Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

Books about feral children make for an interesting look at the nature of being human and language development. What defines a person when he or she isn't socialized and raised by animals? "Peter Pan" by JM Barrie, remains in an adolescent state. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George, involves the girl Julie who lives with wolves and learns to communicate with them. "Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling is still on my endless book list. Karen Hesse's story is about Mila, a feral child discovered by humans as a teen, who has lived with dolphins since she was four years old and been imprinted by their behavior. When the Coast Guard finds her as a teen, she is taken to a research facility and studied with another girl, Shay, who is a feral child but from being isolated from other humans by her mother. Mila finds assimilating with humans difficult socially. The audiobook's narration was average.

The structure of the story begins with Mila communicating in simple language reflecting the second language learner. Her syntax lacks the use of pronouns and prepositions as she tells her experience of living in a government research facility. She is happy at first but misses her dolphin family. As she learns the language her thoughts and speech gain more fluency and figurative language. Ethical questions are raised as Mila feels trapped by the government that requires doctors to keep her locked in her room for her "own safety".

The complexity of ideas progresses as Mila meets Shay, another feral child at the facility, who was locked up in a room with no contact with the outside world. Shay rarely speaks but Mila understands that bonding occurs through touch. She touches Shay and connects with her at first making her laugh when Mila speaks dolphin. Later Shay withdraws into herself and no longer connects with Mila foreshadowing Mila's withdrawal from humans as well. Mila has imprinted with dolphins and trying to connect with humans becomes impossible when she realizes she is not free to do as she wishes. The adults lock her in a room at night and she is feared because she is different. The researchers try to social the two to human behaviors but they cannot adapt. Mila ends up feeling just as trapped and isolated as Shay.

Doors are a symbol throughout representing freedom from societal rules and behavior. Some doors are open and others shut. Toward the end, Mila can only see them shut. Social behavior for Mila reflects dolphin behavior of freely accepting people with doors being open. Mila is marginalized and feared because of her differences. The janitor is afraid of her and she is rejected by Shay who shuts herself off from all humans. The government locks Mila's door and is impersonal to her as a human with rights. The dolphins have socialized Mila to the idea that she can swim anywhere in the ocean and creatures are acceptable unless they are predators. Human boundaries and prejudice she cannot deal with because she knows there is an alternative for her. She connects with her doctor's son, Justin, but cannot accept him completely because he isn't a dolphin. She doesn't identify with humans and cannot adapt to human behavior like Shay.

Music shows a different type of communication for Mila. She listens to it and learns to play an instrument with deep passion. The music relieves Mila's stress and gives emotional satisfaction as it is a reminder of her dolphin family and how sea creatures communicate with sounds. Again, music reflects how much Mila was imprinted regarding social behaviors by dolphins and not humans. She cannot assimilate with the family she lives with and becomes a tragic character in the end.

5 Smileys

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo #3) by Rick Riordan

This action-packed story continues as the god Apollo learns what it means to be mortal and live as a human. The gods don't make friends or understand the idea of sacrifice. As Apollo goes through suffering and meets heroes that become friends he changes from self-absorbed narcissism to listening to his conscience and feeling guilty. Don't worry, he hasn't completely changed - he's still snarky and hides from danger now and then. When he sees the gods destroying the ecosystem he thinks of the time he was a god and didn't care about the earth being wrecked. Now he does care as he's living the nightmare, "I hate being mortal" he says. Apollo's character arc becomes more clear by the end of the book. The hero's journey for Apollo shows him being transformed by losing his powers and being mortal to learning what it means to sacrifice for others. When Apollo sees his hero friend giving his life to save others it hints that the god might truly change into a compassionate and good person. He slowly is the finality of death for mortals.

Apollo as the mortal, Lester Papadopoulos, is anything but godly with his acne skin and soft body. His 12-year-old companion, Meg, controls him through a curse and marches to her own beat picking her nose and wearing bright-colored clothes like a neon sign. This odd couple is endearing and currently continuing their mission to free five Oracles that have been side-lined by evil emperors trying to control Earth. Once Apollo succeeds he will be restored to Olympus as a god with all his powers returned. As time passes he turns more mortal and is losing most of his godly powers. The humor and tone are in the vein of other Riordan books. The introduction of new characters, such as the seven dryads who sound and move like a well-oiled Roman military legion even though they are few in number is a gas. "All Hail Meg!" is their mantra. Riordan's voice for the characters is distinct and well-done.

When the poets wrote about Odysseus, Greek narratives switched from immortal gods to mortal men showing heroes that suffered pain and death but lived life to the fullest creating legends of themselves passed on through generations. Riordan captures this switch in Apollo, an immortal god made mortal and pokes fun at the dysfunctional, self-centered stories about the Greek gods. Apollo is a modern hero in a tragi-comedy learning what it is like to be a human and heroic taught by semi-divine teens and mythical creatures. When he sacrifices himself not once but twice for his friends, he ends up being more human in this book than the previous ones. While before he only cared deeply for Meg, he is now learning to care for others.

4 smileys

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Don't be fooled by the slow start, nameless characters, nameless towns, and seemingly simple start to this story. The horror sets in quickly and the symbolism, imagery, and structure make this tale as complex as the reader wants in interpreting a myriad of themes. It will haunt you. It might give you nightmares. It is not for everyone, but it is brilliant.

Imagine a world going extinct. No sun. No blue oceans. No animals. No plants. No crops. No culture. Imagine an apocalyptic journey by two people through ashes of collapsed cities, civilization, and forests looking for warmer weather in the south. Two people, a man and his son, choosing not to eat other humans or dogs, but who are starving. Two scavengers hunting through towns and homes long stripped of food or petrol, yet looking for scraps to live on. A man whose sole mission is to protect his son in a world where other humans are the only source of food after what appears to be a nuclear war. The man carries a gun with three bullets. He has had it for ten years. One for himself, his wife, and his son. His son was born in the world as it is and it is the only reality he knows. The wife lost hope and rather than choose survival she killed herself with obsidian. The man found hope in the son and could not kill him and they've been surviving in fear and isolation.

The man's character arc shows someone who lives only for his son but learns to hope for a better future - one embodied in the compassion of his son. He kills others to protect his son and seeks revenge on those who rob them or hurt them. In the beginning, he just walks away from those in need but as the story progresses the boy's protests have him sharing food or clothing with others. We see the boy's compassion wearing down the man's despair to glimmers of caring for others rather than pouring all of it into his son. The man is a Prometheus figure and the line "carrying the fire" is repeated throughout showing his impossible task of surviving in a destroyed world.

Prometheus was a Titan who created humans with Athena and gave them the gift of fire and metalwork. The stories vary with Zeus punishing Prometheus by sending Pandora to him and she released suffering on humanity through Pandora's box or in Hesiod's version, Zeus punishing Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and having an eagle eat his regenerating liver each day. Prometheus is a trickster who rebels against the restrictions put on him by Zeus. He is a blessing and a curse just like the man is a blessing to the boy in that he keeps him alive and a curse because he has no hope for a future and in others. He wants the boy to shoot himself if he dies or is captured by other humans. The end shows the man's turn around on believing the boy can find good in life or a community of moral people. The boy is literally the fire as the story suggests he will bring social and moral progress in an impossible situation just like Prometheus did when he gave humans fire.

The man indulges the boy's compassion for others and later embraces it as the boy embodies hope for him. The other repeated line throughout is "Papa are they good guys?" or "Bad guys?" The moral progression of what defines good and bad shows two people choosing to not murder those who hurt them or eat other people even when they are starving. The man refers to the boy with god-like, religious references and tells a man they meet, "What if I tell you he's a god?" This man goes by the false name, Ely, like the prophet Eli in the Bible. His prophecy is that humanity will die out along with the gods. Like the man, he has no hope for a future. In flashbacks, the man dreams of his wife and how the two planned on committing suicide after their world blew up after the unnamed cataclysmic event. He struggles with suicidal thoughts throughout the story but finds he can face each day and its harshness because of his son. For him the world is "shrinking ...into oblivion" but the moral goodness of the boy always touches him. The symbol of fire progresses from offering the two security and protection to a moral identity to the possibility of a community of "good guys".

