The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

I’m not in the business of writing “books reviews” so much as I’m in the business of writing “book reactions,” so my disclaimer is that I’m going to be talking about what I liked and didn’t like about whatever book I read most recently. That doesn’t mean things are necessarily good or bad, it just means they were either words in an order I appreciated, or words in an order that I didn’t.

Also, there probaby won’t be spoilers. I’m going to try and talk in circles so that I don’t reveal anything. I definitely don’t have that kind of talent, but I’ll do my best. Anyways, here goes: my review/reaction to The Book of Essie

I saw this book come up on Goodreads, and I have to say, it has one of the most captivating blurbs of all time. You’re hit with intrigue at all angles. Essie (you know, the titular character) is pregnant and needs to get married to save face for her family’s evangelical reality show. Her sister is missing. She’s trying to start a sham marriage with Roarke, who also has a secret. And guess who else has a secret? Conservative blogger turned liberal reporter, Liberty Bell.

Read that paragraph again and tell me you don’t want to go pick this book up from your local library immediately. I don’t think you can.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that it was high-brow literature. It read like an elevated version of a Lifetime movie. I’m not saying that to be mean, either–I love Lifetime movies. My mom and I record “Stalked By My Doctor” every time it comes on. What I’m saying is that many of the plot twists are overdramatized and it makes this one of the most captivating reads I’ve picked up in a while. And, unlike a Lifetime movie, it has a moral center! It deals with hard topics like conversion therapy and domestic abuse and not once does anyone in the narrative say those things are okay and get away with it. There’s a lot of forgiveness, but no lack of culpability, and that’s a win.

I’m a sucker for platonic relationships and we get the ultimate one between Roarke and Essie, which is nice. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that he agrees to fake marry her (if he didn’t would there even be a book at all?), but that decision marks the start of a very beautiful friendship. Even though there are times when both Essie and Roarke talk about their friendship to each other (which no character would do in real life so we know it’s purely for the sake of the young adult reader that may not pick up on the emotion that’s shown and not told), they’re cute like all the time.

Roarke does not say anything, but he reaches out a finger to touch my hand. I wonder if he’s doing it just to shore up the story of our romance, but when his finger hooks around my pinky, I realize that he really means to comfort me. I smile shyly, grateful for his friendship at least, even though it can never be more than that.

See? It’s nice. Platonic hand holding and trustworthiness is good for young adult readers.

Beyond that, though, there are times that the characters feel flat. Just a little too perfect in their goodness or in their wickedness. But I don’t begrudge MacLean Weir her right to make certain characters all bad. I think she did her research on evangelical reality TV (and by “evangelical reality TV” I mean 19 Kids and Counting) and realized that the people who let that kind of stuff continue in order to preserve a television show are despicable.

Others, as well, some devout and others less so, watching with morbid fascination the seeming contradiction that we epitomized. Our family rejected materialism and popular culture, and yet we also produced it…

The show paid for everything. 

The book is very clear that this kind of show is hypocritical, and created for all the wrong reasons. This sentiment is helped along as the point of view switches from Essie to Roarke to Liberty, and so the reader wants to agree with them about all things.

There were times, though, when I was mad at them I wanted them to not be perfect. I wanted Liberty to mess up and say something stupid, I wanted Roarke to yell at someone, I wanted Essie to throw something. There was a lot of forgiveness, which makes for a nice message but doesn’t allow for the kind of anger that’s also acceptable in Essie, Roarke, or Liberty’s situation. The only person who throws a punch was Lissa, and it happens off screen and is distinctly unsatisfying.

But overall, this book’s strengths lie in the fact that it explores the kind of things that fascinate people but repulse them at the same time. Essie’s situation is the kind of horrible I wanted to pretend has never and could never happen in the real world, and yet I know it has, and I’m grateful for the happy ending both she and I were given.

The Raven Boys Reread: 1.16

Summary:

This chapter is a nice break from the fraught conversations that took place when the Gangsey and the women of Fox Way were all in the same house. It also gives us gratuitous imagery of Gansey and Ronan in their pajamas (which is to say, their underwear). Thanks for that, Stiefvater. In exchange, I’ll try to talk about this chapter as a work of literature and not a teenage fantasy.

Everyone is asleep in Monmouth Maufacturing. Except, nobody is asleep, because Chainsaw is eating and it sounds goddamn disgusting. At first we don’t know it’s Chainsaw, and Gansey’s speculations as to what it could be are hilarious and also gross.

