The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.6

Summary:

Welcome to Nino’s, the pizza place that only the cool Aglionby kids frequent and that Blue uses to steal their money in the form of tips. Also home to one of the greatest meet-cutes in history, because it’s not a meet-cute at all! It’s a goddamn disaster.

Blue starts her shift thinking one thing: she does not want to be there. We hear about her many other jobs and about her waitress friend, Cialina, who sees the Gangsey walk in and immediately claims their table for herself. Darn, we think. Maybe this will be a ships passing in the night situation and we won’t get the interaction we so crave.

Wrong! Adam thinks Blue is cute and Gansey takes it upon himself to see if he can make that happen. He doesn’t know that he lost the battle the minute he walked in while talking on the phone (he’s actually asking Maura for a reading, which is ironic—but that irony doesn’t help anyone). And then, when he offers to pay Blue for her time spent talking to Adam, it’s all over.

For a moment, Blue was actually lost for words. She had never believed people who claimed to be speechless, but she was. She opened her mouth, and at first, all that came out was air. Then something like the beginning of a laugh. Then, finally, she managed to sputter, “I am not a prostitute.”

Gansey goes back to his table so Ronan and Noah can make fun of him mercilessly without shouting across the restaurant. Adam tries to crawl into a hole and die, which Blue thinks is kind of cute. Readers become confused, because, in Blue’s words, Gansey has to be her true love:

Neeve had said this was the year she’d fall in love. Maura had said she’d kill her true love if she kissed him. Gansey was supposed to die this year. What were the odds? Gansey had to be her true love. He had to be. Because there was no way she was going to kill someone.

While this is good logic, Gansey still manages to be completely tactless and convince Blue that there’s no way she’ll ever fall in love. But then we remember that Gansey and Co. are coming to the Sargent’s for a reading and we hold out hope that maybe this time everything will work out. Maybe.

Thoughts and Feelings: Seeing the Gangsey through Blue’s eyes is an experience I never want to forget. First off, Stiefvater always, without fail, uses the opportunity of looking through another character’s eyes to give out hilarious nicknames. She starts off the tradition with some zingers: President Cell Phone for Gansey, Soldier Boy for Ronan (he’s “a soldier in a war where the enemy is everyone else”—very Hot Topic), and Adam is the elegant one. Gansey’s the one who calls Noah smudgy and Blue sticks with it, so now the whole gang has code names and we never have to use their real names ever again.

We also spend some time getting to know Blue, which I appreciate. She’s got big dreams, that involve being a five-foot-tall researcher of pygmy tyrants. She’s also firmly in opposition of everything Gansey says to her, which is fun, and aware of the fact that Adam is being very cute and embarrassed. People don’t often realize how cute Adam is being and I’m glad she pointed it out. Ten points to Blue for absolutely crushing it in this chapter. Five points to Ronan for calling Gansey a bitch and thinking everything Blue said was hilarious.

Best character moment:

In the background, she caught a glimpse of Soldier Boy making a plane of his hand. It was crashing and weaving towards the table surface while Smudgy Boy gulped laughter down. The elegant boy held his palm over his face in exaggerated horror, fingers spread just wide enough that she could see his wince.

Best turn of phrase:

Really, she didn’t know if she’d truly like to find out more about the pygmy tyrant. She just liked the name, because, to a five-foot-tall-girl, pygmy tyrant sounded like a career.

Action: One half of the main love interest called the other a prostitute and yet it seems we’re still moving towards true love. Also, Blue’s embarrassing realization that she’s probably going to kill that guy she just yelled at in the pizza place is imminent, so. We’re getting somewhere. 9/10

Magic: No magic except for the comebacks Blue throws at Gansey, which are pretty sick. 6/10

Comic relief: I don’t need to explain myself here. 11/10

5 Reasons to Read: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Last year, my dad talked to me nonstop about this book called Dreadnought. He did absolutely everything to try to get me to read it, and I resisted out of principle, because I’m not a “superhero novel kind of girl.” I was wrong. What I am is an idiot, because the Nemesis series is freaking fantastic. I figured that out because my dad is an evil genius and sent me a copy while I was at school pretending to study for finals, and so when it came in the mail I stopped pretending and devoured it in two hours.

Here are five reasons you should go do the same thing. You won’t regret it.

1. Trans girl superhero….. enough said.

2. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has saturated the market so completely that I thought it was my only option for Powered People Content™. It’s not! Dreadnought should be required reading for every teenager who’s seen the most recent Avengers movie, as a model of what superhero media could be, if white men didn’t run Hollywood.

