I am the space between my thighs…

Today’s review: Wintergirls

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Cover of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher: The Text Publishing Company (Melbourne). First published by Viking, Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Number of pages: 280
Genre: Fiction/ Young Adult/ Contemporary
Series: Standalone

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls. “Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another. I am that girl. I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through. I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit. In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.
– Goodreads.com

I stumbled across this book in my school library whilst waiting for the printer to eventually wake up and print my assignment (it takes like, a gazillion years). Bored, I began scanning the shelves, saw the title and went “ooh, Wintergirls. Sounds… cool (haha bad pun)”. I pulled it out, immediately loved the artwork on the cover, and found myself incredibly intrigued after reading the blurb.

Wintergirls is told from the perspective of 18-year-old Lia Overbrook, an anorexic cutter who, on top of battling her extremely low self-esteem and depression, is also now struggling to come to terms with the death of her best friend Cassie. Lia and Cassie had not spoken to each other in months but when Lia is informed that Cassie’s body has been found in a motel room, Lia discovers that Cassie left 33 messages on her phone the night she died. Overwhelmed with immeasurable guilt and a further-fueled hatred of herself, Lia, who is currently undergoing rehabilitation from an extreme case of anorexia, begins to relapse into her old ways, letting her emotions consume her, and letting the memory of Cassie hang over her, accusing her of being responsible for her death. When Lia and Cassie were still friends, they both made promises to become the skinniest girls in school and soon, this promise became a contest fuelled by desperation and self-hate. Now that Cassie is dead, Lia is more determined than ever to reach her “ideal weight” of 80 pounds (36 kg), but she is also determined to find out what happened to Cassie and what killed her. Lia’s journey leads her to Elijah, the handsome bike-messenger boy with strange visions, who found Cassie’s body in the motel room on the night she died. Slowly, Lia pieces the puzzle together to reveal the horrifying reality behind Cassie’s death, the discovery of the truth sending Lia’s own deteriorating mind spinning into madness.

Wintergirls was a very dark, hard-hitting story that really brought to light the tremendous impact a disorder such as anorexia can have on an individual. I loved Anderson’s writing style and narration through Lia; at some points, I felt as though I was reading poetry!  There is a lot of use of metaphor and personification throughout the novel which I felt really made the story that much more engaging to read. I think that one of my favourite lines was: “Spiders hatch and crawl out of my belly button, hairy little tar beads with ballerina feet. They swarm, spinning a silk veil, one hundred thousand spider thoughts woven together until they wrap me up in a cozy shroud… The web locks us into place, staring at each other as the moon slithers across the sky and the stars fall asleep”. I mean god, the amount of imagery, personification, and metaphor in that one passage… it’s an English teacher’s dream!
As well as this fluent, poetic approach to writing, Anderson also weaves Lia’s troubled, more childlike inner thoughts throughout her writing. Lines are crossed out and alternative lines added in, and there is that constant small voice in the back of the mind which is constantly haunting Lia with “body found in a motel room… she called 33 times…” I thought this was a very interesting writing technique; to actually narrate all of Lia’s contradicting thoughts and descriptions, showing her suppressing what she really thought, and instead narrating what she was supposed to think.

Lia constantly recalls her early memories with Cassie throughout the book, which I felt really helped construct their relationship, and really made me feel so terrible for Lia and her situation as I became more familiar with her and Cassie’s relationship. I also loved Lia’s relationship with her step sister Emma, who was Lia’s sole incentive to remain on the brink of sanity for as long as she could, and how Lia sought comfort in her sister’s innocence to the reality of Lia’s mental and physical situation. I also liked how Elijah didn’t end up being the cliche love interest in this book, as I felt that to do so would have really taken away from the main purpose of the novel; to display the effects of anorexia on an individual.
There could have been a bit more depth to some of the minor characters in the books however, such as Lia’s mum and step mum, whom I both felt were a bit shallow in terms of emotional connection to the story. Lia’s mum, Chloe, was so caught up in going to almost extreme measures to ensure the improvement of her daughter’s health, that she continually failed to see how her efforts were only hurting Lia more. Similar could be said for Lia’s step mum, Jennifer, who I felt could have tried to be more sympathetic to Lia, knowing the emotionally painful situation she was in.

This was a very hard book to read. I don’t mean it was unengaging or distasteful, because it absolutely was not, but the theme of anorexia portrayed in a way as realistic as Laurie Halse Anderson has managed to do made for some dark, difficult reading, and I often fell into lapses of depression after reading and had to take short breaks away from it. Disorders such as anorexia are too often pushed under the rug, or labelled as something to “get over”, but in Wintergirls, Anderson really emphasises how anorexia is certainly not something that is easily overcome, and that it is even more a state of mentality than a physical deterioration. Through Lia, Anderson is able to represent just how anorexia can torture a person, and her raw, powerful narration brings light to that unknown element about anorexia and the mind games it plays.

