The Graveyard Book

Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens is the only living resident of the graveyard. He was brought up entirely by ghosts and his guardian, Silas, who is something else altogether. As far as Bod is concerned, his life isn’t so extraordinary.

In Bod’s world, there is nothing more scary in the graveyard than that which awaits him in the world of the living. See, Bod came to live in the graveyard in the first place when his entire family were slaughtered by the man Jack.

Bod was the only survivor, and the man Jack will never stop searching for him.

graveyard

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is one of my favourite YA novels of all time. A book about ghosts, murderers and the long process of growing up, it’s a story that resonates more with every rereading.

I love a personal growth story. We all know this about me. The Graveyard Book has all the elements of a great coming-of-age novel with some supernatural bits thrown in for fun. As I mentioned already, Bod was brought up pretty much entirely by the dead. This comes with certain perks, specifically, some ghostly abilities of his own. He can fit through impossibly narrow spaces and fade into fog – with practise, of course.

The book has all the atmosphere you’d expect from a Neil Gaiman novel. I wanted to reach out and touch every scene even as the words slipped through my fingers.

Neil Gaiman is wonderful at telling a story in glimpses. Bod knows that it was something terrible that brought him to live in the graveyard, but it’s a vague and distant knowledge. It lacks detail. He knows that his guardian, Silas – neither dead or alive – is working to protect him, but he doesn’t know from what.

Silas leaves me wanting more every time I read this book. He is a perpetual mystery. He is a creature without category. Honestly, I think my love of Silas comes from a desire for a mysterious-yet-sexy mentor in my own life. Sigh.

Anyway.

Silas is Bod’s father figure. He’s his protector. He spends all his time trying to take down the threats that want to see Bod dead before he even experiences life outside of the graveyard. He’s emotionally unavailable (just how I like my men. Sigh. Again. Anyway. Again.) and though Bod knows that he cares for him, despite having known him his whole life, he has to admit to himself that he knows nothing about his mentor. He doesn’t even know exactly what he even is. Silas is Bod’s only real connection to the outside world. As a result there is a lot of frustration in their relationship (because Silas will never tell Bod what’s going on) and also this weird sort of premature regret because the unspoken result of Silas’ work, making the world outside the graveyard safe for Bod, is that Bod would then leave the graveyard. You get the feeling that Silas approaches he and Bod’s entire relationship through the lens of impending loss, and it stops them from truly connecting throughout the entire novel.

This is totally frustrating, but in a way that feels sort of good at the same time. We’re so used to characters laying it all out there after brooding around for a few chapters, the experience of never really knowing someone’s deal is actually very refreshing. That said I still hold out hope that Neil Gaiman might give Silas his own book one day.

Despite the whole graveyard thing, the central theme of this book is life, and its preciousness. The dead are full of tales from their lives, and Bod drinks them in. As the reader, every ghostly interaction serves as a reminder of the simple fact that life is finite. All the stories Bod can hear in the graveyard are past tense. They’re over. This makes you intensely aware of the not over-ness of Bod. He’s a real, living boy who can go out into the world and have adventures. He knows he’ll come back to the graveyard eventually (and doesn’t fear death at all, a concept entirely alien to me, being of the group of people who assume they are dying on developing a particularly severe headache) but before then he has his life, and he intends to live it.

‘There was a passport in his bag, money in his pocket. There was a smile dancing on his lips, although it was a wary smile, for the world is a bigger place than a little graveyard on a hill; and there would be dangers in it and mysteries, new friends to make, old friends to rediscover, mistakes to be made and many paths to be walked before he would, finally, return to the graveyard or ride with the Lady on the broad back of her great grey stallion.

But between now and then, there was Life, and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.’

Blogger Insecurities

The I should read more guilt trip.

I would be reading way more if I wasn’t watching TV right now.

But I love TV. If it wasn’t pretty great there’s no way Shonda Rhimes would have dedicated her life to it.

You know how people read 100 books in a year? By not watching TV.

Maybe I’ll just start blogging about TV every now and again and hope nobody notices the inconsistency in my supposed book blog.

