Gone Home: a chat.

In which Evan and Tessa discuss a new video game that they played together and really liked. (So did other people – it is a 2013 Finalist for Excellence in Narrative from the Independent Games Festival as well as getting an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Audio and Seumas McNally Grand Prize!)

screenshot from Varewulf.wordpress.com

screenshot from Varewulf.wordpress.com

Tessa: So, Evan. I learned about Gone Home via a Rookie Mag Saturday Links list in March. I think I talked to you about it, or you noticed that I liked its Facebook entity, or something. Did you hear about it somewhere else, or did you hear about it through me?

Evan: I heard about the game through you mentioning it to me. I remember us talking about a video game to play together while I was playing Bioshock: Infinite and you brought up Gone Home. I don’t really follow video game news or play many games these days so I’m pretty blind when it comes to 99% of new releases. After you mentioned it I watched a trailer and the game started to intrigue. I love adventure games and the idea of interactive stories. As somebody that doesn’t really play video games, what made you interested in Gone Home?

Tessa: It was the whole atmosphere of the game – the 90s riot grrrl bands, an empty house, the sound of rain on the roof and windows. Although I grew up during the riot grrrl phase, I never got to be one (instead, I described myself as a riot nrrrd), so I felt like this could be my chance to play one in a video game.
from Jenny Woolworth's Riot Grrrl Diary

from Jenny Woolworth’s Riot Grrrl Diary

As it turns out, you get to play the sister of someone who becomes part of the scene, so I still didn’t get to fulfill my fantasy. Maybe there will be a game based on Blake Nelson’s Girl in the future. One can hope.

Also, we’d been talking about finding a video game to play together and this one looked like it wouldn’t require so many hand-eye coordination skills. I’m not a huge gamer because I kind of suck at using video game controls. Even when I did play NES during my youth, I would get too into the game and hobble myself with a combination of physical enthusiasm (jumping when my character should jump) and mental terror (what if my character does not make it across that chasm?), so the experience was exciting but terminally frustrating.

So I spend my free time doing things at which I can improve.

What I’m saying is I’m glad you’re into board games.

Is this the time that we declare that this discussion might get spoilery? And do you want to describe your first impressions of the game/the basic plot?

the last game system Tessa seriously played, a.k.a. the point at which you can stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers

the last game system Tessa seriously played, a.k.a. the point at which you can stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers

Evan: Definitely. What makes Gone Home special is the story and it’s pretty impossible to discuss the game meaningfully without discussing what happens in it. Despite my desire for blogging fame I’m going to make an impassioned plea that if you are interested in Gone Home that you should navigate away from this page, log in to Steam, download Gone Home and play it. Then come back here and read.

How to know if this is something for you? If you’re interested in interactive storytelling, video games with rich atmosphere and expertly crafted characters, if you’re interested in exploring a creepy house and looking for the clues to a mystery then you’ll probably dig Gone Home. You will not be killing anything or solving complex puzzles, you will be experiencing a story. Go play it.

With that out of the way, in Gone Home you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 21 year old woman returning home from a European trip in 1995. While she was away her family moved to a large mansion outside Seattle. She arrives home on a dark, rainy night to find a note on the front door from her younger sister and nobody home. As Kaitlin you’re trying to find out what happened to your family by exploring the mansion.

I fell in love with this game almost instantly. The set-up is really juicy. The game tosses you into this scenario with almost no background and plays on your lack of knowledge rather effectively. Mechanically the game is really simple. All you can really do is walk around, pick up objects, rotate them, and read various notes and letters left behind. There are lots of details to dig into in the house. It was fun to just go slow and search for a little tidbit of information that would reveal more of the story.

What are your feelings about the very beginning of the game? Did you have any expectations for how the game would play or what it was about beyond the basic premise?

Tessa: I was really into the game from the beginning, too. From the menu, actually, which I found out was done by Emily Carroll, an artist whose work I’d previously admired in comics form (especially in a creepy story in the Explorer: The Mystery Boxes collection). It turns out her wife (Kate Craig) is one of the game designers, so Emily illustrated the start page,along with in-game maps, and the font is based on her handwriting (more info here):

How great is that? The dusky sky lit by some illumination – the setting sun? The one light on in the whole rambling house emerging from the trees, with the door left slightly open – it’s not clear whether in neglect or invitation. The image works against the usual connotations of the word “home”, and then “gone” takes a double meaning. So the atmosphere is apparent immediately.

The game itself opens with Kaitlin seeing her family’s new house for the first time. It’s raining. The enclosed front porch is lit by a lonely lamp, and she has to find the key (our first task as players).

I personally find it difficult to imagine that anyone in the world doesn’t like the idea of exploring a big old empty house, so I was already into it. And then when she finds a Christmas themed duck, and a text box proclaims “Good ol’ Christmas Duck”, I was delighted.  There was humor, familiarity, character, history.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the graphics in Gone Home aren’t trying to fool you into thinking that it’s anything but a video game. It isn’t Final Fantasy-level…rendering? I don’t know what the word is.

Not to say that creating a game didn’t take lots of love and work, but they don’t have to, because the strength is in the story. Your brain attaches to the story that you’re building through exploration and smoothes out the edges of what you’re seeing, so it doesn’t end up mattering. It feels real.

I didn’t have any expectations about how the game would play, but I did somehow expect that it would have a creepy angle.  And there are some moments in there that pander to that expectation – but this isn’t a murder mystery or a tragic story.

As much as I want to play a video game where I explore a haunted house, I’m glad that my expectations weren’t met, and impressed that they were fooled with by the game designers – not just the stories of the parents, which I thought could go in a couple different directions, but the back story of the house’s original owner, especially a blown light bulb in particular.

That story I hope requires some further digging. I’d like more than the hints we have now.

What did you think of the game experience compared to your other video gaming experiences? Do you think it lends itself to more than one play?

Evan: The title screen is super impressive. It feels like the cover to a book, which is appropriate because Gone Home feels like an interactive book. I’m glad you mentioned the Christmas Duck and the textbox joke. There were lots of great little moments like that in the game. I especially liked when you find a condom in your parents bedroom and the text description of it is just “Eww.” I loved all the items you could interact with. I liked finding tapes to put in stereos or playing records that you find. All those little things add to the character of the house.