Whilst this book is heavy on the soul, I do definitely recommend reading it, as it perfectly portrays an issue in today’s society that is far too often dismissed.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Fandom Friday: Remembering old/new Doctor Who

Yeah, I know I should have posted this yesterday, but since I am lazy (as you all know), it’s coming today.

So my sister and I went to the library the other day, me coming out with two new books (woo!), and she with our traditional everytime-we-go-to-the-library-we-need-to-borrow-a-DVD DVD. This time, it was Volume 3 of Christopher Eccleston’s run on Doctor Who. The episodes included in this volume were: The Long Game, Father’s Day, The Empty Child, and The Doctor Dances.

Now for me as a child, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances were two of the scariest Doctor Who episodes ever, aside from Paradise Towers (Seventh Doctor), and Blink (Tenth Doctor). I haven’t seen these episodes in about two years and when I watched them last night, I actually found myself squeezing the nearest cushion for comfort because I still found it absolutely terrifying. There’s something about small children in gas masks calling “Muuuuuuummy” that really gets me…

This kid is the reason I had nightmares for a week…

Anyway, after my sisters were done laughing at me, I started comparing the old/new Doctor Who episodes (From the Nine and Ten eras, most of which were written by Russell T. Davies) to the new new episodes of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Thinking back, I don’t actually think that I found many of Eleven’s all that scary or gripping. Yes, I know that The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances were both written by Steven Moffat, but Russell T. Davies was the executive producer for both episodes.
I feel that since Moffat has taken complete control of Doctor Who, overseeing all of the plot ideas and script writing, Doctor Who has sort of become something less than Doctor Who. Maybe I’m the only one who is feeling this, but since Moffat has become the executive producer and prominent writer, I find the show to be less engaging and with more silly ‘little kiddies’ plots, I mean, pirates on a ship that’s actually a multi-dimensional spaceship? The Siren was cool, but come on. And ALSO the thing that really makes me cringe, in the episode The Crimson Horror, they named the town Sweetville?? smh.

Don’t get me wrong, Moffat has had some really good episodes like Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone, and Matt Smith’s first episode, The Eleventh Hour, but actually most of the really good episodes of Eleven’s seasons were written by other people, such as Neil Gaiman on The Doctor’s Wife (still crying), and Vincent and the Doctor (also tears), written by Richard Curtis. 
In comparison however, quite a lot of my personally favourite episodes of Doctor Who have been written by Russell T. Davies during his time as executive producer, such as Planet of the Dead, Tooth and Claw, The Parting of the Ways, The Runaway Bride, Doomsday, The Waters of Mars, and Midnight. 
Davies certainly isn’t perfect, and there are quite a few flaws in his writing, but to me, his episodes always maintained a certain level of science in their fiction, which I don’t feel that Moffat is continuing to do. His are becoming more fantasy than science fiction, and although there is a strong emphasis on fiction, there still needs to be a level of believability in order to sell the story.
I am however, a bit torn as to who’s characterisation I like better, as both of them have their pros and cons.
Davies’ characters are diverse. Rose, Martha, and Donna all have very different character traits, Rose being playful and cheeky, Martha being thoughtful and observant, and Donna being headstrong and funny. By granting them with these diverse personalities, Davies was able to acknowledge that there are many different types of people in the world, each with something that makes them special. I did find however, that Davies’ companions were very clingy. They all exuded an air of neediness, and they were portrayed in the cliche, “I can’t live without the Doctor” manner, and were unable to do all that much from their own instincts, preferring to wait around and have the Doctor tell them what to do.
Moffat’s characters were independent. Amy and Clara were able to prove both to themselves and the audience that they are perfectly capable of living normal lives and making their own decisions without too much input from the Doctor, and for me this was a breath of fresh air from the usual female-companion-doing-nothing-but-screaming-and-looking-at-the-Doctor-in-awe-for-the-whole-episode routine. When comparing Moffat’s characters however, you begin to notice that they are all the same. It’s the same sassy, flirty, coming-at-you-guns-blazing stereotype that is associated with “strong” female characters that Moffat is re-using over and over again. I think he needs to realise that a woman can be strong without the use of a gun or her sexual appeal. 
I realise that this post is very controversial, as everyone has their own opinions on this matter, but I felt the need to share my standings on this issue, and must admit that I prefer Doctor Who when it was under Russell T. Davies’ authority and it was kept true to the long-running nature of Doctor Who, rather than going off on a fantastical, rather ridiculous journey into the unknown as it seems to be doing under Moffat’s rule.
I’m sorry if this has been hard to follow, I had a lot of things to say on this matter and I sort of spewed it out into this post, but please, if you have your own opinions on this matter, I’d love to hear them!
-Christie xx

First friend, first girl, last words.