It sounded a little like one of his roommates was being killed by a possum, or possibly the final moments of a fatal cat fight. He wasn’t certain of the specifics, but he was sure death was involved.

Way to be dramatic, Gansey. It’s literally just a bird.

The sanctity of Ronan’s room is violated once again, and there he is in his boxers, feeding a baby bird. Gansey, and by extension me, spent some time admiring his tattoo before starting the argument about how Chainsaw is probably not an indoor bird and needs to shut up. Except that Gansey keeps calling her “Bird” and this is greatly upsetting to Ronan. The argument they have is hilarious, mostly because of Gansey’s polite bewilderedness after Ronan threatens Noah with a pair of tweezers.

The moment is also distinctly heartwarming, because although the noise has Noah close to tears, it’s showing a softer side of Ronan that Gansey has clearly been missing. Also, Chainsaw is a baby and Gansey is the kind of person who is good to babies because of his stern moral compass. Eventually the argument is solved, not because Gansey and Ronan reached an agreement but because they took so long that Chainsaw stopped being hungry. The boys seem unsure of what to do with themselves, so they start another argument. This time it’s about Gansey’s facial hair.

Ronan looked over his shoulder at him. He was sporting the five o’clock shadow that he was capable of growing at any time of the day. “Just stop. You look mangy.”

“It’s irrelevant. It’s not growing. I’m doomed to be a man-child.”

“If you keep saying things like ‘man-child,’ we’re done,” Ronan said. “Hey, man. Don’t let it get you down. Once your balls drop, that beard’ll come in great. Like a fucking rug. You eat soup, it’ll filter out the potatoes. Terrier style. Do you have hair on your legs? I’ve never noticed.”

Gansey didn’t dignify any of this with a response.

Hilarious.

Gansey goes back to lie on his bed but he doesn’t fall asleep. He’s feeling some type of way: lonely, dark, yearning. Before he can get too in his feelings, though, a buzzing comes from the window and we learn all in one sentence that Gansey is the type of person who’s allergic to bees and wasps, but for some reason leaves his epi-pen in the glove compartment of his car. He grabs a shoe and goes to the window to confirm that, yeah, it is a wasp, and yeah, he’s screwed.

Two narratives coexisted in his head. One was the real image: the wasp climbing up the wood, oblivious to his presence. The other was a false image, a possibility: the wasp whirring into the air, finding Gansey’s skin, dipping the stinger into him, Gansey’s allergy making it a deadly weapon.

Ronan runs in and steals the shoe from Gansey, killing the wasp before anything bad can happen. He’s careful about picking the wasp up off the floor and putting it into the trash can, but he’s also pissed off, because Noah told him that if Gansey left, Adam was going with him. Of course Ronan’s invited, we think, but then again we don’t have Ronan’s abandonment issues and can think objectively on the subject.

The chapter ends with Ronan trying desperately to get Gansey to guess his secrets. The only common understanding we get is that “it’s starting.” Good. Let’s begin.

Thoughts and Feelings:

The only word I can use to describe this chapter is sweet. It’s just a couple of really sweet boys, being sweet with baby animals and each other (never with themselves, though, that would be too easy).

I like to think of this bit as Gansey and Ronan’s Big Romantic Chapter. Because this is a young adult series and needed to be marketed to teenagers, you have to set up every pairing as possibly romantic. This chapter shows what you would get with Gansey and Ronan: why it would work (Ronan kills wasps and Gansey allows birds in the apartment) and also, the many reasons why it wouldn’t (everything else thing they do or say).

Just think about the fact that Ronan ran into the room, and not only killed the wasp but picked it up off the floor “so that Gansey wouldn’t step on it.” He hit the wasp twice, once on the window (so hard that it almost broke, might I add) and then again on the floor. Think about that for a goddamn second and tell me they don’t love each other.

Especially since, at this point, we’re pretty starved for Ronan POV. There are a lot of instances where Gansey or Blue or Adam describe how very Ronan something is, but the wasp situation is really the first time that we see the depth of emotion Ronan feels. His anger, which is so often described as being dark and bloody and sharp, is directed at something that could hurt Gansey, and suddenly it becomes caring. And sweet. I can’t tell you enough how sweet it is.

