Discussion: So you’ve been publicly shamed

I remember when we first got dial-up. I used to race down the stairs on weekend mornings and boot up our old computer. It would tingle a little as it turned on, as if shedding static cobwebs. I’d carefully remove the ethernet clip from the phone, pressing down the plastic top firmly and not letting go until I nestled it into the back of the computer. Knowing I’d have to remove it when my parents woke up, I’d load up seven chapters of whatever Fictionpress book  I was reading and settle in. Back then the internet was unexplored territory. Commercials with rippling text– y’know the late 90s when the text sometimes looked like it was made of slime?– would warn parents to watch their kids. People from all around the world would connect, comfortable in their anonymity. Anyone could do anything!

Then it transformed from unknown to the best tool known to man. The internet solved everything, or so the predominant wisdom at the time went. I remember those heady tech-utopian days when hate rhetoric seemed relegated to a dark corner that barely invaded our collective peripheral vision. There were no articles about how dictatorships could use the internet to reinforce their hold on nations or put out so much content it became difficult to wade through it and separate fact and fiction. There were no think pieces on how the internet village separated us into further categories– the internet was solely a means to freedom and education. It was the universal village! We could talk to anyone in the world.

Nowadays we don’t think of the internet as one big party. We even have internet specific terms for groups, and some of the groups have peeled themselves from internet forums to begin affecting our conversations, and policy, in real life.Perhaps the one holdover from the old unexplored days is the notion that “the internet is forever,” something even more terrifying when we consider what the shifting alliances or group loyalty on the internet can do to people’s lives. One tweet, one blogpost, one video gone viral and you’re an international joke, sometimes luckily and sometimes not. No doubt, not every viral bit stems from naivete or poor wording. There’s a certain thrill to the schadenfreude of watching the bully get punished, but what about the person who stumbles? And what happens afterward?

Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed examines exactly that. In it, he speaks with several people who’ve experienced public shaming for online, or sometimes offline, errors. Like many of us, Ronson had participated in an online dragging before.  Getting credit for a witty riposte or covering your relief you avoided censure with a sheen of schadenfreude when someone else falls into the same pitfall. He remembered when the internet made us all Davids against the Goliath of corporations*. How public shaming could punish the deserving. But what happens when the person we’re ostracizing or shaming has a face?

My third year of college I enrolled in a course on Public Policy. Among other books, we were assigned “How we Choose” by Jonah Lerner. I loved the book, in a sea of dense academic texts “How we choose” offered learning wrapped in effortless diversion.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Lerner had been famously disgraced by a journalist with a deep love for Bob Dylan.  In a flash, Lerner went from pop science superstar to pariah. Michael, the journalist? He gained little money and little recognition for his investigative work.

Over the course of the book, Ronson met many times with Jonah Lehrer. He talked with him about shame, fear, depression and, later, about how Lehrer nurtured hope for a chance at redemption. Then, he was offered that chance: A speech at a well-known journalism conference. But when he appeared at the conference, still shaky and half-filled with loathing, he wasn’t just giving a speech to a small room. The entire world was watching. And the room? They were watching the world react on Twitter from a screen right next to  Lehrer’s head.  By and large, Twitter was not forgiving.

As I read about the backlash, I couldn’t help but remember an article I’d read some time back about this phenomenon.  The article, titled “Exiting the Vampire’s Castle” was British writer Mark Fisher’s lament about online culture. I can’t say I agreed completely with his propositions, but So You’ve been Publicly Shamed re-etched one idea in particular from Fisher’s article:”The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.” A chill descended upon me as I read this. I’d never be brave enough to admit I’d seen this.

I’d watched this happen when Carve the Mark, the latest book from Veronica Roth came out. The book community divided over Carve the Mark.  ARC readers reported racist tropes and, after reading their reviews, a number of members called for a boycott and declared consumers of the book racist. Another group disagreed.  They asserted that simply reading did not equate to virulent racism**. They accused the first group of a form of social censorship.

