YA Kisses Done Wrong and Done Right (part 2)

I think everyone can remember the first time they were reading a book and a kiss scene did… that. You know, made you think “hmm, maybe kissing another person isn’t gross and I might want to do it.” I also know that for every one of those scenes there are probably about 20 from other young adult literature that are terribly unrealistic and weirdly described. Then there are the books that are great: vibrant characters, exciting plot, a romance that enhances the story and makes sense within the boundaries of character. And then we get to the Big Kiss Scene, and it’s just…not what it should be.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into my memory and see what romantic moments did or didn’t pique my teenage interest.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Here’s the thing. Harry Potter is a unique series in that it basically defined young adult literature as a category and therefore is exempt from most of my judgements about the genre as a whole. I also, though, maintain the belief that Harry Potter is the kind of series that grew up with its readers, so that the seventh book of the series is for a whole nother class of readers than the first.

Relating to romance specifically, we see that most clearly in the development of arguably the two most important and present relationships: Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny. The juvenile pigtail yanking into will-they-won’t-they that was the progression of Ron and Hermione was a hugely defining romance in my childhood. Harry and Ginny’s was also defining, but that was because of a single kiss rather than a seven book arc.

Basically, in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we really only get two kisses, and one of them is good and one of them is, objectively, not. Here’s why.

Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione’s first kiss is a triumph of character building. It’s two characters who are decidedly not made for each other, are not even a little bit soulmates (an otter and a terrier, I mean, come on), but still manage to be one of the strongest romantic pairings in the series. It’s because they understand that what makes the other different is what makes them the best, and I’ll admit that when they kisses my insides melted into mush.

HOWEVER. When you go back and do a greatest hits tour of Ron and Hermione moments, the kiss as a standalone scene is anticlimactic. It’s not satisfying. It’s mostly just swaying and explosions.

There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away the fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.

“Is this the moment?” Harry asked weakly, and then when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. “OI! There’s a war going on here!”

It reads, to me, like a list of checkpoints: arms around neck, enthusiasm, tighter holding, a touch of humor and danger to bring them back to reality. The whole “now or never trope” is only strengthened by the fact that Ron literally says, “it’s now or never.”

I understand the limitations J.K. is working under. Because it’s from Harry’s perspective, we can’t get any sensory details, because obviously Harry isn’t smelling Hermione’s hair and he doesn’t have his arms around Ron’s neck. But there could have been a pause in the relentless forward plod of plot that could have explored it from Harry’s perspective. He if it’s “the moment,” so we know he’s been waiting for this. What do the pair of them look like? How does Harry feel about it?

Give me something. Give me anything, beyond “gripped each other even more firmly and swayed on the spot.” It doesn’t feel like a kiss I waited seven books for. It feels like an awkward middle school slow dance.

Ginny and Harry

Ginny and Harry’s kiss feels like the exact opposite of Ron and Hermione’s. The confluence of events that lead up to it just set it up to be better written, so I don’t want this to sound like I think Ginny and Harry are a better pairing than Ron and Hermione. I’m not going to pass judgement on that. Their kiss is just objectively better.

Because it’s at the beginning of the book and not at the end, we’re able to take a pause from the plot. Because it’s from Harry’s perspective, we can get some more imagery beyond what a third-party observer would see. And, because it’s not their first kiss, J.K. had to know she couldn’t satisfy her readers only with the fact that it happened. She did that in Half-Blood Prince with Harry and Ginny and the whole “blazing look” thing, and reading that again would have been pointless.

So, instead, we get one of those kisses that eleven-year-old me would go back to over and over again, thinking about when I would go off on a dangerous mission and maybe this would happen to me.

“There’s the silver lining I’ve been looking for,” she whispered, and then she was kissing him as she had never kissed him before, and Harry was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than firewhiskey; she was the only real thing in the world, Ginny, the feel of her, on hand at her back and on in her long, sweet-smelling hair–

It’s just a well-written kiss. The fact that it’s a drawn out run-on sentence, like Harry can’t reign in his thoughts. The metaphor mixed with the concrete details mixed with the vague details that give more to the older readers than they do to the younger. The fact that it starts off as playful banter, because that’s exactly the sort of relationship that Ginny and Harry have.

It’s a good kiss. I don’t know what else I can say beyond that, other than the fact that it makes me sad for Ron and Hermione, because I know what J.K. is capable of and I know she didn’t do their first kiss justice.

I would, however, like to leave everyone on a sweet Ron and Hermione moment just because they deserve it:

Ron had had a fit of gallantry and insisted that Hermione sleep on the cushions from the sofa, so that her silhouette was raised above his. Her arm curved to the floor, her fingers inches from Ron’s. Harry wondered whether they had fallen asleep holding hands. The idea made him feel strangely lonely.

That’s the Ron and Hermione we know and love. Here’s to all the kisses they’ll have in the future that’ll be better than the first.

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.23

Summary:

Oh, Chapter 23, where we leave the land of Henrietta and join the land of magic. This is what I have been waiting for ever since Neeve did her stupid bad magic scrying. All I want is benign magic and I’m finally getting it and I can’t be any happier. Let’s get into it.

They land the helicopter and the first thing Gansey does is call Noah with the coordinates so he doesn’t have to worry about remembering them or something. This is a little jolt of a reminder that Noah isn’t around and we should be missing him, and I do, I promise. I’m just very overwhelmed with what’s happening right now and Noah isn’t the only thing on my mind. Basically the landscape is beautiful and it reminds Blue of Adam, which is to say that Adam is a very beautiful boy and we should all acknowledge it. Now back to the raven!

Gansey informs us that it’s made of oyster shells, but not before he stands in the middle of the field and yells “ARE YOU LISTENING, GLENDOWER? I AM COMING TO FIND YOU!” Nobody could shout into the void with that amount of conviction and panache but a Gansey.

The oyster shell bit is significant because they’re currently in inland Virginia, and the theory is that when Glendower’s body was brought in from the coast, they figured they’d pick up some shells too, and maybe do some large-scale sculpting.