 

The am I the only one who finds this behaviour creepy? thought process

This guy everyone is shipping so hard actually behaves pretty inappropriately. Like, if one of my friends told me about him, I would be concerned. The word I would use is murder-ey.

Maybe I’m being oversensitive. Everyone else loves the way that he watches her sleep.

But isn’t it kind of… rapey?

No. If it was, other people would think so too. If I mention it they’ll think I’m a total killjoy.

I mentioned it. Now everyone thinks I’m weird for minding about the whole incest/consent/harassment issue.

Is the problem YA writers, or is it me?

Will people get annoyed if I bring up feminism again?

 

The I’m just not that into …. issue

Everyone else loves fairies. Why don’t I love fairies?

Remember that movie where every time someone said they didn’t believe in fairies, a fairy died?

I’m basically responsible for mass fairy death. I’m a mass fairy murderer.

People would be really mad if they knew that in addition to not liking fairies, I’ve never seen the Lord of the Rings movies. And not only that, but that I never have any intention of watching them. Ever.

God, I can’t even nerd properly. If people knew of my inadequate nerdyness, they would never read my blog again.

 

The I suck at Twitter problem

I’m sure no one else has this much trouble thinking up 140 characters.

Why this of all things should trigger my fear of rejection is nonsensical.

As I’m a book blogger, I should probably say something about books, rather than retweeting the fake prime minster account all the time. I don’t think any of my Twitter followers even live in the UK.

It’s so funny though.

Maybe I’ll just tweet another opinion about The Vampire Diaries.

Does anyone other than me still watch The Vampire Diaries?

Oooh! A quote!

Shit. It’s 160 characters.

Maybe I just won’t tweet today.

 

The I can’t think up a blog post conundrum

Does anyone else have this problem?

I wish I could write smart discussion posts in which I am knowledgeable and erudite.

When I tried to convince my co-workers that Zootropolis is about racism and fear politics they gave me some serious side eye.

I could write about Daredevil, but I’ve already read several articles way more insightful that I would ever be.

I could write a poem about Charlie Cox’s abs.

(I totally couldn’t).

Maybe I should just write another post about how broke I am. Or is that getting uncomfortable?

Being a person is hard, sometimes.

Podcast of the Month: Infinite Postivities

I found out about this podcast through Nina Dobrev’s Instagram, proving that, despite the somewhat rocky terrain that has been season 7, my continued obsession with The Vampire Diaries can still bring some goodness into my life*.

positivityInfinite Positivities is Jenna Ushkowitz’s companion podcast to her self-help book, Choosing Glee: 10 Rules to Finding Inspiration, Happiness and the Real You. I have not read the book, but I just did look inside on Amazon and within the first few pages there’s a picture of her with Bill Cosby she probably feels some regret about now.

Each podcast takes the form of an interview with a different celebrity, loosely based around a chapter of her book. This podcast, like most of the shows I regularly listen to, is all about getting a little inspiration of a morning (or whenever your regularly scheduled podcast time happens to fall). Even though it’s a little bit shorter than I would like (episodes very from twenty minutes to half an hour), it’s very effective. Jenna is a funny and charming host, and the positivity with which she seems to approach her life absolutely translates. Her guests are varied and interesting. After week one and Nina’s treatise on not taking anything too seriously (which was awesome, by the way), Jenna interviewed A.J. Jacobs about continuously experimenting in life (he is one of those who takes on an insane challenge every couple years then writes a book about it). Most recently she chatted with Julie Plec, Queen and Master of vampire television, about working hard to make shit happen, and the good and bad of being the Big Boss (she also talked about firing people. She doesn’t like doing it, which explains… a lot, frankly (Matt and Enzo)).

Far and away my favourite episode, and the one that I think everybody should listen to, was episode 5 with Kristen Chenoweth. Everything about Kristen Chenoweth makes you feel better. She is hilarious and open hearted and exudes this totally infectious joy that has made me listen to her interview at least three times now. She talks about the good and shitty parts of her life with the same level of humour and bemusement. She is the only person I have ever experienced who can burst in to song in conversation and not be annoying. By the end of her painfully short twenty minutes I wanted nothing more than to sit down with her about talk about the universe. Also about that time she was Peter Pan and almost killed herself on stage.

