books · discussions · features · shanti

Setting in Stone 2: Contemporary Worlds

When you think of worldbuilding, you think of sci-fi, fantasy, and dystopia; what are known as ‘genre’ books. (though that definition is less useful in YA). Historical fiction also requires worldbuilding, but it’s usually reconstructed worldbuilding, compiled through research rather than invention (though there is some invention, obviously, and alternate history is another game altogether). But contemporary books also need worldbuilding. This is a very useful post by Jenn Marie Thorne, one of my FAVOURITE contemporary authors about how she does worldbuilding in contemporary books; and today’s Setting in Stone topic is my own take on that.

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Setting in Stone is a Virtually Read original series where we (okay, mostly Shanti) talks about setting.

Continue reading “Setting in Stone 2: Contemporary Worlds”

blogging · books · shanti · Shar

The THIRD BLOGOVERSARY aka what is this

Hi Virtually Readers! Life is crazy sometimes and we have been blogging for three years. That’s 16.8% of our lives. It’s almost unbelievable that three years ago two girls sat by a laptop and signed up for wordpress and started to write about books.  But, obviously, we’re very happy to be here. As you may notice, we have a new design! Isn’t it pretty? We’re still working through a few kinks, but Shar did this a few weeks ago and I supported her and offered somewhat helpful advice along the way.We are going to have a giveaway at some point during this year, but our lives are just a bit busy right now, so that won’t be for a while.

Continue reading “The THIRD BLOGOVERSARY aka what is this”

shanti · writing

Beautiful People, Author Edition

Hi Virtually Readers! I’m a writer as well as a reader, and at the moment I’m busy writing the first draft of my novel lighter places. I’m 40k words in (!) and feeling good about it (like good in the sense that the plot totally sucks and I need to change everything) Anyway, Beautiful People is a linkup for writers, hosted by Cait @Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. This month, the questions are not about our books but about ourselves as writers. SCARY.

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How do you decide which project to work on?

I mean, so far with novel-sized projects I’ve only had time in the summers, so just whatever then. But in the next six-eight months, I have more time, so I have to make some calls. Anyway, in general I try to shift between chasing those plot bunnies and editing what I have already.

How long does it usually take you to finish a project?

I mean, so far I haven’t got any novel to the point where I could say that it’s finished. But I like the idea of Nano style drafting (what I’m doing at the moment, actually, with some of my own adjustments) and…I haven’t really figured out editing yet. With short stories, it depends (for example if it’s for a class project it’ll be faster), but working sporadically, short stories which I do for fun amidst other commitments take about three months (and lots of feedback from others) until I’m happy.

Do you have any routines to put you in the writing mood?

Apart from opening my laptop, not really. I guess I like to put on some nice music, like a musical soundtrack, quiet acoustic based songs, or instrumental covers of pop music, and read enough twitter/news that I don’t mind writing for a few hours haha.

What time of day do you write best?

I like to write in the mornings, I think, because the creative stuff takes more focused, and then I sort of have it out of the way and can feel productive for the rest of the day. But I *can* write anytime depending on my schedule.

Are there any authors you think you have a similar style to?

Hmm, my natural style is first-person present tense. I remember thinking that I was sort of similar to Rachel Hartman when I read Seraphina and Shadow Scale last year, but I can’t remember why…. I don’t really know who else I’m similar too, because when I read finished books, they’re WAY more polished than what I write.

Why did you start writing, and why do you keep writing?

I guess I started writing because I wanted to create stories like the ones I loved. Most of these involved cliched generic fantasy plots that were never finished haha. I keep writing, because there are stories that don’t exist yet, stories which I think are important, and that I’m qualified to tell them (for whatever reason)

What’s the hardest thing you’ve written?

There was this short story called Draconian which I finished this year, which was really hard to do well, and as it is, I still think I want to create a fourth draft so I can feel happier about it. I’ve also been trying to write this short play, tentatively titled Coming Into Money, because I think plays are really fun to write (I had to do one for Creative Writing class), but every single character believes something different about the other characters, so I haven’t figured out the details yet, so I”m only a few thousand words in.