Good point on the “horror” elements of the game. They are definitely there to subvert the expectations of the player. Gone Home is a game that is boldly about ordinary people. I listened to a great extended interview with one of the game’s creators (Steve Gaynor) on the Qt3 Games Podcast, and he explained that those moments are in the game to help ground it in reality. For example if you find a teenage girl’s ghosthunting journal in a video game the expectation is that at some point of the game you’ll be seeing ghosts, but if you found one in somebody’s house in the real world you would just think it was the result of kids having fun and not assume that the house is haunted.

As you begin to piece together more and more information from exploring the house you begin to realize that your younger sister Sam has met Lonnie, a young woman at her new high school. As the two girls bond and become friends they realize they are in love with each other. The moments that build up to this realization are beautifully detailed. When you find a key piece of information you hear Sam’s voice reading her diary. These were some of the most moving portions of the game. The voice actress playing Sam was great. The V.O. diary filled in big pieces of the story, but there’s a ton of details to be found by looking at items, reading notes, and rifling through drawers. You get to see a lot of items that Sam and Lonnie bonded over: riot grrl cassette tapes, a ticket stub to pulp fiction, SNES game cartridges, VHS recorded episodes of the X-Files. I loved finding all those details. It gave me a real sense of who all of the characters were without even interacting with them once.

I really have to applaud how this game features a real, loving lesbian relationship that wasn’t sensationalized or sophomoric or all about sex. Maybe this is my lack of current videogame playing speaking, but I can’t think of another game that approaches love with this level of maturity and believability. You develop a very strong emotional bond with Sam and her struggles to hide her relationship from her parents, or her struggling to find herself and realize who she is.

Sam is the heart of the the story and is the main character of the game, but there are great story arcs for the parents as well and you get to know them to a great level of detail. You get the sense that real people live in the house and they are just away. Ironically Kaitlin (the character you are controlling) is probably the least developed character in the game. I think that’s an asset of the game because it lets you insert yourself emotionally into the story with a greater ease.

I’ve never played a video game like Gone Home before. Genuinely. I think most games emphasize thrills and intensity over quieter story moments. I think there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but Gone Home feels like a gigantic leap forward in what a video game can do with narrative.

The replayability of the game is an interesting discussion to have. It has been one of games aspects that has drawn some criticism. There’s nothing variable about the game other than the order you find items, so once you find everything in the house it won’t change on subsequent plays. So if you want to come back to Gone Home and have a different experience you probably won’t play the game more than once.. But I could certainly envisions people playing the game again to revisit the story. I think the reason replayability has been so hotly contested is because of the video game medium. People don’t criticize books or movies because they don’t inherently offer different experiences when you revisit them. Yet people do read certain books and watch certain movies more than once. That said there is a lot to discover in the game. I’m positive there are still details we haven’t found yet, so there is a reason to come back until you’re sure you’ve explored every nook and cranny of the house.

What are your thoughts about the story? Were there any specific moments of the game that you found especially moving or fascinating?

Tessa: I like your comments about replayability in games vs. in books or movies. If you’re measuring Gone Home by the standards of an adventuring, quest type game, it will fail. Because it doesn’t belong in the genre. It’s definitely a storytelling experience. But while Gone Home has a rich world, I’m not sure it can be judged yet on the level of things like a book, as far as equating replaying and re-reading.

Sam’s and Lonnie’s relationship isn’t played as a huge twist, and I like that. Gone Home is really mining the theme of discovery and self-discovery. You can see it not just with Sam, but also with the parents, and to a superficial extent with Kaitlin, coming back from time abroad.

And I love the way it plays with the idea of home – not just the house space, but the idea of the people that give us the feeling of being home. Home is a deceptively simple idea, but one that carries different experiences for everyone and can be counted on to hit some emotional chord. I can’t praise the game designers/creators enough for the way they created both a home and an unknown space. As Edgar Albert Guest so colloquially says,

“Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;

Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it”

So I do think the game succeeds in atmosphere and thematic elements, and I believe you when you say it is a giant leap forward in depicting  a realistic first love between two teenage girls. But I’m not sure if it has enough meat in the story to draw me back again once I discovered everything in the game. Sam & Lonnie’s story is sweet, and open-ended. I’d probably end up yearning for more instead of re-enjoying it ,although it might be something that I pulled out from time to time to revisit the environment, though, or to play with a new person.

I also hope its success paves the way for more games like this.

 

 

Happy Anniversary, Little Women!

Little Women Crunchings and Munchings

by REBECCA, September 30, 2013

On this day in 1868 Louisa May Alcott published the first volume of Little Women! Now, Little Women certainly can be a frustrating read nearly 150 years after its publication, in terms of the limits to women’s freedom and opportunities. Still, whether your Little Women of choice is the book or one of the many film adaptations, there are some legitimately kickass things about it.

1. Jo March! The Jo I picture is Katharine Hepburn from the 1933 movie version, because it was the first one I ever saw. Jo is a badass independent woman. She works to help support her family, she reads voraciously, she stands up to people who try and tell her or her sisters that they can’t do things because they’re women. She writes stories and plays for her sisters to read and act out. She befriends (rescues) poor Laurie from next door and makes him part of the family. She sells her hair so she can buy Marmee a train ticket to go visit their father when he’s been wounded. She moves to New York by herself and starts publishing her stories in the newspaper, then she writes Little Women, one of the most famous YA novels of all time!

Little Women2. Marmee! Marmee models feminism inflected with a strong message of charity. She teaches her daughters about generosity—to each other as well as to those less fortunate than themselves—and how they are strong and must, therefore, always help those who are weaker. In real life, of course, the character of Marmee is modeled on Louisa May Alcott’s own mother, Abigail May. May and her husband, Amos Branson Alcott, were well known transcendentalists. Transcendentalism (perhaps most often associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson) is the philosophy that the individual must be self-reliant, looking to herself for what is right and what is wrong, and that institutions (organized religion, institutions of higher learning) merely got in the way of finding that truth inside herself. It’s no wonder, then, that Marmee teaches Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy to think for themselves.

