Category Archives: Reviews

Anne With An E: A Reflection on Representation

Film and TV adaptations of novels have always remained popular with the masses. In recent times, however, adaptations have evolved to suit modern sensibilities and issues. One such impressive adaptation is Anne With An E, based on the timeless classic Anne of Green Gables written by Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

While the show retained most of the essential characters and storylines, it also introduced new characters and themes such as sexism, LGBTQ+ discrimination, racism, and feminism through Anne’s adventures in Avonlea. 

For instance, in season 2, the show featured two LGBTQ+ characters and also explored the friendship between Bash, a native from Trinidad, and Gilbert, Anne’s school rival and eventual love interest. Creator Moira Walley-Beckett emphasized the importance of this representation and stated that, “When I was first conceiving Anne With an E, I was troubled by the lack of diversity in the book, especially since Canada is such a diverse nation, both then and now.”

In season 3, the story took a bleak turn and dived into the dark parts of Canadian history — the Indian residential schools. In the first episode, Anne is shown to befriend a young Native called Ka’kwet while the rest of Avonlea is wary of the so-called “savages.” Ka’kwet’s family is convinced to send her to the residential school in hopes of a better education. However, she is forced to adopt a Christian name, cut her hair and speak only English, all under the guise of civilization. 

In one harrowing scene, Anne visits the school where the nun greets her while choir practice is in session. Though she is forbidden to see Ka’kwet, she unwittingly remarks on the joys of hearing the choir, proclaiming that “singing is a great fortifier of the spirit.” The camera then shows Ka’kwet and the children singing desolately, with a vacant gaze reflecting their broken spirits. 

From a representation standpoint, the series achieved a great milestone where the characters were portrayed by Indigenous actors and actresses who had the opportunity to narrate their story on a global platform. It also allowed an accurate depiction of the trauma faced by the children as they essentially lost their sense of identity and culture, the repercussions of which are felt even today.

Unfortunately, the show was cancelled before it could further expand this storyline and Ka’kwet’s story is left on a cliffhanger. However, it isn’t hard to imagine the outcome and sadly, it isn’t one that guarantees a happy ending. 

Nevertheless, the journey of Ka’kwet opened up a whole new conversation as a vast majority of viewers revealed their lack of awareness and shock on the issue. Many also expressed their eagerness to learn more about the residential schools. It only proves to show that in understanding issues of white supremacy and racism, awareness, representation, and education can go a long way.

Amala Reddie

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Going Back in Time with Midnight Sun

The first time I heard of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was when I was a teen and life’s biggest issues were completing my homework and playing with friends. Twilight soon became an integral part of my life along with Harry Potter, and I still prefer the latter. However, I was drawn to the absurd yet compelling love story between Edward and Bella, for it gave me a sense of what romance was supposed to look like; something that was still relatively unexplored in Harry Potter, as it was never the central theme in the adventure and prophecy-centric series.

Now, nearly a decade later, Midnight Sun, finally hit our shelves. A retelling of Twilight from the perspective of Edward Cullen, the book was slated to be released in 2009 but was shelved when the first twelve chapters were leaked, and Meyer put it on indefinite hold until it was finished and ready for the world.

Amazon.com: Midnight Sun (9780316707046): Meyer, Stephenie: Books

Reading Midnight Sun was a nostalgic experience as I was transported back to when I had first begun reading Twilight. However, 23-year-old me was left relatively unimpressed by the novel —nearly twice the size of the original — for my idea of romance has evolved in the last few years. What once appealed to me as a young child now emerged as problematic and unhealthy. 

Moreover, the plot does not offer anything new to the storyline or Edward’s motives. The additional dialogue and scenes only serve to feed Edward’s obsession with Bella which also is less compelling than in the predecessor. 

That’s not to say that Meyer has not attempted to address some of Edward’s questionable behavior, which had become a controversial topic over the years. In one such attempt regarding Edward watching Bella sleep at night, she writes, “I was repulsed by myself as I watched her toss again. How was I any better than any sick peeping tom? I wasn’t any better. I was much, much worse.” Although a good effort on Meyer’s part, it still doesn’t detract from the fact that stalking should not be romanticized. 