A member of the first group, LL McKinney pointed out that customers drive the market. If we support books with harmful representation and ignore more diverse voices, we’ll continue getting the same narratives over and over again. She added the publishing industry, even as it embraces “diversity” still gives space to predominantly white authors.  Eventually, the author broke her silence to rebut some of the claims. The language of the warlike group wasn’t based on North African/Middle Eastern languages but on Romanian and Hungarian. They also weren’t universally dark skinned.  Francina Simone entered the conversation  with an amazing  video dissuading people from grouping people together without examining actions and literature.  Simone spoke at length about her concern with the discourse surrounding Roth and book reading. Not only did the conversation move quickly away from the art in question, but it also took a great deal of time from promoting better books.

During the video, Simone decried tendencies to engage with people making honest mistakes and “trolls” in the same manner. “I want to dismiss that unless you’re being rude and angry about shit, you’re being passive,” Simone continued. Like in the Vampire’s Castle, I watched people launch into defense or attack to gain hearts on twitter from their carefully defined ingroup. Voices who had previously been accepted in the same community who disagreed were immediately jettisoned.*** Time and time again, more attention was given to the first person to spot something wrong,  qualities of virtue were ascribed to those who called for swift punishment, and belonging was gifted to those who went along. The Vampire Castle sucked positivity from the air.

Achieving a balance between acting on positive change and reacting to negative conditions is difficult.  When Jonah Lehrer gave his speech, many people were cynical of his intent. They were concerned that his reentry might affect the validity of the genre as a whole. They were skeptical of his suffering. After all, he was paid for the appearance, and his sometimes questionable word choice elevated instead of humbled him.

Before gave his speech, and before Ronson started investigating thoroughly the stories, and options for redemption of the recently shamed, he relayed Michael and Jonah Lehrer scoop to a theatre director at a party.  Instead of reacting with curiosity or laughter at Lehrer’s fate, the man shivered. “It’s  about the terror, isn’t it?…The terror of being found out.” It was then Ronson, as he inexplicably shivered too, he had a realization. He wrote:

“I had leapt into the middle of the Michael/Jonah story because I admired and identified with Michael.  He personified citizen justice, whereas Jonah represented literary fraud in the pop-science world. he made a  fortune corrupting an already self-indulgent, bloated genre. I still admired Michael. But suddenly, when the theatre director said the words ‘the terror of being found out’, I felt like a door had briefly opened before me, revealing some infinite horror-land filled with millions of scared-stiff Jonahs. How many people had I banished to that land during my thirty years of journalism? How truly nightmarish it must have been to be Jonah Lehrer.”

I can’t say I have any answers about how we should proceed on the internet. I can’t even tell you I know for certain where the lines between Righteous Justice and Vampire Castle begin and end. I can only offer more questions: In this atmosphere, how do people who have made mistakes achieve redemption? Can they? Should they? If so, when?  What does it mean if we create groups force strict in-group/out-group rules?  When anger becomes currency, how do we spend it? Are we the citizen justice or another fraud waiting to be outed?

*How corporations  have learned to use technology now is another topic worth exploring. I shall do my best to resist here since it’s not the point, but just know that I wanted to write about it.
** I should note here that many of the conversations did not consider racism as a matter of degrees but created a dichotomy. Another conversation worth having about how we frame racism and how smaller acts link to larger ones. But, again, off topic.

*** Like Simone, I am not attempting to tone police anyone. Even typing thisI’m afraid of some backlash. I doubt this will get any attention (in the scheme of things I’m not very important), but I still worry. In my time online, I’ve watched people bullied for a less than this. All it takes is one person with a lot of followers to assign new meaning or reframe.  To be clear, I am not attempting to censor anyone who has expressed anger or discomfort while on the internet. I am not asserting dog whistles and other similarly shrouded negative sentiments aren’t shrouded in more acceptable language. My only intention is to express some concern with how dynamics, like the Vampire’s Castle, might encourage us to be cruel, to gloss over nuance or context.