Best character moment:

Gansey didn’t know how to describe how it felt, to see death crawling inches from him, to know that in a few seconds, he could have gone from “a promising student” to “beyond saving.” He turned to Ronan, who had painstakingly picked up the wasp by a broken wing, so that Gansey wouldn’t step on it.

Best turn of phrase:

The monochromatic lines of it were stark in the claustrophobic lamplight, more real than anything else in the room. It was a peculiar tattoo, both vicious and lovely, and every time Gansey saw it, he saw something different in the pattern. Tonight, nestled in an inked glen of wicked, beautiful flowers, was a beak where before he’d seen a scythe.

Action: Frankly? Not a lot going on except for some fighting and a whole lotta love. 5/10

Magic: Magic bird magic bugs magic friendship. It’s all around us. 9/10

Comic relief: It’s gonna be funnier when Gansey actually grows a beard to filter the potatoes out of his soup, but for now this will do. 11/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.12

Summary:

This summary won’t be very long, because the gist of this chapter is: ADAM ISN’T HERE and SCHOOL IS ANNOYING AND NOBODY WANTS TO GO. But I’m obligated to go into more detail than that, so here we go.

Gansey pulls up to the dirt road that leads into Adam’s neighborhood, and he’s not there. To accurately describe the place where Adam lives, we’re taken back to the first time Gansey ever carpooled with Adam. First, he thought Adam’s road was just a clean spot of grass for him to turn around and look for an actual driveway. Then he pulled up to Adam’s front door, and the piece of human garbage that calls himself Robert Parrish spotted the Aglionby merch Gansey was sporting and gave him our newest nickname: the S.R.F. (soft, rich, etc.). So that’s why Gansey stops at little grove of mailboxes instead of pulling up to Adam’s house. And the human garbage dump that lives at the end of the road is why we’re all worried when Adam doesn’t show.

So, here’s where we are with the whole carpool situation: Adam doesn’t have a phone. Nobody knows where he is. Gansey counts down the minutes until the 15 minute drive to school becomes too long to make it on time, wishing that he could just skip school and go run around in the woods looking for a sleeping Welsh king. But he can’t, because Aglionby is actually a pretty good school, and Gansey doesn’t plan on asking Glendower for a passing grade in pre-calc. This means that, to appease his father and keep his trust fund intact, Gansey has to be at school on time.

Dick Gansey II had let his son know that if he couldn’t hack it in a private school, Gansey was cut out of the will.

He’d said it nicely, though, over a plate of fettucine.

And so Richard Gansey III turns the Pig around and drives to Aglionby, thinking maybe Adam will already be there. Spoiler alert: he isn’t.

Gansey figures this out when he gets to Latin, and, surprise! Adam’s not there. Ronan informs him that Adam wasn’t in second period, either. So nobody knows where Adam is, and they can’t ask, because he doesn’t have a cell phone.

A few months earlier, Gansey had offered to buy Adam a cell phone, and by doing so had launched the longest fight they’d ever had, a week of silence that had resolved itself only when Ronan did something more offensive than either of them could accomplish.

Someone tells Ronan they’re going to “fuck him up” (it’s Kavinsky, but we won’t get into that until book two), and Gansey thinks about needing to hire a babysitter for Friday nights. He’s distracted, though, when he finds out that Ronan is carrying Chainsaw in his bag. Our boy literally smuggled a baby bird into class because Google said he had to feed it every two hours.

“If you get caught with that thing—“ But Gansey couldn’t think of a suitable threat. What was the punishment for smuggling a live bird into classes? He wasn’t certain there was precedent. He finished, instead, “If it dies in your bag, I forbid you to throw it out in a classroom.”

Tell me this kind of banter isn’t exactly what you needed today. And then, like he’s just here to ruin this moment, Whelk turns around and starts eavesdropping on their conversation. Ronan manages to say what we’re all thinking, calling Whelk a “socially awkward shitbird,” and even Gansey admits that he’s a tool. Once that’s established it’s back to Adam: where is he and why isn’t he in school? It’s time for Latin, do you know where your kids are?

Before they can get very far in the conversation, Whelk asks Ronan why his bag is so large. It’s because there’s a baby bird in it, but Ronan can’t say that so instead he asks Whelk if he knows what they say about men with large bags, and then a punchline in Latin. I put it in google translate and it means “you show me yours and I will show,” but I think we can remember that Google Translate is a robot and therefore imperfect, and reasonably assume it means “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” Which, um, Ronan said to his teacher.