The style has no quotations, fragmented sentences, and no names. The structure suggests that the present has no definition but can be defined in a new way. The man can't redefine the world because he has memories of the past, but the child only knows the current reality and is a symbol of a new birth in a destroyed world. Perhaps the boy, and those born into it like him, can redefine and a new world. The lack of quotations suggests the author redefining writing conventions and breaking with past traditions just as this new society no longer follows old traditions. In the end, the boy says the man is not telling him stories or doing homework anymore also suggesting that a new order might emerge from the boy who represents fire and new possibilities. The fragmented sentences reflect the trauma the two characters go through on a daily basis. The existing world is so chaotic and violent that they can only have a dialogue in short sentences. The shock and fear on a daily basis are traumatic. Without any names being assigned to people, except Papa and Ely and the boy, the world can be redefined into a new community. For such a bleak setting and novel, hope is suggested. This hellish road trip is a quick read and worth the effort.

5 Smileys

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet #1) by Roshani Chokshi

Saving the world and fighting a demon sounds easier than dealing with school and friends for Aru Shah. Her constant push to try and fit in has meant exaggerations and lies to classmates. When a trio of 7th graders show up at the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture where she lives with her mother to see if she is in Paris for the holidays, she has to do some quick lying again; however, her classmates ain't buying it. The bullies are convinced that Aru doesn't belong at their elite prep school where fancy cars and exotic trips are the norm. Her world involves taking care of herself while mom is off on trips and giving museum tours for fun.

When the classmates dare Aru to light a cursed antiquity lamp she ends up awakening the Sleeper... oops. She thinks of her mom's warning to not light the lamp, like those “generic warnings parents gave to kids, like 'Don’t go outside without sunscreen or you’ll burn!' Or, as the woman who ran the local Hindu temple’s summer day camp liked to remind Aru: 'Don’t go outside without sunscreen or you’ll get darker and won’t find a husband!' Until it happened, who cared? Aru had never gotten sunburned, and she really didn’t need to find a husband at age twelve." She didn't really believe her mom and had no clue she'd have to battle a demon. Great dialogue, fast pacing, funny gods and hysterical characters make this a winner for fans of Rick Riordan's books. Roshani Chokshi's uses familiar fantasy tropes and much of the humor is a parody of hero narratives while following the monomyth. A laugh-aloud middle-grade adventure using Indian mythology.

After lighting the lamp everyone freezes and a guardian who helps Aru on her quest comes in the form of a snarky pigeon. The author is poking fun at several fantasy tropes. Here the guardian is in a frail body and frustrated that he has to mentor a young girl. Aru is the reincarnated soul of one of the Pandava brothers from the Indian epic poem, Mahabharata; however, she lacks the wisdom and athleticism found in the poem's male heroes. Aru thinks of the pigeon as a “rat with wings” and is not impressed by him either. Meanwhile, the pigeon knocks her for being a kid hero and sees the world ending versus her saving it. When she looks at her frozen mom and classmates asking if they would be stuck that way, the pigeon answers: “It’s temporary,” said the bird. “Provided you aren’t riddled with ineptitude.” “In-ep-tee-tood? Is that French?” The bird knocked its head against the wooden banister. “The universe has a cruel sense of humor,” it moaned. Aru may be green when it comes to quests but she proves her bravery as the plot moves forward.

When Aru links up with another reincarnated soul it comes in the form of Mini, a slightly neurotic girl obsessed with germs, Oreo cookies, and death. When Mini shoves an Oreo cookie into Boo's mouth he says, “What ambrosia is this?” He smacked his beak. “Gimme more.”Mini quotes dictionaries and medical books and can't believe she was chosen for the quest instead of her brother. She diagnoses Aru when she talks back to Time explaining that Aru has “Type One Insufferable-ness.” Her character arc progresses from a kid who shrinks at danger to one accepting the inevitable task of saving the world. When Mini first meets Aru, she asks, “I hope you don’t have a bee allergy. I only have one EpiPen. But I guess we could share? I’ll stab you, you stab me?” The pigeon getting a double-dose of inept heroines does a face-plant asking "whyGodwhyme." The heroes embrace the poster-boy or girl image of a superhero from Aru yelling Batman sayings, wearingSpider-man pajamas, asking Boo for capes, to elbow-bumping instead of fist-bumping with Mini. Germs on the fist, Mini points out, and Aru thinks capes are like blankies that bring comfort to superheroes.

Spoiler alert - okay... I might be telling too much of the story at this point. You could maybe read the next paragraph.

On their quest, they search for "celestial" weapons to help them save the world. They dream of magnificent, heroic swords to wield and instead get a bouncy ball and compact. Mini bangs her compact on the ground hoping it will start working during one scene where they are facing the enemy. When the weapons do activate the heroines have no control over them. They also remind characters throughout that they are heroines, not heroes. They are told that heroines are demanding and brave while the heroes let their magical sidekicks do all the work. Part of Aru's character arc is realizing that being overlooked and not considered worthy opponents could be used to her advantage. Their physical weaknesses are a strength. Plus, she's funny as she thinks stuff such as “And it stood to reason that if you were even a little bit divine, you should not have a unibrow.” She also learns that heroes doubt themselves. At the climax, she discovers that the definition of heroism was fighting for the people she cared about in the world.

Spoiler... I think. The next paragraph might be okay too.  Can you tell I don't quite recognize if I'm spoiling it for the reader?

While the author uses Indian culture and mythology, I kept thinking of Western folktales as well. There was an east-west blend for me. Parts reminded me of the Phantom Tollbooth ...perhaps because they end up in a tollbooth. Actually, the puns, word plays, and wit are what reminded me of it. From Polly Esther to the "-allys" it is pretty funny. Or the scene where the dead speak sentences backward because they can no longer go forward. Their third test is to get the celestial keys and one of the trials is to take a bite out of adulthood which Aru does literally when she finds a book titled, “Adulthood”. I like the imagery of a young protagonist that is coming-of-age taking a bite out of adulthood literally and figuratively. Great chapter headings such as “#1 on Mini’s Top Ten Ways I Don't Want to Die List: Death by Halitosis" add to the humor along with pop culture references such as Johnny Cash. Aru wants to nickname the bird "Sue", short for Sabula, but he says he is male. She asks if he's heard Johnny Cash's song, "A Boy Named Sue" which is about a boy named, Sue, who goes to kill his dad for naming him a girl's name only to find out that the dad said he named him that to make him tough. She settles on "Boo" for a nickname.

Okay, stop! Now I am definitely spoiling the story. If you have a great memory you might not want to read on.

The legend of Shukra is the author using her own creative powers that mixes folktales. Aru and Mini must cross the Bridge of Forgetting that is guarded by Shukra, a man cursed for killing his wife out of vanity. He is surrounded by mirrors as protection against memory-stealing snowflakes and anyone that wants to cross must give him all their memories or fall into the "fires of hell and be forced into the next life". He is a metaphor for the choices people make in life. He does not want to break the mirrors because bad karma will follow him into the next life. As he begins to steal Mini and Aru's memories, Aru goes after him but is cursed in the process. He reminded me of Marley in "A Christmas Carol" who forged long chains through greed. Shakru's "chains" are his mirrors and vanity led to him murdering his wife. He discusses being robbed of the past, present, and future. He's talking about karma but I kept thinking of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. It's the same idea. The mirrors also reminded me of the Snow Queen and shards of glass that cursed the children in the story. Here, Shakru curses Aru as he moves on to reincarnation.

