Hope in the Dark

If, like me, you have started to look out the window first thing in the morning with a sense of impending doom; if when you think of the world you imagine, instead of a globe balancing on the back of an infinite number of turtles, more of a sinking ship that’s also burst into flames and about the blow any second; if you feel like you’re in the middle of an apocalypse in which instead of a zombie virus, people are infecting each other with hatred….

Mate: You really need to read this book.


Hope in the Dark is a history of activism, of success and failure. Of persisting in the face of a power that seems much greater than your own. Rebecca Solnit writes poetically about post 9/11 New York, civil rights battles and local business vs international corporations among many things, through the lens of hope.

I think we all need a little of that at this particular moment.

Since there is nothing in this book I could possibly say better than Solnit already has, I decided to do this review in quotes:

The definition of hope:

‘It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.’

On functioning in the paradoxical world:

‘F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” but the summations of the state of the world often assume that it must be all one way or the other and since it is not all good it must all suck royally. Fitzgerald’s forgotten next sentence is, “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and be determined to make them otherwise.”’

On protests against the Iraq war:

‘The dream did not last, though the moment is worth cherishing. Instead came the nightmares of burned and maimed children, bombed civilians, soldiers incinerated by depleted-uranium rounds, history itself wiped out when the United States permitted the looting of Baghdad’s National Museum and the burning of its National Library, US soldiers picked off a few at a time during the months of occupation and insurrection. The millions marching on February 15 represented something that is not yet fully realised, an extraordinary potential waiting, waiting for some catalyst to bring it into full flower. A new imagination of politics and change is already here, and I want to try and pare away what obscures it.’

On working towards that which you may never actually see:

‘There’s a wonderful parable by Jorge Luis Borges. In the last years of the thirteenth century, God tells a leopard in a cage, “You live and will die in this prison so that a man I know of may see you a certain number of times and not forget you and place your figure and symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have given a word to the poem.” The poem is the Divine Comedy; the man who sees the leopard is Dante.’

On progress:

‘…women used to make sixty-six cents to the male dollar and now we made seventy-seven cents, so what were we complaining about? It doesn’t seem like it should be so complicated to acknowledge that seventy-seven cents is better than sixty-six cents and that seventy-seven cents isn’t good enough, but the politics we have is so pathetically bipolar that we only tell this story two ways: either seventy-seven cents is a victory, and victories are points when you shut up and stop fighting; or seventy-cents is ugly, so activism accomplishes nothing and what’s the point of fighting? Both versions are defeatist because they are static. What’s missing from these two ways of telling is an ability to recognise a situation in which you are travelling and have not arrived, in which you have cause both to celebrate and to fight, in which the world is always being made and is never finished.’

On activism:

‘Activism is not a journey to the corner store, it is a plunge into the unknown. The future is always dark.’ 



Blue Lily, Lily Blue

For the first time in her life, Blue Sargent has found a place where she feels at home. The Ravem Boys have taken her in as one of their own and she is sure that this is where she belongs.

But certainties can unravel. Visions can mislead. And friends can betray.

The trick with found things is how easily they can be lost.


I keep waiting to get bored of The Raven Cycle, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue, much like its predecessors, didn’t disappoint. With every instalment, Maggie Stiefvater solidifies her place as one of my go-to authors. Also with her Twitter feed, which is delightful.

The best compliment I can give this book is that while reading on the train home after working multiple 12 hour shifts, I did not fall asleep. Lately, involuntarily passing out as soon as my butt hits that train seat, therefore accidentally using up my main reading time – yes, tragic, I know – has been an issue for me. Not so much with this one. Stiefvater knows how to write a page-turner.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue brought some much needed character development to Blue and her Raven Boys. Or perhaps I should say relationship development. Blue and Gansey are happening now, albeit in fits and starts. The something I thought I saw between Ronan and Adam back in book one is much harder to deny these days – and I still can’t quite decide whether I think they’ll be great or a disaster. They’re both just so damaged. But messy people attract, I guess. I can’t wait to see how Stiefvater pulls all the pieces together in book 4.

But the book wasn’t consumed by ships (not that I would have minded if it was honestly. I love it.), it was also about the friendships. Throughout the novel, Adam repeats the refrain to himself don’t fight with Gansey. After the relentless aggression, resentment and crossed wires that dominated Adam’s relationships in The Dream Thieves, he’s exhausted from the battle (as are we). It’s like in this book he suddenly felt the impossible weight of his pride. Choosing to carry it alone was something he finally started to see as kind of … dumb. It took two and half books, but he was at last able to ask himself why dealing with everything alone was better. He couldn’t find a good answer.

