Friday, 13 November 2015

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Publish Date: 1963
Author: Sylvia Plath

Everyone has heard of Sylvia Plath's one and only novel, and it seemed like everyone in high school had read it except me. Everybody I knew was a feminist, idealizing suicide and not belonging, and I just put it on my "To Be Read" list. So if you're like me and the only thing people ever spoke about this book was the suicide aspect (because that's all they were reading it for, honestly), you might not know what else the book is about. It’s Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963. It was not published in the US until 1971, eight years after her death. In a nutshell, it’s about madness, identity, role models, gender norms, society, and happiness.

Esther Greenwood, clever academically and aspiring writer, has won a trip to New York with some college classmates to intern at a fashion magazine. It is here, on her own in the adult world, that she learns about herself, sex, men and women, and her friends. Once she leaves New York to the next leg of her journey though life, she hits a standstill. By any standards, Esther is different - her actions for her age don't always make sense, and it makes life difficult for her. These difficulties put her on a deliberate path that most people shy away from.

The Beginning
The beginning of the novel is so different from the rest. In New York, Esther is making decisions and learning, and I felt that she was growing up though she was a bit strange and sometimes surprisingly mean. It feels like a coming of age story with a sharper edge an usual. She’s telling the reader her view of the world, and if you're paying attention, she's very cynical about it, but she’s conflicted about how she fits into it. It's when she leaves New York that we get the real turning point. An event sets her off into a spiraling depression, but from her cynicism in her New York experience, you can see that it isn't out of the blue. It’s like she’s walking down a dimly-lit staircase one step at a time – the reader is waiting for her to start going back up towards the light, but she keeps going down.

If thinking about depression, trying to understand depression in others, or if you think people should just buckle up, this book isn't for you. Same goes for suicide. It's not a bad thing, it's just hard to listen to people complain when they should have gotten the hint before reading. (If you hate vampire romance novels, don't read Twilight and complain about it.)
That said, you can easily write intriguing essays using this novel in university or high school. I’ve read that this book is studied in high school, so unless you come from a school with blinders on, I’d say it would be alright. Possible essay topics include:
  • Oppressive gender roles;
  • Models of women that are available for Esther to model herself as;
  • Psychiatry of the 1950s (madness vs depression…can someone write a comparison to the works of Emilie Autumn and The Bell Jar? Please?);
  • The role of the media;
  • The stigma of mental illness; and 
  • The imagery and metaphor of the bell jar.
Esther is difficult for some readers because she lies to herself and others, so who she is doesn’t resonate for a long time (and she is trying to figure it out as well). However, that was the fun of Esther. When she did irrational things I was confused. Is she just so “feminist” I don't get it? Is she just "crazy" and she cannot be comprehended? I kept trying to make sense of her but I couldn't, even at the end, and I like that about her.
There is one character that surprised me from one chapter to the next. I am on the fence about the believability of this character, but hopefully it will continue to make readers think. Mental health issues are heavily stigmatized and yet they can also be romanticized. It’s such a terrible thought that someone could be faking the need for help, but the way that she acts and describes her situation left me believing that she was romanticizing her “craziness” rather than genuinely experiencing distress.
The book generally has a disparaging cast of men, and the women are diverse. Her mother, her sexually liberated friend, her “goody-goody” friend, the baby-factory neighbour, her doctors, her benefactor, her boss…there are many characters. As Esther is trying to write her own identity, she looks towards a whole host of people to compare herself to.

Final Verdict
I definitely recommend this for a library collection (it's currently in our hospital’s small fiction collection). It would be a hard sell for a teen book club, though if everyone wanted to read it because they had heard that they should, go for it (unless you fear overprotective parents). Overall, I'm glad I read this at this point in my life and not when I was 16. (Sorry, 16-year-old me.) Not that I wouldn't have understood it, but everyone was reading it for the insanity, the suicide, the implications of sex, and a loose idea of feminism, and I think I would have been swept away by the hype.
I don’t think this line would have struck me so deeply:
“I wonder who will marry you now, Esther.”

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

Publish Date: May 19th 2010
Publisher:  HarperCollins
Format: Audiobook, Unabridged
Author:  Tera Lynn Childs
Narrated By: Emily Bauer 

Quick Review

Lily is not an ordinary teenager. She’s the Thalassinian princess. The thing about Thalassinia, is that it is a kingdom of mermaids, making Lily a mermaid princess. A few years ago, she discovered she is half human, and has since been living on land and going to high school. As the princess, she has to find her mate to ascend the throne, and Lily has picked Brody, a boy she has had a crush on since she walked on land. But her next door neighbour, bad boy Quince, is getting in her way.

Mermaid stories are difficult to pull off. Especially when the characters are in high school, and you have to believe that a mermaid is in high school, navigating a crush and homework and school dances. Then she goes home, and it's like The Little Mermaid show from the 90s. There's underwater furniture and buildings and court proceedings...put in a human without a tail and it's hard to take seriously, but, it's a mermaid story. Yes, it will come off as a bit silly, and you have to take it for what it is. Some people, especially teens, are ok with that.

However, the story was really predictable. There were no twists or turns. It was very light. I listened to it during a full day trip and it was good while I was walking around and waiting. There are some audio books that need 100% of your attention. This is not one.

                For a girl that keeps saying that mermaids are peaceful, she gets angry enough that she wants to get physically violent with people. She does, on a few occasions, though she is just pushing. She’s not a perfect protagonist, which I like…and a lot of people hate. Yes, she’s selfish, narrow-minded, and judgemental. And at the end, she overcomes at least a few of her faults. What’s wrong with that? Still, I will say that along with the narrator of the audiobook, she is so spoiled and angry at everything.
Also, she likes a boy who is a human, and doesn’t know that she’s a mermaid princess. She thinks together they are like this:

But she is actually like this:

Sea Puns
                The cursing are sea puns. Childs can get around having to censor her work, but it also means that she actually has a mermaid princess swearing frequently. If you put what she actually means instead of the substitute, she’d be swearing constantly, in her head or aloud. If you need some laughs, substitute a “higher level” four letter word in your head, every time she uses a sea pun. It makes for good times, though people on the street will look at you if you’re walking and listening.   

I don't know why, but I like the “damselfish” one. Like you’d turn away from the situation and whisper to yourself as though no one could hear you.

The narrator can't do male voices, or secondary female voices. She has one voice, and that belongs to Lily. It gets annoying to listen to the narrator try to drop her voice and be gravelly for the men. Actually, it’s annoying. Also, the girls you hate in high school don't actually have those nasally high voices - we just pretend they do when we talk about them. I would much prefer a natural, though pretentious, voice of the mean girls.

Besmirching of my Name
The bully is named Courtney. She is financially demanding and selfish, slaps her boyfriend, gossips, judges people…all the stupid “girl bully” stuff. Of course, her name is Courtney. That's the go-to name for terrible people. Can we think of a better name? And where did this trend start? I’d like to know.

Final Verdict
Read or listen to this because you like mermaids, not for the story. I don’t recommend this for people who dislike characters that are not completely perfect or extremely likeable. Will I listen to the next installment, Fins Are Forever? Maybe. It would make an ok summer pre-teen movie, though there’s way too much underwater mermaid stuff happening for this to ever happen. 
 Also, I'll just leave this here...and no, I didn't make this.