This is a sweet, low commitment podcast (it’s bi-weekly and as I have mentioned, very short) for anyone needing a little pick-me-up before a day of working in retail (or whatever sucky job you have right now).

 

 

*I actually don’t think the lack of Elena is the problem, TVD side. I know that’s not what this post is about, but I felt the need to say it anyway. I have many theories on what would fix The Vampire Diaries (not Matt Donovan meeting Elijah Mikalson. Honestly I can’t even talk about that development), but resurrecting Elena isn’t one of them. Co-dependent relationships bore me almost as much as contrived pregnancy storylines.

To Kill A Mockingbird

The book to read is not the one that thinks for you, but the one that makes you think.’ – Harper Lee

The internet is home to many quotes of questionable authenticity, but whether accurate or not, these words speak to my experience of reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

mockingbird

The book, for anyone who doesn’t know – the small few who, like me, didn’t read this one during high school – is about a lawyer, Atticus Finch, defending a black man on trial for the rape of a white woman. In the small southern town of Maycomb in the 1930s, this is a huge deal. The story is told from the perspective of Scout, Atticus’ young daughter, as she and her older brother, Jem navigate the implications of their father’s work as well as the deep rooted race and class prejudices in their small town.

This book utterly overwhelmed me. In a political climate so full of fear and anger and a personal one dominated by cluelessness, Lee’s treatise on acceptance, empathy and love was exactly what I needed. It broke my heart open in the best possible way.

To read about society’s failings – racism, classism, sexism, from the perspective of a child, was so much more effective than I ever thought that it could be. It meant that we saw events, but were detached from them – rather than getting caught up in the anger and resentment we were allowed to see it all as senseless and ridiculous. There is a heart breaking exchange between Scout and Jem, when Jem tells Scout about the categories that people fit into. Scout thinks the idea of categories is stupid, and tells him so. Folks is folks, in her opinion. Jem’s response? He thought the same, until he grew up. As I progressed through the novel I became increasingly protective of Scout’s sense of self. She had it so right at such a young age. The idea of that getting corrupted pained me. It pained Atticus, too.

As the reader, I often understood what Scout was saying before she did. Sometimes I felt sadness she wasn’t yet grown up enough to comprehend. When you’re young and living the sort of life Scout had, it doesn’t occur to you to think that the world is anything less than good. Then you grow up, and the dark corners you never even used to notice appear.

Scout was lucky because she could go home and talk to her dad about it. Speaking of, let me just take a moment to crown Atticus Finch King of the Literary Dads. Everything he says is a quotable life lesson and he lives according to his words. Atticus is the sort of person you should channel when you’re commuting to work. I find in my life, that’s the hardest time of day to be a good person.

Atticus believes in the innate goodness of people, even when it is so clouded with fear that it no longer appears to exist. He believes in doing the right thing. He believes in starting even when you know in your heart you will fail. That is true bravery, as far as he is concerned. He wants more than anything for his children to grow up free from the prejudices that separate his community. For those of us who may be dealing with deadbeat dad issues, reading Atticus at times feels a little bit like you’re stepping on a nail on purpose, but it’s totally worth it. This book helps you crawl out of your own skin for a while and see your life in terms of something much bigger.

More than anything, Atticus Finch and his children inspired me to be better. They reminded me that living in a crappy world doesn’t mean you have to be a crappy person.

“’… an’, Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things… Atticus, he was real nice…’

His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.

‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’”

There is no way I can do this beautiful book justice. Just go read it.

Zootropolis

At this point in time, I don’t think there are many people left who are too cool to admit that Disney movies are freaking great now. Films like Tangled and Frozen finally have female protagonists with some much needed agency. Frozen even subverted the idea of ‘an act of true love’ from romantic to something women could do for themselves. They are unrecognisable compared to the movies I was watching when I was a kid, the ones where the vast majority of heroes were boys.

In Zootropolis (or Zootopia, as I believe it’s called in some countries), Disney march on, continuing the good work. I actually think Zootropolis is a pretty massive step up from even the works of the past few years.

