cooked! I made twice baked potatoes and salad for my whole apartment and although it’s not the best looking meal, it tasted good and I made it with love, so. We’re calling it a win.

(I bought this plate for a single euro and I’m so in love with it that I want to take it home. Will it fit in my suitcase? We’ll find out!)

Other than that, pretty much all I do is walk around, go to class, buy groceries, and visit museums. And buy books I can’t afford, but my dad reads this blog, so I’m going to try and stop mentioning it. Someone take away my tram card, and I’ll stop going across the river to buy literature, but until then… I’m an ocean away, who’s going to stop me?

(Pictured above is my fun shopping list, a street I don’t know the name of, an aesthetically pleasing bookshelf at my favorite bookstore, and the weird architectural juxtaposition right outside the Chester Beatty Library)

To finish off this lovely life update, I’d like to say that I’m doing all right! Certainly missing Cool Ranch Doritos, but everything else has been okay, and I’ve been making do with Salt and Vinegar Taytos. Be back with another chapter update soon!