Also, you read all of this?! Holy shit. I’m impressed. Thanks for caring about my tiny blip of word nonsense in the vast ocean of internet entertainment.

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The White Rose

Millions of “good” Germans did not like the Nazis, yet thought they were the less evil compared to the communists…Everything was still standing; life went on as before; but beneath the surface, something had changed.”– Inge Scholl on Germany shortly after Hitler’s election.

Many people from my country know how fascist Germany fell. Over the decades, WWII has increasingly been presented in the good versus evil narrative. While this narrative may fit better here than with other wars, it tends to gloss over the presence of resistance in Germany. It consigns all Germans to the role of active supporter or coward.

In Germany, for years following the regime’s downfall, The White Rose was assigned as required reading. The educators hoped that the bravery displayed in it, the choice to put others’ lives over country, even when that meant possibly losing your own, might help students do the same. They hoped children might recognize some of the warning signs  if ever another regime such as Hitler’s tried to take control.

The book itself is quite short, but gripping.  It follows the development of The White Rose, an student-lead underground resistance from its inception to its downfall. Sophie and Hans Scholl grew up in Hitler’s youth groups. They watched the environment turn from celebratory to one of censure– where young people,and their family, were scorned for expressing doubt in the regime, discomfort with its rhetoric against Jewish people. As the two grew older, they became more and more disenchanted with the government, more suspicious of the narrative they were being sold. When they reached university, they joined with others to form the underground resistance.

At this point in time, many were confident Hitler would only fall with military action, and perhaps the Scholls agreed, but during a time when so many had  given into apathy, the Scholls felt it their duty to resist using any means possible. For them, the question was not whether or not they supported the regime but what resistance meant in practice. How could they resist? How could they encourage others to?

The White Rose was born from defiance, anger and conviction of morals. What started with surreptitious meetings with like-minds; meetings where they could share texts from forbidden philosophers and writers and rail against the loss of freedoms and death which surrounded them. Even those meetings might be enough for imprisonment or death, but the group decided it wasn’t enough.With the aid of other students, and a professor, they  began putting together pamphlets which they scattered about different cities in Germany. Every time they traveled to place them in mailboxes of random people or leave them in front of university classrooms, they risked their lives.

These pamphlets reassured others that they were not alone. They denounced the regime for its cruelty and appealed to  German citizens’ humanity. One specifically outlined how to resist passively, instructing readers “to concentrate upon what was attainable…” and resist in small ways each day. When the Scholls were arrested after throwing pamphlets from the University steps, they knew they would be sentenced to death. They did not waver in their choice. From the record of their, and others’ testimony, the prosecution described the resistance as both child-like and devious; in competent and dangerous. As I read it, I could help but recognize echoes of this in today’s characterization of organized opposition.

Some have said the reliance of the book on text. Many pages are either reprints of the pamhplets The White Rose spread or the text of their trials. When one remembers the purpose of the collection, it becomes easier to understand why Inge Scholl did not speculate as often. Still, I can understand the desire for more– perhaps another edition with further thoughts from the two resistance leaders’ sister. Inge does write a conclusion where she tries to assess the impact her siblings had and make sense of the desire for current society to claim them as their heroes, to see themselves reflect in their actions. She writes:

“It would be wrong to see the action of the students in Munich in the period 1942-43 as a noble deed in the abstract. I twas concrete, and its goal and starting point were concrete…we should look upon [what they did] as a singular instance.

“It was an instance in which five or six students took it upon themselves to act while the dictatorship was totally in control; in which they accepted the lonely burden of not even  being able to discuss these matters with their families; in which they took action even though the omnipotent state allowed them no room for maneuver; in which they acted in spite of the fact that they could do no more than tear small rifts in the structure of that state– much less blast out the corner stones.

“It is rare that a man is prepared to pay with his life for such a minimal achievement as causing cracks in the edifice of the existing order.”