Today’s review: Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green

Cover of John Green’s Looking for Alaska

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Number of pages: 268
Genre: Fiction/ Young Adult/ Romance/ Contemporary
Series: Standalone

Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.com

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

I’ve finally done it, lads. I’ve finally read a John Green novel!
It’s not that I was putting it off or anything, I’ve just never gotten around to it until now.
So without further ado, here’s my review! (ehehe that rhymed)

Looking for Alaska follows the socially awkward, utterly adorkable Miles Halter as he begins life at Culver Creek Boarding School. Miles, nicknamed “Pudge” by his new roommate Chip “The Colonel” Martin, has been searching all his life for a “Great Perhaps”; the chance to experience something wonderful in his life that he was clearly never going to achieve whilst stuck in public school with “the ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks I sat with by social necessity”. Little did Pudge realise that his decision to move schools would change his life in drastic ways.

I really loved this book. For me, it was a breath of fresh air, because I have been tackling George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for a number of weeks now (I’m up to A Feast for Crows but unfortunately, no reviews as too much has happened and there are too many spoilers). It was good to go back to a smaller, more manageable book to break up the constant stream of events being dumped on me by the ASoIaF series.

Now, to characters.
I really liked Pudge as the narrator of this story. He had a sort of witty, sarcastic humour that allowed me to be pulled into his character and allowed me to connect with him (I have a similar sense of humour, ask anyone). He was a very observant narrator, if a little subjective with some of his points of view, such as with the sort-of-antagonists, the Weekday Warriors (essentially the stuck-up rich kids of the school). Whilst kudos to his thoughtful, whimsical narration, there was something about his narration that I wasn’t very impressed with: the numerous observations of the extensive circumference of Alaska’s breasts. I mean, once or twice would have suited, but I read the same thing too many times for my liking. I suppose I have to keep in mind that this book is written from the perspective of a teenage boy, but I thought Pudge would have had a bit more discretion than that.

The Colonel I think was hands-down my favourite character. Some of his lines were the funniest I’ve ever read and on some occasions, he actually made me laugh out loud; something that only two other books have ever made me do before (those being Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant, and Nick Griffiths’ memoir, Dalek, I Loved You). On Pudge’s first meeting with him, I thought that his relationship with the Colonel would be a difficult one; the way Pudge described him made him sound like one of your stereotypical fluffhead jocks, but he turned out to be significantly different to that. He brought a great comedy relief, and Green also managed to give him a loveable, real character.

I loved the complexity of Alaska Young. I loved how she was so changeable, and how she was as unpredictable as the weather. Alaska was a deeply flawed character with a shocking backstory, her delivery of which really drew me to loving her. Her feisty feminist attitude coupled with her morbid humour made for interesting reading as she played off of the other main characters. There were some moments however, when I felt completely detached from her. I felt some animosity to her two-faced nature and, although it’s resolved as to why she is like this later in the book, I didn’t feel that it was necessary to distance herself from the only people who understood her in the way that she did. I did also find her a bit over-the-top in the drama department, but perhaps that was her way of masking her true emotions.

I did have high expectations for this novel due to the constant John Green hype that seems to have dominated the internet, and I have to say I was not disappointed. Looking for Alaska was beautifully told through Pudge’s narration, with a great deal of superbly poetic lines, one of my particular favourites being a quote read by Pudge from W.H. Auden’s poem As I Walked Out One Evening, “You shall love your crooked neighbor/ With all your crooked heart“. I liked the novel’s concept of finding one’s place in a bigger, scarier world where nothing is as it seems, and Alaska’s focussed perception of life as the Labyrinth in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General in his Labyrinth.

Overall, I was quite impressed by Looking for Alaska, and I’m not afraid to admit that I cried on four separate occasions throughout, then spent a good ten minutes sobbing quietly after I finished reading it. I won’t say why though, you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Reading this has really given me a taste for John Green’s writing, and I’m definitely going to be reading more. In fact, I just bought The Fault in Our Stars today (on sale because the movie came out the other day), and I’m going to start it after I finish the current book I’m reading.