My little research kings spend some time explaining what they think is going on, for the benefit of both Blue and the reader. And honestly thank God for that, they’re answering some very important questions here.

“They used to carry corpses in straight lines to churches to bury them. Along what you call the ley line. It was supposed to be really bad to take them any other route than the way they’d choose to travel as a spirit.”

“Right,” he said. “So it stands to reason there’s something about the line that fortifies or protects a corpse. That soul. The… animus. The quiddity of it.”  

“Gansey, seriously,” Adam interrupted, to Blue’s relief. “Nobody knows what quiddity means.”

Quiddity (n): 1. whatever makes something the type that it is 2. a trifling point; a crotchet or eccentricity.

The rest of the group makes some jokes at Ronan’s expense while he pees on a tree, and then talks about Glendower some more. They answer questions like “why isn’t he in Wales where he’s from” (because America was built on immigrants duh) and “is Blue’s energy anything like the energy from the ley line?” (to which Gansey calls her “the table everyone wants at Starbucks—next to the wall plug”, and if you don’t think that’s the funniest shit you’ve ever heard you’re wrong).

But then Gansey finds a stream that his top-of-the-line EMF reader is excited about, and even though Adam’s politeness forces a reminder about Helen once or seven times, they all follow him into a forest without question.

The place they find is beautiful. Crazily beautiful, the kind that defies description, and as a reader I’m sat in my bedroom like…. :(. Nature is never that nice for me. Nature in the greater Henrietta area is so beautiful, apparently, that it’s stopped Gansey and Adam’s watches and time is no longer a concern. Nobody’s freaking out, but nobody’s unconcerned either.

She was okay, but in the way she’d been okay before the helicopter. It was not that she was scared of flashing lights on the EMF reader or Adam’s watch refusing to work, but she hadn’t got out of bed in the morning expecting to encounter a place where maybe time didn’t work.

Then, Blue reaches out and holds hands with Adam. And it! Is! So! Hot! I need to know how Stiefvater can take something so mundane and middle school and make it this attractive. Frankly, I’m blown away. Gansey is a little blown away by it too, not entirely in a good way, but not so much that he can’t lead them to a little pool where his EMF reader stops working. Blue had thought it was empty but now she sees fish, which doesn’t make any sense since it’s a tiny pool and there’s no reason fish would be in it.

And then, as they try to solve the mystery of the fish, we get Gansey and Blue’s first Big Romantic Moment™. It’s a nice counterpoint to Blue and Adam’s handholding that helps confuse the reader yet again, leaving us wondering whether or not there’s actually a love triangle.

Gansey looked up to them and she saw in his face that he loved this place. His bald expression held something new: not the raw delight of finding the ley line of the sly pleasure of teasing Blue. She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, that strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars.

Um, wow.

True love has never been so easily transcribed.

Blue and Ronan break up the moment, each in their own way: Blue lets go of Adam’s hand to caress a tree and Ronan calls softly for Adam. Then Gansey drops a truth bomb! The fish aren’t real, and here’s how he knows.

First the pool was empty. Then it was full of silver and black fish. Then, Gansey was wondering how fish got to this tiny pool and used his obscure fish knowledge to hypothesize that it was something specific brand of fish that were red on the bottom. He looks back down, and all the fish have turned red.

Not a little red, but bright red, sunset red, red as a dream. Like they had never been any other color.

So, basically, this place is magic as heck and everyone is excited but also a little scared, as they should be. If you can control a forest with your own expectations, you have to wonder what’s going to come out of the trees if you expect the worst.

Speaking of coming out of the trees, Adam just stepped out of a giant hole in one of them and seems shaken up. Blue spends some time talking about what the hole in the tree looks like (gross, disgusting, full of fungus and rot) and then decides to get in the hole—which, dude, you just told me it was putrid. Why would you voluntarily climb inside? But it’s Blue, and she loves trees to the point of spiritual connection, so she doesn’t see an issue with it.

The tree shows Blue a vision using all of her senses. That might sound confusing, but what I mean is that while she watches herself being in love with Gansey and killing him with a kiss, she also feels his fingers on her cheek and the smell of mint in his mouth.

She could feel how badly the other Blue wanted to kiss him, even as she dreaded it. Though she couldn’t understand why, her real, present day memories in the tree cavity were clouded with other false memories of their lips nearly touching, a life this other Blue had already lived.

I’m loathe to call this a love story lest the stigma surrounding teenage feelings turn people off to the story, but…damn. This is a really good love story.

The way Adam drags Blue away from the others leads her to believe they saw two different things. Adam saw something that makes him feel like he needs to defend himself to Blue, say he would never do anything to hurt Gansey. Blue doesn’t ask what particular type of hurt, because she doesn’t want to tell him what she saw. She just wants to let him wipe the tears off her face and hold her hand. Some more romantic parallels for you guys to ruminate over.

The last image we get is of Gansey in the cavity of the tree looking like a sleeping king with his eyes closed and Adam’s face turned away in shame. Blue asks him what he saw. He tells her it was Glendower. End scene.

Thougts and Feelings:

I have a lot of feelings about this chapter all arranged in a neat little line of post-it notes on my desk, so let’s get into it.

Number one: the image of 4/5 Gangsey members standing in a field as seen through Blue’s eyes. First off, the grass is thigh-high on Gansey. Imagine how high it must be on Blue, who is a straight up tiny person! Is anyone else worried about ticks? I am very worried about ticks. But, also, Adam’s hair being “the same colorless brown as the tips of old grass,” and being “more handsome than Blue remembered.” He is a romantic southern hero and you can pry that belief from my cold dead hands.

Going along with that, it’s one of my greatest regrets that ink cannot fully convey the differences in accents that we’re getting from characters. It’s nice to hear that Gansey’s speech sounds like old money, but what does that mean? I’m not from Virginia, so I don’t know the difference between scared-drawl Adam, clipped-vowel Adam, and pleasantly surprised one-word-slips-out-with-an-accent Adam. I want to know these things! This is why I’m simultaneously excited for the TV show and so, so scared they’re going to squander the glorious opportunity they’ve been given. Allowing The Raven Cycle to become a bad TV show is one of my greatest fears, and it should be yours too.

