The Raven Cycle Reread: 2.18

Summary:

The beginning of this chapter made me feel so known, but probably not by any intention of Stiefvater’s. Gansey is wide awake and doesn’t know what to do with himself because sometimes, even though he quit the crew team, he still wakes up at 4:45 in anticipation of morning practice. He knows the struggle and I’m here to tell him that it never goes away. Morning swim practice still has me up in a depressed panic at 5am Thursday mornings, and I stopped swimming three whole years ago.

But, the story. It’s important that Gansey’s awake because he needs to go be sad in the Pig about the loss of Cabeswater. It’s always been strange to me how much these boys love their cars, and this is just the cherry on top of the cake: when Gansey is feeling particularly sad he heads to his Camaro to just sit inside and wallow. Stiefvater even gives us a description of a mosquito buzzing adding to the depressing ambiance, to which I said “brush it away, you dummy!” An astute observation made by a real scholar, thank you for noticing.

Noah comes to get Gansey because, if you remember from last chapter, Ronan dreamed his nightmares into reality. He’s led inside wordlessly by Noah, and takes a second to observe Ronan, who is conveniently facing away from Gansey and looking dramatic, as to better be observed.

This Ronan Lynch was not the one that Gansey had first met. No. That Ronan, he thought, would’ve been intrigued but wary of the young man standing in the motes of dust. Ronan’s close-shaved head was bowed, but everything else about his posture suggested vigilance, distrust… He was a snare for you to step your foot in.

Ronan says something in Latin, purely for The Drama. He backs up this statement by turning to face Gansey, showing off his blood-covered hands and taking his sweet time in saying that the blood isn’t his, it’s Adam’s (Noah is quick to point out that he means dream-Adam’s, real Adam is safe in his bed at St. Agnes).

In Raven Boys, there’s a significant amount of tension around an incident that happens before the narrative starts; the night Noah finds Ronan in a pool of his own blood. We find out now that it was one of Ronan’s nightmares that did that. He let Gansey believe it was attempted suicide because Niall said never to tell anyone, but they’ve moved beyond that now. Ronan can tell his own family.

At once he was incensed Ronan would have allowed him such continuous fear and relieved that Ronan was not such a foreign creature after all. It was easier for Gansey to wrap his head around a Ronan who made dreams real than a Ronan who wanted to die.

(I’m not super sure about the language here—people with mental health issues aren’t “foreign creatures”—but I also understand it’s coming from Gansey’s point of view and he’s probably not the most well educated about mental health, just thought I’d point out how the language makes me a little bit uncomfortable!)

With this confession out of the way, Ronan is free to let Gansey know that there’s a nightmare locked in his room. Or, no, he doesn’t exactly do that. He tells Gansey to grab a knife and asks him if he’s ready. Gansey is like, “ready for what?” and Ronan is like “my dark twisted mind XD” because, let’s face it, he’s the biggest drama queen in the world.

There’s a fight that’s quick and fast and reasonably well described. At one point Gansey grabs a beer bottle off Ronan’s nightstand and hits the monster with it, which, okay. I’m a college student and the idea of drinking out of a bottle of beer by myself is crazy, nobody is rich enough to just crack open a Corona in their room. Guess me and my poor canned beer friends can let ourselves out.

The fight ends when Gansey gets hooked under the chin by a claw and Ronan goes in for the kill, carefully disentangling Gansey from his possible death once he’s done.

Released, Gansey scrambled back from the creature. He pressed the back of his hand to the wound on his chin. He couldn’t tell what was his blood and what was its blood and what was Ronan’s blood. Both of them were out of breath.

“Are you murdered?” Ronan asked Gansey.

Gansey is not, in fact, murdered. ‘Tis but a flesh wound, and they both sit on the floor to calm down. Gansey finally figures out what the hell Ronan was saying in Latin way back at the beginning of the chapter (“A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand”), they both notice Noah is gone. And then, in classic snappy-one-liner-to-end-the-chapter style, we find out that Ronan was already cut up when Gansey saw him because he couldn’t have just dreamt one nightmare, he had to dream two. And, of course, one got away.

Thoughts and Feelings:

This chapter is cool because they fight a dream monster. Like, that’s dope. They’re taking the phrase “slay your demons” in the only literal direction that matters: using a crowbar and a Stanley knife to kill that asshole from your dreams.