The nail polish is a nice deep red. I’ve been running mostly with blue recently, but I think it’s time for a change. The cotton balls soak up remover and the blue polish rubs off my toes a bit at a time. It feels right. It feels necessary. Painting my toes is the one way I can give voice to this idea inside me that gets heavier every year: 

I’m not supposed to be a boy.

Accurate! Representation! Matters! And! You! Can! Find! It! In! Dreadnought!

3. Beyond creating a world in which superheroes aren’t wrapped in vestiges of 20th century culture, Daniels also provides for government regulation of superheroes in a way that’s well thought out and easy to understand. There’s cool lingo, like calling superheroes “capes” and differentiating between whitecapes and blackcapes, with morally ambiguous graycapes in between. There’s superhero teams like the Legion, who give out full and provisional memberships depending on age and ability. There’s some people who call their powers “special abilities” and use them to be flying couriers or invulnerable firefighters.

Hearing about the practical and boring stuff is an indulgent surprise, if you love superheroes. It’s like getting an order of fries and finding that one accidental but delicious onion ring that makes the whole meal that much sweeter.

4. Did I mention the whole trans girl superhero thing? Well, there’s that, and there’s also the fact that the narrative clearly acknowledges that anyone who doesn’t give Danny the respect she deserves is an asshole and should be treated as such.

“Some of them seem uncomfortable about me being transgender.” It comes out almost as a mutter, and I feel like such a tool. Almost as if by not speaking up strongly I’m betraying myself, but by saying anything at all I’m betraying them. 

“There. You see?” Calamity nods sharply. “Whitecapes are happy to draw neat little lines that make neat little boxes and act like they’re Justice with her scales, but the moment someone doesn’t fit into their cute little grid, suddenly they don’t quite care about what’s fair or not, do they?”

“Some of them really stood up for me.” 

“Did they kick the other ones off the team?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then they’re aiding and abetting your enemy.” 

Who cares if you save the world? That isn’t enough, not if you continually and maliciously use the wrong pronouns to address someone. It doesn’t matter how often you claim you’re a feminist– a good hero can still be a bad person!

5. There’s a fantastic sequel that you can dive right into when you’re done, so you don’t have to deal with that this-book-was-so-good-and-I’m-sad-it’s-over feeling that tends to take over upon finishing a story like Dreadnought.

Plus, the next book gives you queer love story mixed with a world ending threat and teenage drama. Basically everything you could ever ask for, and it’s all right there in one novel.

What are you waiting for?

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.5

Summary:

And thus begins the worst plotline of the book: what did Barrington Whelk do? And was it because he was so unfortunate to be stuck with the name Barrington Whelk, or just because he’s a raging asshole?

The short version is that the Gangsey’s Latin teacher turns out to be the worst and also killed his roommate on St. Mark’s Eve when he was a student at Aglionby. He only works there because his dad lost all his money and now he’s as bitter as Severus Snape and probably just as mean to children. He especially hates the Gangsey, because he’s bitter that they have a beautiful friendship and he’s so, so alone.

The mere mention of Ronan Lynch’s name had scraped something raw inside Whelk. Because it was never Ronan by himself, it was Ronan as part of the inseparable threesome: Ronan Lynch, Richard Gansey, and Adam Parrish. All of the boys in his class were affluent, confident, arrogant, but the three of them, more than anyone else, reminded him of what he’d lost.

Boo hoo, dude. You lost it because you literally killed someone. But that’s neither here nor there. Whelk thinks nefarious thoughts for a while, and then resolves to steal Gansey’s research, because if he has to be alone he should at least have a purpose. End scene.

Thoughts and Feelings: As someone who went to a private school for thirteen years, I thought it was kinda nice to see how seriously these teachers take their jobs (if only there were a font that displayed the sarcasm I wish to be oozing right now). While my school was a co-ed day school, located in a progressive section of a city, and not full of quite so many rich kids, I certainly admit that there was a certain amount of prestige that came with just Being Very Expensive and had nothing to do with the quality of the education. I had some truly terrible teachers (and some great ones, but neither Whelk nor Milo justifies that description). It seems that the Aglionby elite are suffering through the same situation.

Other than that, this chapter was just to set up a Small Bad Guy™ who plagues our intrepid heroes and gets his comeuppance at the end. Not very interesting, but necessary.

Best character moment:

Whelk was suddenly afraid that Milo could see the memory on him, could hear the inexplicable voices in his head, incomprehensible but nonetheless present ever since that failed day.