Near the end, The White Rose includes an account of Sophie Scholl’s last days from the view of a fellow prisoner. It is heart-wrenching. As I read, I wondered if I could ever be as brave as Sophie Scholl was, even as her death drew near. We all like to believe we’d be on the “right side of history”. We like to think we’d be the hero, but when people are  disappearing everyday; when executions are carried out for reading the wrong text or protecting another person, could you really say you would  lay down your life for your morality?

Authoritarianism relies on fast movements and a cocktail of xenophobia and forced-nationalism. It assumes that with enough violence and mistruth, people will simply give up. That this small group would sacrifice their lives to save the German soul is exceptional. Many have suggested a dark shadow has fallen over our world recently. Some say this reflects in the literature we consume and, indeed sales for dystopian tales like 1984 and The Handmaiden’s Tale have risen. Both these books are speculative horrors, neither offer the surety that comes with knowing evil has been defeated. The White Rose is similarly sobering. It is only through knowledge of history that we know the Scholl’s won and, as Sophie Scholl said to the judge before her death “Soon you will be standing where I now stand.”  The White Rose offers readers the heroes of a good story, but more importantly, it offers some guidance for the non-heroes, the people who picked up the pamphlets from their mailboxes and felt a little less alone.

Under a Painted Sky

Samantha, Sam, fought with her father the day he died. Her father plans to close their dry goods shop in Missouri and move to California with an old family friend. Samantha wishes to move to New York to become a professional musician– not an easy task for a young girl in 1849, much less one who is Chinese.

When a blaze of fire envelops her family home,  the one person who seems to offer “help” intends to force her into prostitution. Within the first few pages, Samantha must come to terms with her father’s likely murder and fend off a man attempting to assault her. The result of her efforts is his death, which is discovered by Annamae, a 16-year-old slave girl. Annamae quickly assesses the situation and offers to go on the run with Sam. The two choose to disguise themselves as boys and head west where they hope to find freedom, family and security.

Cowboys and pioneers; cholera and stampedes; a mysterious gang of criminals on the run and authorities upholding unjust laws all coalesce into a climax that mostly lives up to the tension. In an interview, Lee said tension is her “achilles heel“.  She mentioned revising those sections twenty to thirty times and the work is evident. The book is very well structured with few scenes that do not, in some way, lead to or affect the climax.

The author did a great deal of research for this book, as one must do when writing historical fiction. She “wanted to write a book about what it was like for the first Chinese Americans in the United States. Many of them came during the California Gold Rush, which coincided with the western expansion of the United States via the Oregon Trail.”  But she didn’t stop there, she portrayed attitudes toward race and gender at the time as well.

Themes:

Unsurprisingly, these were some of the main themes of the book,  but the issues that affect us are not our entire identity. Lee knew that, and that is why she included themes like grief and friendship. The relationship Sam had with her father and her struggle to come to terms with the circumstances of his death affects her throughout the book.

Annamae and Sam’s friendship demonstrates positive  and essential methods to survival in harsher worlds. I actively seek out positive female friendships, and this book most definitely had it. While circumstances at the beginning force the two together, they build a genuine friendship  where their differences– whether it be religious or reaction based– are respected and explored. They support each other and this is why they survive.

Characters

 The dialogue between the mischievous group of cowboys, Sam and Annamae was full of droll wit and just enough period language to help set the scene. Both main characters have distinct voices and the interactions between them were some of the most enjoyable sections of the book, for me.

Sam is torn between her dreams, her new friendship, and duty as a daughter. She  is raised to be proud of her culture in a world which views it as uncivilized. At the same time, she questions parts of the cultural wisdom she was raised with, parsing out the traditions which held her back from the ideas which connect her with her family, her people and herself.

Annamae bears an even-keeled practicality which results from facing open and widespread oppression.  Yet she retains a softness demonstrated when she speaks of her lost brothers– one of whom sent her a way to escape from slavery on the same day she met Samantha. Annamae’s choice to help Samantha at the cost of her own escape evinces her true character.

Even so, at times, she did feel more sidekick than friend. If I am being honest with myself, I would have preferred more development of Annamae over the romance elements. The book stumbles here.

Despite some of the more serious themes and plot points, Under the Painted Sky  didn’t feel heavy. On the contrary, it uplifted. Stacey Lee spread scenes which break tension through the book and allows her characters some pockets of happiness.

A unique take on the Wild West  Stacey Lee’s book has my full recommendation.

 

Juliet Takes a Breath

Juliet likes to fantasize while she’s on the metro, about a book. A book by white feminist icon Harlow Brisbane. Even as she’s learning how to tap into Brisbane’s ideas of feminine power, she’s struggling with admitting to her parents she identifies as a lesbian and, not just that, but she’s in love with another girl. After she lands an internship with Brisbane in Portland, she decides to come out to her family.

Now states away, Juliet must maneuver between new responsibilities, a long-distance relationship and a newly complicated relationship with her Puerto Rican family back in the Bronx. In many ways, Juliet Takes a Breath functions as an introduction to the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. As Juliet confronts the harsh  unreliability of heroes, and impermanence of love; as she reconciles her understanding of how the world sees her with the reality, she must learn to cherish her own space, develop her voice and choose which relationships are worthwhile. Juliet’s journey to self-acceptance and understanding of the complexities of the world is not meant for the character alone. I suspect many young women will find Rivera’s book inspiring and self-affirming.

Roxane Gay said, in her review, she could have done without as much social science 101, and I agree. Adding to this, Rivera  relegated secondary characters to plot devices, another stepping stone in Juliet’s growth. These problems, combined with the dreaded telling instead of showing misstep, weighed the plot down. I recognize, however, that I am not the intended audience. Juliet Takes a Breath introduces various ideas and theories for young adults which they likely have not been exposed to– at least not in the way this book does. In that respect, the author’s choice makes sense and I think younger generations may see themselves in this book.

A Court of Thrones and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses suffered from problems similar to Throne of Glass. The characters had lackluster moments. the plot dragged in sections and some of the solutions to the main characters challenges felt too easy. Frankly, the last pages of the book saved it.  No one can deny that Sarah J. Maas write action well. Those scenes made the book worth while. They also, in part, explained why so many of the previous obstacles Feyre overcame were so simple. Part of me just felt relieved that the author explained it; the other part of me felt it didn’t completely excuse the ease with which Feyre did almost everything.

Plot & Writing: 

Gosh, like Throne of Glass there is so much wish fulfillment. The other characters love Feyre almost instantly, even though she killed their friend. This is given few sentences of explanation at the end, but Maas just doesn’t quite pull it off. It’s not enough. Moreover, the characters consistently give her information the moment she asks (this also functions as a not-so-well-hidden infodump). Maas justifies this in the end too, but she does not justify Feyre’s ability to use that information with relative ease. The tension leading up to the big bad was overshadowed by scenes where Feyre paints, and goes to rituals she’s been forbidden from, and dives into springs, and spends days ‘hunting’ (it is revealed she actually hates hunting). During those scenes, Feyre could have spent so much time using her smarts to figure out information she was freely given.
Simply put, the main character isn’t present for most of the real action in the book, and when she is the tension snaps because of her abilities or she is immediately saved and scolded for her foolishnees. In fact, Feyre hardly faces any true obstacles (no tragic backstory does not count) until the very end.

The end hinged on a   Feyre completing three tasks or answering a riddle. The riddle was painfully simple. Now, I could understand not being able to think straight because of the impending doom hanging over your head or, hey, not being able to remember the parts of the riddle (it was long!), but Maas didn’t try either of those explanations. No, she remembers it perfectly. She doesn’t struggle to think about it because of panic. She just can’t figure it out.  Nevertheless, the end highlights some of Feyre’s best qualities. She is truly resourceful, brave, even clever during the trials and I hope we see more of that Feyre in the second book.

Characters:

Sarah J. Maas’ biggest weakness lies in character development. She doesn’t leave enough crumbs to lead the reader through their development. They, therefore, feel like they have flipped personalities or shed some of what made them essential. Characters almost never feel more than one thing in any moment. Either they hate someone or they love someone.

Tamlin, the beast, wasn’t convincing. A few growls and random attacks do not a beast make. His erratic behavior is not explained until the end and, indeed, it hardly registers with the other characters at all.  Except for Feyre, but I’m not sure her reactions are much better. She oscillates between fear and love and anger and sympathy, but not in a convincing way.  Much of her fear is derived from thinking about how powerful her captor is.  Maas’ chosen method of bringing the characters closer is for Tamlin to reveal his tragic past.

Like others have noted, Feyre is presented as a strategic thinker, but this is undercut by some of her more foolish choices and the ease with which she achieves everything. Again, telling us characters are complex because of something in their past does not actually make them so. The author must demonstrate it.

There were several moments when I wanted to shout where is your editor. Many of  the characters surrounding Feyre functioned to prop her up. Her sister’s behavior emphasizes Feyre’s strength and virtue. Lucien’s behavior underscores Feyre’s own witty remarks. Maas uses Alis to demonstrate her selflessness. Some of them get extra layers slapped onto them at the end, but I struggled to hold on to those layers because the sudden addition felt jarring.

A final character introduced in the end, of the bad-boy archetype variety, offers some of the complexity many of the other characters are sorely missing.  Unfortunately, Feyre’s reaction to some of his more questionable decisions is steeped in the same inconsistency and development problems as before.  Like Tamlin, this character’s worst actions are excused In Feyre’s mind because of his intentions.  I’m not buying it.

The strength of this book should have its foundations in the romance– after all it is sold as a romance book– yet, I felt next to nothing about the main pair.

I have heard the next book improves upon these problems a great deal, but I’m not sure if I’ll pick it up.

Review: The Underground RailRoad

Colson Whitehead’s novel the Underground Railroad relays the story of a Cora, a slave whose mother is purported to be the first and only slave who escaped to freedom on her plantation. This legacy follows Cora for the entire novel and in some ways is the reason for her escape and for her troubles on the Underground Railroad. Unlike other novels tackling this subject matter, the Underground Railroad is not a network of people hiding behind code words– though the author does include a clever reference to towards the end of the book– but an actual, literal railroad. The consequences of this switch from information network to physical path crop up from time to time throughout the novel. At times, they allow him to switch the focus from Cora’s escape to the culture that pervaded the United States at the time.

Whiteheads’ recount of pre-civil war America is blunt, unwavering and, perhaps, even cynical. This cynicism is most memorably  captured in his motif of darkness. In the beginning of the novel one of the conductors of the railroad tells Cora “If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America.” It is only later that Cora realizes , through riding rails again and again that the true face of America is the darkness inside them.

As Cora continues her journey North, her understanding that “one might think one’s misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality” is only reinforced. The myth of the North outshines its reality. Even characters’ who help Cora have their vices laid bare: perhaps they envision themselves the white savior of what they call a ‘lesser people’; perhaps they  are cowards; perhaps they desire too much, too fast; perhaps they don’t fight at all.

He does sprinkle strands of hope through the novel. They are often shredded, sometimes even moments after they are delivered. This leads the reader to guard their hope and tamp it down, much like the main character of the novel. I cannot truthfully say that this novel was a hopeful one and I’m not sure I could use the word “enjoy” to describe my experience with this novel. Nevertheless, I recommend it. It is skillfully written.


Plot: 

I actually gasped, exclaimed even, during some parts of the book. Whitehead plays with the readers desire for the main characters’ success. He lulls you into a calm, albeit a tense one, then wrenches any security you felt away from you. In terms of building suspense, Whitehead succeeded, I hovered between anxious and horrified through the entirety of the novel with only one moment of true calm.

The structure of the novel may bother some as he jumps between characters and moves back and forth in time, but it never seemed he did so without reason. In fact, he would often add a new character chapter right before an important event. For someone who is often a character-driven, world-driven reader, this technique worked well for me.

Characters:

Don’t be fooled by the back flap description, there is only one true main character in this story: Cora.  Some have complained that the style of writing, coupled with Cora’s reactions to obstacles, hardships and tragedies, removed them from the story. They  felt unable to sympathize with Cora’s plight because she– or the narrator–  relays events in a distant manner. While I understand their perspective, I didn’t feel bothered by this. On the contrary, I found her reactions realistic and varied. For me, Cora is sustained by a mix of defiance, resilience, bitterness,  regret, desperation, and hope.  Her perceived stoniness is a result of the atrocities she has bore and witness, but it is not all she is.

The villain, Ridgeway, is not the typical story villain. He is to “return escaped slaves”  through a much more sinister form of hatred and racism.  His belief in the order of the world is an almost effortless, lazy acceptance that slavery exists for a reason and the “institution” was infallible. To be sure, Ridgeway hates a number of plantation owners and is disgusted with them. He is aware of the cruelty, he recognizes it and he participates in it. His conversations with Cora are underlined by the specter of “practicality”. He admits the system is cruel, but he actively benefits from it. This, for me at least, was what made him the more terrifying villain. That he found atrocities an acceptable method to achieve personal goals, that he was clever enough to understand it and to find ways to benefit from it. Ultimately, it is his pride that leads to his obsession with Cora not  his desire to protect a system.

A note on other reviews I’ve read: 

Sorry, this is something that has annoyed me about some other reader reviews I’ve read. They have claimed that particular scenes where in black bodies are harmed by doctors  are inaccurate; that they have no basis in history. In fact, they are not inaccurate. Perhaps you could argue they are anachronistic– I’ve only read accounts occurring after the time period the story is written in– but you can not argue that comparable things never happened to black people in the U.S..

Everything Everything

I’ll admit it. I picked up Everything , Everything after watching the trailer with Amandla Stenberg. I am not ashamed.I listened to the full audiobook in about a day. This meant I missed some of the graphics and added art, but I console myself with the amazing reading by Bahni Turpin.

Being someone who does not read contemporary often, I had no expectations but, in spite of some of its problems, I enjoyed it.

Madeline, Maddy really, owes her life to HEPA filters, decontamination rooms, her nurse and her mother, the doctor, who helped diagnose her with Severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID. For much of her life she is content with her books, architecture classes and games of honor pictionary with her mother. Then a boy moves across the street.

Nicola Yoon penned some memorable moments and charmed me with her main character. Maddy’s voice is so pleasant to read  listen to that I didn’t even mind when her and the boy’s, Olly, relationship teetered toward the border of instalove.

Everything Everything has been heralded by some as one of the best reads for representation of biracial characters (Madeline).  Madeline’s race is neither ignored/tokenized nor is it made her most defining feature. On the other hand, Yoon’s plot choices and those choices effects have been sharply criticized by some who face similar health challenges (spoilers on this site).

Yoon tried to tackle some pretty big themes in Everything Everything, and how these themes are handled are usually front and center of the criticisms. The book after Olly revolves around Maddy’s internal conflict, namely the choice between risking her life and living a life full of wanting to do things she cannot. The post-Olly part of the book is scattered with quotes like:  “Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything.”  and You’re not living if you’re not regretting.” and “I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.”  or even “There’s more to life than being alive.” Yoon wrote so many lines like that I felt as if she reached her hand out and pasted “grow and live” across my forehead. It is fortunate, for most of the book, that these are only scattered and Yoon has a number of other strong lines and quirky moments that are classic contemporary YA. What is unfortunate is the message she spent so long constructing, the internal struggle Maddy spends most of the book struggling with, is perhaps a little cheapened by the end.

 

 

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