I don’t know if Gansey was necessarily the right choice for a POV, though. I understand the desire to reveal what the nightmares are slowly, and to preserve an element of surprise that makes me want to keep reading. But the constant comparisons Gansey makes to the “old Ronan,” who wouldn’t be “like this” and who Gansey misses like crazy? Infinitely bothersome. Stiefvater thinks of teenagers as so changeable, able to become completely different people in no time at all, and yeah. Teenagers change faster than anyone else, and trauma speeds up that process. But we never met that “old Ronan” Gansey talks so much about. Frankly, I don’t know if I’d want to meet him. I can’t get a read on his character- does he have any flaws? Was he still quick-tempered and sarcastic? Angry? Misunderstood?

It doesn’t make sense that we should spend so much time mourning a character we’ve never met, especially not when we’re so clearly meant to love the version we have now. And I’m realizing over the course of reading this book that the fans of this series have infantilized Ronan a little bit. They’ve softened him around the edges by constantly calling him “baby” and pointing out the few times he’s nice to the people around him. Which, yes, that’s a part of his personality, but there are plenty of other parts that are just as prevalent. I’d just rather not chase this ideal Ronan when we should instead be dealing with the one we have now.

That said, let’s get back to my point about Gansey POV. I really do think the main reason Stiefvater used it is for suspense, but we already know what Gansey is dealing with. And, frankly, she doesn’t describe the monster well enough for me to be shocked by the reveal; we’re operating mostly on the noises it’s making and the understanding that it comes from a dream. It’s probably more effective to have the reader envision their own fears. So I’m not really getting the suspense, but I am getting Ronan throwing Gansey into a potentially fatal situation completely unprepared. Handing your friend a knife and asking them if they’re ready is not enough information to kill a monster. Gansey almost dies because when Ronan opens the door he literally doesn’t know what’s inside.

All he says is “watch your eyes” and “kill it.” I presume Ronan has fought one of these before: how does it move, where are its weak spots, how big is it? Apparently this thing can climb on walls like a spider, that would be good to know before going in!

I don’t know, I just felt like all the stuff leading up to the fight was poorly executed. The fight itself was great, though, kudos to Steifvater for knowing how to write a battle without getting too gory or too boring. It’s a skill not too many people have.

Best Character Moment:

Instead he had retreated outside through the drizzle to the early-morning Pig. Immediately, he had been comforted. He’d spent so many hours sitting in it like this—doing his homework before going in to class, or stranded by the side of the road, or wondering what he would do it he never found Glendower—that it felt like home.

Best Turn of Phrase:

A tattered shirt and a pair of jeans sprawled on the floor, at first glance a corpse.

Action: Dude. They fought a literal nightmare. With a knife!!!! Amazing. 20/10

Magic: Ronan used his experience with magic to be dramatic in Latin. It was funny but largely unnecessary, he could’ve been dramatic in English or just told Gansey what the hell they were trying to kill. 6/10

Comic Relief: Ronan asked “are you murdered” to which Gansey replied “I think so.” Amazing. Comedic genius. 9/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 2.17

Summary:

Hello hello! I have decided that since I was so lax in posting these in October (and the beginning of November, but shh, let’s not talk about it), I’m going to be full steam ahead until Christmas. I have several essays due and that’s a good thing, given that these make me feel productive in a non-scary way because I know I’m not going to get judged for writing them. We’re churning out more than two chapters a week, and I’m not lying!

Chapter 17 starts with a dream. It’s Ronan’s dreams, because all other dreams are boring and have no bearing on the narrative. When we’re inside Ronan’s sleeping mind, we have to assume something is coming out with us, and this dream is no exception. Well, no, it is, since Ronan’s previous dream creations have been lovely and impossible. Now, we’re in a nightmare.

This one centers around a mask that belonged to Niall Lynch. Ronan’s not at the Barns, he’s at Adam’s apartment, but the mask is there anyway. Orphan Girl tells him that it’s cheating, to dream about something created in someone else’s dream, but Ronan is Ronan and therefore does not listen. He placates her with some friend chicken, and she tells him she’s probably a psychopomp. It’s a great word, which means a sort of guide through sleep or death or the psyche (aren’t they all the same thing?). Orphan Girl says it means that she’s a raven, and somewhere, in the waking world, Chainsaw feels a sense of crippling jealousy.