Sidebar: I saw Mark Adamo’s 1998 opera version of Little Women performed a few years ago. I didn’t like it, ultimately, but it was really interesting to see the philosophical underpinnings of the book translated into an operatic interpretation. It is a modernist opera, mostly tonal, so the music has the very spare, clean feeling that I imagine transcendentalists like Marmee would approve of. There is nothing extravagant or decorative, so the sisters’ lives seem stripped down to a pretty (to me) depressing baseline of boredom and charity, which was further emphasized by the costumes—plain dresses with smocks. I found the whole thing quite unpleasant, with none of the warmth of the book or the complexity of coming of age. Still, it’s not often one gets to see a YA novel become an opera, so that was kind of cool.

Little Women3. Sisters! There really is no better sister book than Little Women (well, except Practical Magic, which I gush about HERE!). Sure, there are moments when these sisters want to kill each other—I mean, if my sister had burned the only manuscript of my novel in the fire I sure as hell would let the sun go down on my goddamned anger, just like Jo does. But, then, if she fell through the ice while skating after me, I’d totally save her and forgive her. Even though Little Women does a lot of moralizing, it also does a great job of portraying the ups and downs of sisterhood! Indeed, I think most of us who have sisters have played the game where we decide which March sister we are and which ours sisters are, amiright?

Little Women4. Winter Wonderland! I know it’s not winter during the whole book, but Little Women always feels very Christmas-y to me. There’s the great stuff in the beginning about buying Christmas presents, and I love how Laurie’s grandfather gives Beth his piano and they sing Christmas carols around it, and how they take their food over to the Hummels’ house (though I guess that’s a big check in the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished column for poor Beth). All the scenes in the movies of the sisters ice skating and sledding in the New England snow . . . I just love it.

Little Women5. The Power of Imagination! Jo’s writing is the most talked about act of imagination in the book. But there are other imaginative inspirations in Little Women, too. Amy pursues her passion for art all the way to Paris and Beth loves music, even if it’s just her family as the audience. All the sisters act out the plays that Jo writes, repurposing things around the house for their sets and costumes. And my favorite is Jo’s decision to turn Aunt March’s mansion into a school that will allow any child to get an education. Jo turns a traditional act of private inheritance into a radical act of public service. You go, Jo!

Do you have a favorite version of Little Women? A favorite little woman? Tell me in the comments!

Why Frankenstein Is Important to YA Lit

Happy National Frankenstein Day! & Some YA Takes on Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

by REBECCA, August 30, 2013

National Frankenstein Day is celebrated on Mary Shelley‘s birthday (August 30th, 1797), and honors her most famous (and arguably the most famous) literary monster. And I love literary monsters.

But what a lot of people forget is that Frankenstein has a lot of the elements that make YA lit great. After all, Mary Shelley did write the original story when she was just nineteen.

Frankenstein by Mary ShelleyIt tells the story of how a kid becomes obsessed with something and turns it into his life. Victor Frankenstein’s backstory is one of my favorite elements of the novel. His early relationships with his adopted sister and his two younger brothers are the backdrop for Victor’s growing obsession with science. It’s when he sees lightning strike a tree outside his family’s home in Geneva that Victor first gets the idea of lightning as an energy force, which he’ll later use to animate his creature. His interest in natural science is as singleminded as any teen’s obsession with a band or a comic book. And, though he’s captivated by Elizabeth when he’s older, it’s still his childhood friend, Henry Clerval, that is his strongest relationship throughout the book.

But the thing that always struck me as most YA-similar is the way that Victor’s monomaniacal pursuit of his obsession ends up producing something totally out of his control.

So, it’s no wonder that a number of young adult authors have taken Frankenstein as the jumping off point for YA novels of their own! Here are a few.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series by Kenneth Oppel

This delightful series by Kenneth Oppel tells the story of Victor and his twin brother and their mutual love of Elizabeth. When his twin falls ill, Victor must go on a quest to find the ingredients for the elixir of life. Loved it! My review of This Dark Endeavor is HERE.

Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

This retelling features Victor Frankenstein’s twin daughters who inherit their father’s castle—one of them wants to throw lavish parties, but the other . . . the other wants to pick up where daddy left off.

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

In this adaptation, a young street urchin befriends the creature and accompanies him on his search for Victor Frankenstein.

iFrankenstein by Bekka Black

iFrankenstein by Bekka Black

This is a Frankenstein told through texts, tweets, emails, etc. Victor is homeschooled and has set his sights on winning a prestigious science prize and going to a tech university. He creates a bot, which he codes with a self-extending version of his personality and puts it on the internet. Soon, though, it seems like this e-doppelgänger has developed a personality (and a plan) of its own—one that may threaten not only Victor, but all humanity.

Broken by A.E. Rought Tainted by A.E. Rought

Broken series by A.E. Rought

Emma Gentry’s boyfriend died tragically last year and she’s barely holding it together. But when she meets Adam Franks, the son of a renowned surgeon, she’s intrigued—especially when it seems like Adam knows things about her that only her dead boyfriend knew . . . And when Emma stumbles on Adam’s father’s experiments, she knows that something is very, very wrong with Adam—or is he Adam? My complete review of this ridiculous disappointment is HERE.

Adam Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

Henry Franks had a terrible accident and his father put him back together again. He thinks. But he can’t be totally sure because he can’t remember anything. His nightmares and a serial killer on the loose make him a little hesitant to trust that everything his father says about his recovery is true. Creepy!

Do you have a favorite Frankenstein-related book or movie? Tell me in the comments. Happy National Frankenstein Day!

Movie Review of Geography Club & Thoughts on Queer YA Film

A Discussion of Geography Club, directed by Gary Entin; written by Edmund Entin, based on the novel by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club

by REBECCA, July 24, 2013

Q Fest, Philadelphia’s annual queer film festival, has just ended, and among all the great indie films and shorts, I also got a chance to see Geography Club, based on Brent Hartinger’s YA novel of the same name, which came out a decade ago. Hartinger’s novel was one of only a few YA novels featuring queer characters at the time, and its rarity is often held in contrast to the decade-long expansion of queer YA fiction that would follow it. I remember reading Geography Club when it came out and found it a fun, charming read, if nothing particularly deep or surprising. It blended together in my mind with Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Trilogy (2001-2005); the cover of the first in the trilogy, Rainbow Boys, I just realized, features a baby Matt Bomer:

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez Order of the Poised Oak by Brent Hartinger

One thing that’s interested me in watching the increase in queer characters in YA lit has been the inevitable (and welcome) shift from every book that is about a queer teen being a coming out story to the presence of books like Alex London’s Proxy and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens—stories that begin from the premise that there’s more to being queer than just realizing it and informing others of it. That is: a queer character no longer necessitates the structure of a problem novel, where coming out structures the main drama of the narrative. And this, I think, is a development in publishing more than writing. There have always been people writing awesome, complex queer characters; there just haven’t always been people who were willing to publish them. For a list of my favorite queer YA reads and to-reads, check out my guest posts over at Housequeer: “Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With,” and “More Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With: My To-Read Edition.”

