“Delightfully Bendy”

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal GirlPaul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightfully bendy!

EDIT:
This book was delightfully bendy and kept me constantly trying to untangle its interpretation of gender. It seemed to reinforce the gender binary one moment, and then to tear apart the binary a moment later. I’m intrigued that Paul never seemed to entirely identify with either being a boy or a girl; however he transformed his body, it didn’t change who he was inside in the slightest. Sometimes I had surface level knee-jerk reactions — like feeling a little defensive while reading Paul’s assessment of femininity and women — but Paul had such fascinating observations, and there was truth in a lot of what he observed. I loved this little adventure book.

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This Is How You Claim Your Story

The Epic Adventures of Lydia BennetThe Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prepare for a messy review, because I don’t think I can be articulate when it comes to this book.

The ways this book depicts mental illness, especially deep anxiety and trauma responses, is painfully accurate. To my experience, anyway. One of the themes of the books is failure. How to define failure, how to respond to it, how to learn from it. And moreover, how to not let a past failure define you.

Although I don’t think the word is ever used in reference to what George Wickham did to Lydia Bennet, the word that kept coming to mind as I read through this book was that what he did was “assault.” He took advantage of an insecure young woman, manipulated her into being vulnerable with him, into proving she loved him enough to make a sex tape, and then tried to sell their tape on the internet. Something that hit me so hard in this book is Lydia’s confusion. She talks a lot about the difference between understanding something with your mind vs. understanding it with her heart – Lydia really applies her new psych classes well here — and something she struggles with is understanding how her relationship with George ended. She knows logically that he left her and betrayed her, but she can’t reconcile those actions with the man who made her feel so loved and protected. Her heart can’t understand how it happened and changed so fast. There are a lot of facets of Lydia’s journey and healing in this book, but I’d say the biggest is Lydia reaching an emotional understanding of what happened, knowing this wasn’t her fault, and it was completely George in the wrong. She originally told her story to the LBD fans with careless abandon because it seemed fun, but then George and the internet ripped her agency away from her and tried to write their own ending.

They silenced her.

And in all the months since then, Lydia is trying to find a way to reclaim her agency, her story, and tell it in a way that encompasses who she was and who she now is, so that she can live with it and feel some kind of peace.

The original web series had a lot of compassion for Lydia Bennet and her situation, and that comes through in this novel as well. This novel, which gives closure to her story, is a way of letting Lydia take back her dignity after countless people took it away and stomped all over it. It’s impossible not to read this and extrapolate its messages out to anyone else who has suffered a trauma or been betrayed: Be kinder to yourself. You are trying to heal. And It’s okay not to be “over it.” Be kinder to yourself.

And as someone who needed to hear that message more than a few times in her life, I am so grateful this book exists and that Lydia found her way out of it. Lydia is a kind of blueprint for surviving traumatic relationships.

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My Continuing Book-ish Affair with the Owens Family

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t love this one *quite* as much as I loved Practical Magic, but honestly, given how much I loved that one, that’s a pretty high bar. At any rate, this book has a lovely beautiful and believable backstory for the aunts, and I understand more why they are as they are in the original book. I think I would’ve liked to have seen more peripheral story, because this story does take place r an interesting time in history, but where history does enter, it’s always very meaningful and deliberate. I’m looking forward to rereading Practical Magic sometime with my new knowledge.

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More and More Fairy Tales

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday HorrorThe Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I’d had read this all in one sitting as opposed 2 sittings with many months between, but this was a lovely book regardless. The stories manage to capture the vagueness and peculiarity of classic fairy tales while still turning the narrative on its head. It’s fascinating to see the varied sources that inspired each story.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “remixes”, especially as it relates to visual media, and reading this book while keeping remixes in mind made for a different, more critically engaging experience. I would say this is an example of a high art remix vs. the kind of remixes I’m used to thinking of like fanvids and fanfiction.

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The Careful Undressing of Love

The Careful Undressing of LoveThe Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beware, here there be spoilers.

There is so much to love in this book. I love how aware of itself it is, how Lorna points out the casual racism in Brooklyn that meets the Devonnaire Street Girls. The language is so so beautiful (I drew pink hearts next to all my favourite sections, and there are a lot of hearts). I adore how the prose weaves in and out of the past, how memories break into the present moment and color the reader’s understanding of the current events (like Lorna and her father’s conversation on page 95, with the conversation abut measuring love, or like all the other memories of Lorna’s father).

Throughout most of this book, I was screaming, “But what about the girls that don’t fall in love with boys?!” Aka, any girl who isn’t straight. And then the book addressed it. I feel mostly positive toward its portrayal of gay girls. What bothers me about it is how she was forced to closet herself, to “sacrifice,” but that’s more an issue with the toxic Devonnaire Street culture than it is with the story itself.

But that’s a perfect segue into my other nitpick with this story, and that’s Angelika, and the way she controlled the entire street. I thought the way Angelika acted was emotionally abusive, the way she slut-shamed the girls, policed their bodies and their agency, enforced the gender binary, and employed her racist views when choosing their clothes. Even though she thought she was justified, she psychologically tortured them and terrified them for this entire book, and it was cruel. And no one ever called her on it, even in the end, when it was pretty obvious that the Curse wasn’t real and her propaganda had killed a girl. The young women on this street were so damaged by this culture around them, and not once until the very end (until it was too late for one of them) did a logical adult step in to remove Angelika’s influence. I thought that was a little unsatisfying, but I suppose it could argued that it’s realistic; abusers don’t always get punished. (But I want them to!)

(Also, the press was so gross in this book. Can they just not sensationalize the tragedy of these girls’ lives?)

Overall, I liked the ending. I wanted Angelika to get punished, but it was beautiful that it was Lorna’s mom’s love for her daughter that ultimately saved them both, got them free of Devonnaire Street and let them have a fresh start. Especially since it was clear that they did both have people they loved romantically, but for their own good, and because they loved each other, they left them both behind.

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Keep Swimming, For Someday You Will Reach The Shore

It Ends with UsIt Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was not the kind of book I would naturally gravitate toward, and I think part of that is my preconception of it as a straight-up romance novel, which it is not. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that romance is present, but this is absolutely about Lily and her personal journey, her hardships and getting through it, and for me, that made all the difference.

Lily’s relationships with Atlas and Ryle are definitely present within the book, but to me, the most stand-out relationships were Lily’s relationships with other women in her life. Her friendship with Allysa was so pure, so selfless. It warms my heart that they each have such heartfelt well wishes for the other. And Lily and her mom, Jenny — that was another lovely relationship. It may have begun in a place of resentment and low-key antagonism, but the growth they experienced by the end was beautiful. Also, the Ellen DeGeneres letters were ❤

This is a book I think everyone should read, despite their genre preconceptions, because the central theme — which is basically that we aren’t always very sympathetic to people in Lily’s situation — is one that everyone can appreciate.

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“Flipper-Footing”

The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Low-key spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

After a few recent disappointments, it was so refreshing to read a book like this. The language was so lovely and I adore how new words are constructed. Listen to this — “when they had found flipper-footing they began to gallop toward me, as sheep hurry over their snowy field to a fresh-dropped hay bale, or pigs cross a sty at the clink of a slop bucket.” Flipper-footing. I have a new favourite word.

I had before never ventured into the realm of selkie fantasy fiction, but I’m glad to start here. Lanagan really captured the silent heartbreak of tearing these seal-women from the sea, the injustice and the cruelty of it. Frankly, by the end of this book, I would’ve quite happy to stand around with Miskaella and Trudle and watch the men stay miserable. Having stolen wives for at least two generations (my math is probably not up to snuff), I thought they deserved all the misery they got. But maybe I’m just being very uncharitable.

The book certainly did a good job of illustrating what an unhealthy love looks like, because none of these marriages, save that of Dominick’s mam and dad, were healthy. Misskaella enchanted the men and trapped the women; the men could not look beyond themselves enough to set their wives free; the seal-women loved their husbands but loved the sea more.

The seal-wives were extremely docile for much of the book; stealing their skins seemed to sap them of the spirit to protest their circumstances. That was frustrating, especially since only Daniel seemed to have the guts to release them. However, the seal-women found strength enough to do what was needed to escape and protect their children.

I also appreciate the glimmer of hope there at the end, with Lory and Daniel’s second meeting, him smiling. While slightly contrived, it was refreshing, like two souls breaking out of the shadows of the last generation. And Trudle… I didn’t expect to ever like her, but the final chapter from her perspective was so moving. I was happy that she was content as the island revived around her, that she discovered the last of Misskaella’s secrets.

All in all, a lovely read and one I’m proud to have on my bookshelf.

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