Even though he drives me crazy, Adam is the character in the series I identify most strongly with, so seeing him finally let down his carefully constructed walls, first to Gansey and Ronan in the court room and then to Blue with Cabeswater gave me ALL of the feels.

What has hit me again and again with this series is how strongly I feel about these characters. I think part of it is because of how easily Stiefvater flips between the magical side of things and the real, painful realities of a human life. Even if the scenario is magical, the feelings that come with it are real and raw and tangible. Probably the best example of this is the scene where Adam’s dad shows up at his apartment.

So much of the book up until that point is dedicated to how Adam isn’t really ‘normal ‘ any more. But in that moment when he opens the door up to his abuser, he is a boy again. There is a narrative that people enjoy of standing up to abusers, telling them to go fuck themselves while a room full of supporters applaud, or of making them think that their house is haunted by the husband they probably murdered using your newfound telekinetic ability. It’s a nice scene, certainly satisfying, but it isn’t real. When most people are faced with their abusers they freeze, like Adam did. This is because of the fear and because of the doubt. Adam’s father walked into his home to tell him what he always did:  That Adam was making it up, that Adam didn’t understand his own life, that Adam was the one to blame. He did all of this with the lingering threat of violence. Over coming abuse is a long and complicated process, even when you have powers. I was so grateful that Stiefvater didn’t write anything to reduce that.

This scene really came out of nowhere and was as much of a heart punch to the reader as it was Adam. It is through moments like this that Stiefvater consistently grounds the series. I don’t read too much fantasy, and part of the reason for that is the difficulty that I have connecting to characters who’s experiences are too fantastical to be relatable. In this series, the balance is perfect. The magical world is engaging and exciting while the human elements remain authentic.

I sort of want to put off reading The Raven King for a while because I don’t want the series to be over.

Two issues:

Malory. What was the point of him?

Calla. I love her, but why did she make such a big deal about going to the cave and then decide to sit in the car and wait for the action to be over? That felt silly to me. I know it was important for Blue to wind up going it alone, but I feel like there was probably a better way to deal with the Calla problem. She just never struck me as the waiting in the car type.

The Wangs vs the World

Charles Wang is angry at America.

America had promised him the dream, a beautiful life full of mansions, yachts and sports cars. But it’s 2008, the world has been rocked by a financial crisis and Charles has lost everything. His last resort is to make a claim on his lost ancestral lands in China, but first he must set off on an epic road trip across America to collect his family. His second wide, Barbra, believes she only married Charles for his money; his son Andrew, a wannabe comic, is forced to drop out of college; and his youngest, Grace, thinks the trip is nothing more than an elaborate plan to teach her the value of money. His eldest daughter, disgraced art world It Girl Saina, seems to be the family’s only hope, but her own life is in tatters too.

Funny, fast paced and addictively readable, The Wangs vs the World is a gripping portrait of contemporary America, which asks whether anyone can truly feel at home in the post-financial crash world.


The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang  gave me some seriously mixed feelings. While there was much about the book that I liked, the darker aspects of the plot made me uncomfortable in a way that sadly dominated the second half of the narrative for me.

Jade Chang is such a witty writer. Her approach to family life is sharp and empathetic, using a multiple POV narrative that works really well. Each member of the Wang family is complex and believable, from Grace, a sixteen-year-old fashion blogger, to her stepmother Barbra, the smartest and most disregarded Wang. Chang regularly incorporates untranslated Mandarin into the narrative, particularly when characters were expressing love toward each other which felt very natural. Her approach to race is interesting, particularly in the narratives of Grace and Andrew. Andrew is an aspiring comedian whose set revolves around poking fun at racist stereotypes (in such a way that perpetuates them – his entire set is designed for racist white people, so far as I could tell. It was a really interesting look at how racism affects identity), while Grace dreads the inevitable moment someone (a white person) asks, but where are you from?

As I mentioned, there was an event in this book that made me really uncomfortable – and even though it is only a short part of it, the scene that really defined my reading experience. Before I talk about it, it’s necessary for me to warn that it involves discussion of sexual assault, and that in talking about it I will be looking at plot points that could be considered spoilers, so if you’d rather avoid that – which is totally fine, I understand – you should probably stop reading now.