GleeAnyway, watching Geography Club had me thinking about why, in 2013, Hartinger’s novel would be the book to get the green light. In a film festival full of (for better and for worse) searching, experimental, and unique films, Geography Club stood out as the slickest, most easily consumable, mainstream film in the bunch. In large part, the film is firmly on familiar ground for anyone who watches Glee: it’s a feel-good story of attractive, non-threatening gay and lesbian high schoolers who have straight best friends and are figuring out who they are and what role their sexual orientations play in their lives. So, it makes sense that this would be the kind of movie that a studio would want to make: in a way, it doesn’t matter that it’s queerness that is the central struggle for these characters; this struggle results in the same dramatic action as another coming of age struggle would.

I don’t say this to dismiss the film at all—to the contrary, it’s nice that we are now able to have films featuring queer characters where their queerness is pretty . . . normal. Rather, I say it to point out that YA film, in 2013, is still about a decade behind YA publishing when it comes to the kinds of stories it’s able/willing to tell. And this isn’t really surprising, considering that the sheer material requirements for a film (money, bodies, time, space) are much greater than that of a book. Still, I hope that the awesome queer YA lit that’s come out in the last five or ten years—not to mention the enthusiasm about it that readers have expressed—will inspire the YA film powers that be to take some more risks on stories that don’t all follow a coming-out narrative structure.

Geography Club is a sweet, well-made feel-good film. The acting (particularly the adorable Cameron Deane Stewart as Russell and Andrew Caldwell as his manic, girl- and junk food-obsessed bestie) is solid, and there are some really funny moments. It’s a well-paced and self-assured movie, and was exactly the kind of confection I wanted to watch on a hot summer Sunday afternoon. But, just like Hartinger’s novel, it’s not a story that will stick with me, nor is it one that shows us anything we didn’t already know. And, for me, despite being sweet and funny, that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

What do you think? What are the queer YA books you’d love to see come to the silver screen? Tell me in the comments.

Talking to Censors on the Mean Streets of Ban-ville

by Tessa

 

Rebecca!

I agree with your sticking points – especially the stuff about gendering behaviour and especially in fantasy worlds where you don’t even have to play by the rules of modern culture or Earth culture at all!  See: Ursula K. LeGuin for how to do this awesomely.

that bird in tights fights like a DUDE! psych. photo by AndWat on flickr

I think it’s funny that we both had the same initial idea for a blog post about banned books (that we then self-censored): list the books that we’d like to ban. (Here is R’s previous post on the subject.)

Of course, we don’t want to ban any books (at least I don’t, but I know you have a thing against Thoreau).  But sometimes I do feel like banning Banned Books Week. Please don’t revoke my librarian card.

I admire how Banned Books Week puts a spin on the depressing fact that there are people and organizations who continue to wrongheadedly follow a lizard fear instinct and try to keep books that they’ve probably never read off of library shelves, or books published for teenagers out of the teen section, or off of a supplementary reading list for a high school.  Banned Books makes these books into the bad boyz of the book world, in effect saying “any publicity is good publicity”!

Picture a boy band of banned books. photo by IMLS DCC on flickr

And it may well be for us adult readers – are teenagers paying any attention, though?  They’re probably just reading things that they enjoy. Which may well include books that other people want to ban, or books that adults don’t yet know that they should be afraid of.

I know that challenges to books happen with a regularity that I wish weren’t so regular, but I also wish that the Banned Books stuff wasn’t concentrated in one week. And I feel like it’s pretty concentrated within a certain set of people – people like you and I.  We care about not challenging the right of books to be available on bookshelves.  We like talking and reading about things that make us uncomfortable. But am I going to bring it up with Josephine Shmoe on the street? And is she going to go out of her way to read “banned” literature  or fight a book challenge?  Probably not and no.  But I’m an introvert.

I will defend a book and the freedom to read, but I’m not going to wheel a cart of the most frequently challenged books down a street and advocate for them simply because they scare someone.  I do think that those books are good books on their own merits – – why not just give people a library card?

On the other hand, playing Devil’s Advocate to my Devil’s Advocate, Banned Books Week could just come down to book lovers reinforcing their love of books and supporting challenged authors?  If so, that’s fine. Those authors and librarians and booksellers who defend book challenges definitely need the support.  I wish there were a way to do that AND to actually find a way to stop the challenges en masse. But the best way that I can think of is one-on-one conversations, and a hope that more people chill out about books.

wizard gerbil! make the people chill out about reading! photo by hadleygrass on flickr

Let’s do more research studies on the effects of reading uncomfortable books!  Let’s show that it actually will not hurt anyone. Let’s follow the readers of uncomfortable books through their childhood and see what happens.  I’ll keep trusting people to read what they want to read and stop reading if they don’t like it.  I can only say from experience that as a teen I sought out things in books that I wanted to read about, and my parents, had they known, wouldn’t think I was ready to read about them (and one time I was forbidden to read some books I got out of the library) (but I was just more careful after that). Along the way I learned trivia and vocabulary and stayed out of real trouble. But that’s just an anecdote, not evidence. Where’s my reading science?  We can start with the reading habits of lab rats if we must.
But seriously, what I find more insidious than book challenges is the instinct that you and I identified when we made a joke about books that we want to ban – the second guessing that becomes self-censorship.  It’s a real danger in the field of librarianship – from not ordering a book because someone might complain about it to not displaying books that you think have any “objectionable” content, to not wanting to booktalk a great title because of the reaction that the classroom might have when you mention that the main character is g-a-y.

