Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A Review of 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is a novel by Jay Asher. Clay Jensen receives a set of tapes, which turn out to be from his classmate, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide recently. On these tapes, she details her list of reasons why she killed herself. There are thirteen. One for every person who she believes was one of the reasons why she did it.

I think everyone and their mother has heard about this book at this point, so I'm sure that synopsis won't come as a surprise. However, it might surprise some people to know that this book and show do a very bad job of educating people about suicide.

This is trivial compared to most of the problematic aspects of this book, but the prose is odd, not helped by the dual narrative style. "I did this, then that. Then I did this." Hannah tells us what happened to her, then Clay tells us what he did and where he went. And why did Hannah record her thoughts on tapes? Surely any teenagers nowadays knows several other ways to record herself? Privatised YouTube videos, for example? She'd be in as much risk of those leaking out to the general student population as she is with the tapes. At least the TV show tries to explain this, somewhat. However, it just comes off like Asher has no idea how central technology has become to the lives of teenagers.* Also, so much girl hate. I can't think of one positive female relationship that Hannah has in this book.

The reasons why someone commits suicide are much more complex than this book seems to think. They can't be broken down into thirteen easily defined reasons. There aren't really "reasons" why someone kills themselves, in a lot of cases.

Telling a group of teenagers, who aren't professionals with any training in this at all, who are also trying to figure out where they stand in the world, and how to relate to each other, that they are somewhat at fault if a classmate commits suicide is awful. Suicide is no-ones fault, but people who know someone who kills themselves can carry guilt that they didn't do more to prevent it. The book spends so much time showing where people went wrong, that it never stops to show what people can do to help. A better message would be showing people trying to reach out to Hannah, encouraging her to talk to them.

The overarching message of the book "be nice to people." Hannah killed herself because people were horrible to her, and that can certainly happen. However, the book and show seem to imply the opposite is also true - that if you are nice to someone, they won't kill themselves. There is a quote from the show "if one of us had been the friend she needs, Hannah would still be here today." But the thing is, you can't say that for definite. So now I feel like friends of people who commit suicide are going to wonder what they did wrong, even more than that already happens. When the reality is that sometimes, you don't do anything wrong, you can do everything right and still not manage to prevent a suicide.

And the thing is, this had the potential to do good. It discusses objectification and sexual harassment, and shows how even a nice guy like Clay can play into it, without even meaning to. It could have opened up an interesting discussion about suicide and depression in teenagers, showing that even teens considered pretty with loving families can experience it. The only times the world "depressed" is mentioned in this book is to snark about Holden Caulfield. The part where Clay was surprised that Hannah wore make-up - girls can wear make-up because it's fun, even if you think we didn't need it, and honestly, we really don't care if you think we need it or not considering that it's not for you - should be taught to all teenagers. But none of this really helps when the basic premise of the show is outright implausible.

And the less said about the Netflix series, the better. The worst thing that could have been done was taking this book, making it more inaccurate and more accessible to people, particularly the group most at risk from the subjects discussed in this book. At least in the book, Clay has the decency to listen to the tapes over the course of a night. But I guess they had to stretch it out into 13 episodes somehow. With a lot of unnecessary filler, too.

For further reading, try googling "problems with 13 Reasons Why." I especially recommend you check out Emmareadstoomuch's "Thirteen Reasons Why I Hate 13 Reasons Why" which discusses the problems with this book better than I ever could.

I wouldn't recommend this book for teens with depression, and I wouldn't recommend for teens trying to help someone with depression, either. I've yet to read a young adult book I would recommend to either of those groups. I'm also not counting All The Bright Places, which uses suicide as a plot device for romantic angst.

*Edit: I thought the book had been published later than it was. At the time this book was written/published, technology and social media wasn't quite as ubiquitous as it is nowadays. However, it does make the books seem dated to modern readers.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

My Mum Passed Away Recently...

Last weekend, we were camping.

On Tuesday, we went to a Zoo together.

On Wednesday morning, she had tea with my dad at 9am, and got up at 9:30 to take a shower. I was still in bed. Dad went downstairs to make breakfast.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Everything You Know About Lolita is Likely Wrong

As people may have noticed from my Goodreads account, I have been reading Lolita on and off for a few months. Because of the subject matter, I have often found myself needing to take a break from it. Mum saw me reading it recently, and asked. "What are you reading?"
"Lolita," I said.
"What's it about?" She said. I hate being asked this question about anything I am reading, but with a book like this especially.
"Um, it's about a man who wants to have sex with a pre-pubescent girl. Like, it's not presented in a good way, he's the villain, but he's also the protagonist."
"Oh. But she's really the villain?"
"Um. No? She's twelve, and a twelve year old girl is never at fault for a grown man wanting to have sex with her."
"Oh, but you hear girls described as Lolita's all the time." As if that makes it okay? Just because something is so normalised in culture that it's accepted, doesn't make it okay.

Also, the protagonist is horrible. Like, this isn't a man creepily watching a young girl from afar. This is a man starting a relationship with someone to get close to her daughter, and touching himself in secret while he's talking to her. I don't know how much worse it gets, yet.

I would also ask you to think of any cover you've ever seen of this book. Did it have a sexualised young girl on the cover? Nabokov explicitly stated that “There is one subject which I am emphatically opposed to: any kind of representation of a little girl.”