Andrew Wang is a virgin. He’s had girlfriends and spends a lot of time lying in bed with mostly naked women, but he doesn’t want to actually have sex until he’s in love. He’s 21, and he hasn’t been in love yet. I would classify the way that Andrew eventually loses his virginity as sexual assault. It’s with this much older woman who blind folds him and binds his hands – which he’s initially okay with – but who ignores him when he tells her that he doesn’t want to have sex until he’s in love. She has sex with him anyway, and Andrew spends the following weeks trying to convince himself that they are in fact in love. The sexual assault is never actively discussed. I found this really upsetting to read. It made me uncomfortable in a way that coloured my reading of the rest of the book.

The literature student half of my brain wants to call this good writing. The truth is that sometimes consent can be murky (although an involuntary physical reaction should NOT be interpreted as consent), sometimes the rapist wouldn’t believe they did anything wrong and sometimes the victim would question whether what happened to them was rape in the first place (Andrew never even did this. He just never thought about it or mentioned it again). It’s true that a lot of people would try and pretend it didn’t happen, wouldn’t tell anyone and would simply move on with their life as if everything was the same. It’s true, perhaps especially if that person happened to be a man.

But the personal part of my brain wanted Andrew to tell someone. I wanted the language of sexual assault to be used, which it never was. I wanted footnotes with giant letters screaming THIS IS WRONG. THIS IS RAPE. I also, to be totally honest, wanted some warning that this scene was coming. Previously when I’ve read books concerned with sexual assault I’ve known what I was walking into, which gave me the opportunity to prepare, whatever that even means. It made me grateful for trigger warnings.

It was just such an odd piece in a book that had previously been so natural, so unafraid of confronting racism, immigrant experience and the shitshow that was 2008, to have this unaddressed sexual assault (which a review I read simply referred to as ‘Andrew’s hapless love life’ WTF!?).

It made me question how sexual assault is written, if there is a way it should be approached – should we always name it when it’s there? I’m inclined to say yes, but I’m open to arguments (sensitive, empathetic and respectful arguments). I also wonder how this scene might have been different if Andrew were a female character.

Have you read The Wangs vs the World? How did you interpret Andrew and Dorrie’s relationship? Do you think that the sexual assault should be discussed in the narrative? I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts. This is a book I’d like to talk about more.

Swing Time

Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Tracey wants to make it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighbourhood far behind, travelling the world as PA to famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one per cent live.

But when Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey – the same twists, the same shakes – and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the musical of time.


Swing Time was actually my first Zadie Smith novel. I studied her short story (which is actually pretty long) The Embassy of Cambodia for a class I took at university and always intended to delve further into her work but never got around to it for some reason. When I read her conversation with Lena Dunham in Lenny, I realised the time had come. I also had a gift card left over from Christmas perfect for buying myself a beautiful but painfully expensive hardback. So I went for it.

Swing Time is a novel consumed by questions of race, class, motherhood, success and female friendship. Smith explores these themes using the parallel experiences of the unnamed narrator and her childhood best friend, Tracey. Both girls grow up on the same London estate but go on to radically different adult lives. Tracey, the dancer, never leaves the estate and finishes the novel a single parent with mental health issues. The unnamed narrator on the other hand, after leaving the estate for university and becoming the personal assistant to world-famous musician Aimee and travelling the world with her, ends up publicly disgraced, unemployed and only a few miles from where she started.

Both women would probably regard the other as having the worse deal.

‘I saw all my years at once, but they were not piled up on each other, experience after experience, building into something of substance – the opposite. A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow.’

One of the aspects of this novel that intrigued me the most was the way we imagine the lives of other people. The most obvious and in many ways most pressing example of this was Aimee’s mission to ‘help the children of Africa’, which she did with no regard to the political situation of Gambia (they were getting into bed with a regime that was not interested in the wellbeing of its people) or even the needs of the small community the school was built to serve (her school was for girls only – the incorrect assumption being the boys were already taken care of). The end result of the school was the village suffering even more financial hardship than before, as the government viewed it as being taken care of by Aimee’s foundation, and consequently removed the little financial aid it had in place. Aimee was doing nothing to break the cycle of poverty, but despite the narrator’s (frustratingly few) attempts to make her see the truth she remains stubbornly disinterested – consumed with Lamin, her Gambian lover, rather than the school that brought her to the country in the first place.