I propose that we declare one day a month Uncomfortable Book Day.  On that day we can discuss an Uncomfortable Book with a friend, put an uncomfortable book face out at a bookstore (if you can find one) or think about a book that makes you uncomfortable in the comfort of your own home.  Unpack your uncomfortability and give it an airing.  A sea change could happen if we find new ways to own up to Reading Uncomfortable! Just think!
Good night,

xo,

Tessa

further reading:

this discussion on a new blog between a librarian mom and son about books that make them/the reader uncomfortable. http://crossreferencing.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/books-that-make-us-uncomfortable/

A graphic novel about a book challenge in a library (I know, total bait for librarians, but it is good):

Americus / M.K. Reed & Jonathan Hill

On The Pleasures and Necessities of Conversations About “Difficult” Books

Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week, friends. Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to an increase in challenges to books across the U.S.—11,300 since 1982, according to bannedbooksweek.org, where you can find more information.

Tessa!

The approach of Banned Books Week has found me trying to figure out what are things in books that trigger my BAN IT instinct. Now, as you know, I fundamentally, 100% DO NOT believe that books should be banned, but of course that doesn’t mean that there aren’t books that make me uncomfortable or things in books that I think model ways of thinking about the world that I believe are gross.

And there is one good thing that is sometimes a byproduct of the process of challenging books: discussion about the issues that make us uncomfortable. Too often, I think, those of us who argue that book banning should not occur are pushed into a false position of simply saying NO: no banning, never, not for any reason. But this does not mean that many of us don’t think these issues should be discussed. The standard answer to people who ask how parents should deal with their kids when they read these difficult books has long been that they should, of course, discuss these issues with their kids. And I totally agree with this. Still, I’m not totally satisfied that such isolated discussions are the only ones that those of us on the DON’T BAN side of things should be having. I would be so excited to get to talk about the difficulties of books that make us uncomfortable in public (that is, on blogs, at book readings, in book groups, etc.) while still insisting that these books remain accessible.

Thirteen Reasons Why Joint Review Jay AsherI don’t mean to suggest that no one discusses these issues, but so often the parts of books that are difficult or make us uncomfortable are treated as obstacles that we are able to overcome in succeeding at enjoying a book. For example, I’ve read many reviews and talked to many people who have said things like, “the way x was treated in book y made me uncomfortable, but I liked the book despite it.” Certainly, I’ve said similar things myself. What I would be interested in instead, though, is an approach to books in which we are excited about things that make us uncomfortable or anxious, because they provide an opportunity for books to do one of the things books do best: spark conversations about things that are important to us, sometimes with people we would never speak to about them otherwise. And, indeed, some of the best blog posts, reviews, and discussions I’ve read do this very thing—in fact, it’s one of the things I like so much about our joint reviews!

Many of the things that make me most uncomfortable in books are views of the world (either the author’s or the characters’) that are subtle or implicit in books and are, therefore, not really discussed. It is this taking-for-granted, this indoctrination into sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, consumerism, nationalism, and stereotype that concern me the most. But, in listing for myself all the things that make me most uncomfortable in books, it is clear that issues related to GENDER underlie the majority of my discomfort, so I’ve condensed them into two main complaints that, in myriad ways, make me extremely uncomfortable:

Hunger Games Suzanne Collins  Catching Fire Hunger Games Suzanne Collins  Mocking Jay Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

1. The idea that a (straight) boy and a girl can’t be friends. I first read Hunger Games when I was out of town and didn’t discuss it with anyone until I got home and my friend S— had read it, too. Her first question was, “what did you think of the love triangle?” and my response was, “huh? what love triangle?” I don’t mean to sound naïve—of course I understand that, in that book, the seeds were being sown for what would later be some kind of romantic strife. But, in that book, this is what I saw: a boy and a girl who were best friends—almost as close as siblings—who took care of each others’ families and helped each other survive; who had no romantic exchanges whatsoever on the pages of the book.

And, second, a boy who claimed that he was “in love” with a girl whom he didn’t know at all (that is not love in my book) as a survival strategy in a game where his survival depended upon selling the drama. This tactic created confusing, perhaps partly romantic feelings in a girl who was also just trying to survive and who had never thought about anyone romantically before. Now, I’m not saying that anyone else needs to share this reading of that particular book. What I’m saying is that I think lately there have been so many books that do suggest that a boy and a girl can never be friends without it being just a prelude to romance that whole swathes of the reading public are being trained to believe it’s true.

Darkhouse Experiment in Terror Karina Halle2. When female characters that I really like describe their strength as being masculine and their weakness as being feminine. As anyone who reads Crunchings & Munchings knows, I am a huge fan of Karina Halle’s Experiment In Terror series, but one thing keeps happening and I flinch every time it does: Perry Palomino is our awesome protagonist who hunts ghosts like a total badass, deals with the threat of mental illness, unfulfilled love, and did I mention GHOSTS that try to kill her. Yet, time and time again, Perry describes her crying or being scared or desiring intimacy as being “girly” or “acting like a girl.” Now, it’s troubling enough when sexist douchebag characters imply and reinforce sexist notions about emotion or fear being feminine. It sucks, but it’s expected. But it’s far more troubling to me when female characters do this—and especially awesome female characters who are brave and strong in addition to being, well, let’s call it human.

This is a really personal issue to me because I feel like there was absolutely a moment in my life when I wanted to be strong and self-sufficient and was encouraged (by my boyfriend at the time; by well-meaning guy friends) to think of my strength (and tastes—in music, movies, humor) as being in spite of being female rather than a natural part of it. It is such an insidious form of sexism because, of course, it’s praising women who are strong and brave, right? But, to the contrary, every time we reinforce the notion that bravery, strength, etc. are masculine characteristics that some women sometimes have, we imply that the standard for all those other women all the rest of the time is weakness or neediness; that embracing characteristics associated with femininity might mitigate that strength, that bravery, that self-sufficiency. And we imply that the only way to be strong or brave is in the way we typically associate with masculine behavior.

  +  Perry = should be friends!

So, there you have it, Tessa—some of the things that make me most uncomfortable when I read. What about you? Do you think books should ever be banned? What makes you uncomfortable in books? Tell me on Wednesday!

We Love, We Love!: A Joint Review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Welcome to another Joint Review and Discussion! Last time, we discussed Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and our thoughts on angel literature and overly-attractive characters.  This week we’re discussing Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan              Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan

Dutton Juvenile, 2012

Tessa!

I’m so excited to make you talk to me about Will Grayson, Will Grayson. John Green and David Levithan collaborated on it, each writing alternating chapters, so I feel like a joint review is the most apt mode of review.

image: michiganawesome.org

I started re-reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson in the Philadelphia train station on my way to New York. I had about 30 minutes to kill, so of course I got an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and lemonade (a combination I’ve loved ever since it was the only edible option at the mall where I once worked at a Waldenbooks in Ann Arbor). So, I’m sitting at this wobbly table, trying not to leave greasy finger prints at the top corner of every page and just laughing my face off, pitying the gormless masses streaming past who were not reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson and feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Dawson's CreekOf course, I was feeling quite sheepish about 20 minutes later when I was holding the book right in front of my face so that none of the adjacent Au Bon Pain customers could see me crying into my lemonade. Now, Tessa, as you know, I’m not much of a crier in real life (even though it seems like every book I’ve reviewed lately has involved me crying on a train), and it takes quite a book to make me both crack up and tear up! And I LOVE books that make me cry.

This is all to say: I have been trying to figure out how I would describe what makes the book so affecting for me. I mean, the writing from both authors is great, the characters rich and unique, and the story totally fun and charming. But what finally stands out for me (and makes me appear like a bipolar mess in public spaces) is Will Grayson Will Grayson’s mood.

I would think that because it’s written by two different authors and concerns two very different sets of characters, the two story lines would have different moods. But, even though Will Grayson the first (capital WG) is a go-with-the-flow, anti-drama sidekick type to Tiny, a falls-in-love-every-day, sings loudly, gay football player, and will grayson the second (lowercase wg) is a depressive malcontent who is “constantly torn between killing [him]self and killing everyone around [him],” the mood feels strikingly consistent between the two story lines (22).

Borg Cat

“We are Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” From: fivecats.wordpress.com

It was like somehow the Will Grayson, Will Grayson mood, henceforth known as the WG2M, was so strong that it permeated the entire book, sucking everything into it (including me) like the borg. In a good way. No, a great way. Of course, the writing and the characters contribute to the mood and they are delightful.

From capital WG:

“I turn around and Tiny Cooper is crying huge tears. One of Tiny Cooper’s tears could drown a kitten. And I mouth WHAT’S WRONG? because Ashland Avenue is sucking too loudly for him to hear me, and Tiny Cooper just hands me his phone and walks away. It’s showing me Tiny’s Facebook feed, zoomed in on a status update.

Zach is like the more i think about it the more i think y ruin a gr8 frendship? i still think tiny’s awesum tho.

I push my way through a couple people to Tiny, and I pull down his shoulder and scream into his ear, ‘THAT’S PRETTY FUCKING BAD,’ and Tiny shouts back, ‘I GOT DUMPED BY A STATUS UPDATE,’ and I answer, ‘YEAH, I NOTICED.’ . . .

‘WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?’ Tiny shouts in my ear, and I want to say, ‘Hopefully, go find a guy who knows there is no u in awesome’ (15-16).

 

From lowercase wg:

“every morning i pray that the school bus will crash and we’ll all die in a fiery wreck. then my mom will be able to sue the school bus company for never making school buses with seat belts, and she’ll be able to get more money for my tragic death than i would’ve ever made in my tragic life. unless the lawyers from the school bus company can prove to the jury that i was guaranteed to be a fuckup. then they’d get away with buying my mom a used ford fiesta and calling it even” (23-4).

And when the two story lines come together delightfully in a porn shop, as these things always must, it feels, like, inevitable.

Frenchy’s Adult Book Store is real

So, T, what about you? Did you find Will Grayson, Will Grayson as delightful as I did?  What did you think of the mood? Who was your favorite character? Who do you think could play the characters if they ever made a movie, &c. Tell me EVERYTHING!

Too Old For Angels Part 3: Beyond Good and Evil (Where the Delicious Cheese is)

Here endeth our discussion of angels in YA lit, inspired by Daughter of Smoke and Bone (by Laini Taylor). We welcome your comments. 

Please do read the first two parts: Part 1. Part 2.

Rebecca!

I’ll take your Many Waters golden man and raise you a Wind in the Door tangle of eyes and wings:

hey good-looking.

Thank you for taking my angel angst seriously.  When are we going to Prague?

I think your point about the angel plot in Supernatural begins to hint at where angels start to get interesting. I just read a graphic novel short story collection about angels that I dug – the art was simply gorgeous. It was conceived and illustrated by Rebecca Guay and written by a roster of YA authors (including Holly Black). As the reader you get all of these tales about angels, told by other supernatural beings who are deciding whether or not to help a fallen angel that they’ve found in the forest.

(Side note: I can’t watch Supernatural because I can’t not think of Jared Padalecki as Rory’s first, kinda-dumb boyfriend from the Gilmore Girls, and I have a Pavlovian disliking for him. NO ONE IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR RORY.)

Also: OMG, look at this

Anyway. There’s one tale that’s a re-telling of Adam and Eve, and the angel character says something to the effect that only humans judge between good and evil, and angels don’t have that choice – they’re beyond it. That’s what I want – more characters that are beyond having a black and white morality.  That clash is interesting to me, and it makes me feel like the being is otherworldly.

I’m much more interested in a figure who causes trouble because they can, because they’re bored or because they don’t see humans as people to be saved. I don’t think Akiva falls into that category – I think he’s much more of a human figure and his main influence is his past and the world and war he comes from.  That makes him interesting to me, but it also leads into the love story, and I want my angels to be more severe (see the William Blake-type of luminous severity here at the Tate’s website).

Origin stories don’t bother me because they can give me some insight into the culture that tells them – what parameters they give to good and evil. But I can see where they start to all look the same at some point.

And yes, to your statement that “the idea of a romantic hero who is stunningly attractive, possesses a body honed by the fight to vanquish evil, and who has even a whiff of spiritual righteousness is enough to make anyone over the age of 25 feel resentful, inadequate, and suspicious.” Except for all the Twilight Moms.  Oh, and we’re totally justified in our crushes on V. & M. because they have character in their faces, right?

Please tell me when Viggo and Michael get to your apartment. I’ll be right over.

Angel as Puck figure?

R. responds:

That tangle of eyes is superattractive. I’m blushing because it keeps staring at me wherever I go . . .

We are going to Prague . . . *now* (snaps fingers)!