Is there a project you want to tackle someday but you don’t feel ready yet?

Yes. It’s about loss. And that’s all I want to say about it for now.

What writing goals did you make for 2017 and how are they going?

I just went and looked at them, and the goals were ‘write short stories’ (done), ‘and poetry’ (yes), ‘work on Lighter Places and Entreaty’ (yes to the former, no to the latter), ‘write essays’ (not yet…that is I started one, but I haven’t quite found the perfect lense yet. I have read some books of essays though! I also wrote some essays I’m really proud of for school), and ‘keep thinking’ (I certainly have.) The goals were intentionally vague, but anyway, these are my writing plans for the rest of the year: July: finish first draft of Lighter Places. August: work on short pieces. September: Outline the fantasy trilogy that I had the idea for while on holiday (that is, it’s an idea based on a previous idea, but you know). November: NaNoWriMo the first book of said trilogy. *At some point*: edit Entreaty. I want to get it into a state where I”m comfortable with others reading it, which will require some research and a lot of plot restructure, which I sort of know the gist of. I initially thought that this would be a light edit, but there are SO MANY issues which I didn’t really fix in the second draft, so yeah, I just have to suck it up and do that. If I don’t have time, the light edit will happen, but it’s hard to see the point when the plot sucks so absolutely. Anyway, hopefully by the end of the year I can find some critique partners (several of my family members have volunteered already) and do that. And I’ll keep writing poetry as well.

Describe your writing process in 3 words or a gif!

I can’t be bothered to find a gif, so: Write, then worry. (the worrying usually leads to ideas which help me fix it. At least, that’s the idea)

Sorry this post is so long, lol, I clearly love to talk about myself. So, do you write? What’s something you’re proud of writing? (blog posts or essays for school or even tweets totally count)

book review · books · shanti

Non-Fiction updates

Some of you may remember that a few weeks ago, I resolved not to read fiction for Lent. Three and a half weeks later, I’ve read seven books (way fewer than normal), but mostly enjoyed them. I thought I would share my reviews for two of the books I read: Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post Feminism, an academic book about a study of girl’s challenges in school with the idea that sexism no longer exists; and When Breath Become Air, a very famous memoir from a neurosurgeon dying of lung cancer. These aren’t quite like my normal reviews, more like my personal reactions; regardless, I hope you enjoy this!

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1.When Breath Becomes Air

This book feels unfinished.
It should feel unfinished, because the author died.
It doesn’t work up to any conclusion, in particular, and numerous ideas of responsibility and death and life and love are used, but not quite completed.
But that feels right.
It’s the kind of book that I thought my mother would like, and she read it a few weeks ago, and now I’ve read it.
It made me weep; not anything, particularly, that Paul had written, but Lucy’s epilogue, her raw grief, her exquisite grief sodden writing a perfect, tragic accompaniment to Paul’s crisp, introspective missives. And the introduction. I read it again, after I had finished; Varghese reminded us of who Paul could have been; who he already was. Of who we can be; of who we already are.
“We know what we are, but not what we may be,” declares Ophelia, in Hamlet.
Yes.
Paul knew who he was, and he knew the thousand tangible possibilities for who he could become (which would undoubtedly involve more over-achieving; seriously, a degree at Oxford and Harvard and he would have done a nice tour of the elite institutions of the English-speaking world. But it was not to be.)
Cancer is unfair, and I haven’t really been personally struck by it; but Paul is honest, and tragic, and aware; and so, despite the sorrow, this is a story tainted with life rather than death.
Perhaps death makes us more aware of life; at any rate, Paul, in his honesty, reminds us that time matters.
Would I have liked it if he quoted less extensively from the Western canon, most of which I hadn’t read? Yes. Would I have preferred to know more about how he dealt with his identity as an Indian American, as a man of faith? Yes.
But this is an unfinished book, and it is filled with truth, not truth that can be expressed in a single aphoristic quote, but a truth that can still resonate with someone less than half his age, who has no interest in medicine.
His writing is wonderful. Read it; think, cry, know that you are alive.

2. Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post Feminism

I read this book when I needed it. That’s always the best way to read a book, because it’s personal, and relevant and it feels so much more important.
I needed it for two reasons: First, I was in the midst of writing a paper for my own research project, which is entirely different from Pomerantz and Raby’s study, but the methodology is fairly similar, and reading this definitely helps me know how to put my own research together. But the other reason, and probably much more interesting to whoever is perusing this review, is that it came at a time when I was contemplating the cost of my own label of a “smart girl”: what it has cost me, what it has bought me.
I’m definitely not a “supergirl”, as the first chapter explains (because I’m not popular). But being intelligent is absolutely part of my identity; I see myself as capable, and I consider academic achievement important, and like all of the girls in this book, I struggle with insidious sexism. Probably the biggest indicator that I am a “smart girl” is that I read this book–an academic book published by a university press–for fun. Yes, really, though admittedly I did not read the last 40% of the book, which was notes and citations.)
And what does it mean to me to be a smart girl? It means that people ask to look at my homework; assume that I will do well on things automatically, without working (though I definitely work hard). It means that I cry over calculus, and feel frustrated when I get things wrong, like a normal person. I hold myself to a standard of perfection; and I work everyday, not just at schoolwork, but at forgiving myself for making mistakes. It means that I report it, most of the time, when people cheat on tests; and I am not popular, though I am comfortable with myself, and I still don’t know whether those two things are linked. And now I’m about to graduate high school, and face what it means to be an intelligent woman in the world beyond a small high school. And I’m so ready, and so scared.
This book doesn’t perfectly reflect my experience. But it does remind me that I’m not alone, and that the legacy of the feminist movement (seen by so many to be over; that equality has been achieved) is borne by the young woman of today. It reminds me that I am privileged, and that I am naturally existed, and that my familial support is one of my many resources. It reminds me that there are many self contradictory aspects to education, and that yeah, my gender has something to do with it, and that education is a battleground, and that sexism exists, and is felt in many ways.
It reminded me to embrace and challenge the stereotype of smart girls, and not to forget how lucky I am. (Yes, thanks Doctor Seuss.)
It’s also well researched and clearly explained and fascinating; if you’re up for an academic book (which, let’s be real, you probably aren’t) I recommend this one.

Okay, so these reviews weren’t quite as mini as I hoped…. But tell me about your thoughts on nonficition! And have you ever read an “academic” book, and found yourself really enjoying it?

books · features · shanti

The Bookish Planet-Generica.

Good morning Virtually Readers! Today, I am pleased to welcome you to….Generica! We’ve caught glimpses of it in our guide to High School and Summer, but Generica is bigger than both of those places. Generica could be anywhere! It’s probably a medium sized town in America with a big enough high school that not everyone knows each other, lots of football games, and is basically a suburb with not personality because the characters are the personality. This is gonna be great! (and hopefully not too short—but there isn’t much to say about Generica)

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Description: There’s really not much to say about Generica. The town may not even be named. It probably has a high school for its characters to spend time in. There will be houses where teenage parties are held (parents out for the weekend, drinking and wild times etc.) There might be football games sometimes, and for some reason the whole town cares about them. Sometime kids go to the mall, because consumerism is entertainment. But there is nothing to distinguish Generica from any other Generica, and this is it’s downfall.

People: Almost every single contemporary character of all time, including Mim from The Secret of a Heart Note, Taylor from The Way to Game the Walk of Shame; Chloe from 6 Months Later; Skylar from I’ll Meet You There; Unknown from The Perks of being a Wallflower; Kate from What We Saw; Dave and Julia from Never Always Sometimes; Sydney from Saint Anything; Devon from First and Then; Taylor from Second Chance Summer; Samantha, Jase, Nan, Tim, and Alice from My Life Next Door; Janie from The Face on the Milk Carton; and Digby and Zoe from Trouble is a Friend of Mine. There are many others.

History: How long have bland medium sized towns been around in literature? I don’t know. Probably a long time, and that’s the point. The town is a convenient backdrop to the more exciting business of the plot and the characters. So who cares if it’s bland?

Where to stay: Let’s face it: you don’t come to Generica for the sights. You come to see your friends, and you’ll probably be staying with them too. If a hotel is even mentioned, it’ll be because prom is being held there or something. Hopefully you can crash in someone’s house.

Language: There is nothing distinctive about the language. The kids use popular slang, definitions for which can be found by any bored author on urban dictionary. If Generica is so luck as to have *gasp* non-white, suburban, cisgendered, middle class, Christian background people in it, they may use some slang so that it’s obvious that they’re  *different*. If this happens try not to be too shocked—the author isn’t racist, just narrow minded. (note from non-sarcastic Shanti: this is a gross overgeneralisation and by no means true of all authors). The point of the language is not to date the book too much, and most of all, to not make it clear at all where this Generica setting could be.

What are your favourite books with a generic setting? Does this annoy you, or are you okay with it? Tell me in the comments!

books · Uncategorized

Entertainer Blogger Award

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s almost the end of the holidays and I’m feeling a little blog-slumpy but I WILL PUSH THROUGH. I keep distracting myself by reaidn articles on the internet. Anyway, the lovely Holly @ Nut Free Nerd nominated us for the Entertainer Blogger Award. Thanks Holly!

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Rules

-write a post to demonstrate your award

-Thank the person who gave you the award

-answer the questions

Nominate others to receive the award ( I tagged people last tme I did a tag, so according to my random self imposed rules, I don’t have to this time.)

Questions

1. Why did you start your blog in the first place?

Um, actually, fun story, I was reading my journal from ninth grade, and some teachers who thought I was good at writing said that I should start a blog to write more, and then I procrastinated for like a year and finally did it! And I did end up writing more so it totally worked, and also reading more and becoming more obsessed with books.

2. What is your favourite book?

Petition to have this question banned because IT’S SO HARD TO ANSWER (seriously, a university tried to make me answer it) I love The FitzOsbornes in Exile, Lirael, Days of Blood and Starlight, The Wrong Side of Right, Emily Climbs, and The Boy Most Likely To, but there are more (there are always more)

3. What do you dislike the most?

I  don’t know, I dislike a lot of things, half of which I do. I dislike people leaving things (like writing blog posts) to the last minute (that was a joke. don’t leave essays to the last minute, but blogs are fine). And also people who miss deadlines (I’m a newspaper editor and we’re sensitive about these things.)

4. What is your favourite food item from the mall?

I don’t go to the mall much, because it’s an hours drive away, everything is expensive, and there’s no bookshop. (seriously, I’ve been to my ‘local’ mall 1 time aside from school trips) So instead, some of my favourite indian snack foods are: green mango with salt and chili, and aloo tikki, which is fried potato patties with youghurt and tamarind sauce, and bel puri, which is salsa with cruncy bits and more tamarind sauce.

5. What is your favourite pastime?

Aside from reading, writing, frittering away time on the internet, and yelling at newpaper writers with overdue articles (or being yelled at by them because they didn’t like my edits) I love crafts! Knitting, friendship bracelets, embroidery, colouring in, making jewellery, making bookmarks–there are many fun things to do.

And that’s it, Virtually Readers! What do you do when you’re not reading or writing? Do you have a favourite snack food? Tell me in the comments!

books · features · Uncategorized

YA Psychologist: Holiday Edition

Hi there Virtually Readers. I am currently sitting in my sunny bedroom, and I just remembered that I wanted to write a blog post today. I am having a lot of struggles with books (not reading them but… other things, you’ll see) and I thought that I would offer advice to myself and maybe others, in a new YA Psychologist post. And, good news! I have gotten MUCH better at spelling psychologist ever since I took psychology. (click for parts 1 and 2) (also, I get that this doesn’t apply to everyone. That’s okay)

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Patient #1: The Control Freak

Hi. I’m just kind of in a panic right now. Like, I know that I love books and I want to read. And my friends and family have noticed. With my heavy hints, they’re mostly getting me books for Christmas. Which is great…except what if it’s a book I don’t like? Or if it’s a book I already have? Or a book that I have heard bad things about? Is it rude to tell them what to buy me? What if I feel obliged to read a book I didn’t want? What do I do?

Psychologist: Firstly, stop hyperventilating. It will be okay. Their need to buy you books comes from a good place—because they love you. Because they care about you. Books matter a lot, I get that. But the fact that you have people who are buying you things you want because they love you and notice you matters more. Secondly, if there is a book you really want, you can ask for bookshop vouchers, or return coupons. Remind gift-givers of this. Thirdly, the people buying you books know you. They are not choosing books at random: they are choosing books they think you’ll like. Maybe you’ll already have some of those books—in which case you can just pass it on. But maybe you won’t, and the book will be a good surprise. Who knows? Just try to be calm, and glad that there all these great people in your lives who are giving you books.

Patient #2: The Social Reader?

To me, the best thing about the holidays is the time to read. But other people seem to think differently. People keep coming to my house. I have to go to other people’s houses. And I like spending time with other people, and Christmas food is the ACTUAL best, but my books are feeling very lonely. How can I balance all these social things with my lovely books?

Psychologist: Aah, the eternal duality: socializing and books. Both are fun. Both are important. Both…can sometimes feel unavoidable. But why do they have to be in opposition to each other? Whenever you go to a social event, bring a book. Then don’t read it—immediately. Talk to people! Eat! Enjoy yourself! Then if you feel bored, read for a while. Then talk to people. Better yet, just have friends that enjoy reading, who you can talk (social) about books (books) with. And if you don’t feel like tackling that TBR, you can leave the books at home. If you don’t want to make awkward small talk and tell someone what you’re doing in the holidays for the fiftieth time, stay at home with a book. But it’s not something to get stressed over. You can be calm.

Patient #3: The Matcher

One of the best things about the holidays is getting to wear nice outfits. And there are decorations everywhere. #aesthetic. But sometimes I worry that I’m reading a book with a sunset on it, when it’s cold outside. Or I’m reading a book about Winter except it’s summertime. Or my book and outfit don’t match—this is an all important time of social events, you know.

Psychologist: Books are beautiful. Decorations are great. I know that how you look matters, but books are so awesome that it doesn’t matter if they fit your aesthetic or not. Don’t worry about it. An awesome book is perfect for all occasions. A good book will ALWAYS match.

So did this make any sense? Have you ever encountered any of these problems? What’s your favourite holiday book? Tell me in the comments!

book review · books · features · shanti

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: Anne of Green Gables

Hi Virtually Readers. Another day, another ‘Tis the Season of Rereading. (because gosh, it is getting ridiculously close to Christmas.) So in July I started rereading Anne of Green Gables. In Novemeber, I finished it and promptly reread the whole series, which I mostly enjoyed. This post will contain a mini-review for each of the eight books (relatively spoiler free, but if you don’t want to know anything about this series, I would skip it altogether), then a brief discussion, then a bunch of quote illustration/poster things which you can enjoy. Ready? Ready.

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Anne of Green Gables: This is the book that started it all. It feature Anne, the lovable, vivacious orphan who desperately needs love. I love seeing how kindness and hospitality mellow Anne through the story. The hilarious scrapes (almost drowning! Dying your hair! Hitting boys!) make it a throughly entertaining story, and each character is drawn so well. This story covers a considerable period of time, and each year makes us love Anne of the wild imagination more.

Anne of Avonlea: Anne’s feud with a *certain* person is over, and she is thriving in her role as a school teacher, as well as taking on more responsibilities at home. As she struggles with being a kind, inspiring teacher, she finds herself making new friends, too– the precocious Paul Irving, the sweet Ms. Lavendar, and Gilbert. This is a story of friendship, most of all, and how you fit into the landscape of the people growing up around you. But it is not without it’s somber, beautiful moments either, and doses of hilarity, like Davy’s ‘radical’ religious questions.