Whelk doesn’t do anything because Ronan said it in Latin (so even Gansey didn’t know what it meant) and he really can’t complain. The only thing he can do is teach a class, which Adam never shows up to. We can only hope the rest of the day goes quickly.

Thoughts and Feelings:

The story of how Gansey learned where to pick Adam up is heartbreaking in the quiet way that Stiefvater approaches the whole issue of Adam and his father. All throughout the beginning of the novel we hear about it like it’s something everybody knows but doesn’t want to talk about, and because that’s the way the characters understand the situation, it works. I’m certainly not an expert on subjects like this, and so I don’t want to make wild claims or assumptions about domestic abuse or violence. But so far, it’s never been stated explicitly. We all know about it, we’re all miserable about it, and, as readers, there’s nothing we can do.

And then what we hear about Adam refusing to take a cell phone from Gansey, the way he has to earn his own money and buy his own things. The way this plays out over the rest of the series is one of those undeniably human problems. Like, if Adam would just be less stubborn there would be so many less issues to resolve. He could move into Monmouth, he could stop working and Gansey could give him a loan, but Adam wouldn’t be Adam if he did those things. We have to sacrifice the ease of having all our characters in one place, searching for their lost king, for a group of characters that are flawed and human. Except for Barrington Whelk, who is all flaw and no human.

I just think this chapter shows why these books do such a fabulous job of giving us people that live beyond the page, and that’s why as much as it really was just a lot of “Adam isn’t here” and “I don’t want to attend this prestigious boarding school because I have better things to do,” it was also full of important details and moments that should not be overlooked.

Best character moment:

Gansey contemplated if he could give Ronan a curfew. Or if she should quit rowing to spend more time with him on Fridays—he knew that was when Ronan got into trouble with the BMW.

Best turn of phrase:

Ronan kept staring at Whelk. He was good at staring. There was something about his stare that took something from the other person.

Action: Honestly? Not much. But Ronan did talk about his balls in Latin, so. A different kind of action? 4/10

Magic: The only magic mention comes when Gansey says he’s tired and sad and no longer thinks Chainsaw is Not A Coincidence. Boo that. -1/10

Comic relief: Every chapter where Gansey is trying to keep Ronan under any semblance of control is comedic gold. 12/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.11

Summary:

The first thing that happens in this chapter is that Blue wakes up exactly 1 hour and 23 minutes before her alarm. Now, when I was reading about Whelk and his time at Aglionby I absolutely could not relate to the high school experience. But waking up before your alarm and absolutely hating yourself for it? That’s a High School Mood if I’ve ever seen one.

The wake-up call is Maura and Neeve fighting over whether or not Neeve should “look at” Henrietta. Neeve’s argument is that she can’t help it; the town is loud and she’s just listening. Maura’s protective over Henrietta and inadvertently lets slip to Blue that she asked Neeve to come to Henrietta and look for Blue’s father. The only thing we know about him is that we don’t know anything.

In Blue’s head, he was a dashing heroic figure who’s had to vanish because of a tragic past. Possibly to a witness protection program. She liked to image him stealing a glimpse of her over the backyard fence, proudly watching his strange daughter daydream under the beech tree. 

Blue was awfully fond of her father, considering she’d never met him.

Blue falls asleep and then wakes up before her alarm again, which has got to be some kind of sick joke. But what wakes her up this time is realizing that today is the day she’s going to meet Gansey (or so she thinks). In order to comfort herself she looks through his journal, and I can’t decide if that’s cute or weird. Or maybe a little bit of both, since Blue’s reasoning for not having friends is that everyone else is too normal for her. It all sounds like that impassioned speech Jughead makes in Riverdale—have you ever seen Blue take off that stupid hat? That’s weird, she’s weird—because she doesn’t have any friends and isn’t learning anything important, high school is pointless and she doesn’t want to go. Does that sound like anyone to you? Maybe someone who drives an orange Camaro and looks for Welsh kings in his spare time?

Instead of leaving for school like Orla keeps telling her to do, Blue goes to talk to Persephone, one of her mother’s best friends. Persephone is our favorite manic pixie dream girl, except that she’s not a dream nor is she manic, and I wouldn’t call her a girl, either. She fits the trope for about three seconds and then she blows it wide open, making me wish that she was a side character in every book I’ve ever read.

“Good morning,” Blue said.

“Good morning,” Persephone echoed. “It’s too early. My words aren’t working, so I’ll just use as many of the ones that work for you as possible.”