Rating: 8/10

The blood of the victim leads to a monster

Today’s review: Unholy Awakening

Author: Michael Gregorio

Cover of Michael Gregorio’s Unholy Awakening

Publisher: Minotaur publishers
Number of Pages: 464
Genre: Fiction/Mystery & Thriller/ Historical
Series: The Hanno Stiffeniis Series

Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.com

A woman’s body has been found at the bottom of a well. The death wounds are startling: two small, round punctures to the jugular vein. . . .

Vampire fever is spreading throughout the countryside, and suspicions soon fall on the recently arrived Emma Rimmele. Investigator Hanno Stiffeniis must do everything he can to find the true culprit before the mob’s hysteria reaches its breaking point and turns violent.

Set in a nineteenth-century world where people truly believed in vampires, Unholy Awakening pits rational, scientific detection against unhindered, violent superstition

Woah guys, woah. What is this? Me? Posting again? This is positively groundbreaking.

But I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to whine about how the workload has gotten ridiculously high. I’m not going to talk about how learning leading instrumental parts for our school’s upcoming musical has added extra stresses. I’m not going to start screaming about how mid-year exams are in two weeks and teachers are becoming decisively irksome. I’m not going to do that.

You know what I am going to do?

Review this bloody book. It’s about time.

Unholy Awakening is the fourth installment of the Hanno Stiffeniis series, written by Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio under the pen name Michael Gregorio. It follows the story of Prussian Magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis as he works to solve the latest murder plaguing the haunted town of Lotingen, a fictional town located in the Germanic kingdom of Prussia in the 18th Century.

I neither loved nor hated this book. I have both praise and criticism for it, and I will start by discussing the latter.
You know those dreams you have sometimes, where you are trying desperately to run as fast as you can, but you feel as though you aren’t going anywhere? That’s the kind of experience that I had with some parts of this book. A substantial amount of the text in this book is depicting Stiffeniis’ ongoing monologue as he relays his thoughts, feelings, and perceptions on the events unfolding in the story. Whilst this is helpful in formulating the audience’s opinions on characters, setting, and the time period in which this book is set, in some places it drew the plot to a grinding halt. I felt in some parts that the amount of inner dialogue was too much, dragging parts of the novel on and on, until I (shamefully) found myself actually skipping paragraphs. Some parts brought with them the potential for some rising tension, or engaging action, but I felt that these moments were rather ruined by Stiffeniis banging on about his feelings on the situation, rather than letting the scene play out.
Consequentially, the book had a very stop-start feel to it; every time there was an opportunity to pick up the pace of the story, this was always drawn back by the novel’s tendency to linger for too long on one detail.

On the other hand, I was very impressed with the quality of the language that Gregorio used in the book, and even found myself applauding some of the exceptionally beautiful passages of writing, particularly this one from the second chapter: “The water erupted in a splash as a sizeable, silver-blue pike leapt out of the shallows, chasing sprats, or cannibalising its pickerel in the gluttony of autumn“.
I adored how autumn was personified by the greed and desperation of animals as they frenziedly feed in the foreboding shadow of the oncoming winter. The imagery used to describe the locations in the book were pristine, and seemed to reflect the mood of the story. In the early “calm before the storm” scenes, the description of autumn almost emitted a mood of tense calm, as though the weather itself was waiting with bated breath for the events to unfold. As the story became progressively darker, so the weather became colder and less forgiving. It was this use of symbolism and precisely detailed imagery, coupled with the almost-poetic technique of writing that really helped me cling to the novel until the last pages… that and the desire to find out who really committed the murders.

I know that I have criticised the pace of the novel, but the plot itself is really very good. Throughout the whole novel, as Hanno Stiffeniis chases shady characters down dark alleys, as Emma Rimmelle radiates her dangerously seductive charm, and as French Colonel Lavedrine emits his enticing, yet sarcastic air, there is one underlying question: who is the ‘vampire’? I think my desire to know the answer to this question is what got me through this book, this of course meaning I had to read it all; skipping to the last page would be blasphemous. Despite my judgements, I was very satisfied with the book’s ending. It was twisted nicely, but was not all hugging and flowers and happiness; there are still obviously a few issues that, as hinted by the ending, may be resolved in another addition to this series.

As it is, I don’t feel the need to read any further into this series. This book did not generate enough interest in me to make me feel as though I need to read into the series further, so I am happy just to leave it at that.

As for recommendations, I would suggest this book for readers with a deal of patience. If readers could steel themselves in order to plod through the slow parts, the story is actually quite good, if a bit laborious at times. This book would also be ideal for readers with an interest in books similar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as this emits a similar dark feel.

Rating: 5/10