I think what you say about wanting characters who are beyond the moral compass of right and wrong is super interesting and I want that too.The thing that I find really interesting about angels being in-the-know, godwise, is that their sense of right and wrong is based on a bigger picture—it’s, like, one of the only religious concepts I find interesting. Not the “plan” business, but the notion that when supernatural creatures like angels (or aliens, or immortals like vampires) mix with humans it’s really a clash of scale more than ethics. For a human, the loss of a town (like in that Supernatural episode) is huge, whereas to angels who can see billions of people simultaneously, or have watched trillions of people expire throughout the ages, it’s fairly meaningless. I just want some really great YA stories and characters that manage to dramatize that without making it about religion or that most loathèd of bollixers, fate.

Can you think of any? Mostly when I think of those kinds of characters they’re robots (they calculate what is “good” based on data), aliens (they weren’t taught about our quaint mortal morality), or, well, sociopaths—and, while you know I love a good sociopath, that’s not so much beyond morality as devoid of it. So, I’m trying to think of good examples.

I’ll give you a buzz as soon as Viggo and Michael get here, whatever their moral compasses may be. Let’s hope they bring delicious cheese!

T. responds to R’s response:

It’s funny you should ask me about what characters embody the idea of being beyond a moral compass without being robots or sociopaths, because I’m working on a review of a series that does that for meThe Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. The Old Ones fight for Light and Dark, but it isn’t good and evil the way it’s normally portrayed. Stay tuned for that review soon!

I agree that it’s hard to find those kinds of characters.  Maybe our readers have more suggestions? Tell us in the comments!

Too Old for Angels, part 2: It’s Fantasy Enough That They’re Angels; Don’t Make Them Super Hot, Too! — A Discussion of Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Welcome back to Part 2 of our Discussion of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Part 1 is here.

Tessa!

I agree that this discussion will certainly be less fraught than our first one (thank goodness).

image, we collect bones and love it @tumblr

I was mainly interested to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone for the same reasons you were:

Prague = total awesomeness (plus there aren’t that many YA books set out of the US, London, or Paris, so that’s a plus).

Smoke, bone, teeth, feathers = sinister in a way that convinced me I wouldn’t be reading another iteration of the “look, I’ve just discovered that [fill in unusual/preternatural quality or ability] I once thought made me an outsider and unlovable actually make me highly desirable in this new context” plot. Not that there aren’t really good, exciting examples of it—I just could tell this would be something different.

Monsters = always make a book better. Every single time.

And mostly I loved the book.

Okay, angels.

I actually really like this coverI am, in general, totally with you. I haven’t read Fallen (although I just put it on hold at the library because now I’m curious), but I did read Hush, Hush and Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick (the cover is sparkly and I was desperate). I was tricked into liking Hush, Hush because it was so dark into thinking the angel thing was ok. But then Crescendo cured me of that thinking because it was terrible.

But, BUT: I didn’t have a problem with the conceit of angels in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And I think the difference was how poorly developed the mythology of angelism was in Hush, Hush and (I imagine) Fallen—so that rather than just “persons who can fly,” or another kind of supernatural creature (like vampires or werewolves), the only thing about them is either an issue of goodness (they’re good and attractive, or, *shocker* they’re surprisingly not-good and attractive) or an issue of fallen-ness (where “fallen” could easily be simply a metaphor).

The only other angel experiences I have are:

um, look at this golden and wingéd gentleman . . .

1. Madeleine L’Engle’s Many Waters, where Meg’s twin brothers Sandy and Dennys accidentally transport themselves back to biblical times and meet up with Noah, an arc, and a bunch of seraphim and nephilim, which I enjoyed (but angels weren’t the main characters; also, having no bible-learning, I could never remember which were which).

2. A little show I like to call Supernatural (now available on Netflix instant!). Do you watch it? So, in season 3 all of a sudden the plot gets way cosmic and there are angels of the lord. When this plot arc began I rolled my eyes and was like, “uggh, get your religion out of my delightful genre-show.” However, I ended up totally digging it because angelic righteousness, the show makes clear, is the ultimate moral ambiguity. SPOILER ALERT: there is one episode in which Sam and Dean are tasked with trying to stop a witch from summoning a demon that would threaten the balance of power on earth. Worried that they are running out of time, two angels tell them to leave town because they’re going to smite it—several thousand people will die, yes, but it will (they assure us) be better in the larger scheme of things. Dean, righteous in his own mission to preserve humans at any cost, will have none of it. END SPOILERS. Anyway, Supernatural is delightful and that plot arc a really interesting treatment of angels, which could have gone horribly, horribly wrong.

For me, what set the angels in Daughter of Smoke and Bone apart was that a.) angels were another species of supernatural creature, as were the “monsters” and b.) there was, therefore, a lot of backstory about what it is to be the species of supernatural creature called “angel.”

The question of age is really interesting: are we too old for angels?

Maybe. I think that the idea of a romantic hero who is stunningly attractive, possesses a body honed by the fight to vanquish evil, and who has even a whiff of spiritual righteousness is enough to make anyone over the age of 25 feel resentful, inadequate, and suspicious (or is that just me?).

So, in that way my suspicion of an angel for a romantic hero fits your two strikes: “perceived nobility/idealisticness” and “too much goodlookingness.”

1. Perceived nobility (often of a religious nature). Yeah, I think a lack of moral ambiguity stinks up most angel stories. However, I didn’t think that about Daughter of Smoke and Bone—I, like you, thought that the perspective was balanced enough (given that Karou is on the side of the monsters and Akiva has to earn his place in the story) that Akiva didn’t feel too goody-goody-for-god. Of course, it remains to be seen in the rest of the series if Akiva is tokenized and the rest of the angels are, indeed, morally unambiguous.

2. Supergoodlookingness. Do you think this tendency is just a holdover from the mainstream romance genre that makes authors/readers want characters who are immensely good looking? I feel like the trend in many of the heterosexual supernatural romances published in the last few years has been to have the human female protagonist  be average-looking, or have one great quality (beautiful eyes) but be otherwise unnotable, and have the supernatural male protagonist be supergoodlooking. This otherworldly beau, due to his supernaturalness, sees something in the soul of the human protag and loves her for her insides.

So, that’s wish-fulfillment of a type I’m sympathetic to (who wouldn’t rather avoid risking rejection and just hope that someone can see into their soul?) and is certainly better than requiring all female characters to be stunningly gorgeous, like in the movies.