I don’t know what that means, but I do know it’s delightful. Persephone is working on a project that turns out to be a piece of paper with the word three written on it 3 times, and a pie recipe (banana cream, if you’re wondering). Blue suggests this could mean that good things come in threes. Persephone says maybe they come in sevens, you never know.

The real reason Blue knocked on Persephone’s door was to get her opinion on the journal. Persephone then delivers one of the most badass line in the history of the series when Blue asks her how she knows the journal isn’t hers:

Persephone paged back and forth. Her dainty, child’s voice was soft enough that Blue had to hold her breath to hear it. “This is clearly a boy’s journal. Also, it’s taking him forever to find this thing. You’d have already found it.”

Blue wants to know what her next move is. Persephone’s advice is to find the owner of the journal, and then find out if its contents are true. I assume Blue then gets on her bike and goes to school, finally listening to the myriad of Sargent women who have been screaming up the stairs all morning.

Thoughts and Feelings:

The attachment Blue develops to this journal in such a short period of time is wild. This book focuses mostly on Blue’s relationship to Adam, and if anything her interactions with Gansey are focused on the two of them searching for any sort of common ground on which to meet. But I’m surprised that I didn’t notice, in my earlier reading, how hard Blue falls for the side of Gansey she sees in the journal. It’s the Gansey Adam sees outside of Aglionby. And the journal brings the same nesting doll syndrome out of Blue:

She closed the pages. It felt as if there were a larger, terribly curious Blue inside her that was about to bust out of the smaller, more sensible Blue that held her.

When I think about how the plot of the series was originally framed, especially in the first couple of chapters, as “Blue will have a forbidden love because her kiss is cursed” being the main conflict, it can feel like we don’t get enough of that as we’re promised in the first installment. But it is, if you just look for it!

As for Persephone, her and Calla are some of the greatest characters in Henrietta (I know I say that about a lot of people, because if you hadn’t already noticed Steifvater has a knack for creating beautiful and complicated characters). Our introduction to Persephone, as Steifvater takes us through the layers of Persephone that people really see: the hair, the outfits, the mirror-black eyes. And then she strips that all away by giving us a woman who’s a psychic who speaks in echoes and is writing a thesis for her PhD (the PhD bit really endears me to her future relationship with Adam). What a woman.

Best character moment:

When she touched the beech tree, she felt at once comforted and anxious: reassured and driven to action.

Best turn of phrase:

When pressed, people often remembered Persephone’s hair: a long, wavy white-blonde mane that fell to the back of her thighs. If they got past her hair, they sometimes remembered her dresses—elaborate, frothy creations or quizzical smocks. And if they made it past that, they were unsettled by her eyes, true mirror black pupils hidden in the darkness.

Action: Besides people constantly yelling at Blue to get a move on, she never actually got her move on. In the words of many early 2000s movies, come on barf breath, you’re gonna be late for school! 6/10

Magic: Blue is learning about Welsh magic and the magic of a really beautiful scrapbook. Also, Persephone definitely saw some stuff about that banana cream pie. 11/10

Comic relief: I’ll repeat myself: Persephone DEFINITELY saw some stuff about that banana cream pie. 9/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.10

Summary:

Unfortunately, it’s time for us to check back in with Barrington Whelk. I’ll try to pretend I’m creating an objective and unbiased summary, but I’m going to fail. Here goes nothing.

Barrington Whelk is an insomniac! I’m reminded of Gansey’s late-night model building habits, but, unlike Gansey, Whelk’s sleeping patterns are because of voices in his head acquired when he killed his best friend. And, even more unlike Gansey, Whelk takes the time spent awake not building houses but thinking about that time he, um, killed his best friend.

He seemed more wakeful at the full moon and after thunderstorms, but beyond that, it was difficult to predict. In his mind, he imagined that it was the magnetic pulse of the ley line itself, somehow invited into his body through Czerny’s death.

Thinking about the ley line gives Whelk an idea: why doesn’t he use the time spent not sleeping to do some nefarious plotting and try to fix his life by finding Glendower? He pulls out some maps he made with Czerny when they were teenagers and reexamines them. Their handwriting is all over them: they dowsed and took readings and toured the Virginia countryside. They came to the same conclusion as Malory and decided to do a ritual to wake the line up, but were chickenshit about it and kept pushing the date back.