Even after witnessing this, the narrator is not immune from similarly grand fantasies. In the final chapters of Swing Time, when she’s finally back in London and confronted with Tracey’s fractured mental health and poor family, she imagines a world in which she adopts Tracey’s children as her own as if that were anything like a solution.

All of this imagined good is contrasted with snippets into the life of the narrator’s mother. The narrator holds a great deal of resentment toward her mother, who spent her childhood buried in books rather than taking her daughter to dance class. What it resulted in, though, was an adult life as a crucial pillar of the community, a member of parliament who spent her career communicating with her people and working to make life better for them based on their requests rather than some imagined scenario. Our impression of the narrator’s mother is so consumed by her resentment toward her that it’s difficult to see her work for what it is, but when you peek around all that anger and resentment she is revealed as the most active character in the novel.

While I enjoyed most of the story, Swing Time was difficult for me in places. What the narrator says of herself at the beginning, about attaching herself to the light of others rather than creating her own proves true, resulting in what is at times a main character who is oddly disengaged from the events of her life. She doesn’t seem to really seek deep feeling and cuts those who produce it from her – mostly her mother and Tracey, although also latterly her father – from her life. There are some moments of great sadness in the novel that are glossed over, as if she is somehow numb to them, or has perhaps numbed herself deliberately. The effect of this on me was to make it difficult to feel as I wanted for her, and her experiences. There were parts of the book that left me a little flat, which frustrated me.

Overall though, Swing Time is a rich and interesting novel, and one that despite my issues with it, I can see myself returning to in the future.

January Wrap-Up

I totally forgot to do this. Forgive me?

January was a weird month for me. Working in a restaurant as I do it meant I finally got to relax a little bit like everyone else did over the Christmas period. I also escaped the waitressing world for a way too short week to do some work experience at a magazine.

Back to the waitressing again now.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will bring some sort of life progress.


This month I reviewed:

The Sun is also a Star – Nicola Yoon

The Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater

Blood for Blood – Ryan Graudin

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I adored all of these books for lots of different reasons. They have totally reinvigorated my love for YA and for complex storytelling in general. In The Raven Cycle I am being reminded how wonderful it is to lose yourself in a series. Reading Nicola Yoon made me think about how vital it is to read widely and diversely about experiences that aren’t my own. Ryan Graudin shattered my heart into a thousand pieces and reaffirmed the conclusion I have come to lately: fiction, much like life, is not supposed to be comfortable.

The Goldfinch made me fall more in love with books than I have ever been.

I also wrote…

Twitter: Some feelings

A Mystery

Reasons to watch Search Party

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for.

To Read: This insane article about super rich doomsday preppers in America. This may just be because I am poor, have terrible eye sight and no bunker, but honestly, if there is an apocalyptic event I am happy enough to go out in that. I’ve read the books. I don’t want to be dealing with any of that post-apocalyptic shit.

To Listen: Invisibilia. I ADORE this podcast. I have been listening to it very gradually so as not to run out of episodes. I have shaken up my podcast habits in a big way lately. I was listening to a lot of so called ‘inspiring’ shows where billionaires talk about how they got rich. I recently realised that I have no interest in billionaires. Instead, I’m interested in questions. Invisibilia is all about those. Subjects include: Is blindness a social construct? and Do our thoughts REALLY create our world?

To Watch: Whiplash. I just watched this movie yesterday and it BLEW MY FREAKING MIND. It might be the most intense hour and 45 minutes I have ever spent. Also? It felt like 5 seconds. This story about an abusive music teacher (JK Simmons) and a talented jazz drummer (Miles Teller) will tear you apart, horrify you and make you question everything you ever thought about greatness and achieving it. It’s not often I call a film about 2 white men a religious experience but this one totally is. NECESSARY VIEWING.

ALSO ALSO ALSO I have Instagram now! I update it as irregularly and with as varying quality as all my social media. Follow me? I’m @Lydiat21

A Reading List (Hastily compiled, somewhat diverse)

I see many posts on Twitter asking for diverse reads. Nobody asked me, but I thought I would make a list of a few of my favourite books from and about marginalised voices and experiences. Mostly fiction, a little non-fiction thrown in. I’ll link either to goodreads or my own reviews.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Americanah – Chimanada Ngozi Adichie

How To Say I Love You Out Loud – Karole Cozzo

She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgewick

The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon

Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

The Wangs VS The World – Jade Chang

I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

Angry White People: Coming Face to Face with the British Far Right – Hsiao-Hung Pai

After Alice – Gregory Maguire

The Colour Purple – Alice Walker

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling