Book Review

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

Publisher: One World
Genre: Science
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

The Flint water crisis is one of the most well-known and tragic public health issues of the 21st century. It has been repeatedly documented and analyzed—representing not only a failure of government but the power and force of citizens. What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City is the story of the Flint water crisis, but also the physician who spoke up. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha describes the story of herself, her research team, and her community as they discovered and exposed the extreme levels of lead in Flint’s tap water.

Thoughts

I don’t usually lean toward nonfiction or biographical novels, perhaps because so much of my year is taken up with nonfiction or educational material for school. However, What the Eyes Don’t See is an amazingly fluid work that intertwines the author’s personal narrative and experience with the factual occurrences during the beginning of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. In this manner, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha not only allows the reader to understand historically what happened, why it happened, and the steps taken to address it, but what the personal effects of the situation caused. By describing her personal story, as well as the community’s account and direct reaction, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha gives a face to the crisis rather than just addressing the blame. It is this mix of emotion and fact that made me love this novel and pushed me to seek out more nonfiction (especially current nonfiction) novels.

Additionally, the detailed account of the crisis from the beginning allowed the reader to understand the steps taken and failures of the government at each stage. I also greatly appreciated the historical references, explanations, and details laid out periodically. The inclusion of background information, which while not necessarily vital to the narrative, provided a deeper understanding of the community and the impact of the situation. After all, What the Eyes Don’t See is less about the actual crisis details and more about the community and individuals who risked a lot to protect their neighbors and speak out against a failure of government. It is truly a great book that offers an increasingly prominent analysis of not only public health in the United States but the priorities of communities versus government.

10 Books To Look Forward To In 2022

A new year brings with it another crop of incredible books for readers to enjoy—and while it’s impossible to know which books will captivate the world in 2022, these 10 books appear to be full of potential. Mark your calendars, because these amazing stories will be hitting bookstore shelves this year, and you won’t want to miss them.


Book of Night—Holly Black. From the beloved author Holly Black comes the story of Charlie, a con artist working as a bartender. In her world, shadows can be manipulated, changing a person’s memories, feelings, powers, and more—but these changes come with a serious price. When a figure from her past arrives at Charlie’s door, she must re-enter the terrible world of shadow trading, facing off against thieves and nobles, all hell-bent on controlling the power of the shadow. In this world of shadows and deceit, is there truly anyone Charlie can trust?

Release Date: May 23,2022


Daughter of the Moon Goddess—Sue Lynn Tan. Inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, this story follows Xingyin, a young girl who lives on the moon to hide from the celestial Emperor who exiled her mother until she is discovered and forced to flee. She makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom where she, in disguise, begins to train with the Emperor’s son. However, even as passion blooms between the two, forbidden magic threatens the kingdom and Xingyin will soon have to choose between saving the realm or saving those she loves the most.

Release Date: January 11, 2022


Book Lovers—Emily Henry. Nora Stephens is a cutthroat literary agent who is seeking a literary adventure of her own in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina. Despite her best efforts, though, she keeps running into Charlie Lastra, a brooding editor from the city and Nora’s personal rival. However, as their encounters become more and more frequent, Nora begins to discover that there is more to Charlie than what she first suspected.

Release Date: May 3, 2022


Dead Girls Can’t Tell Secrets—Chelsea Ichaso. Was Piper’s fall an accident? Piper Sullivan has been in a coma for a month after what everyone assumed was a freak hiking accident—but when her sister Savannah finds an invitation to a wilderness club at the very place and time her sister fell, she begins to suspect foul play. Savannah joins the club for the weekend camping trip at the same mountain, but the truth will not be found so easily. Everyone has secrets, including Savanah.

Release Date: April 5, 2022


The League of Gentlewomen Witches—India Holton. Charlotte Pettifer is the future leader of the League of Gentlewomen Witches, a group of witches dedicated to using magic to maintain what is proper. When the long-lost amulet of Black Beryl is discovered, Charlotte must team up with Alex O’Riley, a pirate who also desires to steal the amulet. But Charlotte must be careful or her pirate might run off with her heart.

Release Date: March 15, 2022


Dead Silence—S.A.Barnes. A salvage crew receives a distress call on their way back to earth and are shocked to discover that it’s The Aurora, a luxury spaceliner that vanished twenty years ago. The crew is elated as this salvage could set them up for life, but as they investigate further they realize something is very wrong. From messages in blood to haunting voices from the darkness, it’s clear that something horrible happened to the Aurora, and if they don’t figure out what happened soon, they might be next.

Release Date: February 8, 2022


Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker—Maggy Krell. Backpage was the largest sex trafficking operation in the world, advertising the sale of sex with vulnerable people in 800 cities and making millions of dollars. In Taking Down Backpage, Maggy Krell, a California prosecutor, details how she and her team managed to take down the trafficking monolith. From the victims’ stories to the sting operations to the future of sex trafficking, Taking Down Backpage provides a harrowing tale of the fight for justice in the digital age.

Release Date: January 11, 2022


The Book Eaters—Sunyi Dean. Devon belongs to a reclusive clan of book eaters, people who are able to gain a book’s content by eating it. As a woman, she was raised on a diet of fairytales and cautionary stories while her brothers were raised on stories of valor and adventure. However, all she’s ever learned from her years of book eating will be put to the test when she discovers her son doesn’t hunger for books, he hungers for human minds.

Release Date: August 9, 2022


Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes, Transformed—Edited by Marissa Meyer. Lovers of the romance genre will be familiar with the genre’s many beloved tropes. The fake relationship, the matchmaker, first love, unrequited love, secret admirers, and many more have delighted readers since the beginning of time. Now, ten young adult authors join forces to turn these tropes on their heads, creating new stories for readers to fall for.

Release Date: January 4, 2022


Gallant—V. E. Schwab. Olivia Prior is an orphan who was raised in a school for girls with only her mother’s journals to provide her any clue to her past. That is, until she receives a letter that invites her home to Gallant. However, she finds that there is more to the Gallant manor than the first meets the eye, and she must now decide where she truly belongs—with her prior family protecting the world from the master of the house, or by his side.

Release Date: March 1, 2022

The Way of the Househusband by Kousuke Oono

If you’re in the market for a good husband, consider a former Yakuza. I’m convinced this manga, The Way of the Househusband, is pro-Yakuza propaganda. If it is, then it’s very good pro-Yakuza propaganda. This slice-of-life manga’s comfortable premise helped convert me into a fan of a genre I originally despised. After all, the slice-of-life genre has a reputation for throwaway plots: they’re cute and make you feel good, but there’s no depth. The Way of the Househusband is an exception, and a very wholesome one at that.

The Way of the Househusband pulls you in with its enigmatic protagonist: Tatsu the Immortal Dragon. There’s a certain charm to Tatsu—a je ne sais quoi—that makes him such a lovable character. Volume 1 dedicates its first few pages to what Tatsu was like, briefly showing his storied career as a violent assassin. What immediately follows is a reformed Tatsu, a man whose new path in life includes coupon clipping, meal prepping, and house cleaning. His first adventure follows him realizing he forgot to give his wife the boxed lunch he made her, so he hops on his bicycle and races to her place of work. The police stop him, confused at how a man who so clearly looks like a Yakuza would be riding a bicycle. Tatsu manages to escape their questioning, and then we’re onto the next story. This manga isn’t plot-heavy, focused instead on the comfortable characters, setting, and scenarios. The Way of the Househusband doesn’t want to make you sit on the edge of your seat, it wants you to sink further into it. Each chapter is about 8 pages long, and the intensity of the drama is kept to a minimum. The manga’s most intense moments include Tatsu’s mad-dash to the grocery store, hoping to take advantage of a random flash sale.

(Tatsu and Miku enjoying themselves in The Way of the Househusband, Vol 2)

That’s not to say there isn’t conflict, far from it. Tatsu’s wife, Miku, is a full-time businesswoman. There are moments in the manga that indicate Miku is not only the head-of-household thanks to her job, but also thanks to her fiery personality. Tatsu expresses his fear of upsetting “The Boss,” a term of endearment he uses for his wife. Tatsu also finds himself encountering his former Yakuza members who express their confusion in his newfound love of crafts, DIY kits, and cooking. His charming personality and supremely detailed crafts help him survive a would-be messy encounter with a rival Yakuza gang, where he offers them a rubber duck. Ultimately, it’s his experience as a former Yakuza boss that helps him be such a great househusband.

Each volume outdoes the last, and Tatsu begins to win over the hearts of other Yakuza who are doomed to forever live a life of crime. Whatever happened to Tatsu made him realize that being a Yakuza and being a househusband are one and the same. He befriends a group of housewives who become his crafting and cooking mentors. He attends cooking classes in hopes that he can make a delicious meal for his wife after work. It’s all serious business for Tatsu, and one of his former partners in crime takes note, eventually leaving the Yakuza entirely to become his student. Despite Tatsu’s rough looks and delinquent past, The Way of the Househusband shows that he has plenty of love to give.

My favorite chapter of this manga has Tatsu babysitting his neighbor’s son who just wants to have fun. What follows is Tatsu realizing just how difficult entertaining a child is. Without going into much detail, Tatsu tries to use what he learned as a Yakuza to entertain the kid. It doesn’t go over well. Like all chapters— of course—it’s all resolved in the end, thanks in part to Miku’s timely return home, but it’s a good example of the manga’s strong characterization. Tatsu has a good heart, and despite his inexperience with kids, just wants the boy to have a good time. He knows his limits, realizing that he’s in over his head and tries to find an alternative to what he’s already trying. He’s sensitive, which allows him to bond with the kid. He lacks self-awareness: he truly doesn’t realize just how scary his face is. All of these little facets of Tatsu combine to make what is a very compelling, loveable househusband. 

As of my writing this there are six English volumes of The Way of the Househusband, with the seventh releasing next year, January 18th. Additionally, there’s a brief live-action adaptation that can be watched on YouTube (made for advertising) and an anime that just had its second season. Each volume of the manga can be enjoyed on its own, but they build on each other to create a truly enjoyable story. There are recurring characters with their own character arcs, and Tatsu grows on you with each new chapter. He’s a simple man who found fulfillment in wearing an apron and perfecting his omelet recipe. He’s a responsible cat owner, a diligent money saver, and a truly loving husband. If he wasn’t already taken, he’d be the world’s most eligible bachelor. The Way of the Househusband is a must-read for anyone who needs a simple, wholesome story. Let your heart and cheeks be warmed by Tatsu and Miku’s adorable marriage—and if that isn’t your kind of thing, they have an unbearably cute cat. And did I mention that he cooks a mean omelet?

An Exploration of Trauma Through YA Novels

“My stars shine darkly over me. The malignancy of my fate might perhaps distemper yours. Therefore I shall crave of you your leave that I may bear my evils alone. It were a bad recompense for your love to lay any of them on you.”

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night 2.1.3–7

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of domestic abuse, trauma, and suicide. Please continue reading with caution, and take care of yourselves.

People often talk about each other’s pain and trauma in the simplistic language of platitudes and clichés. Sometimes it’s because they don’t understand what another is going through, and other times they simply want another to feel better. Verbalizing assurance and love and thoughtfulness toward someone in this sort of situation is incredibly difficult, and it rarely helps to the degree which we intend. The truth is that most of us don’t possess the emotional tools to help others fix their lives or reframe how they perceive reality, and regardless of if we’ve endured something similar ourselves, we can never fully understand each other’s trauma. Sometimes, whether we are the person impacted by some trauma or the outsider watching its impact, we have to sit in our own misery, because there is nothing else we can do.

In this article, I will discuss two Young Adult books that examine trauma in the lives of two young women. The first, Sparrow, by Mary Cecilia Jackson, tells the story of the lives of the titular character Sparrow and her friend Lucas, before and after she experiences a brutal domestic attack by the hands of her boyfriend Tristan. The second, And We Stay, by Jenny Hubbard, intertwines the present experiences of the narrator Emily Beam with flashbacks of her life mere months before when a series of events led to the death of her boyfriend Paul. In considering these two books, we situate trauma amid the lives of two teenage girls and observe how each deals with her circumstances. As such, we see both the loneliness of pain and the delicate, slow inner strength that emerges from each of them. The quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which Sparrow also quotes, helps reflect the unique tones of these books. 

Sparrow is split into the perspectives of Savannah Darcy Rose—or Sparrow, as everyone calls her—and her friend Lucas before and after she is attacked, which depicts both someone enduring trauma and a loved one watching this pain fundamentally change the life of someone they deeply care about. Sparrow and Lucas are two talented ballet dancers who are made pas de deux partners for an upcoming performance of Swan Lake. I stumbled into this novel after searching “YA Romance” in a library database. This was one of the results, and I quickly checked it out without reading the description after I saw the tutu on the cover and my obsession with ballet got the best of me. Boy, was I shocked.

Sparrow begins a romance with Tristan, a popular boy in her class. He sweeps her off her feet with his gentleness and sweetness. She feels seen for the first time, and this is only intensified by the fact that Tristan enjoys great popularity among their peers. She quickly falls in love with him, and other people and commitments begin to slowly fade into the background.

When Lucas discovers this, he tries to tell Sparrow that Tristan isn’t the kind of person she thinks he is. He is mean and violent and gets away with anything he pleases because he has a rich and powerful father. Sparrow, newly in love, takes his warnings as signs of jealousy, but it quickly becomes apparent that Tristan is everything Lucas depicted him as, if not worse. He becomes dominating toward Sparrow, behavior that soon devolves into possessiveness and verbal abuse toward her. Not long after that, he starts physically abusing her.

Sparrow hides the truth from everybody. She lies to her family and friends, even when her injuries are obvious. She persuades herself that Tristan loves her; he can’t control his temper, and it was her fault for enabling it. She cuts herself off from everyone who truly loves her, until, one night, after suggesting to Tristan that they take a break from their relationship to focus on preparing for important upcoming events—her Swan Lake performance and his college applications—he becomes angrier than he has ever been with Sparrow. He takes her to a deserted location, hurts her until she is nearly dead, then deserts her. 

Sparrow is found and taken to the hospital, where she begins a long road to recovery. Her physical state is so damaged that even after months, she looks like a completely different person. Her mental state is even worse. She won’t speak to anybody. When her family takes her to see a therapist, she won’t even speak with her. 

Lucas is forced to stay on the sidelines as he watches Sparrow’s entire life fall apart. He cares for her deeply and wants to help fix her life, but he finds himself restrained by her refusal to speak with him and prove that Tristan was the one that attacked her. He begins his own self-destructive path that forces him to confront his own capacities for bringing about justice. 

After much time passes, Sparrow begins to open up to her therapist. Sparrow had prided herself as not being the girl who tells about the personal demons of others, but she learns that we don’t have to hold ourselves responsible for protecting those who hurt us. Our trauma is our trauma, and we deserve to treat ourselves with that recognition. In being honest with others, we can open ourselves up to being honest with ourselves. We don’t have to hide behind the experiences of other people because our reality is not less important than another’s.

And We Stay takes a slightly different perspective in focusing on the perspective of only one character: Emily Beam. Emily lives in a small town with her family, and her and her boyfriend Paul are coming to the end of their high school experience. Their lives are lightly infused with Christianity, though it becomes clear that both Emily and Paul have troubles with faith. Emily unexpectedly becomes pregnant, but she doesn’t want to keep the baby. She has dreams of attending Harvard, and having a baby would end those ambitions.

Paul, on the other hand, wants her to keep the baby. He thinks having an abortion is wrong and selfish. When Emily decides to break up with Paul, he is devastated. He tries to convince her to get back together—that they should even get married and start a family together. In a desperate attempt to change the situation, Paul brings a gun to school. Throughout the entire book, each character who knew Paul, even Emily, held the belief that Paul had never intended to hurt anybody. He had simply wanted things to go back to the way they were. In a panic, Paul used the gun to commit suicide.

After witnessing this, Emily’s parents pull her out of school. They help her get an abortion, then send her off to a boarding school. Emily meets a few nice people—her roommate K.T. and her French teacher Madame Colche. Her closest companions, however, are Emily Dickinson and her poetry, our Emily’s own poetry, and herself. Emily Beam, who had not written much in the way of poetry in the past, finds herself filled with words that she must form into poems. She writes poetry about Paul, her abortion, and her new life at boarding school. 

What is especially striking about And We Stay is the odd way that the reader feels like they are watching a story unfold through foggy glass. We see the remnants of what happened to Emily, and we hear memories of her past, but it reads exactly as one might recall a memory: short, dark, and undetailed. We don’t know a great deal about her emotional states, which makes me wonder if the author has forced the audience to feel like Lucas in Sparrow: the helpless friend who can guess what is going on in their friend’s mind, but isn’t privy to their entire reality. 

I spent the entire novel wondering why Jenny Hubbard named it And We Stay. The reasons are undoubtedly multifaceted, but one that I came away with is the dual nature of “staying,” both concerning people who have endured trauma and those who know someone who has endured trauma. Emily had people around her who stayed: her parents, her friends, her teachers, and Paul’s family. Some of these people were just around Emily, unaware of her past, but nonetheless loving and kind. While they did not step in and actively fix Emily’s life, their presence helped Emily live through her trauma. However, despite their assistance, in many ways Emily was the only person to help herself. She was the one who had to live with these experiences, who had replayed them over and over in her mind, who had to rebuild some semblance of herself and move on to live. In her own way, consciously or unconsciously, Emily decided to stay. 