Until, of course, the government seized his father’s fortune and left Whelk with nothing but $10 in his pocket and a leather couch.

The whole thing was all very public. The Virginia playboy, heir to the Whelk fortune, suddenly evicted from his Aglionby dorm, relieved of his social life, freed from any hope of his Ivy League future, watching his car being loaded onto a truck and his room emptied of speakers and furniture.

Apparently they’d been watching his family for years, and I really hope they pulled a Matilda and pretended to be speedboat salesmen parked outside the house. I have a feeling that’s not what happened, but I have no problem ignoring that feeling and believing in The Matilda Theory anyway.

Back to the story: Whelk finds himself with nothing and Czerny rolls up in a Mustang. That’s it for Whelk, who moves up the time of the ritual to as soon as possible because he simply cannot stand to be shown up by his best friend and future murder victim. The chapter ends, but we can fill in the blanks: Czerny dies, Whelk has nothing, and goes back home to become a bitter Latin teacher at the alma mater he never actually graduated from. 

Thoughts and Feelings:

I really appreciate the use of thunderstorms and full moons as a method for Whelk’s sleeplessness. It’s like the ley line knows that’s the dumbest way to come up with a pattern and is personally trying to mess with Whelk just because it knows just as well as I do that he’s literally the worst. But then again, the fact that Whelk’s map has so many more circles than Gansey’s is interesting to me. Does it mean that people have just been telling Gansey he’s good at finding stuff even though he sucks at it, or do I have to admit Whelk knows what he’s doing? It’s crazy to me that we can have this character who’s so beyond pathetic and yet competent enough to find multiple energy points on the ley line (using his “complicated” dowsing rod that’s just a bent clothing hanger and does not sound that hard to make).

I might be biased, but I’m a huge fan of Czerny and his red pen and red car (pick a color and stick to it, guys, it’s good for your branding). And then Whelk steals his girlfriend and murders him! High school was not like that for me. Not even a little bit. People didn’t really steal people’s significant others, and there was certainly no murder. Aglionby boys really are on some shit, and Blue’s rules are 100% warranted. I also can’t wait for her to break them and hang out with the Gangsey now that we’re done hearing from Barrington Whelk for a couple more chapters.

Best character moment:

Czerny had pulled up in his red Mustang. He hadn’t got out of the car. “Does this make you white trash now?” he’d asked. Czerny didn’t really have a sense of humor. He just sometimes said things that happened to be funny.

Best turn of phrase:

Back then, it had been a game, a treasure hunt. A play for glory. Was it true? It didn’t matter. It was an expensive exercise in strategy with the East Coast as the playing field.

Action: We did get an FBI investigation Danny DeVito would be proud of, so what is there to complain about? 8/10

Magic: The magic in this chapter spends its time torturing Whelk, and it does it outside of the constraints of temporal time. Hilarious. 11/10

Comic relief: It was mostly a downer. Czerny did have that one shining moment, but it was only funny because it was true, so. 3/10

The Raven Cycle Reread: 1.9

Summary:

This chapter is an emotional rollercoaster. Please keep all your limbs attached and maybe grab a cupcake (gluten-free or otherwise) in case this gets too much for all of us.

Gansey’s phone rings in the middle of the night just so Stiefvater can give us the delicious detail that he’s basically blind and sometimes he wears glasses. Cue thirteen-year-old me picturing Gansey in wire-frames and losing my goddamn mind. Originally he’s pissed, but when he realizes it’s his ancient scholarly friend Dr. Roger Malory, he’s ready and eager to learn. Except it’s Malory, so he doesn’t learn anything. At least, not right away:

Malory launched into a one-sided conversation about the weather, the historical society’s past four meetings and how frustrating the neighbor with the collie was. Gansey understood about three-quarters of the monologue.

After I take a minute to fall in love with Roger Malory, we get to the good stuff: the theory is that the ley line is so hard to find because it’s sleeping, and the best course of action would be to wake it up. Although all it takes to wake Glendower is to find his tomb and shout “HEY OWEN GET UP,” the ley lines are underground and won’t be so easy to rouse. Malory’s found a ritual he’s going to try on his own UK version of the ley line, and says he’ll be in touch. After one more story about his mother’s death at the hands of the British healthcare system, he hangs up and leaves Gansey to stew in his own impatience.

He wanted nothing more than to start scouring books for further support for this new idea, school day be damned. He felt a rare stab of resentment at being a teen, being tied to Aglionby; maybe this was how Ronan felt all the time.