Aru's character arc involves coming to terms with her lies that are good and bad. She tells Mini the truth for the first time when she is exposed for not telling Mini she lit the lamp in the first place. Aru realizes that she lies to imagine “the world as it could be and not as it was.” She pulls out Adulthood coin upon this realization showing her growing up and coming-of-age. When Mini rejects her in anger at lighting the lamp, Aru reacts with courage and anger. She doesn’t roll over. She thinks about stories and how they are told: "The truth of  a story depends on who is telling it." She can write her own narrative. 

In another trial at the Palace of Illusions, Aru must escape her fears of being abandoned by her mother and being alone. She thinks, “People are a lot like magical pockets. They’re far bigger on the inside than they appear to be on the outside.” The Palace is alive and creates an illusion where Aru thinks she will die. She has to look at herself to escape the illusion, a metaphor for having to realize that her illusions and lies stem from fears. I think. The idea isn't really hashed out enough. I do find the Palace represents childhood and what is left behind when becoming an adult. It cries and tries to keep Mini and Aru kids by giving them everything they wish for and playing with them such as riding bikes and eating ice cream. A child's imagination dims over time and that is worth crying over. The Palace gives the two girls a tile to remind them of it and "home". The tile can be a metaphor for adults who hold on to their imaginations and memories of childhood can be storytellers in society. The Palace says “It is better, perhaps, to be thought of as a fiction than to be discarded from memory completely.” Again, the ideas are not completely fleshed out and it is up the reader to put their own interpretation on the plot. I felt teased by many of the metaphors but thought some of the thoughts came up short. A fun and funny book.

4 Smileys

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

I listened to the audiobook and didn't realize this was written in a southern dialect.  No problems here understanding Little Charlie's southern accent by an excellent narrator.  Little Charlie is from a poor white sharecropper family in the 1800s and at 6 feet two inches he is anything but little. The nuanced characters come alive making this tale hard to put down. Little Charlie is a flawed character that changes from his experience into a better person. The exploration of prejudice, racism, violence, and heroic behavior guarantees spirited discussions.

Twelve-year-old Charlie Bobo's father dies in a freak accident, leaving Charlie and his mother vulnerable to being taken advantage of by those that want their land. Sure enough, they become victims of the evil Capt'n Buck, an overseer of the landowner who is notorious for his violence against slaves and tenants. Charlie is conscripted by Capt'n Buck to find a family of runaway slaves in Canada claiming he has to pay off his father's debt. Capt'n Buck is a nasty piece of work whose claims at borrowing money to their father sounds fishy from the get-go. Little Charlie's mother is so frightened by Capt'n Buck that she tries to shoot him when he comes to collect the money. As Capt'n Buck and Little Charlie journey north, Little Charlie has new experiences that lead him to make moral decisions regarding following the crowd or listening to his conscience.

Charlie is a flawed character. He's racist at the beginning and less so by the end and he represents a white Southern upbringing, but as his mom says, he has a good heart and the reader is left with the hope he'll grow into a decent human being. He makes mistakes along the way, refers to blacks as "darkies", and is jealous of the educated and more polished runaway black boy going to school that he's been sent to catch. Little Charlie's jealousy leads to errors in judgment and the reader is able to really get inside his head thanks to some great writing. The history of Canada and protection certain towns provided for runaway slaves is fascinating. Make sure to read or listen to the author's notes.

5 Smileys

Friday, May 4, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

This action-packed story incorporates African legends and Yoruba language that involves three teenage protagonists in a high fantasy quest. The plot is an allegory of black oppression that digs into the consequences of violence on individuals marginalized in society. Zelie Adebola, 17, is a teen whose mother was chained and lynched because she was a maji that could raise people from the dead. King Saran of Orisha committed genocide against all maji because his family was killed by one. The children of maji called, Diviners have dark skin and white hair that distinguishes them from the other dark-skinned people and the King has made them servants, slaves, stockers, or prisoners in Orisha. The Diviners powers will not manifest without magical artifacts that the King has destroyed in his first purge. When a magical artifact is discovered and the King uses it to kill his daughter's best friend and servant, Princess Amari steals it and goes on the run. Amari runs into Zelie and her brother, Tzain, going on a quest to bring magic back to the kingdom and free the Diviners. The Crown Prince Inan is bent on stopping them and finishing his father's eradication of magic.