Number two: there’s some banter between Blue, Ronan, and Adam about how talking to Ronan is like being hung drawn and quartered. This is after Blue and Adam had a private conversation immediately post-helicopter and Adam likens Ronan to a pit bull that Gansey is training. Here’s the thing: I love when people talk about Ronan when he’s not there. It’s insightful and fun and a lot of the time people love that little asshole as much as I do. It just seems like this part of the book is really going after him and then not giving him the chance to defend himself.

I think this is a by-product of my having read the whole series multiple times, because Ronan gets infinitely more airtime in every other novel. Dream Thieves relegates practically everyone else to side character status and just digs in, and I’m missing that depth here. Yeah, Ronan’s looking dangerous and peeing on a tree, but he’s doing it without the emotional depth and flair for the dramatic that I’ve come to expect from Ronan Lynch. Don’t call him a mean pit bull if you’re not prepared to let him call you an asshole in response, is what I’m getting at. Only nice words behind his back. Only refer to him as a misunderstood and mistreated pit bull who doesn’t have a violent nature but is a product of their circumstance. Also, stop vilifying pit bulls period. They don’t deserve it.

Number three: Blue’s flash forward to her murderkiss. It makes me happy to read that scene because I forgot how accurate it was to the rest of the series. It makes me really impressed with Stiefvater’s ability to plan scenes and carry out narratives and I don’t know if any of the technical terms are coming out right but she’s combining a scene that evokes emotion with a whole host of other complex plot and narrative devices. And me, now, as a college student studying creative writing, is like, damn, Stiefvater! You really did that. I love you so much.

Lastly: that image of Gansey. You know the one I’m talking about: that one. The one where Gansey is in the tree, hands folded, head bowed, and Blue is like “that’s probably what Glendower looked like, and I didn’t think I’d be attracted to dead Welsh kings but um…” Yeah, that one.

It was a huge missed opportunity not to call back this image at the end of the series. There’s something about seeing Gansey so clearly with this masterful description and then just…letting the image drop. Not bringing back this idea that Gansey, to his friends, is the perfect likeness of the king they’re searching for. This should be a defining image for the rest of the series, and it feels like one now. I just don’t remember that feeling coming to anything, later. Maybe this reread will prove me wrong. I hope it does.

Those are my four thoughts and my innumerable feelings. Now on to some ratings.

Best character moment:

In the cavity, Gansey’s head was bowed. He looked like a statue in a church, his hands clasped in front of him. There was something very ancient about him just then, with the tree arched over him and his eyelids rendered colorless in the shadows. He was himself, but he was something else, too—that something that Blue had first seen in him at the boys’ reading, that sense of otherness, of something more, seemed to radiate from that still portrait of Gansey enshrined in the tree.

Best turn of phrase:

She closed her eyes. Almost at once, she could smell rain—not the scent of rain coming, but the living, shifting odor of a storm currently waging, the wide-open scent of a breeze moving through water.

Action: I mean, wow. I’m frantically excited about all the goings-on. They’re exploring a magic forest and also there is hand holding and multiple visions given to them by a tree about what is/could be to come??? Sign me UP! 12/10

Magic: Magic forest magic fish magic friendships, magic everything:) 20/10

Comic relief: Ronan peed on a tree? That’s it, the rest of it was pretty heavy. 7/10

YA Kisses, Done Wrong and Done Right (part 1)

I think everyone can remember the first time they were reading a book and a kiss scene did… that. You know, made you think “hmm, maybe kissing another person isn’t gross and I might want to do it.” I also know that for every one of those scenes there are probably about 20 from other young adult literature that are terribly unrealistic and weirdly described. Then there are the books that are great: vibrant characters, exciting plot, a romance that enhances the story and makes sense within the boundaries of character. And then we get to the Big Kiss Scene, and it’s just…not what it should be.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into my memory and see what romantic moments did or didn’t pique my teenage interest.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Both of these books have a fantastic central romance that drives the plot, but other than that they’re very different. Like, literal worlds apart. Graceling takes place in a world which we call (surprisingly) the Graceling Universe. It’s classic fantasy: no electricity, they ride horses, the idea of marriage is very much “men have power, women have babies.” Jellicoe Road takes place at a boarding school in Australia (which is situated, you guessed it! On Jellicoe road), and we have the complications of lightbulbs and phones and children with no parental supervision.

The central romances of both novels have characters that start off fighting. In Graceling they’re physical fights; both Katsa and Po are renowned for their physical abilities and they spar for practice. Jellicoe Road features a territory war between three groups of high schoolers, based mostly on rule violations more than any real sort of violence, that feature Taylor and Jonah as opposing generals. Obviously both pairs fall in love, and we have two very different but equally as beautiful romances on our hands. However, their first kisses vary wildly in quality.

Let’s start with Graceling.

I want to start by saying that I love Katsa and Po. I really do. I said Graceling was a strong love story and I meant it; I don’t think there’s anyone who reads it that’s not rooting for the pair of them, and their relationship helps not only helps Katsa grow into a better person, it helps her grow into her own person. All that in a fantasy society where misogyny runs rampant, might I add.

Their social interactions are sweet, and funny, and sometimes steamy. They have some truly inspired kisses in Bitterblue, a companion novel in the same universe. But their first kiss, the one that’s supposed to be the culmination of 250 pages of setup and turmoil and endless drama. Instead, we get a bit of a fight and a weird cry, and then a profoundly disappointing and awkward paragraph of kissing without any actual talk of kissing.

She wiped her face on his shirt. She wrapped her arms around his neck. She felt warm in his arms, and calm, and safe and brave. And then she was laughing, laughing at how nice it felt, how good his body felt on hers. He grinned at her, a wicked, gleaming grin that made her warm everywhere. And then his lips touched her throat and nuzzled her neck. She gasped. His mouth found hers. She turned to fire.

Here’s the thing: it’s not bad, exactly. It’s a little awkward to read, but that can be attributed to Cashore’s writing style, which fits the universe in its slightly formal word choice and sentence structure. It’s just that this paragraph is what we get as a first kiss, after more than one discussion of marriage and babies and love. It feels like it should be steamier, or at least truer to the characters.

If it sounds like I’m being harsh, it’s only because I know Cashore can do so much better. I understand that she doesn’t want to come out and describe every detail of the kiss. This is YA, I agree that I don’t need to know whose tongue was where and what it was doing. I’m cool with a sentence that implies steaminess instead of showing it, so the romance can work for multiple age levels. Take this quote, from Bitterblue:

She had seen Kasta and Po kissing, she’d stumbled upon them once in her own stables, one fo them pushing the other against a tower of hay, and once at the end of a corridor late at night, where they’d been little more than dark shapes and glimmers of gold, making small noises, barely moving, oblivious.

Plainly Cashore knows how to write a good kiss without really writing a kiss at all. It’s just frustrating that she couldn’t do that for Katsa and Po’s first kiss, because it could have been so much more.

Speaking of more, let’s talk about Jellicoe Road.

I’m not sure how many people have read this book, but it’s definitely up there on the list of Books That Changed My Life. It’s complex, it’s got a fantastic mystery that plays with time and wraps up with little to no plot holes or false leads, and it’s written in beautiful and accessible language. And it has some fantastic kisses, especially Taylor and Jonah’s first.

What makes it so great is that it’s the Christmas holidays, so they’re in the middle of a truce from their turf war. Jonah and Chaz (a townie) drove over to pick Taylor up at her friend’s house, and she was wearing a see-through nightgown that Jonah found weirdly hot. They’re mingling and having fun at the Club House, which is such a departure from the normal angst that it feels like the most special of moments. And, then.

I take deep breaths, looking at the town stretched in front of me. When I turn around, he cups my face in his hands and he kisses me so deeply that I don’t know who’s breathing for who, but his mouth and tongue taste like warm honey. I don’t know how long it lasts, but when I let go of him I miss it instantly. 

I don’t want to go too in-depth about the journey all the Jellicoe Road characters go through, because then I’d have to reveal secrets I don’t want to reveal. I do want to talk about this kiss, though. There’s no emotional analysis beforehand. There’s no fire euphemisms. It’s just two teenagers and present tense verbs and enough specific imagery that you can create a deeper picture in your mind.

This book contains more Great Kisses, but I’m bringing up this one because it’s a particularly good first kiss, which, as we’ve seen, can be hard to pull off. It’s also under appreciated and needs more love, so I hope I’ve given it some of the admiration it deserves.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of me analyzing book kisses, because I think it’s important that YA books get them right. Thanks for reading this far, and if you’re so inclined let me know what your favorite steamy scenes are–I’d love to pit them against mine in a grudge match.

Here’s to more and better kisses for Kasta and Taylor, because they deserve them.

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.22

Summary:

Hello and welcome to the Gansey family helicopter! Okay, so technically it’s just Helen’s helicopter, but if Gansey can charter it on a random afternoon for absolutely no charge, I have to assume Richard Campbell Gansey II has given his daughter a lecture on sharing and the helicopter operates as a family object. So, anyways, to explain what I’m talking about: The Gangsey and Helen are in a helicopter, flying over Henrietta, looking for the Corpse Road.

Gansey feels some rich guilt and thinks ~maybe~ he overdid it with the whole helicopter thing, but we also spend like half a page hearing about how turned on he gets when he’s meeting goals efficiently. It makes him sound like a wealthy and socially unfulfilled banker, which isn’t really that far off the mark. Especially not when Helen calls him out by telling everyone Henrietta is Gansey’s girlfriend, and Gansey is like “:0” and it’s all very funny. Helen is a cruel jokester and we should all admire her. Exactly 35% less than we admire Calla, true, but that’s still plenty of admiration.

We then get into a long and tedious discussion about glassware: Helen got their mother a plate that is not glass for her birthday, and since Mrs. Gansey only likes glassware she will not like this plate. This is only compounded by the fact that Gansey’s only gift is the gift of his presence at the birthday dinner, and Helen is feeling very sulky. You can tell Gansey is very cut up about the whole situation, and is feeling very empathetic and caring towards his mother and sister.

He didn’t like to see either of the women in his family disappointed; it ruined perfectly good meals.

A very good son and brother, as you can see. Just full of love and compassion and pumpkin gnocchi, cooked by the family chef.

The glassware conversation is over so Gansey goes back to worrying about Blue, because he has this obsessive need to be liked that Blue has not yet satisfied. And something about her is definitely fishy. To think about what it could possibly be, our guy pulls a mint leaf out of his pocket and sucks on it. Not an altoid, not a stick of gum, but an actual leaf. We’re now left wondering less about Blue and more about where he’s getting these leaves, how many he has in his pocket at any given time, and if he keeps them in a little plastic baggie to keep his khakis from getting all leafy.

Instead of answering out questions, Gansey calls for Adam over the headset and gets no response. He turns to see what’s up and blesses us with one of the best physical descriptions of a realistic teenage love triangle ever published in the YA genre:

Adam’s headphones were looped around his neck and he was leaned over beside Blue, pointing something out on the ground below. As she’d shifted, Blue’s dress had got hitched up and Gansey could see a long, slender triangle of her thigh. Adam’s hand was braced a few inches away on the seat, knuckles pale with his hatred of flying. There was nothing particularly intimate about the way they sat, but something about the scene made Gansey feel strange, like he’s heard and unpleasant statement and later forgotten everything about the words but the way they had made him feel.

An intimate moment! A tasteful triangle of thigh! Gansey refusing to admit he’s uncomfortable because he thinks Blue is hot in a weird sort of way! TEENAGE ANGST!!!!

We get back on track when Gansey gets Adam’s attention and Blue hands him the map to the church and, by extension, the corpse road. When Gansey sees the church, he asks if that’s it, and Blue makes the mistake of replying with “that’s all there is left.” Sound familiar? Yeah, Gansey thinks so too. It’s basically what he said on St. Mark’s Eve, and hearing that is enough to figure out that it was Blue’s voice on the recorder.

Gansey doesn’t say anything, just lets Blue show Helen where to fly the helicopter, but that’s when Ronan gets involved. Frankly I’m glad Ronan’s in the action again, instead of building ramps or sitting passively in his seat. I missed our overly sharp and aggressive boy.

With his fingers linked loosely together, elbows on his knees, Ronan leaned forward across Adam to be closer to Blue. He could be unbelievably threatening.

“And how is it,” he asked, “you came to know Gansey’s name?”

To her credit, Blue didn’t back down. Her hears were pink, but she said, “First of all, get out of my face.”

“What if I don’t?”

Here’s the thing: I love this shit. Our first real Ronan/Blue interaction and she’s meeting him punch for punch. I love my girl!

Beyond that, the rest of the discussion is fairly cookie-cutter. Gansey is like “yeah how do you know my name” and Blue is like “I’ll tell you if you show me what this thing in your journal means,” to which Gansey goes “that’s fine” and then purposefully acts familiar and easy with the journal in a desperate attempt to get Blue to see past the President Cell Phone mask. It’s a cute idea and I love that he’s trying to show everyone the real him, but then why did he spend five minutes talking about his mother’s extensive and frivolous glassware collection? Riddle me that, my guy.

Blue tells them everything except for the fact that seeing a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve means they’re going to die. I get it. Gansey’s sixteen and adorable and he should have his whole stupid rich life ahead of him. He should have years and years of impromptu helicopter rides and hundreds of times where he accidentally offends Blue with his old money mannerisms. I wouldn’t want to tell him death is imminent either.

Anyways this seems to smooth things over, at least until Gansey tells everyone that they have to be straight with each other from them on, which gives Ronan and Adam the opportunity to grace us with some gay shit:

Ronan said, “I’m always straight.”

Adam replied, “Oh, man, that’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told.”

I love these boys so much more than I am able to express.

After we clear the air, the Gangsey spends some time looking out the window to see if they can spot anything that would betray the location of the ley line. And guess what? They find something! It’s a giant raven, and Gansey begs Helen to land the helicopter so he can touch it, and sketch it, and tell it that he loves it. It’s a big moment for him, and I’m kinda upset he’s not crying but I’ll get over it.

Helen gives them two seconds, because they’re on private property and she has a dinner engagement in two hours. Classic Helen. She sets the helicopter down, and this was one of those times on my first read where I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me! I’m supposed to go to bed and you ended a chapter like this?

They land, and that’s the end. Very rude of you, Stiefvater, especially since this was what got me in trouble for reading after bedtime in middle school.

Thoughts and Feelings:

Having Gansey and Blue POV back to back really is a trip. We know what Blue knows and we know what Gansey knows and we’re just sitting here, trying to figure out how these two sweet and lovely people could have such a misguided impression of each other. Adam is their middleman and he’s doing an impressive job, given the magnitude of his task, so we should take a quick pause to thank him for his efforts. Beyond that, I’m a little disappointed in the role Ronan has to play. Just because he’s not involved in the love triangle (yet) doesn’t mean that he gets to be mean for like one paragraph and then shoved aside, never to be heard from again!

I think it’s just because we’re still figuring out who this group is with Blue in it, which I get, since they literally just met her. It’s interesting, giving the reader over 200 pages in which to get to know Blue, whereas the boys have known her for a maximum of 20. They have 10% of the experience we do, and it shows. There’s a complicatedness to how the three of them interact with Blue: Gansey’s need to be liked, Adam’s shared experience and shaky attempts at romance, and Ronan’s guarded anger. I can’t wait for her to meet Noah, just to get a break from all this tension.

Mostly I’m just feeling pissed about this cliffhanger. Being in a helicopter and hearing about Gansey’s Glendower research is nice and all, but I want magic. I want forests and sleeping kings and, I don’t know, exciting things that remind me this isn’t just a novel about a lonely girl and a couple of prep school boys trying to get along. Not that those kinds of books aren’t good, they’re just not as good as these ones, and the magic is a big part of that. So bring it on, Stiefvater! I’m ready.

Best character moment:

He didn’t think it missed her notice how his left hand curved familiarly around the leather binding, how the thumb and forefinger knew just how much pressure to apply to coax the pages to spread where he wanted them to. The journal and Gansey were clearly long-acquainted, and he wanted her to know.

Best turn of phrase:

The drawings were mathematical in their perfection, faultless in their symmetry. And the last thing to hit him, right in his gut, was the emotional impact, a mysterious, raw ache that wouldn’t go away. Gansey felt like he couldn’t survive not knowing if the lines meant something.

Action: As the Gangsey zooms through the air, not only does Gansey get in a fight with his sister, but Blue gets in a fight with dangerous snake-boy Ronan. What more could you want? 10/10

Magic: No magic beyond what Gansey describes from research, which is like doing a term paper on rumors of witchcraft in the 1700s: unfulfilling. 4/10

Comic relief: Blue says Neeve is her half-aunt and Ronan asks where the other half of her is. That’s comedy, folks. 8/10

The Raven Cycle Reread 1.21

Summary:

It’s time for Adam and Blue’s first date, complete with Gansey’s wealth, Ronan’s hostility, and Helen’s pilot license. If someone decides to take you out on a first date and the itinerary is not looking for the supernatural in the Virginia countryside, break up with them immediately. They clearly don’t understand what romance is.

Let’s start from the beginning. Adam walks to 300 Fox Way to pick Blue up, and, because Maura has absolutely no experience disciplining a child, Blue just walks out without telling anybody where she’s going or why. We can’t really call Blue’s behavior rebellious when it’s that easy, but it makes her feel cool, so let’s let her have this one. Rebellious Blue walks down the street with Adam, and we get a fun description of their outfits to explain why Blue feels uncomfortable. They don’t look like a couple, because Adam is dressed like a teenage boy and Blue is dressed like a punk rock grandma with far too much time on her hands. It makes her nervous, and self-conscious, and so she asks Adam why he wanted her number in the first place.