The movie is basically about anthropomorphised animals. They have evolved into something human-like. The most important aspect of this evolution is that animals never, ever hunt each other. Predator and prey are meaningless categories now. Supposedly.

(more on that later)

Zootropolis is Judy Hopps’ story. Judy is a bunny rabbit who dreams of being a police officer. When she tells her parents they are… less than supportive. Terrified, actually. No bunny has ever been a police officer before. When Judy’s parents tell her this she is unfazed: I guess I’ll be the first one then, she replies.

And she is. Obviously it goes without saying that I fell in love with this girl right away.

Becoming a police officer doesn’t come easy for Judy. Because of her being a bunny (and a girl), nobody believes she is up to the task. People around her try and push her back into the category they have placed her in but Judy refuses to be pushed. We see her deal with disrespectful colleagues and her boss putting her on parking duty because he doesn’t believe she can be a real cop. But Judy doesn’t give up. She knows that she is just as good as the boys and is willing to fight for her seat at the table.

It’s all very #feminism. And it makes me so god damn happy. I hope all parents take their young daughters to see this movie.

Overall Zootropolis is a very political film. It is the anti-Trump. Soon after Judy starts work, animals in the city start to ‘go savage’ and attack the citizens of Zootropolis. All of the animals to go savage are predators. Even though most predators aren’t savage, this fact causes the prey majority to see all of them as potentially so. Judy herself worsens the situation by insinuating during a press conference that the savage behaviour could be related to ‘something biological.’ After this, the community of Zootropolis disintegrates. A small minority of dangerous predators’ actions are attributed to the entire predator community.

It sounds familiar, right?

They take it even further by studying the effects that the discriminatory ideas about predators have on the predators themselves. Take for example a fox who, simply by being a fox is designated by the rest of the world as sneaky. Say the fox doesn’t want to be that, and instead joins the scouts. Say the scouts reject him and beat him up. Maybe after a while he starts to feel like sneaky is his only option, if that’s how everyone sees him anyway.

This movie is about the politics of fear that keep us forever stuck.

But not hopeless.

What I loved so much in this movie is that Judy wasn’t innocent in all of it. She contributed to the problem. It wasn’t until her thoughtless words wrought havoc on the city that she was forced to examine her own perceptions and prejudices. It wasn’t until then she realised that her preconceptions weren’t true, that if her time in Zootropolis had taught her anything, it’s that life is always more complicated than that.

And that realisation was the start of everything getting better.

What made this movie so wonderful is that it presented us with a community that was deeply flawed but not irredeemable. It had a lot of work to do and people who were willing to do it, to fight for the rights of everybody. It makes me so happy to think of kids seeing this film and perhaps realising that fear and prejudice are options rather than a realities. Like Judy says: change starts with you.

Also, I really haven’t focussed on how funny this movie is. I giggled the whole way through.

BONUS MOMENTS OF LOVE

  • When Judy moves into her shitty apartment. She has rude neighbours she can always hear through her walls and barely enough room to swing a cat (a move that would be, I’m sure, frowned upon in Zootropolis). Her response? I LOVE IT. I love her.
  • Cheesy girl power ballads. I downloaded the music as soon as I got home.
  • All the Frozen references. My favourite was Alan Tudyk showing up as an entirely different sort of Duke Weaselton.

Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls

June and Delia used to be best friends. Then June started dating Ryan and everything with Delia changed. They haven’t spoken in about a year.

This does nothing to lessen June’s heartbreak when she hears of Delia’s death. People are saying it was suicide.

June doesn’t believe it. She knows that Delia was murdered. Now she just has to prove it.

suicidenotes

Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls, by Lynn Weingarten is 339 pages of pure crazy. What I can’t decide is whether or not it was the good kind.

The story is split between present events and flashbacks of June and Delia’s friendship. Delia is not a normal girl. She is the ethereal type who dances into your world and changes everything for the better. For June, with her alcoholic mother and unsatisfactory social life, this was awesome. For me, with my current reading frustrations and lack of patience for this particular character trope, not so much.