The strong character arcs and world building around African mythology make this fascinating. In Benin or Nigeria, orishas are divine spirits in Yoruba and the author incorporates this history into her world-building creating a rich tribal world reflecting ancestor worship. Zelie is a Reaper like her mother and her contact with the dead as well as with her ancestors makes a strong metaphor for those who have died under oppression either in slavery or in institutionalized racism. When Zelie gains her powers it connects her with her ancestors and the goddess Oya.

Inan's character arc has depth as he struggles with his father's expectations and gaining powers that help him to understand the pain of others. Amari foreshadows his wavering or misguided beliefs as she tells Zelie about Inan's influence under the tutelage of their father, King Saran. As Inan tries to please his father and do what is right, he makes mistakes that make him a complex three-dimensional character, unlike King Saran who has become hard-hearted from his choices.

Amari is part of the nobility and does not agree with her father. Her best friend is a diviner and when her father murders her she decides to bring magic back to the realm. Her interactions with other nobles reveal a race of lighter skinned Africans that favor light skin and despise the different looking diviner race. While most of the plot is straight-forward the twist at the end concerning Amari makes the reader wonder if she has a hidden agenda.

The characters engaged me more than the plot which seemed like a mix of different fantasy books such as Hunger Games. While the plot may have not felt wholly original, the well-crafted representation of a different culture and heritage gives readers identification of what it is like to be marginalized. The oppressive brutality of those in power and the violence inflicted on the oppressed people in Orisha is reflective of modern society. The author says that when the guards throw Zelie to the ground in chapter 1, it was written after a specific incident of police brutality. The first-person points of view are repetitive in some spots but for the most part, the plot moves along. I wished there were more twists like the one at the end. What I like about this fantasy is that it can apply to other minority experiences in the world whether the person is an immigrant, disabled, LBGTQ, or unique in some way and prejudiced by the ruling majority. The strong female characters are a draw and it sits alongside other well-written books produced this year such as "The Hate U Give" and "Long Way Down".

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

"Halloo!" I'm done. Six months later, I finally finished this book. Or 30 years later. I've started and stopped this book so many times I can't count. The deconstruction of the romance novel, unique structure, wicked villain, and unconventional female characters make it worth the effort. I have always struggled with the start of the book and I didn't understand Lockwood's ironic unreliable narration as a teen. Not to mention Joseph's befuddling Yorkshire dialect. Google helps with that nowadays. Joseph says to Lockwood:

'What are ye for?' he shouted. 'T' maister's down i' t' fowld. Go round by th' end o' t' laith, if ye went to spake to him.' 'Is there nobody inside to open the door?' I [Lockwood] hallooed, responsively.

Joseph is asking what Lockwood wants and to speak to the master who is by the barn. In a nutshell, Wuthering Heights is about the relationships between Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton and their children. When Catherine chooses to marry Edgar, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights, returning years later as a wealthy gentleman. He exacts revenge on those who have wronged him. Catherine's brother, Hindley, bullies and abuses Heathcliff when they were young because his father favored the adopted Heathcliff over his own son, Hindley. Heathcliff seeks revenge on Hindley and their son, Hareton, by being abusive and making Hindley dependent on him. Later Heathcliff goes after Edgar and him and Catherine's daughter, Cathy, in an effort to own both homes.