Still, it seems to me that it undercuts the necessary message “you are more than your looks” by substituting a kind of ethical reward-system: if you have a good heart, are generous, etc., then someone (gorgeous) will notice that goodness and you don’t ever have to put yourself out there—just sit tight and wait for it. So, whatever ground was gained by the shift in the female protag’s superficial qualities is lost to passivity. But I digress. Because Karou is also supergoodlooking. If every young adult book that features a male angel could be made into a film and half of those angels could be played by Viggo Mortensen and the other half by Michael Wincott, I would go see every single one of them three times (are you listening, Hollywood? That’s, like . . . $2,000 just from me).

In other news, I had a totally different problem with ONE element of the book than you did (albeit for not dissimilar reasons). I agree that Karou-Akiva turned a little average-paranormal-romance for a few minutes, but I was fine with it mostly, because of the unique locations, the story of the monsters’ world, and Karou’s own social issues.

The snag for me was that I really don’t like origin myths in novels. SPOILER ALERT: For that reason, I was disinterested in the back story that builds Akiva and Madrigal’s love story. I know that when we learn of Karou’s relationship to that story it’s supposed to link in and make me care about it, but I didn’t much—I could have done without their entire love story. END SPOILERS. The thing about origin myths (and it’s borne out in Daughter of Smoke and Bone) is that they’re nearly always predicated on precisely the kind of unambiguous binary thinking that you object to in angels (good vs. evil). Since they generally grow out of one culture’s desire to understand itself in contrast with Others, there is always a naturalized good and bad. Or, even when they concern nature, it’s a nature of binaries (i.e., not nature): the moon vs. the sun; the sky vs. the sea, etc. Further, I find that most of the time when authors put origin stories in their novels those stories come (whether the author intends them to or not) to act as organizing metaphors for the novels. So, when Akiva and Madrigal swap their culture’s origin myths it’s quite difficult to avoid applying those same myths to the cultures themselves, which is overly simplistic and doesn’t construct storytelling as the complex tool we know it to be.

So, there you have it. Are we too old for angels? Probably so. We shall have to resign ourselves to the sad probability that if someone hyperbolically good-looking descended from the heavens and felt magnetically drawn to us then we would likely think they were a creep whose beauty meant they’d gotten everything in life easy. Ahem, unless Viggo Mortensen and Michael Wincott are reading this right now, in which case: I live in Philadelphia. Follow your magnetic attraction (apartment #2, side entrance).

Finally, did you see that Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been optioned for a film?

Meet us back here tomorrow for the conclusion of the discussion! Part III is here.

So, would you would want to be the object of an angel’s affection. Or maybe you already have been! If so, tell us in the comments and I’ll email you a special prize.

Too Old for Angels? – A Roundabout Discussion of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Welcome to our second Joint Review and Discussion! It will appear in three parts: today, tomorrow, and Wednesday.

Rebecca!

I’m going to solicit your opinion for a joint review! It will be slightly less fraught than our first, I think, because the issue at stake is not such a sensitive topic. But you never know.

Everyone is talking about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and by “everyone” I mean some of the blogs that I read.  So I read it – and I loved it.

I’d heard of Laini Taylor before because her book of stories (Lips Touch: Three Times) was a National Book Award finalist. But the cover turned me off so I’d never read it, and at that point in my life I was reading Kelly Link’s short stories and felt that more well-written short stories that dealt with things like faeries and goblins and other strange things was too much. Of course, now I can go back and read Taylor’s previous work.

charles bridge prague

I want to go here and eat goulash in Karou's favorite cafe like the tourists she hates!

 Daughter of Smoke and Bone has some seriously intriguing elements going for it: Prague–I’d always wanted to go. Teeth– Creepy.  Monsters.I’m very into monsters, because I was a child in the 80s.

So I read it and loved most of it… except the whole angel part. Rebecca, what is it about angels?  I’ve also read Fallen and Torment by Lauren Kate and had the same reaction.  Am I too old for angels?  I’ve tried to think of them just as “persons who can fly” but they still don’t seem compelling to me.

As I’m not against wings, in theory, I’m thinking it has to do with two factors:

1. perceived nobility/idealisticness and

2. too much goodlookingness.  I’ll go point by point.

1. Angels are going to be associated with Christianity and therefore with notions of good and evil.  Now, there are some really kickass art historical interpretations of angels out there, and I totally dig Michael killing the devil whenever I see a representation of it (going back to the monsters thing, I guess). But when I think of “angel” I don’t think “moral ambiguity”. I just think “good or evil”. And there’s nothing there that makes me want to know more. I don’t want to read about someone with black vs. white thinking.

hawt angel

photo by flickr user quinet

That’s obviously a problem that I have to get over because Taylor, in Daughter of Smoke and Bone has set up her book to make her angel character (and her monster characters) have good and bad sides, and good and bad secrets.  So in this case I’ll say that it’s my initial angel association that I have to get over, that is tainting my reading.

2. When authors are trying to describe a humanoid being who is otherwordly they have a tendency to lean on such a person being extremely good-looking, and that just doesn’t help me picture anyone. The more hyperbole the author piles on about how perfectly unearthly beautiful their character is, the more I can’t picture the character, and the more disappointed I’ll be when they are inevitably cast in the movie version by someone who is a bland 20 year old and not Michael Wincott or Viggo Mortensen.

These are pretty general complaints and say more about me than the book that I’m supposed to be reviewing. Daughter of Smoke & Bone deserves a real review, but it is the book that made me start wondering about the whole thing.  I felt my enjoyment of it suffered because in the middle of the book, where Karou and Akiva spend time together, turned the reading experience from a baklava of layered worlds full of secrets into Just Another Paranomal Love Story, and I chose to blame it on the fact that Akiva is an angel. I know that the plot in the book and in the books going forward hinges on the importance of that relationship, so I can’t say that it was wasted time, but it fell flat for me, and the angel thing is the only thing I could put my finger on.

What’s been your experience reading about fictional angel love?  What did you think about Daughter of Smoke and Bone? How much do you want to be Karou and wear the mask on this cover?

intense stare!

Actually, I prefer this one:

Be sure to check back TOMORROW for Rebecca’s response to Tessa’s angel-angst, and WEDNESDAY for the conclusion of the discussion. Part 2 is here.

Did you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Do you want to? Tell us your thoughts in the comments! 

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