And here comes the cute part! Please remember to brush your teeth afterwards for cavity prevention!

 “I think you’re pretty,” he said.

When he said it, she heard his Henrietta accent for the first time that day: a long vowel and pretty like it rhymed with biddy

She felt like when she’d first read his card with the flowers. Weirdly undone. It was like his words had spun tight some sort of thread between them, and she felt like she ought to somehow ease the tension. “But thanks. I think you’re pretty too.”

He laughed his surprised laugh.

:)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We then get into the meat of the interaction: Blue is like, remember when my mom said she wouldn’t help you? Well I am here to do the opposite. And Adam is like: how do you know what we’re looking for? And Blue is like: lol funny story I found your friend’s journal at Nino’s and I kind of read the entire thing because I’m a curious gal and, well, here’s a map I drew!

Needless to say, Adam is instantly wary. We already know he’s suspicious of everyone, including Ashley, who they all (wrongly) assume is a blonde airhead, so it makes sense that Blue having the journal sets off alarm bells. But Blue tells him the truth, which is small and sad and endears her to Adam even more, because they always seem to be dealing with the same emotions.

“I’m the only person in my family who’s not psychic. You heard my mom; I just make things easier for people who are psychic. If magic exists, I just want to see it. Just once.”

It’s the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help whatever diety Blue is choosing to swear on that day, and Adam believes her. The rest of the walk is pleasant and actually pretty cheesy, and it fits in pretty well with something I’d expect to see in a teen movie or some sort of Extra Gum commercial. Until the roll up to the lot of Monmouth Manufacturing and Blue discovers Adam was not kidding about the helicopter. It is real and she is standing in front of it and Gansey is running at her looking excited.

This part makes me laugh just because Steifvater seems to be under the impression that both Gansey and Blue need nice little OOTD paragraphs within the narrative so we can fully picture what a motley crew they make together. It’s like punk grandma meets L.L. Bean model, except L.L. Bean is trying to sell that ugly neon yellow polo that they have way to much of in their warehouse, and because Gansey is the hottest model they have he’s the one who has to take one for the team and wear the highlighter shirt.

Despite this, or maybe because of it, Gansey succeeds in making Blue feel small just by standing in front of her, which is inevitable and unfortunate. I really just want my kids to get along, but I understand why everyone has their reservations and I’m willing to wait the duration of one (1) helicopter ride for them to work it out.

The rest of this chapter is a series of necessary movements: Gansey gets his journal back, Blue climbs aboard the helicopter, they all strap themselves in, and Gansey introduces them to the pilot, who happens to be his sister, Helen. But before we move on, Stiefvater makes sure the feeling of Blue and her boys is clear:

When Gansey climbed in beside the pilot, she saw the he was grinning, effusive and earnest, incredibly excited to be going wherever they were going. It was nothing like his previous, polished demeanor. It was some private joy that she managed to be in on by virtue of being in the helicopter and, just like that, Blue was excited too.

Same here!!! I’m excited too!!!!!!!

Thoughts and Feelings:

The fact that this reread (by chapter) is now old enough to drink is wild. I thought I’d be bored of it by now but I’m still having so much fun so TAKE THAT, little voice inside my head that tells me I’m not good at sticking to things! And I’m glad I did keep going, because I put on a brave face during some of the beginning chapters to make them seem interesting, but they really were not. I don’t remember the beginning of the book being this slow—probably because I would devour the entire thing in one day, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m very excited that we are about to take to the skies and discover some mysteries.

I do have some beef with this chapter, which is not something I usually say but here we are anyways. Stiefvater’s dialogue is always so realistic and funny that I think I’m a little bit spoiled, especially when she gives me Blue and Adam calling each other pretty in their twin southern accents. But right afterwards, we’re given this scene:

Adam’s face melted into a grin, an expression so unlike his usual one that his features needed to completely shift to accommodate it. “So you don’t do anything quiet, do you?”

The way he said it, she could tell that he was impressed with her in the way men were usually impressed with Orla. Blue very much liked that, especially since she hadn’t had to do anything other than be herself to earn it. “Nothing worth doing.”

“Well,” he said, “I think you’ll find I do pretty much everything quiet. If you can be all right with that, I guess we’ll be fine.”

Here’s the thing: I was previously blinded by some very cute moments within this exchange. Adam’s face rearranging its whole structure to smile at Blue? Descriptive, sad, goddamn adorable. Blue realizing Adam likes her because she’s being herself? Very wholesome, the young adult content we need but don’t deserve. But the last line—my God, the last line—is cheesiness to the extreme. Only an old man, perhaps named Gansey, would say something so simply self-aware. Most of Adam’s problems come from the fact that he can’t stand to look at himself objectively different from other people, and so the fact that this is thrown out for the sake of some cookie-cutter opposites attract line is incredibly frustrating. It ruined the whole dialogue for me, which sucks because the rest of it is very well done.

Moving past that, I love Gansey’s need to wear neon clothing at all times. I love the romantic close-talking Adam needs to use with Blue when they’re close to the helicopter. I love that Adam hates flying and Blue has never done it and Gansey is bored of it and yet they’re all excited to get up in the air and do academic research that wasn’t assigned to them by a teacher. This feeling of discovery and camaraderie really is the heart of this book, and Stiefvater delivered.

Best character moment:

“I’ve never flown,” she confessed to Adam, a shout to be heard over the whine of the helicopter.

“Ever?” Adam shouted back.

Blue shook her head. He put his mouth right against her ear so that she could hear him. He smelled like summer and cheap shampoo. She felt a tickle go all the way from her belly button to her feet.

Best turn of phrase:

And he had to yell. Now that it was running, the blades of the helicopter didn’t so much roar as scream. Air beat against Blue’s ears, more feeling than sound.

Action: So they’re on the helicopter, but it has yet to take off. We’re halfway there. 5/10

Magic: Absolutely no magic here, good or bad. Just a nice discussion about how Adam doesn’t believe in it and Blue doesn’t have access to it. 2/10

Comic relief: A large deal was made about the fact that Gansey was holding organic apple juice and it was an important character trait, which is the only kind of comedy that matters to me. 8/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.20

Summary:

It is now time for our resident Flower Boy to ride his rusty bike over to Monmouth to MAKE TROUBLE! Or, actually, to be quietly angry at Ronan for making trouble instead of doing his homework. Let me set the scene:

Adam is struggling with the kickstand of his bike, which is very old and the only way he is able to get around to his numerous jobs. Ronan is struggling with his BMW, inherited (well, stolen) from his father, so that he can build a ramp and possibly wreck his car for no other reason than the fact that he’s bored. Adam does not have enough time to contemplate the concept of boredom. Ronan is failing his classes. Adam is pissed. Meanwhile, Noah is wandering around being altogether too adorable to ever be mistaken for a teenage boy, mirroring the utter dysfunction of the three of them:

Ronan climbed to his feet and they both turned to watch Noah working with the plywood for the ramps. Working with really meant staring at. Noah had his fingertips ten inches apart and he looked through the space between them to the wood below, perplexed. There were no tools in sight.

(I included that quote because everyone else seems to be reacting just as bemusedly as I am, it has 0 plot significance.)

They’re trying to answer two questions: how do you build a ramp with no tools, and should Adam call Blue? Ronan is being stupid about both problems. He definitely has a chainsaw in his room (the tool not the bird) that could easily be used to cut wood up for the ramp. He’s also being rude about Blue, which is a conflict of interest for me because I love all three people involved in this situation—even though Ronan insists on being a shit to both Adam and Blue.

But for Adam, it’s something deeper, and we finally get the whole picture: Two years ago, Adam tried to buy toothpaste and canned ravioli at the grocery store with his mother’s debit card. The card got declined because the account had insufficient funds, and there Adam was, watching an Aglionby boy with a buzz cut grab his food quickly and easily. He acknowledges that it couldn’t have been Ronan specifically, but he also knows that it doesn’t matter. Ronan would’ve moved through the supermarket with that same attitude and privilege, and that’s what Adam wants. That’s what he needs.

That day wasn’t the only reason he’d decided to fight to come to Aglionby. By it was the catalyst. The imagined memory of Ronan, careless and shallow but with pride fully intact, and Adam, cowed and humiliated while a line of old ladies waited behind him.

He wasn’t that other boy at the register. But he was closer.

And so he decides to do his best to project that confidence, demands Ronan hand over his phone, and calls Blue. You go, Adam. Go after what you want but cannot have for reasons out of your control! I believe in you, buddy.

Of course Persephone picks up the phone, and, instead of saying hello (like a normal person), she just goes “Adam?” Imagine calling someone else’s number for the first time, when you’re not even using your own phone, and someone calls you by your name. That’s spooky as hell.

So Adam asks if it’s Blue, and Persephone is like “no dude it’s Persephone and I guessed right and Orla you owe me ten dollars.” She calls him “Coca-Cola T-shirt one” and gives us THE BEST nickname for Adam that comes out of all four books of the series. I love how one fashion choice not only defined this boy forever but also caused me to buy my own Coke T-shirt for $15 at my local Old Navy.

Anyways Persephone knows Adam is calling for Blue and goes to get her without being asked, which is nice of her. Their conversation is very sweet. I’ll give you the highlights.

“It seems busy there.”

“It’s always busy here. There are three hundred and forty-two people who live here, and they all want to be in this room. What are you doing today?” She asked it very naturally, like it was the most logical thing in the world for them to have a conversation on the phone, like they were already friends.

It made it easier for Adam to say, “Exploring. Do you want to come with?”

Ronan’s eyes widened. No matter what she said now, the phone call has been worth it for the genuine shock on Ronan’s face.

They hammer out the details, and by that I mean Adam informs Blue that means they’ll be riding in a helicopter because Gansey is the kind of person who can just charter a helicopter whenever he wants with absolutely no problem. Blue says that she’ll come, because she’s Blue.

They don’t call it a date but they don’t call it not a date. I for one don’t care what it’s called, so long as the Gangsey can get together for a fun family outing before Ronan succeeds in building his ramp and subsequently totals his car. This is a win for everyone involved.

Thoughts and Feelings:

The emotional roller coaster this chapter took me on was pretty jarring, to say the least. Usually the transition from fun and lighthearted is done with more finesse than this. I think it’s because we usually have outside factors to shift our attention: a comment, a wasp, a fistfight. This time is was just that Adam was having a bad day and Ronan was being so undeniably and infuriatingly Ronan. It was just a tough sell, for me, to go from Ronan talking about Blue chopping off nuts to angsty grocery store Adam so fast. 0 to 100 in one paragraph.

I think this might be, for me, one of those “kill you darlings” situations. It’s clear to me that Stiefvater thought a lot about Adam’s backstory and understood the reasoning behind his choices. She wants us to understand Adam’s frustrations with Ronan the same way she does, and this incident is a manifestation of that anger. She probably really liked this scene, and I understand why—there’s some really beautiful phrasing and imagery in it. It feels real. I just don’t think it had to be here. I wouldn’t necessarily want it 100% gone, I just don’t think it fits where it is in the plot. This scene might have been Stiefvater’s darling, and a favorite of hers to write, but in my opinion it needed to be killed from this scene. Trust in the reader to understand why Adam feels resentment towards Ronan without spelling it out for me.

I don’t want to be too harsh, because I do really love this chapter. Noah is fantastic throughout, we get a great sense of Ronan’s paradoxical childishness (aka the iconic line, “Ramp. BMW. The goddamn moon.”), and the Adam/Blue phone call is more than I could have asked for. But all of the things I liked about it were light, and I would’ve liked to have seen them without needing to delve into the deep and existential soup that was the middle of this chapter.

That’s the only beef I had. Thanks for indulging me; I don’t often get to complain about the words Stiefvater puts on the page. It’s refreshing. Next up, HELICOPTER!

Best character moment:

Adam lifted his eyes to the sky. He thought he could hear Gansey coming. “Mountains. How do you feel about helicopters?”

There was a long pause. “How do you mean? Ethically?”

“As a mode of transportation.”

“Faster than camels, but less sustainable. Is there going to be a helicopter in your future today?”

Best turn of phrase:

Even the way the other boy had moved, Adam recalled, struck him: confident and careless, chin tilted, an emperor’s son.

Action: Ronan and Noah never finished their ramp, Adam never figured out his kickstand, the helicopter has not arrived. All the real action happened in Adam’s head—it’s a slow day so far. 5/10

Magic: Persephone and Orla not only forgo caller ID because they’re psychics, they are also not above betting over who’s calling on the phone. That’s magic used right. 8/10

Comic relief: As much as I love Ronan joking about Blue cutting Adam’s nuts off and Blue’s comparison of helicopters to camels, the middle of this chapter did not hold up its end of the comedic bargain. 7/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.19

Summary:

Remember when Blue woke up in the middle of the night and Neeve was being super sketchy (and by super sketchy I mean actively summoning a malignant demon)? Yeah, me too. Turns out Blue has been waiting all day to talk to someone about it and everyone is so busy they simply cannot bother with her. This is where Calla comes in. She smells like jalepeños, which means she’s angry, and throughout the course of the conversation she hands Blue all three bags she’s holding and concedes to being a part of Blue’s nefarious plan.

Basically, Calla is going to hold Neeve’s belongings and Blue is going to stand next to her, being the best little battery she possibly can. Calla’s down because she’s ornery and likes to be the baddest bitch in the room (we know nothing Neeve does can change that, but Calla doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight). What they have to contend with is Maura, who, for someone who has only given her daughter one order in her entire life, is being quite domineering. I like it.

Calla had once observed that Maura had no pets because her principles took too much time to take care of. Maura was a big believer in many things, one of them personal privacy.

But wait! The chapter’s not over! We were sent a gift from the gods of mush that consists of one (1) gratuitous flower-receiving scene wherein “Flowers by Andi” pulls up in front of Blue’s house and gives her the tiniest and cutest bunch of baby’s breath and one single white carnation. I might have cried, the first time I read this, mostly because Blue tells Andi the Flower Lady that they’re probably for Orla, but they’re not! They’re for Blue! Because Adam is a southern ass gentleman and none of us deserve him!

The card says “I hope you still want me to call –Adam” (which I would have put in italics if the book hadn’t put it in some weird default handwriting font—always respect the source text except when they do dumb things with fonts). This is a very cute way to resolve a relationship confusion and as much as I was feeling all squirmy because it was too cute, I was also kinda pissed. Nobody has ever sent me flowers like this, probably because real people suck and this scenario is a little beyond the scope of an actual non-magic entrenched high school boy. Still mad though.

But then, LIKE SHE ALWAYS DOES, Steifvater finds some way to slip in the fact that Gansey and his sexy, sexy journal are keeping Blue awake at night. This time it’s because she’s asking Calla for advice on the Disobeying Maura issue, but honestly it seems like Blue will find absolutely any reason to tell us why she hasn’t gotten her 8 hours, waking up before her alarms included.

Blue does what we always knew she would and decides to ignore Maura’s order. I am reminded of every Disney Channel Original Movie, because they all tried the same thing and Stiefvater did it better:

Once she’d seen his death laid out for him, and seen that he was real, and found out that she was meant to have a part in it, there had never been a chance that she would just stand by and let it happen. 

“Don’t tell Mom,” Blue said.

And that’s that! After 18 chapters of exposition and one glorious chapter (15) of confrontation, we are finally taking the plot to the magic and doing our darndest to find Glendower! Scenes from our next episodes include: helicopters, handholding, seashells, and poor boxing technique, but first we need to close with some of Blue’s most famous words.

Today, Blue thought, is the day I stop listening to the future and start living it instead.

Excelsior.

Thoughts and Feelings:

I’m a huge fan of this chapter, mostly because it contains the exact formula to get to my heart. We have Calla and three of her mysterious bags, one of which “manages to have corners”—one of the greatest literary feats of this novel is that Steifvater can say stuff like that and give the reader a precise image and also the giggles. We have Adam and Blue sweetness overload. And, to top it all off, a couple of quotes that I absolutely would have underlined had I been the type of person who is cool with writing in books.

I’m excited for the novel to get going, which you probably know since I’ve been bemoaning the slowness of the plot since I started this reread. But what I haven’t said is that I’m going to miss the slow and careful approach Stiefvater has to exposition, where she sketches out these characters and their backstories in a painstaking and lovely way. There is just enough revealed to us that we understand the key points of each character, but enough left out that we can come and fill in the rest for ourselves, which I do a little differently every time and makes the story that much more fun to read over and over.

That’s not to say new things won’t get revealed about the characters over the course of all four books, or that they won’t go on a journey. The Gangsey grows and changes so much and that’s probably the biggest reason I love this series. What I mean is that we’ve established our baseline, and it’s time for them to start changing. It’s like sending your kids off to preschool and knowing they’re going to come home a little smarter every day. Yeah, you want them to be able to put peas in their mouth instead of all over their face and the floor, but it’s still sad when you realize you won’t get to see their stupid pea-covered face anymore. Right now, Blue is naïve and her face is covered in peas, but she’s going to wipe them off soon. I’m scared and excited about it. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

Best Character Moment:

It was no portrait or fruit basket, but she couldn’t imagine Adam sending anything more dramatic. These little flowers were quiet and sparse, just like him. “I think they’re pretty.”

Best Turn of Phrase:

Calla tapped a finger on her lip. Both her lips and the nail she used to tap were deeply indigo, the color of octopus ink, the color of the deepest shadows in the rocky front yard.

Action: Okay, being real, not much. But Calla makes every moment seem charged, so I’m going to be generous. 5/10

Magic: They mention psychometry briefly, and they also cast doubts on Neeve, which is magic in and of itself. Also, everything Adam Parrish does is magic and I love him. 7/10

Comic Relief: We learn that Calla has bad-day burritos and everyone knows because when she comes home she straight up smelled like jalapeños. If you don’t think that’s hilarious your sense of humor is broken. 9/10