Ronan announces to no one in particular that Cabeswater is gone, and that’s when Adam appears:

“Far away isn’t the same thing as gone.” This was Adam. He stood at Ronan’s shoulder. He wore his Aglionby uniform, but his fingers were black with oil. He pressed his greasy hands to the mask. He didn’t ask permission, but Ronan didn’t stop him. After the briefest of pauses, Adam took the mask from the wall and held it up to his eyes.

This, as you might have guessed, is exactly the wrong thing to do. Adam’s face merges with the mask, the dream turns into a nightmare, and the regularly scheduled “night horrors” are on their way. Ronan reaches for Adam to try and stop the transformation, but the claws that hook themselves into Ronan’s neck makes the task difficult. Orphan Girl asks Ronan to kill the monster, but he can’t. It’s Adam. Even though he knows he’s in a dream, Ronan could never kill Adam*.

*Peak Romance Alert

The only thing Ronan can think to do is rip the mask off of Adam’s face, but he hasn’t fully considered the consequences. The mask has fused with the skin; when Ronan looks up at Adam all he sees is muscle, bone, the empty socket where Adam’s eye should be.

Adam slumped against the wall, life leaking from him.

Ronan gripped the mask, his limps awake with adrenaline. “I’ll put it back on.”

Noah wakes Ronan up before he can try. We stick with him through the temporary sleep paralysis, through his recognition that he’s brought the mask back, slick with blood. He wonders briefly how they should destroy the mask but the sight of dream-Adam dying takes over almost immediately. He can’t stop seeing it. While the image is still floating in front of him, his hearing kicks in, and there’s a bad noise. A very bad noise.

It was a long, slow scrape on the wood floor. Then a rapid sound like a drinking straw in bicycle spokes. Tck-tck-tck-tck-tck.

The chapter ends with all of us wondering: it’s possible for Ronan to bring living creatures out of his dreams, but how big and how deadly can they be?

Thoughts and Feelings:

Giving us this chapter right after the last is Important! Seeing how Ronan interacts with Declan and then that leading immediately into a dream about a murderous mask? Ronan terrified that artifice will take one of the most important people in his life?? Adam, who is chasing the success that Declan already has, and Ronan doing everything in his power to save him and failing being the subject of one of his worst nightmares??? CAN I GET A HELL YEAH????

There are a lot of dream chapters in other YA books that are heavy-handed or obvious, or play into overused tropes to tell us that the narrator is Stressed and Depressed. Yeah, another dream where the narrator shows up pantsless to algebra or wakes up right before they hit the ground after falling from a tall building, I’ve seen it all before. But this dream is one of those that’s so satisfying to pull apart because everything means something, but only to Ronan. Only to the dreamer. And then for that to have real narrative consequences? Oh my God! A masterpiece!

Basically, I really love that during the day Ronan is indolently tossing his body on top of Adam’s and in his dreams he’s trying to save his life.

And then for Noah to be the one who wakes Ronan up, who’s always waking him up from dreams and finding him because Noah himself is part of the ley line on which Ronan dreams… lovely. And then, even more lovely, is Noah as a comforting presence to Ronan as he wakes up, paralyzed and afraid.

I really did start reading this chapter with the attitude of “this is going to be so annoying to summarize and unfulfilling to analyze because it’s just a Stupid Dream Chapter” but boy, was I proven wrong! But I’ve never been happier to be incorrect. It really is a banner day for us idiots, I guess. See you soon for the next chapter, where the tck-tck-tck-tck-tck is identified and hopefully defeated before it can commit any serious crimes, like tax fraud or murder.

Best Character Moment:

It was early morning. Early, gray morning, rain beating on the window beside his head. He floated above himself. The boy below him was locked in an unseeable battle, every vein standing on his arms and neck.

Best Turn of Phrase:

But Adam was already becoming something else. The mask was gone, or it had become Adam’s face, or Adam was carved from wood. Every tooth behind the smile was hungry; Adam’s elegant jaw was starving. His eyes were desperate and incensed. A long, fat vein stood out in his neck.

Action: Dude. This shit was action packed and it barely left Ronan’s head. 10/10

Magic: This magic was dope but it also made me sad, which is personal bias but this is my blog so I make the rules. 6/10

Comic Relief: The fried chicken was nice but the rest was all fraught, and stuff. I didn’t mind it too much since that was clearly the move, but this chapter won’t make you feel light and fluffy, if that’s what you’re looking for. 6/10

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.