Anne of the Island: This is probably my favourite Anne book. Anne is off at college, with her friends Stella (who doesn’t get enough of a focus), Priscilla, and the irrepressible Philippa. I loved seeing how Anne fits into the greater landscape, but there were some tragic moments, like everything to do with Ruby Gillis, and Anne visiting her birthplace. But the whole ‘friends and university’ thing just really clicked with me. I also love how this episode of the story questions romance (with the grotesque proposals), but also how we idealise certain qualities that we want to fall in love with. That feels fresh and relevant even almost a hundred years after it’s publication.

Anne of Windy Poplars: Anne is now off on her own, being a school principal and making friends. This novel doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the Anne narrative (it was written, I believe, after House of Dreams?), and is almost like a collection of short stories, with very little to tie the entertaining or boring episodes together. But the characters are lively, and the partial epistolary format is effective and interesting, and it’s interesting to see Anne out of a typical environment.

Anne’s House of Dreams: This story is fun, of course, and romantic (because it’s a Montgomery novel) and focuses on Anne as she begins her married life, and makes friends in a new place. This story can of course be read and enjoyed by kids, but there are allusions to darker things–abusive, alcoholic fathers and unwanted children. In terms of that, reading it with my older eyes did make for a different experience, though of course I still loved the story. I also thought the way they alluded to pregnancy was hilarious (with a terrible result). Anne’s friendship with Captain Jim, Leslie, and Miss Cornelia, as well as her shifting relationship with her husband, ties the pieces of this story together, and I would say it’s the most cohesive story in the whole sequence.

Anne of Ingleside: In this novel, the focus shifts from Anne to her children. They get little third person perspectives chronicling ther adventures and mishaps. It’s entertaining and clever (again, Montgomery trademarks), but it’s a bit of a let down after  the fluidity of House of Dreams. Still, I like that we get to know each child better, and Susan (their servant) is an absolute ‘duck’ and the few sections focussing on Anne show her growth–a fascinating comparison to the early stories.

Rainbow Valley: This is a story about Anne’s children somewhat, but the Meredith (their neighbours) kids even more. It has the usual romps both exciting and sad, and utterly character centric, and each child is delightful and well drawn. Woven through it all (and again, more noticeable for an older audience, though there’s nothing inappropriate) is a love story, and this key idea: what is the promise of love (to wives or children) What does in mean to break it?

Rilla of Ingleside: This last book of the Anne sequence, and focuses on Anne’s youngest daughter, as World War One leaves her alone at home. (no, that isn’t a spoiler. Her siblings are away, not dead. This book is set in Canada for goodness sake) This is the one where my reread really changed how I feel. Sure, Rilla is an interesting, and distinct character, and her character development (and fair share of both ‘scrapes’ and romance) hold the story together…but there was so much glorification of war. The book itself doesn’t necessarily glorify war (though it heavily implies that fighting is necessary, and the British must be right), but almost all the character (who I was pretty fond of by this point) do. The girl who didn’t want her sweetheart to go off to war is seen as ‘unpatriotic’ and a pacifist is one of the central antagonists, and off course all the characters are happily charging off to war or to help in the war effort and it just really, really irritated me. War is terrible, and I know that this is a historically accurate perspective but I could hardly stand it. And the romance (or rather, romances–everyone seems to pair off)  is under developed–not the slow, sweet gradual thing that Anne had with her husband.

What struck me about this reread was that, though I am an Indian-New Zealand pacifist whose beliefs would probably be considered fairly heretical by most of the characters, I can still relate to these characters. Yes, diversity is good, and I love many modern novels–but Montgomery is a brilliant writer, because she understands people. In the end, no matter the content of stories, a good writer will make you understand people. And L.M. Montgomery, writing from a long time ago, gets it. She gets people, and she can write about them and make you understand them. That’s why the Anne novels are so enduringly popular, despite shifts in values, despite the fact that most of the readers have never been to Prince Edward Island. That’s what makes these books worth reading. And because this post is massive, I’m going to pause my thoughts right there and show you some of the lovely quotes (and my mediocre-hopefully typo free graphics for them). Click to see them bigger, and I really hope the formatting isn’t screwed up.

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Have you read Anne of Green Gables? Do you like classics? Who is a writer that you think is stellar at writing about people? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

book review · books

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: Divergent

I read Divergent a long time ago, when I was just getting into using our ereaders, and starting to read book blogs, in December 2013. I reread it once after that, I can’t remember when, but I have since changed a lot. Since I had a paperback, I thought it would be perfect for this feature. The previous owner had marked it up and left notes in the margins, which was pretty cool, and I decided to do the same. My previous rating on goodreads was 5 stars, but I was trying to read critically, and I have to say that my opinion has changed significantly. Divergent is a fairly effective allegory/social commentary, but it doesn’t hold up as a world, and I found some issues with the plot. Obviously, you want to know all about them.

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(ps. This is ‘tis the Season of Rereading, an annual feature where Shar and I reread books and reflect on how our opinions have changed. To read previous posts, just search, or follow the tag.

So what is Divergent about? If you somehow haven’t heard of it (there’s a movie and millions of copies and so on) There is a city which is Chicago (like, the Bean and something called the Hancock building are mentioned, it’s not disguised) and it has for some unknown reason, decided to divide itself by values, so there is a group of people who are honest, a group who are peaceful, a group who are brave, a group who are selfless and a group who are intelligent. A girl discovers that (shocker) she doesn’t fit into the any of the groups, joins a group anyway, makes friends, discovers herself, falls in love, and has to make hard choices to save other people’s lives. You know, pretty standard YA.

This story is clearly a critique of the social divisions in society (race, religion, sexuality, education level, profession, ethnic background etc.) and the way that young people are almost forced to choose between different groups which will define them forever. It also plays with ideas of violence, compassion, family, and loyalty. That’s great, and it’s good that authors layer that sort of thing into their stories, because of course YA readers are smart enough to deal with that and so on (I’m sorry, but somebody I talked to last week said ‘most YA is escapist trash’ and I CAN’T EVEN) I read somewhere that Roth developed this story after taking a psychology course, and I can totally see that. With the simulations and the family aspect, there is a lot about personality, attribution theory, social psychology (e.g. groupthink) and of course nature vs. nurture here. The allegory is not that subtle. I feel like Veronica Roth had a message to tell and constructed a story to tell it, instead of letting the ideas and message develop naturally.

This rereading made me notice a lot of things that I missed earlier. One of the things, sadly, was how weak the worldbuilding of this story with. We get allusions to history classes, a school, cars, trains, computers, oceans, hamburgers, lots of different crops, fresh food, electricity and so on without any indication of where these things come from, and why the people don’t wonder about them. In fact, at one point Tris wonders what is beyond her city—but how does she know that there’s a beyond. It doesn’t feel like a new world, it feels like a thin veneer over our own world that is ultimately quite meaningless. There are a lot of holes in the worldbuilding too. For example, currently Chicago has about 3 million people. In Divergent, there are 21 (if you count one who was left behind and one who was killed) Dauntless initiates. Assuming that each faction has about the same number, there are 100 kids who turned 16 this year. If the population is fairly constant, then there are 8000 people in the city (up to age 80). This means that a lot of people have gone missing, and nobody wonders about it. Of course, some of this is made clear in Insurgent and Allegiant, but a good story (and this one was written originally as a standalone) should be logical within itself. The whole culture just doesn’t make sense, and on this reread that really bothered me.

Also, I don’t want to spoil, but the plot is also very weak. The story is focused on Tris’s initiation into the faction of Dauntless, the brave. That seems to be the main buildup into the story. But the final conflict is not what you expect. Part of this is that the antagonistic force in the story is diluted between three very different villains—Peter, another teenage initiate; Eric, a Dauntless leader; and Janine, an Erudite leader. The foreshadowing is crude and poorly developed, which makes the eventual conflict (which is violent and horrible) feel manufactured, rather than a natural conclusion of Tris’s self-discovery story. Again, some of this is addressed in Insurgent, but it doesn’t stand on it’s own.

