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review 2018-03-01 22:48
The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch
The Book of Joan: A Novel - Lidia Yuknavitch

More a novel of ideas than a "yarn," The Book of Joan's characters exist primarily as symbols, vehicles for ideology. This quality brought to mind older modes of storytelling, such as ancient Greek and Roman epics, fairy tales, and didactic poems. Everything is heightened--the language, the stakes, the characters. At first I highlighted many passages, dazzled by the prose, but the lyric language reached a critical mass about a third of the way through, and I became distracted by linguistic tics such as the overuse of "wrong" as an adjective. It could also be hard to read some of the graphically violent passages.


Nevertheless, I applaud this novel's ingenuity, its reworking of Joan of Arc's story and interesting notions regarding gender and sex.

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review 2017-03-11 20:24
Black Wave, Michelle Tea
Black Wave - Michelle Tea

The more I read (and watch movies and TV), the more I value encountering something unlike anything else I ever have before. Black Wave, by Michelle Tea, immersed me in a world new to me in several ways.


Though there are occasionally individual queer characters in the books I read, I haven't read much queer lit where a larger community is represented, especially queer women. Black Wave is set in San Francisco in the 90s at the start, an alternative past where gentrification has strangled most of the culture(s) from the city. In addition, the world appears to be ending due to advanced climate change: it's dangerous to be out in the sun even incidentally, the ocean is a trash wave, many animals are extinct, and invasive species have overtaken the dying native flora. In other words, the environment's death mirrors a cultural and, as is soon apparent, a personal one.


The protagonist, Michelle (like the author), is in her later twenties, and is the kind of addict who tells herself she's not because she doesn't shoot heroin but snorts it and is able to keep her job at a bookstore. She falls in love (or becomes infatuated) easily and hooks up with many of the women who come into her orbit, despite being in a "steady" relationship with a partner more stable than she is. At one point the point of view shifts from Michelle's to her girlfriend's, who thinks she's a sociopath.


That feels pretty accurate, but one of the amazing things about Black Wave is that despite Michelle's objectively unlikable character, I still felt very much invested in her. In part this is due to the humor and energy of the writing. For example:


Michelle seemed more like some sort of compulsively rutting land mammal, a chimera of dog in heat and black widow, a sex fiend that kills its mate. Or else she was merely a sociopath. She was like the android from Blade Runner who didn’t know it was bad to torture a tortoise. She had flipped [her girlfriend] Andy onto her belly in the Armageddon sun and left her there, fins flapping.


I may also personally respond to Michelle because she's a writer, one who's even published and had a sort of local fame. Around the midpoint of the book when she moves to L.A., the narrative is deconstructed as she attempts to write a new book. It becomes clear that not everything we've read so far is as it happened. Another aspect I liked is that somehow this sudden shift doesn't feel like a trick as can happen in many modernist and post-modernist writing and metafiction. How and why I don't know, but after some minor readjustment on my part as a reader, I was still invested.


I've often noted what a structure fanatic I am, and the last major selling point of Black Wave is the way it beautifully spins out in the last third.


Tangents were Michelle’s favorite part of writing, each one a declaration of agency: I know I was going over there but now I’m going over here, don’t be so uptight about it, just come along. A tangent was a fuckup, a teenage runaway. It was a road trip with a full tank of gas. You can’t get lost if you don’t have anywhere to be. This was writing for Michelle: rule free, glorious, sprawling.


As the world ends, people begin dreaming vividly and lucidly about others who exist in the real world, all over the world. They're dreams of connection and love where identity is fluid, and some begin living in them, like Michelle's bosses at the bookstore who hand over the business to her. So the world ends, but somehow Michelle's in a good place, and so was I.

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review 2015-06-03 02:20
The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani
The School for Good and Evil #2: A World without Princes - Soman Chainani

This book, like the first in the trilogy, was by turns frustrating and surprising.


After Sophie and Agatha's "happily ever after," things are less than perfectly happy. There are regrets, there are unsupportive family members, there are attacks by boys, and the two friends are forced back to the school. Their unorthodox ending (where Agatha chose Sophie over her prince, Tedros) has resulted in the dissolution of Good and Evil at the school. Now it's girls against boys. Characters on both sides lament this situation, and at first it sounded like the fact that Agatha chose a girl was the worst thing that could happen. I worried about what felt like a critique of a world where girls choose friendship and each other over boys.


But there are plenty of twists and turns, many of which I did not see coming (especially Yara's identity and Sophie's wish revealed at the end). As with the first book, my favorite bits were those where gender and sexuality were played with (the genderswap spell/potion, Tedros and "Filip's" friendship that practically turns romantic). There are more of those moments as the book goes on.


Also like the first book, I felt like the telling of the story could be stronger. Chainani's background is in film, and it sometimes does feel more like a screenplay meant to be adapted than a well-constructed novel (and the books ARE being made into movies). Moments are built up but don't always feel as dramatic and detailed as I'd hoped. I was also reminded a bit much of other YA series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, with the invisibility cloak and the trial at the end. I have trouble "seeing" what this world looks like at times.


However, with the ending, I admit I want to move on to the next (and final) book in the trilogy.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2015-06-02 23:31

WHOA. Tedros totally just kissed "Filip" (Sophie) thinking he was a boy. This book's surprising me given what seemed so heteronormative at the start.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2015-05-29 15:25
Reading progress update: I've read 266 out of 433 pages.
The School for Good and Evil #2: A World without Princes - Soman Chainani

Okay, this gender swapping spell is interesting and promising. What it says that Sophie won the related challenge (mirroring how Agatha got across the bridge to the Boys' school), gnomes who, when younger, can change gender freely and that this is connected to their neutrality and peaceableness.

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