In my opinion, the only fascinating and redeeming feature of this novel is that there are more interactions with the other vampire characters who are immensely multifaceted in their own right, especially Rosalie. Even though we got a peek into Rosalie’s life in the third book Eclipse, her exchanges with Edward in Midnight Sun give a better insight into the flawed complexity and guilt of her character, adding a new layer of her jealousy toward Bella who has everything she wants but cannot have. One can’t help but root for Rosalie in this situation (something I never imagined I would do)! 

In summation, Midnight Sun is a read meant for the die-hard fans who will surely enjoy seeing their favorite characters back in action. For me, it was a journey through time and how I have changed as a person and as a reader. 

Amala Reddie

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Claudia Kishi’s Everlasting Influence on Young Readers

If you loved to read as a child, chances are you devoured Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club. A series entirely featuring young girls grappling with divorce, illness, loneliness, and other realities of life, all while running their own business, The Baby-Sitters Club was revolutionary. As of 2000, the series has over 213 books. 

While the series was known for its theme of babysitting, tackling difficult situations, and female-centered narrative, there is a character who constantly stood out among the rest: Claudia Kishi. While also being considered the most stylish and creative girl in the group, Claudia is the only Japanese-American character. Claudia was one of the first Asian-Americans to be portrayed in children’s media, and she broke away from the stereotype of “being quiet and good at school.” Instead, Claudia is unconventional; she is an artist that struggles in school and often feels misunderstood by her family. More importantly, her Japanese heritage was not the focal point of her character but an embellishment. “With Claudia, it was a part of her, but it wasn’t the only part of her. That was huge,” says filmmaker Sue Ding, whose documentary The Claudia Kishi Club explores the legacy of the young babysitter and fashionista. 

For many, Claudia Kishi was the first “cool” literary character young Asian-Americans were able to identify with; in other words, her legacy will live on forever. Now adapted into a Netflix series, fans are thrilled to see that the unique essence and coolness of Claudia’s character lives on. Rising star Momona Tamada(who played young Lara Jean in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, another important piece of Asian-American media) plays Claudia in the new series. Momona read The Baby-Sitters Club novels when she was younger and cites Claudia as “the first time I saw Asian representation in a book that I read at school.”  

You can watch The Baby-Sitters Club and The Claudia Kishi Club on Netflix now. You can also purchase the series here

Kelsey Allen

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Revisiting Pat Parker (1944–1989)

June 2020: 50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Traditions. 

June 2020: America again fought racism and police brutality. 

In these turbulent times, being non-racist is not enough. The words of Angela Davis are being immortalized—whether it be on placards or on social media posts—with voices rallying and urging for global awareness on anti-racism. By turning to literary sources, people are educating themselves about the systemic racism and the white privilege and supremacy that continue to reign today. 

In the wake of this enlightenment, it is only befitting to shine a light on Pat Parker, one of America’s most prolific activists and poets, who was not only black but also a lesbian. 

Parker published a total of five works, Jonestown & other madness (1985), Movement in Black (1978), Woman Slaughter (1978), Pit Stop (1975), and Child of Myself (1972). In 2016, Sapphic Classics published The Complete Works of Pat Parker which was edited by Julie Enszer with an introduction by Judy Grahn. The poem, “My Lover is a Woman”, from Pit Stop explores the dynamics of being in an interracial relationship with sharp commentary on the ostracization of queer, black women in society. 

The opening lines of the poem: “my lover is a woman/& when I hold her/feel her warmth/I feel good/feel safe” gives the underlying tone of warmth and tender love. This tone especially stands out when juxtaposed against the lines “never think of the policemen/who kicked my body & said crawl/never think of Black bodies/hanging in trees or filled/with bullet holes/never hear my sisters say/white folks hair stinks/” (Parker). It is notable how in just these few lines, Parker packs the complex themes and events of oppression, discrimination, and prejudices that caused immense anguish in her life. 

There is also the extensive use of refrain in the poem which lends almost a musical quality, and one can very well imagine this being sung by a church choir. For instance, there is the repetition of the words “I feel good/feel safe” which reflect the solace sought by Parker while also encompassing the depth and understanding of their love. In contrast, the melancholic refrain of “never hear my mother cry/Lord, what kind of child is this?” (Parker) brings out the lack of acceptance from her family of her identity as a lesbian in a time when even being black was a struggle. 