Young girls, weird disconnected body parts and sexualised fruit.
However, if you have avoided this book because of the reputation it has, think again. It's not a book that glorifies that sort of relationship. The common misconceptions about it fly in the face of what Nabokov was actually intending to portray.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sorry for the movie cover.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a Young Adult novel by Stephen Chbosky. Set in the early 90's, Charlie, a freshman at High School, attempts to come into his own teenage life. Charlie makes friends with a guy called Patrick, and through him meets Sam, Patrick's stepsister. Over the course of the book, Charlie has to come to terms with some traumatic events that happened before the story starts.

I have never liked letter-based books. I'm not sure why, especially considering I like diary-based books, which are structured very similarly. This book kind of straddles the line between both, all letters being written from Charlie's perspective. I just find this kind of framing disjointed, but just because it doesn't work for me, doesn't me it will be the same for you. The letters are addressed directly to "you," the reader, so it is a good way of engaging people immediately with the story.

We are told a lot about Charlie's personality. He's also described as "intelligent beyond his years" on my blurb, but his letters read as if they were written by someone much younger. I'm choosing to believe this is a stylistic choice, representing how Charlie is sorting out his problems. He also seems very naive for a high-school freshman, but maybe that's more realistic for teens in the early 90's then it would be now, in the era before internet was widespread. He seems to mature a great deal over the course of the book, understanding sex and drug references better towards the end then he did at the beginning. Maybe this is the influence of hanging out with a group of older teenagers.

And there are a lot of issues dealt with, or should I say touched upon, over the course of the book. Some are handled with all the subtly of a sledgehammer, and others are given more nuance. I'm not sure if I would have preferred the book to focus on fewer in more depth, or if the approach it takes works. I do like how it shows the importance of getting help with mental health problems from professionals, and how talking with friends or family can do the world of good.

It also happens to be very quotable. "We accept the love we think we deserve" and "In that moment, I swear, we were infinite" are well-known, but I found my favourite quote a little later on. "You shouldn't tell her she looks pretty. You should tell her how nice her outfit is, because her outfit is her choice whereas her face is not." I have never been able to articulate why I hate generic "you're pretty" compliments, but love it if someone says they like my clothes.

I know most people have probably heard of the movie, which I remember mostly for the presence of Emma Watson. As an adaptation, it's very good, but as a movie on it's own, I find it forgettable. I have only seen it once, back when it first came out, so that may be a factor. In fact, losing the letter format means you lose a lot of Charlie's personality that comes through in the book.

I think this is one of those books I'd have to recommend on an individual basis to people I know well.

Friday, 4 August 2017

A Review of Lydia

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice (also published as The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet) is a novel by Natasha Farrant. It is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Lydia Bennet's point of view. Lydia is the youngest of the five Bennet sisters, bored with living in the country, and dreaming of adventure and romance. While her older sisters are courted by the charming Mr. Bingley and the handsome Mr. Darcy, can Lydia discover her own happy ending?

I have long had a soft spot for Lydia Bennet.

She's fifteen during the events of Pride and Prejudice. Who can say they didn't do silly things at fifteen? Let alone the thought that your family's future rests upon your behaviour at that age! For one mistake, did she deserve to be forever married to someone like Wickham? Their relationship was developed over the course of the book, as was Lydia's personality. She customises her clothes - a respectable and no doubt practical skill for a lower-middle class woman of the period, but she also seems to enjoy it and do it well, to the point where I thought she could make a living from it. She talks a lot about marriage, but in as much as she sees it as her only way out. If she could go on adventures by herself, without marriage, I have no doubt she would. She also goes through some character development over the course of the book. She starts out liking the idea of marrying a rich man for money, but as events come to light, she starts despising the whole system.

I personally don't think she is stupid, she just never got the chance to become educated, and wasn't so into the whole learning from books method that worked for her sisters. She prefers to be outside, and picks up things like horse riding and swimming quickly enough. Some of her points of ignorance will cause a titter from modern viewers - Silly Lydia, not knowing where India is - but I can't decide if it's realistic for a sheltered country girl in her time not to know. India was under the British Raj, and surely she would have heard it discussed? I did raise an eyebrow that she can recognise Indian fabric or a South Indian palace but not place the country on a map.

While Lydia's flightiness and self-centred parts of her personality comes through on these pages, through her eyes her three older sisters can seem sanctimonious at times. It's actually an interesting point, applicable to real life, that someone's attitude can seem totally different, depending on whom is telling the story. I like how the story kept the personality points of the sisters intact from the original novel, while still seeing them from a new point of view.

The language used is more readable for today than in the original novel, and the characters talk like everyday teenagers, too. I am not saying this is a bad thing. It makes the book accessible to a wider group of people. However, the historical fiction aspect of the book is somewhat lost when you can see Lydia pulling out a phone and uploading her Outfit of the Day to Instagram! The whole book is done in a diary format, too. I've always liked diary-style books, but I know some don't like that setup.

I would recommend some familiarity with the story of Pride and Prejudice before reading this book. If you have previously struggled with the novel, try the 2005 film for a quick review. It's a nice way of introducing teenagers to Jane Austen, and I would recommend it for people aged 12 and over.