Lockwood begins the narration of the book giving way to Nelly, the housekeeper's narration. They both present interesting perspectives. Lockwood's narration reveals his shock at the manners displayed by Cathy, Catherine's daughter, who is unconventional like her mother. When Cathy first meets Lockwood she doesn't use the usual manners of inviting someone in. She stares at him in a "cool, regardless manner" that he finds "embarrassing and disagreeable." He describes her beauty but manner as being "singularly unnatural." She snaps at him and asks if he was invited to tea. He tries to tell her she is the "proper person to ask me" which upsets her and she refuses to give him tea. Her disregard for conventions makes him think she is unnatural and he is repulsed by her behavior.

Lockwood can't make sense of who of the domestic help or relatives and their roles in the house and much of the humor is him bumbling along making incorrect assumptions about everyone he meets. When Heathcliff and the others are in the house they are so rude to each other that Lockwood can't deal with their inability to make "sociable conversation" much less speak civilly to each other. When he asks Cathy to show him home she says to follow the path and again he is struck by her rudeness. However, her comment that she cannot show him because "they wouldn't let me go to the end of the garden wall" reveals limitations for women at this time.

Lockwood views Cathy and women as objects and reflects conventional aspects regarding marriage, looks, and domestic roles. He comments on Cathy's beauty for him to admire: " admirable form, and the most exquisite little face that I have ever had the pleasure of beholding..." He discusses another woman he was interested in when visiting a sea-coast town: "...a real goddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me." He says he was in love with her and when she finally noticed, he rejected her. Lockwood reveals society's patriarchal views where the man is in control and dominant. He is clear that he rejected the "goddess" and his comment "I confess it with shame—shrunk icily into myself, like a snail" shows a man who avoids love and engaging with his feelings. When Lockwood is faced with a woman like Cathy that he can't control and who doesn't fit into the status quo of how women should act, he rejects her and claims she is "unnatural". 

When Nelly tells the backstory of Cathy's mother Catherine, the tale unfolds of a woman interested in two men: Edgar, who can give her a higher social status as he is wealthy, and Heathcliff who is wild and unconventional like herself. She is described as "A wild, wicked slip..." or a "savage" and Heathcliff as "... a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man." Catherine wants both men and struggles with self-identity. When she tells Nelly that she is Heathcliff, it shows a child-like love that never matures. Their relationship is not sexual but dependent: "My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary". When Edgar tells Catherine after they are married to choose between himself and Heathcliff she tragically chooses self-destruction that is foreshadowed when Nelly questions her about her love for the two men. She replies to Nelly that Heathcliff is "More myself than I" and that her love can't be separated from him even in marriage to Edgar. She describes her love for Edgar in a cliched way that deconstructs the romance tropes of perfect love: "I love the ground under his feet and the air over his head, and everything he touches and every word he says. I love all his looks, and all his actions, and him entirely and altogether." While she says that she knows Heathcliff more than herself, she is self-centered and assumes everyone loves her. At one point she expresses to Nelly her confusion saying she thought "everyone loved" her. She says her love for Heathcliff is like "foliage in the wind" and there is no consideration for others happiness, only her own. She is clear with Nelly that she is marrying Edgar to gain social position and wants both men; thus, when Edgar says she must choose, she can't separate her self-love as represented in Heathcliff with the love between a husband and wife. Her lack of self-identity and inability to embrace marriage conventions make her choose death.

Heathcliff has been abused as a child and he spends his whole life seeking revenge on those he feels have wronged him. He is vindictive, vicious, abusive and his actions become more monstrous as time goes by. He hits children, men, and women. He hung his new wife's dog from a tree to show his hate for her. He forces Cathy (Catherine and Edgar's daughter) to marry his son so he can obtain all of Edgar's possessions and get complete revenge on the family that took his Catherine away from him. While he is like "the rake" in a romance novel who is dangerous and charming at the beginning, he ultimately has no redeeming qualities and gets nastier as the novel progresses thus going against the trope. Heathcliff's love for Catherine is off-kilter too. He digs up Catherine's body 18 years later and dreams of lying next to her. He, like Catherine, challenge the institution of marriage, love, and family breaking taboos and conventions. Lockwood reacts with shock to these discoveries as Nelly narrates the backstory and cannot handle wanting to avoid his emotions and their unconventional behavior says, "I felt irresistibly impelled to escape them again." His narration gets the story down while Nelly's reflects a woman's position.

Nelly is described as "a poor man's daughter" who reads books owned by her employer. She is a servant who is told to narrate the story of Catherine and Heathcliff by a bored Lockwood: "I desired Mrs. Dean, when she brought in supper, to sit down while I ate it; hoping sincerely she would prove a regular gossip, and either rouse me to animation or lull me to sleep by her talk." He keeps Nelly up until the early hours making her complete her narration at his convenience. Eventually, he takes over her own words, only a little condensed." Nelly is subtlety marginalized in the narrative structure, unable to write her own words or narrate in her own voice. However, the disengaged Lockwood says it is "her tale" and it is shaped by her words. It is also told like a romance story by Nelly: "I remember her hero had run off, and never been heard of for three years; and the heroine was married." Her gothic comments regarding "ghosts, ...ghouls, ...and vampires" shows a matronly woman on the sidelines who cannot engage in the story's passion but knows how to tell a romance story. Scholar Bette London suggests that Nelly was in love with Hindley from this sentence: "...a gush of child’s sensations flowed into my heart.  Hindley and I held it a favourite spot twenty years before." Nelly is attached to Hindley's son, Hareton, and is forced to leave him when Catherine gets married. Her distress is evident: "Little Hareton was nearly five years old, and I had just begun to teach him his letters.  We made a sad parting; but Catherine’s tears were more powerful than ours." Nelly has no control over her low social status. Her desire to love Hindley does not materialize and her lack of choice with Hareton reveals an oppressive narration that reflects her class and gender.

The structure of the story of Hareton and Cathy's romance is one that does follow the romance trope. Again, it is told in Nelly's voice. She weaves a love story that is undermined by her status and lack of choice; thus, making the story more a comment on the exploration of love versus a romantic tale the reader takes on the surface. Hareton and Cathy hate each other at first and Cathy ends up civilizing him in the end. One chapter has Cathy laughing at Hareton trying to say, "Chevy chase". I thought that was a more modern word... but I digress. Cathy seems to have adopted some of the qualities of her father, Edgar, and it leads to decisions where she learns from her mistakes.

The Lockwood and Nelly dual narrative shows the amoral and moral ambiguity of the characters and adds depth to the story as it reveals societal restraints and conditions. Women during the Victorian times had less choice than women today and the characters nonconformity to the status quo is what I found fascinating about this novel. So much scholarly work is written on this book examining the psychological, historical, social, and other aspects of the work that I am just scratching the surface. While it took me forever to finally read and finish it, I can see why it is a classic.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

A male high school student asked me to buy several romance ebooks for the Kindle. He didn't want to be "seen" carrying print copies just like the character, Brandon Jones, who likes to read "girl" stories. This is just one of many different social issues addressed in this novel giving it depth. Topics cover racism, marginalization, choices, LGBTQ, divorce, bullying and more; however, is written for readers ages 8-12. At the heart of the story is a puzzle being solved by the protagonist, Candice Miller, and her new friend, Brandon. When 12-year-old Candice moves to Lambert, S.C., for the summer after her parent's divorce, she finds a letter that promises millions of dollars to the city if it can be solved. Candice's grandmother tried to solve it ten years earlier and it cost her job and reputation as the first African-American manager of the city.

The author does a terrific job shifting between complex themes bringing it together in a satisfying ending. The character arcs are distinct and the flashbacks reveal Lambert's history of injustice that are good for discussion. The puzzle is tied in with the book, The Westing Game, that the two characters love to read. As they problem solve they make connections with how the mystery was solved in that novel to solve their dilemma. It that made me want to go back and reread the book. The treasure hunt is fun and I particularly like how the author addresses the freedom people choose to live their lives and the consequences of those choices such as the grandmother and Candice's dad. A well-written book that can be as complex as the reader wants to make it.