I have a lot more to say about Divergent, but this reread made me realise that it is badly disguised social commentary with a world and plot which do not withstand scrutiny. I’ve read a lot more YA since my first experience of Divergent, and become, I think, a much more critical reader. That context makes this rereading different, and perhaps more academic. There is a lot to say about this story, and it’s not all bad (Divergent does, after all, have a healthy appreciation for baked goods). But the narritave ultimately fell short for me this time.

Have you read Divergent? How has reading YA changed how you see YA ‘classics’ like this one? What do you want to reread? Let me know in the comments!

blogging · books · Uncategorized

#TheThanksUGive and History

Hi Virtually Readers! A few days ago, it was Thanksgiving in the US. I don’t really celebrate—though I am thankful for a lot of the things in my life like my parents and siblings, my books, and all the different options I have—but I did find myself surprisingly participating in Mishma and Hazels #theThanksUGive chat and their link-up. My post is sort of strange, because it’s themed around history that I am glad to know about (not that I’m glad that it happened, necessarily) and the books that taught it to me. I love history, and I feel like I grew up with very Euro/New Zealand centric history. It is only more recently that I’ve learned about all sorts of nuances of history: Gandhi was not totally good and Communism has it’s positive points (though I learnt that from my dad). Let’s get right to it!

the-thanks-u-give

  1. The Partition of India

The partition of India was bloody and brutal, and in some ways not necessary at all. It is the largest mass migration in recorded history and at least a million people died in border violence. In books from school like Train to Pakistan and novels like Jamila Gavin’s Surya Trilogy, I have learnt about the human impact of this tumultuous time.

  1. Women Getting the Right to Vote

Feminism and equal rights really matter to me, and I am so glad that after fighting and protesting, women were given the right to vote in Western countries from the late nineteenth to mid 20th centuries. Books like The Cure for Dreaming and A Mad, Wicked Folly have given me a perspective on these events.

  1. World War 2

Yes, I do think that World War Two is given too much of an emphasis in books. But some astonishing fiction has been written about it. I’ve talked about most of these before but here are some of my favourite WWII books (links go to reviews or goodreads): The FitzOsbornes at War, The Book Thief, Salt to the Sea, All the Light We Cannot See, and Code Name Verity.

  1. Delhi

Delhi is an incredible city which has so much history in it for all its modern problems. The non-fiction travel writingish City of Djinns covers a lot of that, especially my particular favourites, the Mughals.

  1. Racial Equality

It would be hard to argue that racial equality has been achieved. But there are lots of good books about it—including some from my pre-goodreads dark ages which I have forgotten the name of). I enjoyed Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves, about desegregation and falling in love in the 60’s (she also has a fabulous short story in A Tyranny of Petticoats); The Game of Love and Death, about Seattle jazz and impossible odds; Under A Painted Sky, about female friendship and the Gold Rush; Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir in poetry; and The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, about the Chinese Exclusion Act and early 20th century San Francisco.

  1. Other Random Events

These are books which have taught me something, but I haven’t read enough of for them to deserve a category on their own. Sitting on the Fence, about the Springbok protests in New Zealand; Wild Swans, about communism and family in post 1950 China; Hunter, about Maori tradition and survival in New Zealand; Madame Tussaud, about the French Revolution and making hard choices; The Infernal Devices, about magic and demons in Victorian England; and The Secret Chord, a story which examines King David and his many flaws and power.

  1. The Future

Let me be real with you: Most YA books set in the future (and this includes the terrible novel I wrote also) do not make me feel optimistic about the future. They make me feel gloomy about the future, really. But I don’t think you can beat Karen Healey’s When We Wake for realism. It’s definitely not a dystopia which is good. The wondrous aliens of Melissa Landers Alienated trilogy (though no spoilers- I haven’t read the last book!) promise fun as well.

So this was fun, right? Isn’t it awesome to learn about history? (feel free to say no…) And tell me about a book that gives you hope.