Best turn of phrase:

Every time his heart beat, red lines streaked in the corners of his vision, the trees darkening with his pulse.

Action: I understand why this had to happen but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 2/10

Magic: The only magic here was used to murder Czerny!!!! Very bad and no fun!!!!!! -4/10

Comic relief: Barrington Whelk is about as fun as a wet pile of paper. 0/10

Books that Changed My Life: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The first time I saw Fangirl, it was on the new arrivals shelf in the young adult section of my local library. That’s where I found a lot of the books I read in middle and high school, so it shouldn’t have been a special moment, but it was.

Here was this book, with a girl and her laptop on the cover, lounging on the word that made me stop in my tracks: FANGIRL.

I was a teenager and I wrote fanfiction, but it was my little secret. I was convinced nobody would understand it, or that I was going to be found out as a freak for posting it on the internet for strangers to read. If I was doing so much as reading Harry Potter fanfiction on Archive of Our Own and someone opened the door to my room I would slam the laptop shut.

But this book had it on the cover. This book, which is about an awkward, introverted girl who writes gay fanfiction and calls herself crazy and means it. I picked it up, because I was curious, and then I wasn’t the only person I knew who wrote fanfiction. Cath was in my corner.

Now, the cover wasn’t the only reason this book Changed My Life. If it was poorly written, or if the plot was boring or unrealistic, it would have just been a book about fanfiction that I was embarrassed to read. I would have felt exposed, rather than known. I am so happy that’s not the case.

Cath is not perfect. She’s not girl-next-door shy. She’s not awkward-until-I-take-off-my-glasses anxious. Cather Avery is nervous and introverted and that never changes. What changes is that she learns to share that with other people, and she does that without giving up the fandom. She does it without ever making the readers who identify with her feel shamed.

We even got, in Wren, a girl who is passionate about fanfiction, but who is also extroverted and brings home boyfriends (not that that’s a measure of success, but it was nice, seeing the type of girl I always envied love a book as much as I did). And her father, who knew they loved fanfiction and understood it.

But back to my main point: this book did a beautiful and magical thing by taking a character who resembles a real person, and letting her grow into herself without losing herself.

And as I’ve read the book, and then reread it over the years, I’ve been doing some growing of my own. I went to college and I wasn’t totally happy. I felt alone, and scared. I (and everyone else who’s ever sat down to write something) felt like I’ll never be able to create something as good as what I’ve read. But I had Cath, who felt all of this, and didn’t need curing. She just needed encouragement, and time.

I didn’t think people wrote stories about introverts, especially not in fandom. If they did, I didn’t think they’d sell. And Fangirl did both of those things, because it was a book for people who loved books. The kind of people who knew how to lose themselves in a story, who knew what it was like to love a character so much they just have to make friends halfway around the world so they can talk about it.

We finally got to read about ourselves.

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.4

Summary:

Declan visits his brother’s house/abandoned factory and, needless to say, it does not go well. He rolls up with a generic blonde girl and Adam, who’s suspicious someone’s trying to steal Gansey’s research on Welsh kings and thinks maybe it’s Declan. It’s cute, because in about five minutes we’ll realize that Declan doesn’t give a single solitary shit about Glendower and just wants Ronan to be less of a pain in the ass.

We’re then shown Monmouth Manufacturing as a tourist because Declan’s girlfriend has never been there before (her name is Ashley, which is important because she’s actually a smart cookie and shouldn’t be treated like an object regardless). She’s basically a stand-in for the reader and makes all the appropriate noises.

Beside Declan, Girlfriend held her hands to her chest in an unconscious reaction to masculine nakedness. In this case, the naked party was not a person, but a thing: Gansey’s bed, nothing but too mattresses on a bare metal frame, sitting baldly in the middle of the room, barely made. It was somehow intimate in its complete lack of privacy

(I included that quote for entirely selfish reasons; it’s one of those instances of absolute poetic brilliance Stiefvater doles out that I’ve thought about at least once a week since reading it).

Gansey then tells Ashley about Welsh Kings, not because she actually wants to know but because the reader would be absolutely lost without it and we’re already on chapter four, so getting the exposition out of the way is imperative for us to get to the action. Noah walks in, tells everyone he’s dead, and then Ronan’s entrance makes us forget that he doesn’t sound like he’s joking.

Ronan and Declan fight, everyone leaves angry, and then Gansey convinces everyone to go get pizza at Nino’s. Just another day for the good old Gangsey. Now we wait for the inevitable explosion that is Blue and her Raven Boys at Nino’s.

Thoughts and Feelings:

Adam’s first POV chapter! The first insight into the mind of our soft little guy. He spends most of it pretending to be invisible and worrying about money, but it wouldn’t be an Adam chapter without a healthy dose of self-loathing and a major case of impostor syndrome. But the beauty of Adam’s voice is that it’s the snarkiest thing in the whole world. He’d never say any of it out loud, but Adam spends the entire 12 pages he’s given judging everyone in a 5 mile radius and I love him for it.

On the other hand, I think my favorite part of the beginning of the book has to be the parallels between Blue and Gansey. Before this chapter, we’ve gotten Blue vs. Gansey at their respective church watches and then skipping school on the same day, which was nice, but Monmouth vs. Fox Way just feels more exciting. Seeing Blue in her natural environment and then seeing Gansey in his, both with these foreign intruders they don’t know what to do with (here’s the part where I growl at Declan and Neeve yet again) shows how they both present two different ways: rumpled scholar Gansey and Virginia money Gansey vs. sensible Blue and eccentric shredded shirts Blue.

Other than that, there are many simple pleasures we get during this scene: my perfect smudgy Noah, Gansey saying “excelsior” not because something exciting was happening, but because they decided to get pizza, and the fact that Declan ever thought Ronan would be caught dead playing tennis. Of all the sports for Ronan to be playing, and he picked tennis? The boy who got a full back tattoo to piss off his brother and supposedly taught his BMW to look like a shark is running around the tennis court in white shorts and sweatbands, and I’m supposed to picture it in my head without disbelief? I can’t, but apparently Declan can, because that’s why he showed up and started this whole mess. 15-love Ronan.

Best character moment:

“Oh! Your hand is cold.” Ashley cupped her fingers against her shirt to warm them. “I’ve been dead for seven years,” Noah said. “That’s as warm as they get.” BUT ALSO, Behind Ronan, his door, covered with photocopies of his speeding tickets, drifted closed.

Best turn of phrase:

He said you and Declan like it was a physical object, something you could pick up and look underneath.

Action: Adam took a scene where nothing happened and gave me some bomb ass character insights to make up for it. 8/10

Magic: There was no magic except for Gansey deciding Ashely was too much of a side character to explain it to because her eyebrows didn’t match her hair color. Boo that. 3/10

Comic relief: Full of so many good moments, plus an in-depth description of Monmouth which is very teenage boy and has a cardboard box town in the middle of the floor. 10/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.3

Summary:

Mornings in Fox Way: a three part drama starring a sleepy teen, a Cool Mom, and the weird aunt nobody invited but who showed up anyways. Except this morning, Blue missed the wakeup call and slept through the school day. She finds out this is because she let spirits walk through her while she talked to Gansey, and her battery ran out. Blue asks Maura if there’s any way she can save Gansey’s life, and Maura says of course not. They agree but Blue is ornery because she’s a teenager and won’t admit they’re on the same side.

“I probably can’t stop you from meeting him anyway,” Maura said. “I mean, if Neeve is right about why you saw him. You’re fated to meet him.”

“Fate,” Blue replied, glowering at her mother, “is a very weighty word to throw around before breakfast.”

“Everyone else,” said Maura, “had breakfast a very long time ago.”

Neeve decides to find out how Gansey is supposed to die using a bowl of cran-grape juice and a healthy dose of her sister’s disapproval. She finds nothing. This particular brand of nothing is interesting, though: being a psychic in Henrietta is very different than being a psychic anywhere else. Maura knew about this and didn’t tell Neeve. She also knew about Blue’s who amplification thing and didn’t mention that, either, so there’s some tension at the breakfast table.

Neeve said, “One moment he was there, and the next, he didn’t exist.”

“It happens,” Maura said. “Here in Henrietta. There is some place–or places–that I can’t see. Other times, I see”–and here she didn’t look at Blue in such a way that Blue noticed that her mother was trying hard not to look at her–“things I wouldn’t expect.” 

Blue decides there’s no use hanging around, finishes her yogurt, and heads to work, but not before Maura can remind her that kissing is off limits. End scene.

Thoughts and Feelings:

The biggest question of what comes out of this chapter is what happens to the giant bowl of cran-grape on the kitchen table? Knowing what I do about Neeve, I assume she’s not going to bother pouring it back into the jar. Does Maura do it? Do they just pour it down the sink? Is it cran-grape juice purchased exclusively for scrying, or is a Sargent woman going to open the fridge and be shocked and offended when her juice is gone?