Gansey wants to talk to someone about this frustration and thinks Ronan might be his best bet, given the whole you-feel-how-I-feel-let’s-commiserate conversation they’d probably have. Unfortunately, Ronan’s room is empty and he’s not answering his phone. This is where the present has to stop for the past: we’re discovering both Adam and Ronan at the same time and Gansey’s panic makes perfect sense.

The first thing Gansey does is call Adam. All he has to say is “Ronan’s gone” and Adam agrees to go looking. The very act of calling Adam reveals how desperate the situation is, though:

It wasn’t an easy thing to leave the Parrish household in the middle of the night. The consequences of getting caught could leave physical evidence, and it was getting too warm for long sleeves. Gansey felt wretched for asking this of him.

And Noah reminds Gansey why he was so desperate in the first place just by emerging from his room.

Six months ago, the only time it mattered, Noah had found Ronan in an introspective pool of his own blood, and so he was exempt from ever having to look again.

Gansey isn’t the only one who feels wretched.

The BMW’s engine is cold and Noah had suggested Gansey try the church, so that’s where he goes. He finds Ronan lying in a pew and Steifvater gives us a page of suspense as she spins beautiful descriptions of Gansey’s terror. We’re relieved to hear Ronan is awake and drunk off his ass. And also, it seems, holding a baby bird. The bird is a raven, which excites and confuses Gansey. Glendower’s bird is the raven( but Ronan, who’s slurring his words and reeks of alcohol, is decidedly not Glendower). Eventually Gansey agrees to let the bird live in Monmouth anyways, and he does his best to drag Ronan home.

As Ronan unsteadily climbed to his feet, the raven hunched down in his hands, becoming all beak and body, no neck. He said, “Get used to some turbulence, you little bastard.”

“You can’t name it that.”

“Her name’s Chainsaw,” replied Ronan, without looking up.

Noah emerges from the shadows in the church, where his sole purpose seems to be allowing Ronan to insult him. The Gansey that was frantic over Ronan gives way to the one we knew at the beginning of the chapter, nerdy and eager and open. He’s happy Chainsaw joined their little crew, because she’s a raven and he’s hunting her king. And then, they all go home and get back to hunting. The end. 

Thoughts and Feelings:

This is the chapter where Ronan’s character bursts wide open. I may have taken issue with the overload of imagery describing Ronan as “sharp” and “dangerous” in previous chapters, and I stand by that statement. But if I could quote the entire chapter in the summary, I would—there’s really nothing I can say to do it justice or quote I can pull out to encapsulate it. Stiefvater weaves through this idea that the magic in Henrietta, the magic that Blue’s family is drawn to, the magic that Gansey has traced here, is not entirely benevolent. And neither is she.

These characters have such full experiences before we even get to them, and we’re able to understand the breadth of these experiences without pages and pages of flashbacks or character therapy. The line “Sometimes, Gansey felt like his life was made up of a dozen hours he could never forget” does it all right there. It’s an insane narrative feat that I’m still not over, and this book was published in 2012.

Also (I haven’t fully figured out how much I want to include spoilers yet, but know that this paragraph will contain a lot of them if you need to look away), the amount of foreshadowing in these ten pages alone is astounding. Noah is ghosty not once but twice, Ronan literally admits Chainsaw came from his mind, and Gansey thinks Ronan is dead and only waking up because he commands him to. That’s covering major plot twists from Dream Thieves and Raven King, not to mention really hammering home the fact that Noah does not look like a regular boy immediately before a Whelk-POV chapter. It’s hovering right on the border between subtle and obvious and I have to say if I was a first time reader I probably still wouldn’t get it.

What I do get is how utterly hilarious Gansey’s reaction is when Ronan accuses him of hypocrisy. “I drink,” he says, “I do not get drunk.” If there was anyone who was trying to argue that Gansey isn’t a 40-year-old man, they should stop right now. What kind of teenager gets home from school and pours themselves a scotch on the rocks to begin work on their cereal-box model of small-town Virginia? I would’ve said no kind, but honestly now I can’t imagine Gansey doing anything else.

All right, my brother is snoring in the room next to me and if I don’t stop typing and try to go to sleep I’m going to go crazy, so I’ll end it here. Just know I can’t stress enough how beautiful and haunting this chapter is and nothing I say can do it justice.

Best character moment:

“What if I implement a no-pets policy at the apartment?”