Despite this, the mystery surrounding Delia’s death is intriguing. She had an abusive stepfather, an increasingly psycho boyfriend (think Will in Jessica Jones – crazy, to kind of nice, to a real fucking bad situation) and a drug dealer with a grudge against her. The number of people who might have done Delia in just keeps going up. June starts to feel like she’s losing it when her own boyfriend, Ryan, suddenly enters the circle of suspicion.

So far so good, right? I guess. I would probably have been more invested in finding Delia’s murderer if every flashback containing her didn’t prove her to be so unbearable. June, I didn’t have any strong feelings about. She seemed to be very much a spectator in her own life. The impression I had is that searching for Delia was the first proactive move she had ever made. It’s understandable – with her mother’s addiction dominating her childhood it made sense that as a young woman she would seek a life without drama. Still, it was frustrating watching June subjugate herself to everyone in her life, first her mother, then Delia, and once she got involved with him, boring, unattractive, bunny-loving Ryan. I wouldn’t say my lukewarm feelings toward June really affected my reading experience, however. I can deal with characters that I don’t fully understand much more than those I find myself kind of getting why someone might have murdered.

Isn’t it strange how you can read a book and feel okay about it, then realise after you’ve finished that you maybe sort of hated it? Does anyone else experience this?

This part of my review is going to contain MAJOR SPOILERS. I wasn’t going to include these thoughts but the more I consider the book the more certain aspects upset me.

I need to get it all off my chest, you know?

I will attempt to spoil as little as possible.

So, certain parts of the book are written from Delia’s perspective. After a quote from Delia early on in the book (when I still had hope and was trying to convince myself that Delia wasn’t the most irritating character I had read in months) when she says that ‘The messed-up thing is how so many people think your body is their business, especially if you’re a girl.’ I started gearing myself up for a novel that gave women agency over their own bodies.

As such, I was pretty disappointed when Delia spent half her air time going on about how beautiful June was and how every eye in the room was drawn to her – and June of course, didn’t know it and believed herself to be an ugly troll.

Yawn, eye roll, etc.

What I feel that this attitude teaches (and trust me, it was the least of June and Delia’s problems, but whatever) is that you’re only beautiful when someone says that you are. It’s saying that your only worth is in other people’s perception of you and it’s a lesson we only teach young women. It’s gross and particularly annoying in a book that has previously preached about your body being your business. A girl thinking that she’s attractive doesn’t make her a terrible person and I’m so over YA novels saying otherwise. I would love to read a YA protagonist get ready for a night out and telling herself that she looks fucking awesome. Because that’s what happens when you get older and learn how to do your hair.

Anyway.

Delia, in addition to being a pain in the ass, is a total creep. Her relationship with June is manipulative and abusive. While I wouldn’t say that Weingarten is by any means condoning her behaviour, I would have liked her to have been way more explicit in her writing that the way Delia treated June was not okay. Pretty much Delia and June’s entire relationship was Delia placing June in situations that made her uncomfortable, and forcing her, through either lying or manipulation, to do things that she didn’t want to do. That is called an abusive relationship. While June talks about feeling ‘not right’ and her separation from Delia ‘a relief’ she doesn’t get enough into what precisely was wrong with their relationship that made her relieved that Delia was gone.

Obsessively controlling another person does not constitute a loving relationship.

I wish YA authors would realise this.

The book ended before we had the chance to get into it.

My final issue – and by far the SPOILER-IEST concerns Delia’s stepfather. Delia tells June that he attempted to rape her. June believes her – she had no reason not to – and much of what happens at the end of the book is as a result of that attempted rape.

Then, in the last freaking chapter, Weingarten suddenly casts doubt over whether or not Delia’s stepfather attacked her at all.

AND THEN THE BOOK ENDS.

False allegations of sexual assault is an all too common storyline. Yes, it happens (in 2-8% of court cases) but the amount of false allegations of sexual assault are disproportionate to the amount of time we all spend worrying about it. If Delia’s stepfather did not in fact attempt to rape her, then the events of the entire novel were completely pointless. Delia would be reduced from little more than a manic pixie dream girl to a psychopath without a cause. And I’m just not into that.

I revise my initial opinion. Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls is the bad kind of crazy. It’s a weak story that reduces girls into those stereotypes we are all so sick of – the beautiful angel and the oversexed psycho.

I am so over that shit.