Other than that, this chapter is one of the most masterful examples of creating a setting I’ve read in a long time. 300 Fox Way is as expressive as the characters that make it up. That’s good writing! We love to see it. We also love to see Maura enchanting a man so much he invites her to her house in Baltimore, only for her to reply with just one :(. That’s a baller move.

Best character moment:

Maura shrugged. “Nothing. I always wanted an eccentric daughter. I just never realized how well my evil plans were working.”

Best turn of phrase:

Blue kept thinking of what her mother had said: I won’t be responsible for anything that you see. It made this thing they did seem bigger than it usually felt. Farther away from a trick of nature and more of a religion.

Action: Blue is eating yogurt and getting ready for work at Nino’s which is Where Shit Goes Down. We are in a holding pattern but I like it. 7/10

Magic: Neeve does a bad job scrying. The casualty is an entire bottle of juice. I’m still not over it. 3/10

Comic Relief: Fox Way is the definition of playful, fraught, complicated female relationships—if that’s not a recipe for hilarity what is? 10/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.2

Summary:

Meet Richard Gansey III and his motley band of friends (minus one slightly rumpled ghost)! The first thing we learn about Gansey is that he’s definitely going to die this year. The second thing we learn is that his car broke down, and it’s bright orange. We learn that his car is full of junk and that his pizza order is one large deep dish, half sausage half avocado. Gansey is so busy pining for the mountains to tell him where Glendower is, he doesn’t notice how gross his pizza order sounds.

Ronan Lynch pulls up in a BMW and we know that he’s cool and also kinda scary. In the passenger’s seat is Adam Parrish, who we discover has a neat tie and slender hands (hand description is apparently the gold standard for learning things about characters in the Raven Cycle). After some arguing about who’s going to fill the car up with gas and mess up their clothes, we get the sweet, romantic flashback involving Ronan and Adam dragging each other behind a moving vehicle using an old scab of Ronan’s as an entry point. 

Then the exposition ends and the plot moves forward: Gansey sat in front of a church all night and recorded the sounds of nothing going on. Except, when he played the recording back, he heard the previous chapter’s conversation with Blue.

According to the ley hunters he’d spoken to, the ley line sometimes transmitted voices across its length, throwing sounds hundreds of miles and dozens of years from when they’d first been heard… The strange thing in all this was not the other voices on the player. The strange thing was Gansey’s voice: Gansey was quite certain he was not a spirit.

Not right now, anyways.

The chapter closes out pretty quickly after this. Their Latin teacher drives by and doesn’t stop which is a nicely placed bit of foreshadowing. We find out that Ronan’s brother is a dick and he’s visiting the gang later that night. Adam gives Gansey the number for a psychic who we know is going to be the Sargent family. But most of all we’re left with a description of the characters in broad strokes:

It could have been any one of the mornings in the last year and a half. Ronan and Adam would make up by the end of the day, Gansey’s teachers would forgive him for missing class, and then he and Adam and Ronan and Noah would go out for pizza, four against Declan.

Thoughts and Feelings:

For starters, of course we meet Gansey when the Pig crashes. This is such an undeniably Gansey Moment™ and I’m so glad we don’t see him whooping with the crew team or, I don’t know, schmoozing some teacher. I’m not so sure, however, about the initial descriptions of Ronan. It feels like every adjective we get is emphasizing how incredibly sharp he is, and it overwhelms a lot of the personality we could be getting from this interaction. Again, though: painting in broad strokes allows us to get a feel for the characters before we start to discover their nuance. Coming off the last chapter where Blue is practically leaping off the page, though, makes the introductions to our boys seem a little less special.

I’m just surprised Ronan was actually in class when Gansey wasn’t. Sure, he probably didn’t pay attention and actively tried to disrupt everything that was going on, but he was there! Which is more than I can say for literally any other day in the whole series.

Best character moment:

The way Gansey saw it was this: if you had a special knack for finding things, it meant you owed the world to look

(Spiderman, is that you?)

Best turn of phrase:

He was slim and tall, with dusty hair unevenly cropped above a fine-boned, tanned face. He was a sepia photograph.

Action: Well, Gansey misses World History and nobody gets him notes, so that’s no fun, but other than that it’s just our boys and Camaro drama. 6/10

Magic: Gansey hears his own voice on a recorder when he didn’t say anything! Adam wants to call a psychic!! The ley line is here!!! 9/10

Comic relief: Our boys really pulled through with some hilarious quips and made standing on the side of the highway look #chic. 8/10