Literary Rant #192: Character Looks

So, can someone please explain to me why it is that character looks are so focused upon? I mean, sure, if you have something interesting (like eyes the color of the morning sky) then mention it. But why is it that every time I read a book, the characters are generally described as being one of two things.

1) So goddamned good-looking, they belong in magazines, a museum, or they must have been the original inspiration for (insert piece of art here).

2) So average that the author feels the need to drill it into our heads that they are average. AVERAGE, YOU HEAR?! These kinds of people are usually paired with people from category 1.

And the thing that REALLY irks me? Generally speaking, we get the “average” female and the “god-like male specimen” in one story together, so the female can spend half the book wondering JUST how lucky she is to have landed such a GOD-LIKE MALE SPECIMEN. Because, you know, she is so plain. But really, she isn’t, because she is GORGEOUS underneath her plainness, she just needs some work from the god-like male specimen. This is especially true in Young Adult. For crying out loud, authors. GIVE THE NERDS A CHANCE!

Occasionally you get the odd person who just uses bare bones descriptors and lets the reader fill in the blanks, but usually character looks are one of the biggest word-count sinks ever. And they are a waste of words.

Does it help to know that the character’s hair is blonde? Sure, it can. Do I need to know it is the color of pale spun gold, glistening with flecks of purest white where the sun has kissed it ever so lovingly? No. Blonde will do. Even pale. I can fill in the blanks, I promise. I am a big girl.

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Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Spoiler Free)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Read: August 7, 2012
Other Information: Library book, e-book, 138 pages, personal read

Book Blurb: Jay Asher’s brilliant first novel is a moving, highly original story that focuses on a set of audiotapes made by a girl before she committed suicide, and which explain to 13 people the reasons why she decided to end her life.

My Opinion: Wow. I am completely emotionally drained after reading this book. This was just… a fantastic read.

High school is becoming more and more of a proverbial minefield every day. I was bullied pretty mercilessly through my school life (teased, rumors, beaten up, had my belongings thrown out, bodily thrown in a trash can, etc.), and what some of these kids today go through is even worse than what was done to me. It is sickening. It is horrid. And it needs to STOP.

Thirteen Reasons Why sheds a light not only on some of the bullying actions of high school and some of the ways that cliques and rumors can severely hurt a person, but it also shines a light on mental illness in youth and how it has a stigma attached to it. Heck, any mental illness has a stigma attached to it these days. Even reading other reviews for this book, I was sickened. People saying that the (fictional) Hannah Baker should have just moved on instead of committing suicide, etc. For anyone suffering from depression, simply “moving on” or “getting over it” is not an option.

Now, the book is far from perfect on the front of mental illness crusaders and anti-bullying. Some of what happens to Hannah is bullying, and some of it is not. Some of it is just things that make her lose faith in herself, or in the human race as a whole. And some of it comes across as quasi-vigilante justice. From a plot perspective, I think it read (at times) like Hannah was trying to gossip-monger, or spread the truth as she saw fit. Which, if we are looking at the theme of the book, doesn’t make her any better than the people who bullied her in the first place. And the whole premise of essentially blaming the thirteen people takes this from a truly poignant story to a revenge story.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” as they say.

The prose was very interesting. The book is written in a dual-narriative style, bouncing back and forth between Hannah and Clay. At times it lended to the story really well, the abrupt back and forth of one line to Hannah and one line to Clay. But at other times, it got confusing. Especially when Clay was melting down over what he was hearing. Which he does a fair bit. In what seems to be more common, the prose is very light on desctiptives and focuses mainly on the story. This makes sense, as the story is being told in a voice that would make descriptives non-sensical.

The suspense was delicious. Jay Asher has a gift for suspense.

Bottom Line: I don’t really know what else to say about this book. Very heavy/potentially triggering themes.
If you or someone you know is being bullied or is showing signs of depression, reach out. Telling people “It gets better” does nothing to help them today. STOP bullying. It is NEVER ok. And while we are at it, stop the stigmas with mental illness.

Suicide Prevention Hotlines:
In the US: 1-800-784-2433 | In Canada: 1-800-668-6868

Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (Spoiler Free)

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Read: July 26 – July 28, 2012
Other Information: Library book, e-book, 203 pages, personal read

Book Blurb: Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

My Opinion: First off, before I started this book, I hadn’t read the Poe original. I have read a handful of Poe’s works, but The Masque of the Red Death wasn’t one of them. However, before I got halfway through this book, I went online and tried to find the original story. I still haven’t really read it, but I did skim it.

Why did I skim it? Because Griffin’s work was very incoherent, and I had to check if I was missing something vital with not having read the original work. I wasn’t. In fact, all this book really borrows from the Poe original is names, and a basic plot device (sickness). Poe’s original is about the inevitability of death, the arrogance of the rich… and that is all I got from skimming it. Griffin’s derivative work doesn’t share any of that depth.

Some of the imagery she creates is great. I love the gothic feel and how the steampunk touches are a) just touches and b) in the background. Araby is far from a bluestocking. She is actually kind of a ditz.

The story itself was all over the place, and I was left with far more questions than answers. It feels like I read the book, and nothing really interesting happened. I didn’t get that moment of heart racing, palms sweating, “Oh my gosh, this is it!” that happens a lot of the time. To be fair, it is a series, but there have been other series’ that have given me that climactic moment while reading.

Araby is fickle and vapid. The romance (because it is YA, so there IS a romance) is very odd, and didn’t flow at all. Made zero sense to have those two people together.

Also, attention to detail is lacking. The blurb says Will is the proprietor of the club, but he is just a worker there. I guess that could be a mild spoiler, but there you have it.

Bottom Line: So much potential for a really awesome story… but it fell extremely short of the mark.

Why I didn’t like “Uglies” by Scott Westerfield

I have been meaning to write this blog post for a while, ever since I actually read Uglies, but true to form, I keep forgetting. It isn’t entirely my fault. Wedding planning is eating my brain.

So, let’s dive right in, shall we? I warn you, this blog post will be chock-full of spoilers, so I advise you not to read any further if you haven’t read Uglies yet.

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