“Well, hell, man,” Ronan replied with a savage smile, “you can’t just throw out Noah like that.”

Best turn of phrase:

And there Ronan was, stretched out on one of the shadowed pews, an arm hanging off the edge, the other skewed above his head, his body a darker bit of black in an already black world. He wasn’t moving.

Action: The Gangsey goes on a wild goose chase but finds a raven instead. If that’s not action-packed what is? 10/10

Magic: It’s dark and spooky and malevolent until Gansey reunites with Ronan, and even then it’s not good or bad, just…lurking. That’s the kind of magic I signed up for! 12/10

Comic relief: In a dark chapter, Malory, Noah, and drunk Ronan are here to lift us up. 8/10

Books that Changed My Life: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I have a very complicated relationship with the many English teachers in my life (see here for details). But I won’t deny that they’re the ones who started me on books that weren’t Percy Jackson and other series doing their best to bring fairy tales/various mythologies/anything they could into the modern era, with a snarky but lovable twelve-year-old as the protagonist.

6th Grade was the first year we read books and really discussed them, and The Outsiders was the first book on the list. I guess I’ll never know if my love for The Outsiders is because it’s a good book or if it’s tied up in my love of exhaustive character analysis, but whatever the reason, it’s up there with my favorite books of all time.

It’s not because of the classic lines. “Stay gold, Ponyboy” is nice, but it’s not the reason I have three separate copies of the book, and it’s definitely not the reason my birthday presents consisted of the movie’s Blu-Ray extended edition and a necklace with a piece of the book in it (I’m not crazy, I promise). It’s because I was able to look at a group of teenage hoodlums from 1960’s Tulsa and have a conversation with them. I knew about the poems Ponyboy liked to read, I knew how Soda took his eggs with grape jelly, I knew about the soft spot Dally had for Johnny.

In every other book I’d read, backstory was given in a neat little paragraph near the end of chapter one. Relatable Boy With Strange Yet Prophetic Name (Like Bartimus Crow Or Something) has a father who is presumed dead, but we all know he’s just missing. Now let’s start the quest to go get him back, and then Relatable Boy With Strange Yet Prophetic Name (Like Bartimus Crow Or Something) and Quirky Friends 1 and 2 can have a nice triumphant ending! Even Harry Potter had an air of predictability to it, a formula that let me know if Voldemort wasn’t there yet, he’d be there soon so Harry could defeat him.

The Outsiders let me come to my own conclusions: my opinions of characters evolved as I learned new things about them, there were no plot twists or switcheroos, no sarcastic fight scenes. Just a switchblade in the hand of a sixteen-year-old and a moral dilemma.

So this post is less of a review and more of a love letter to The Outsiders, explaining why I read it at least four times a year and have three different copies of it. From when I read (and annotated) it in 6th Grade, calling the Socs “Socks” in my head and thinking I was clever for picking up on the fire symbolism, to the 50th anniversary hardcover I got for Christmas last year, along with my very own DVD (so I could look at Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze every day), The Outsiders has never been confined to its pages.

The return of Cherry Valance, as illustrated by a Sixth Grader

These characters spread out and get under your skin. They live beyond the story. They’ve burrowed their way into my head, as real as any of the other friends I made in middle school.

So a big thank you to Steve and Dally, for being mean guys but good people. Thanks to Two-Bit for being lazy and caring, Darry for being hard but kind, Soda for being shallow and sweet. Thanks to Johnny for being good. And the biggest thank you to Ponyboy (and S.E. Hinton) for showing me that you don’t have to be an adult to write literature for kids. In fact, sometimes it’s better if you’re not. There are countless word documents with mermaid and fairy stories that owe their existence to Ponyboy showing me I had the authority to be a writer. They’re terrible, yes, but they were a start.

Wise advice from eleven-year-old me (that was not listened to)

I’ll probably write another post the next time I reread The Outsiders. I’ll never be done talking about it. But for now, I just want to apologize for the sappiness and nostalgia I participated in just now. It’s been 8 years and I’m still not over it. That’s why this is called, you know. Books That Changed My Life.

Let me know if you’ve ever had experience with The Outsiders, in school or out of it. Did you like it a fraction of the amount I did? Did you hate the non-extended movie version as much as I did? Or have you read it and thought it was just an okay kid’s book? When you stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, were there only two things on your mind? I’ll bet they were Paul Newman, and a ride home.