While Sparrow and And We Stay depict traumatic events, they do so in such a light and gentle way that the entire experience felt like watching a feather float slowly downward. That might speak to the YA genre, but I would also argue that it speaks to the common and persistent nature of trauma. Trauma doesn’t go away easily, if ever. It lives with us, and we are forced to shape our lives and personalities around it. Moreover, I chose these books to discuss because I wanted to recognize that trauma doesn’t always need to be confronted with a loud voice or a show of having overcome such an event. As cathartic as that may be, we must also recognize that we can and more often confront trauma internally, silently, or alone. Strength doesn’t only emerge from brute force. Sometimes, we are the only ones who know about our own strength, and sometimes, we are the only person who decides to stay for ourself. I think human relationships are absolutely beautiful, but in no way can I deny that the most important relationship from which all other relational beauty emerges is the one we keep with ourself.

The Eternals: Jack Kirby’s Anticlimax

Few people fully understand just how much Jack Kirby did for Marvel.

Even fewer people fully understand The Eternals, Jack Kirby’s 1976 creation that came at the tail end of his career. It was published by Marvel, yet The Eternals is entirely Jack Kirby’s creation. I quote his wife, Roz, in an interview published by The Comics Journal when I say that his Eternals was “an afterthought… an anticlimax.” She puts it best by saying, “After he did The New Gods, what more could he do?” Never has a question been more poignant, as Jack Kirby really had done everything before making The Eternals. The man was creatively spent; his resume exceeded comprehension. Kirby either co-created—or just outright created—most of Marvel. By this fact alone, the MCU is entirely beholden to Kirby. He co-created Captain America alongside Joe Simon back in 1941; at that time, Stan Lee wasn’t even a footnote in comics history. Kirby went on to co-create The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The X-Men, The Avengers, The Black Panther, and the list goes on. You could write an entire book about what Jack Kirby means to comic books, and if it were 2,000 pages it still wouldn’t be the full story. The man was born for comic books, and Marvel knew it. Then he left for DC. 

Despite having worked in the industry for 3 decades prior, The New Gods’ creation in 1971 marks the climax of his career. Finally free of Marvel’s constraints, Kirby delivered his aforementioned magnum opus right to DC’s front door. It’s chock-full of mythology, science fiction, philosophy and unbridled creativity; it’s about God and man. It’s more than just a comic book. It demands answers to questions such as what it really means to be a God, to be a man, to be a hero. Then, it ended. Kirby packed up and went back to Marvel. He created a few things, the most notable of which has retroactively become The Eternals, and then he drove off into the sunset. Nobody considers The Eternals his greatest work, but it has recently been given the MCU treatment. The film is vastly different from Kirby’s original comic; it’s obvious even at a first-glance. Kirby’s art and storytelling was epic in every sense of the word. Kirby understood what God meant, he translated that in his powerful artstyle. His writing on The Eternals evokes Shakespeare, it’s a grand-stage drama that expresses his viewpoint on what Gods really are. Yet, he already did something similar in The New Gods. In fact, comic historians and readers alike would find that The Eternals seems a spiritual successor to The New Gods

It’s a distinctly odd comic for Marvel to have under its banner, especially at that time. The appeal of their characters comes from their creators’ humanity: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and everyone else at Marvel during its foundational years crafted human characters with extraordinary abilities. That’s the core philosophy behind their superheroes: though they’re larger than life, they’re still human, like us. Spider-Man is the tried-and-true example of this, and as a result, he’s Marvel’s flagship character. Peter Parker was a nerd before the spider bit him, that reflected the readership at the time. What then do Jack Kirby’s Eternals reflect? The perfect, undying beings seem like black sheep at Marvel, and for many fans of Kirby’s, The Eternals pales in comparison to his other work. It has a reputation of not being as good. And perhaps the MCU film doesn’t do much to prove those perceptions wrong.

The film neuters the sheer awe and cosmic scope that Kirby’s Eternals set out to provide. The film is more narratively sound, albeit with a few plot holes—an imperfection that can be blamed on the movie already being stuffed with characters and themes. Yet, there’s not any strong themes in either the film nor the comic. The film delves into what it means to be human, not necessarily what it means to be a God. This is where Kirby’s Eternals outshines the film, its self-described Chariots of the Gods? structure screams Gods. Kirby’s Eternals—especially Ikaris—have distinct visual flair. The way characters interact in Kirby’s The Eternals matches up to the grand scale of the story. Furthermore, The Eternals has the added benefit of Kirby’s art: his larger than life figures, dynamic poses, powerful faces and awe-inspiring color work. Kirby’s artwork is genre-defining: inferior artists who replaced him have been accused of copying his style. Kirby also invented many different techniques, strategies, and conventions to help convey the unfathomable scope of his cosmic stories, including the Kirby Krackle—a collection of different sized black dots that he’d use in explosions, ray-blasts, cosmic energy, and general depictions of space. Kirby’s spectacular visual style gives The Eternals gravitas that the film sorely lacks. Visually, the film pales in comparison to the comic; though the film Thor: Ragnarok has adapted Kirby’s visuals to the big screen, an effort passionately undertaken by the film’s director, Taika Waititi. Though Eternals does translate Kirby’s beautiful, awe-inspiring Celestial drawings to the big screen rather well, the awesomeness—for a lack of a better word—just doesn’t feel as strong as it does in the comic. That being said, the comic isn’t exactly what one would consider narrative gold. The classic Kirby art carries the sometimes lacking plot and dialogue. This translates to the film, where its plot is also a bit lackluster.

Jack Kirby draws a war between the beings of Earth and a Celestial…

Kirby had a penchant for stories featuring Gods, the cosmos, and larger than life superheroes—his career was built on it. Though The Eternals isn’t anywhere close to as good as his New Gods, nor any of his previous work, it has been given the blessing of the film adaptation. To some, it would be considered a curse: seeing Kirby’s vision pulled apart and watered-down is the unfortunate consequence of adaptation. His plethora of characters have been adapted before, of course, but something truly feels off about his Shakespearean Eternals being twisted around into another group of MCU superheroes. There’s no easier way to say it, but the film is definitely different than the comic, for better or for worse.

Even if The Eternals wasn’t well-received during its release (Kirby’s run was effectively cancelled at issue #19), the run should be regarded as a monument to its creator: a man who created entire worlds that we could only dream of. A man who, for many, is regarded as the forgotten Godfather of modern-comics. And a man who would agree with his wife, saying: “[The Eternals] is an anticlimax.” But, that’s okay. After all—he was only a man. What more could he do?

Our Favorite Tropes: 6 Recommendations and Why We Love Them

This post is a collaboration between Makayla Aysien and Lauren Kuhman

Enemies to Lovers

The Hating Game—Sally Thorne. The Hating Game follows Lucy and Josh—two people who work for the same publishing company—who are forced to work in the same office space, and who absolutely despise each other. Lucy is sweet, colorful, passionate, and friendly, while Josh is tough, reserved, and intimidating, but no less passionate than Lucy. The two clash so often and so epically that their heated relationship is infamous at their little publishing company, Bexley & Gamin. When a promotion becomes available—available to only one of them—their competition appears to come to an all-time high. Amid the chaos of change, and the two of them knowing that their current dynamic will surely be altered by this promotion, the main question is what kind of new relationship might blossom between the two of them. 

The Hating Game is the book that pulled me into the romance genre. I thought I had picked up a mediocre book that wouldn’t distract me while I was supposed to be committed to schoolwork, but this turned out to be one of the best mistakes I have ever made! With its endless hilarity and truly passionate romance, I couldn’t put it down. Other enemies to lovers books like to point out the fact that their main characters are “verbally sparring” without actually bantering, but Lucy and Josh know what it means to be witty. I think it’s safe to say that Sally Thorne has reinvigorated the enemies to lovers trope in the modern romance genre.


Found Family

Six of Crows—Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows follows a handful of teenagers in Ketterdam, a city where capitalists’ dreams come true and gangs run the streets. When an opportunity comes along to become obscenely wealthy, Kaz Brekker—leader of one of Ketterdam’s prominent gangs, the Dregs—recruits an unlikely crew to complete a heist. 

Six of Crows is everywhere, and it deserves all the hype it gets. It intertwines some of the greatest storylines and tropes imaginable, from heists and trickery to young love and friendship. Bardugo has created vivid, lively, but vastly different personalities who somehow come together to achieve their goals. Every member of Kaz’s crew comes from some sort of great familial loss, but in working together, they discover a love for each other that is more important than any other wealth.


Workplace Romance

If I Never Met You—Mhairi McFarlane. This romance follows Laurie, a successful career woman, whose longtime boyfriend suddenly and unexpectedly ends their relationship. Their breakup is made all the more awkward by the fact that they work for the exact same law firm. Laurie hasn’t dated in years, but her ex and his new girlfriend, as well as the workplace gossip about her love life, pushes her to take action. After running into Jamie Carter, the office playboy whose love life is the topic of conversation far too often, they hatch a plan to pretend that they are dating.

If I Never Met You combines one of my favorite tropes—workplace romances—with another amazing romance trope: fake dating. While this is very much a romance novel, it offers a unique type of romance to the genre. It’s subtle, slow, and sweet. This book focuses a great deal on Laurie and what it’s like to move on from a relationship that ended in profound heartbreak, but also offers a gentle hand to those who are learning to open their hearts back up again.


Main Character Ends Up with a Celebrity

Catch a Falling Star—Kim Culbertson. I am a supporter of the fact that romances don’t need to be incredibly physical to be amazing or that adults can’t enjoy YA novels—and Catch a Falling Star is no exception. One of the first novels I bought and read myself at my school’s Scholastic Book Fair, Catch a Falling Star perfectly encompasses all the feelings of young love with the caveat that the main character doesn’t initially want such feelings. This fairly short novel is about a small town girl who, when a movie star comes to film in her town, is asked to portray the celebrity’s girlfriend. While the relationship is tense at first, it isn’t before long that both catch feelings. But is it real? Can the two survive the pull of their completely different lives?

This is a great read any time of the year, but if you don’t like the cold and are dreaming of summer look no further for a perfect wish-I-was-on-the-beach read. As well, for fans of Disney Channel’s movie StarStruck this book encompasses those tensions, feelings, and hope that young love can offer.

Honorable Mention

Girls Save the World in this One—Ash Parsons. We couldn’t include this trope without mentioning Girls Save the World in this One by Ash Parsons. A quirky and lovable novel that combines unlikely romance and the zombie apocalypse, this book is perfect for anyone wanting a typical literary trope with a unique plot.



Self-Discovery and Mental Health

Dear Evan Hansen—Val Emmich. A musical, a book, and now a movie, it goes without saying that Dear Evan Hansen has become a world-wide phenomenon (and with good reason). The story follows Evan Hansen, an anxious and isolated high-schooler. One day he is tasked with writing a letter to himself by his therapist—however fellow student, Connor Murphy, takes the letter. The next day, Evan Hansen is approached by Connor’s grieving parents who believe that the letter was a final note from their son, who took his own life that day. Evan Hansen is pulled into a conflicting situation as he searches for belonging while addressing the harsh reality of being a young person and lifting the grief of the Murphy family.

Dear Evan Hansen is an amazing story and addresses so many ideas but mostly emphasizes the idea of personal growth and self discovery as Evan Hansen searches for meaning and belonging while making some pretty bad decisions. Additionally, the story is available in many formats that all articulate the prevalence of Evan Hansen’s journey. The book and movie are the most accessible, but as always I encourage you to read the book first (and as a bonus listen to the original sound track as you read!).


Psychological / Survivalist

Lord of the Flies—William Golding. Lord of the Flies by William Golding is just an all-around good book. Short and concise, the novel follows a group of young boys who have recently been stranded on an island. What begins as an organized attempt to survive quickly descends to chaos. Declared a classic and recipient of the Nobel Prize, the novel goes beyond its acclaimed status. It is the type of story that offers something new every time you read it; it takes on multiple forms, multiple focuses, and articulates new ideas. It is timeless not only because it speculates some of the most innate qualities of humanity, but because it is a story that answers the age-old question of what would happen if you were stranded on a desert island. So…what would you do?

7 Books that are Overrated

Everyone talks about the books they love—those they’d recommend and can’t live without. However, despite people’s tendency to love to hate, no one likes to call out the books that deep down they just think are overrated. Fellow Spellbinding Shelf blogger Makayla and I have listed seven novels that we believe to be the most over-rated. Some of them are famous, some of them will probably be famous, and some of them are just not the best (in our opinion). That is not to say this is a comprehensive or objective list. Our list is composed of personal biases and opinions—you may or may not agree, and that’s okay! We just wanted to call out some of the novels that, while we love the author or deep down enjoyed the story, they don’t need to be as famous as they are today.


Safe Haven—Nicholas Sparks. I wish I loved Nicholas Sparks—I really do. I have had the pleasure of knowing many people who regard him highly, and I find their enjoyment adorable. However, his terrible writing, combined with the lack of diversity in his novels and the blatant sexism within the world of book publishing has left a permanent distaste in my mouth. To be fair to Nicholas Sparks, I have only read one of his books: Safe Haven, but to be fair to myself, and this post, it was because I could not manage to read more than this one. Even getting through Safe Haven took me half a year. His writing is basic and lacks depth. It wouldn’t bother me so much, because a great deal of writing is basic and lacks depth, if he was not so popular. His stories always unfold the same way, and they always feature two white leads—one male, one female. Finally, what I will never understand is why his books are shelved in “fiction.” I had the pleasure of working at a bookstore for years, and his books had to go in the fiction section because they have “fictional themes.” What that means is that Nicholas Sparks got the honor of being shelved in what people view as a more serious genre—when the romance genre, where he belongs—has no male authors, is given the deeply sexist label of “chicklit,” and disregarded as also having “fictional themes.” His popularity has been fading as the years go on, but maybe it’s time it fades all the way.


The Fault in Our Stars—John Green. I am a long-time fan of John Green and I love his novels—however, appreciation of anyone (especially authors) is not without some good ol’ criticism. While this may be an unpopular opinion, The Fault in Our Stars is a fairly basic love story, and while sad, it also doesn’t add anything new to the genre and is a form of tragic romance that was, and is, common in the romance genre. Additionally, its adaptation into a movie only pronounced the cultural craze over the fairly basic plot. It had everything that could push it into fame, right down to the cheesy tag ling “Okay? Okay.” Don’t get me wrong—I liked The Fault in Our Stars and I love John Green’s novels. However, between the facts that the novel is so famous it’s annoying and the plot doesn’t add anything new to the genre, it’s pretty overrated. Let’s just say I’ve never had the desire to reread or even rewatch the, albeit good but overrated, story.


Beautiful Disaster—Jamie McGuire. As a teenage girl, the last thing that should be recommended to you is a “romance” novel that features an abusive relationship, while still being marketed to you as sweet and the ideal relationship that you should aspire to have. When I was a teenager, I eventually gave in to reading Beautiful Disaster after the incessant pestering of both the internet and other people, only to find that what I was told was an “opposites attract” romance novel was actually a disturbing story about a man with anger issues and his obsession with the main character, an average girl. A lot of romance novels feature an “average girl,” to show that everyone is deserving of love and deserving of being worshipped by the people we think are too good for us. Beautiful Disaster takes this and shows that even the average girl can find themself in an abusive relationship they can’t escape from and wouldn’t even want to escape from because they have fallen into a deeply twisted love story with someone who doesn’t really love them. The number of people who think this book depicts a romance is truly saddening. 
Perhaps worst of all, the author of Beautiful Disaster is a massive racist and incredibly sexist. This isn’t simply apparent in her writing; she has used social media to share these offensive thoughts. “Offensive” isn’t a strong enough word. She’s a despicable person who does not deserve to publish books. Even worse, last month in October, it was announced that Beautiful Disaster would be made into a movie. After other abusive stories found such success as films, like After by Anna Todd and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, how could we not throw another one into the mix? We don’t need another one! There are so many amazing romance novels to choose from that are healthy and adorable. Jamie McGuire needs to be cancelled. 


The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is a proclaimed classic, is read in practically every American classroom, and has inspired way too many 1920s-themed parties. Again—don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book—but does it really still deserve the fame? The novel only adds to the long list of predominantly white, male perspectives students receive in school and the book is arguably misogynistic. And whether or not this misogyny is a product of its author’s opinions or a deliberate criticism of the attitude towards women, the trait isn’t very redeeming. I think there are better books and stories that can be highlighted and taught and while it’s a great book and essential read it has moved into a phase of cultural phenomenon where the original intention, symbolism, and plot of the novel is now irrelevant and can be misconstrued—which has inevitably led to its overrated status.


You—Caroline Kepnes. You—the popular Netflix series—was a book series first, but I bet anyone reading this post knew that already. This might be an unpopular opinion, but You, both the show and the book series, are massively overrated. The book is in the point of view of our stalker and serial killer Joe Goldberg, as he breaks into homes and kills everyone that he thinks is going to steal the object of his obsession away from him. As if the stalker and serial killer bit wasn’t enough to make you think “he’s not for me,” Joe is also massively arrogant and pompous. He’s an aspiring writer and admittedly well read, but he thinks that this makes him superior to everyone else. The problem with this is that the author Caroline Kepnes has written Joe’s narration in such a way that denies his intelligence, so we have to live with his pretension without getting the payout of smart writing. Furthermore, Kepnes’ writing perpetuates sexism and glorifies this sort of behavior. I’m not sure if she was going for creating a creepy book that we were all supposed to find creepy without her having to make some sort of moral commentary, but she failed in making this book appropriately creepy and thrilling. Rather, she made a book from the point of view of a serial killer boring, which has to be morally impermissible, right? Perhaps an example of her lack of success in achieving her intended message can be shown in the fact that my library does not shelve You in mystery or thriller. It shelves You in romance. If you want to read a book about a creepy man stalking a young woman, read The Seducer’s Diary by Soren Kierkegaard. I was nauseous the entire time, but I can’t deny that Kierkegaard succeeds in showing he’s a massive creep.


Romeo and Juliet—William Shakespeare. I have a fair amount of qualms regarding Romeo and Juliet—not Shakespeare. Mostly, my criticisms stem from the popular interpretation and public perception of this famous play. It has been referenced too many times, hailed by too many romantics and young people, and acclaimed too often. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and not even one of Shakespeare’s best works. It is similar to the Mona Lisa – it’s only famous because of the attention given to the work. Yes, the themes are good. Yes, the story is a “classic.” But do we need to read it so much in school? Do we need several movie adaptations and dozens of inspired stories based on this play? Probably not.


The Grapes of Wrath—John Steinbeck. Again, we have come across an author who I wished that I loved: John Steinbeck. He isn’t a terrible writer, and I can’t deny that his books reflect a time period in American history that is intertwined with such tragedy. However talented he is at reflecting the reality of many Americans, he is also very talented at crafting the driest characters and creating scenarios with unnecessary details. The Grapes of Wrath was the first book that I read by Steinbeck, and even though I thought it was terrible, he clearly has enough talent for me to force myself to read some of his other books (Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat). What I learned is that all of these books are the same: his characters are poor and desperately want alcohol. If we’re allowed to write this repetitively, then maybe I can go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature too! He is praised for his “keen social perception,” but I have to say, it feels like a bunch of white men patting each other on the back for doing nothing. 

Book Review

Monster Portraits by Del Samatar and Sofia Samatar

Publisher: Rose Metal Press
Genre: Autobiography
Pages: 84
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Monster Portraits is the autobiography of two siblings told through a collection of monsters. Each monster is given a visage through Del Samatar’s intricate illustrations and a voice through the collected snippets of story, lore, and ephemera transcribed by Sofia Samatar. But each portrait also contains a fragmented depiction of the authors. Their own mosaic portrait makes its lair in the margins.

Monster Portraits is as gorgeous as it is challenging. It won’t take you long to finish and once you do, you’ll immediately want to read it again.

Thoughts

I love books of monsters. The Monster Manuals of assorted tabletop roleplaying games, the seventh-century Liber Monstrorum, the apocalyptic visions of Daniel, and now Monster Portraits. As a kid I would pore through illustrated works of fantasy and religion looking for pictures of strange creatures. I made my own monster catalogues in 70-page college-ruled notebooks with pencil drawings to show where the claws and the guns and the wings went.

What compels me most about books of monsters is not first reading them, but rather returning to them later. Monsters draw their strength from how well they compel us to reimagine them again and again. They are representations of our fears, testing grounds for our desires, or metaphors for power beyond our reach. And so the ones we return to are those which are useful for storing bits of ourselves we cannot otherwise find shapes for. In this way, all books of monsters are autobiographical.

Sofia Samatar has been interested in monsters for a long time too. In many ways this book is a continuing conversation of her early short stories on monsters, particularly “Those” and “Ogres of East Africa.” Sympathy for and self-identification with monsters was also a major theme of her first novel, A Stranger in Olondria.

Del Samatar’s illustrations, however, force her writing into a new track. The monsters in this book feel quite distinct from those she usually writes about. Del’s illustrations are exactingly detailed—and so rather than clarifying, Sofia here seeks to obfuscate. Her fragments are interspersed with conjecture and tangent which add a layer of mystery to the precise images. Some of the entries read like prose poems, others like clippings from the history books of a parallel world, others like the start of short stories without endings.  

Book Review

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Publisher: Aladdin
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Jason and Rachel were from our world and lived very ordinary lives until they were sucked into a magical realm known as Lyrian. This world is run by an evil ruler named Maldor. After accidentally discovering a secret that has Maldor hunting after them, Jason and Rachel must set off on a strange quest. There is a word that has been divided into several syllables that, if spoken to Maldor, will kill him. With the help of a blind king named Galloran and several new friends made along the way, Jason and Rachel will do whatever they can to end Maldor’s reign of terror.

However, Maldor has some tricks of his own. Deceitful loyalists, deadly obstacles, sinful temptations, and a dark secret from centuries ago will strive to stifle any attempt to unseat this dark ruler. After all, Lyrian is a world without heroes, and Maldor will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.

Thoughts

The best part of any Brandon Mull book is undeniably his world-building, and Beyonders is no exception. Lyrian is a magical realm unlike any other and is exclusively populated with unique fantasy characters that can’t be seen anywhere else. My two favorite creatures introduced are the displacers—beings who can remove any piece of their body without losing its function—and the seed-people, beings who, when they die, plant a seed found at the base of their neck and grow an entirely new body. These creatures make Lyrian a world that can only be experienced within this series, giving it a unique touch that makes rereading easy. Not only that, but the uniqueness of the people within Lyrian help guide the reader to oppose Maldor, as his destructive need to control Lyrian inherently threatens the world the reader has come to love.

In a similar vein, the character building in this series is also magnificent. Rachel and Jason are charming characters who balance their confusion and fear in the face of this new world with their desire to help their new friends seamlessly. They also have incredible chemistry as a duo and their interactions lead to some of the funniest parts of the series. The people they meet along the way are also unique and well-rounded—there are no throwaway characters in this series. Everyone has fully developed desires, aspirations, and personalities and they all feel integral to the overall narrative. This also aids in the reader’s investment when these characters are in danger or die. There are no meaningless deaths in this book: they all impact the characters and the reader.

The most unique aspect of character building in this series is the redemption arc of a specific character. Not to spoil the series, but there is one character revealed to be a spy for Maldor that eventually joins the heroes. The constant question as to whether they will betray them again is fascinating enough as it is, but it’s the struggle of the character themselves that really makes this story a special one. Brandon Mull doesn’t pull any punches with this character—rather, he fully addresses the difficultly of abandoning what you once believed, the struggle to be honest after deceiving for so long, and the pain of being constantly distrusted and despised even as you try to change. By far, this is the best arc of the series, and it ends perfectly in the third book, and anyone who wishes to write a redemption arc should read this series.

Lastly, this book also has both a great sense of humor and the ability to be serious. The comarderie between the characters leads to hilarious banter that really lets the characters connect on a personal level. Likewise, the book doesn’t shy away from showing the abuses that Maldor perpetrates and the risks that these characters face in opposing him. When characters die, they stay dead, and their loss is felt for the rest of the book. These conflicting energies play off each other perfectly, with the humorous moments showing the beauty of Lyrian and the serious moments showing how much would be lost if Maldor took over completely. The reader feels the risk and the loss along with the characters and is therefore brought along for the ride.

Overall, I adored this series. My favorite aspect of the fantasy genre is that the reader gets to experience a brand new world full of incredible people and places, and Beyonders delivered that in spades. I highly recommend Beyonders to anyone looking for a great fantasy adventure to dive into this year.

Al Ewing’s Immortal Hulk: What Makes a Good Person?

Are you a good person?

That’s the question The Immortal Hulk asks. The series recently wrapped up with Issue #50—it enjoyed a strong three year run that I’m honored to have experienced since Issue #1. I remember the cover to Issue #1 (pictured above) and how I couldn’t stop staring at it when I went to pick up my subscriptions for the week… Hulk stared right back at me. Hand outstretched, one massive leg pushing the enormity that is Hulk out of his grave. I must’ve blacked out: the next thing I remember is devouring every word Al Ewing penned for Issue #1 as if it were gospel. This comic isn’t Hulk as you know him, this is The Immortal Hulk: you can’t kill him.

Immortal Hulk confronts a criminal in Issue #1…

Issue #1 establishes everything you need to know for the entire 51-issue series. (The Immortal Hulk ran from issues 1–50, but also has Issue #0, which is a must read.) You can’t kill Hulk, but you can kill Banner. This story came off the coattails of Marvel’s Civil War 2, wherein Bruce Banner was killed by Hawkeye and his conveniently made Gamma arrow. Ewing’s answer to the outrage that followed Bruce’s death was simple: “You can kill Banner, but you can’t kill Hulk.” What followed is his run with a wide range of influences: Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Bible, as well as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s original 5 issues of The Incredible Hulk are but a few examples. While the literary influences are enough to make your head—and computer—spin, it’s the original issues of The Incredible Hulk that were monumental in shaping Ewing’s story. Many people know Marvel’s Hulk and the trademarks that make up his character: he’s the strongest there is, you wouldn’t like him if he’s angry, and of course, “Hulk smash!” But few don’t realize just how different today’s Hulk is from the Hulk Kirby and Lee envisioned during his creation. Today’s Hulk is a dabbing member of the Avengers, a fun monster who smashes cars and buildings without any serious repercussions until the narrative deems it necessary. Even then, all the damage Hulk causes is dismissed as the actions of a mindless monster, similar to the treatment of Dr. Frankenstein’s very own monster. You can’t blame the latter just as you can’t blame Hulk. After all, his whole schtick is smashing and being the strongest; he’s a green giant who loves smashing things, and eventually Bruce Banner will find a way to get rid of Hulk and everything will be fine… right?

Ewing’s response would be an emphatic “no,” in the form of 51 issues of The Immortal Hulk. Ewing uses all 58+ years worth of Hulk comics to cultivate a story that goes against what people may think Hulk is about. Yes, Hulk is very strong and smashes things occasionally. But in those original issues of The Incredible Hulk, the monster had some depth. Stan Lee took inspiration from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as Frankenstein when creating Hulk, and Ewing’s one of the few Hulk writers who understands what that means. Hulk is horrifying in The Immortal Hulk—no kidding. If you’re brave enough to read it—which you should be—you’ll see Hulk eating people, tearing monsters’ limbs off, decrepit skeletons, and more Cronenberg-esque body horror. Unlike the Hulk people have grown accustomed to with his mindless smashing, smiling, dabbing, and where he is now after Endgame: a happy Bruce, Ewing’s Immortal Hulk is damaged. He remembers all the horrible sins he’s done, as well as sins done to him. And they’re immortal, just like him.

Bruce confronts himself in the mirror…

Ewing’s Hulk is what Hulk is meant to be: horrifying, and a commentary on mental health. Most Hulk fans credit Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, and prolific Hulk writer Peter A. David (PAD) for establishing Bruce’s traumatic childhood. His father beat his mother, and later killed her. As a result, Bruce develops Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)—with Hulk manifesting for the first time to protect a young Bruce. Traditionally, Hulk comes out when Bruce is angry, a manifestation of his anger-management issues. Ewing’s Immortal Hulk takes from PAD’s run and comes out at night, similar to Mr. Hyde. The Immortal Hulk doesn’t distance itself from what came before, but recontextualizes the past for this new terrifying—but human—Hulk.

Bruce’s failed relationships are a manifestation of his inability to overcome his traumas. His friends’ distrust in him is a result of his frequent “Hulk smash!” episodes. He tries to do good, but Hulk will still destroy, ruining (and sometimes ending) lives. Bruce is flawed. He kills his father in an attempt to run away from the pain he caused in his childhood. It didn’t work. He lashes out, trying to patch the scars up with good deeds. Nonetheless, his father will always be a part of him. It’s his struggle, one that mirrors our own as we try to be a good person. In The Immortal Hulk, Ewing forces us to ask ourselves:

Can I truly be a good person?