Despite all this trouble and turmoil, Parker still accepts and chooses to be with her lover. It matters not whether her lover’s eyes are blue and hair is blonde, for love itself trumps all. And isn’t love and acceptance what we all crave and deserve in the end?

Pat Parker was born in Houston, Texas, and after high school, she moved to Los Angeles, California where she earned her bachelor’s from Los Angeles City College in 1962. In the late 1960s, after two divorces, she identified herself as a lesbian and was soon actively involved in civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements. At these events, she performed pieces of her poetry and soon, she joined the ranks of great poets like Judy Grahn, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and more. 

Bibliography 

Parker, Pat. n.d. “My Lover Is a Woman by Pat Parker – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://poets.org/poem/my-lover-woman

 

Amala Reddie

 

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Feasting on Red, White and Royal Blue

In 2019, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue took the world by storm. The novel, which received praise and accolades across the globe, not only provided a perfect breezy rom-com by subverting tropes but also gave readers an endearing LGBTQ couple and highlighted several sociopolitical issues. 

The plot revolves around Alexander, son of the President of the United States, and Henry, the Prince of Wales,  who start off as nemeses and end up having to fake a friendship after a scandal at a Royal Wedding. The quintessential twist arrives when both start to fall for each other. Appearing at first as a run-of-the-mill romance, the story unfolds to be so much more. 

9781250316776_p0_v6_s1200x630Set in 2016, in an alternate reality where Ellen Claremont from Texas becomes the first female President of the United States, the story presents a “what could have been” setting that stands in stark contrast to the existing political climate. Through the pairing of the son of the “most powerful person in the world” with the son of the “most powerful Royal in the world”, McQuiston aptly delineates the power struggle and expectations from the two institutions (the White House and the Royal Establishment), the rigmarole of the press, and societal pressure that transcends all territorial boundaries. 

Even the romance doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of conforming to society standards and coming out on your own terms. This conflict is beautifully underlined in the email and text messages exchanged between Alex and Henry. In one such email, Alex remarks to Henry, “thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that. History, huh? Bet we could make some.” On the forefront, these emails have a humorous banter-like tone, but as the story progresses, they unearth the heartache and the emotional intensity of their feelings. 

While there are a few unrealistic elements, the earnest and poignant writing prevents it from becoming a saccharine read. And given the current climate, this book feels like a breath of fresh air and reminds us that love is indeed love. 

 

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Seeking Comfort in Sally Rooney’s Normal People

A common theme of quarantine is loneliness, whether it be physical or mental. We are living in an unprecedented time in which many of us are experiencing variations of the same feeling. Waking up to the same environment every day is deeply disheartening and has left a lot of us feeling unmotivated and uninspired. It is difficult feeling fulfilled when there is nowhere to go. Many people are relying on art to transport them or make them feel a semblance of community. 

An author that embodies this sense of loneliness while still managing to create a world so different from the one people are currently facing is Sally Rooney. The television adaptation of her most recent novel, Normal People, was released at the end of April. As the Hulu show gains more and more popularity, the novel does as well. Despite bookstores closing due to COVID-19, Nielsen BookScan reported the love story as the current highest selling novel. It remained on The New York Times Best Sellers list for eight weeks. 

imagesNormal People is a story that contains the best of both worlds; Sally Rooney takes the reader through multiple European countries, assigning each place with different tones. The story opens with the two main characters, Marianne and Connell, stuck in the bleakness of Sligo, only to transition to the energetic and youthful nature of Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney takes the reader to Marianne’s villa in Italy, eating strawberries in her backyard, to her snowy semester abroad in Sweden. Despite Rooney’s ability to transport the reader to multiple countries in the comfort of their own home, she layers the novel with a theme of loneliness, something that indeed resonates with those in quarantine. As Rooney states in her novel, “Life is the thing you bring with you inside your own head”(208). 

Normal People by Sally Rooney is where adventure and culture intersect with the feeling of mental and physical isolation. The exploration of utter loneliness combined with the desolate portrait of Sligo will touch readers—especially in the current climate—in a way they never have before. 

 

Kelsey Allen

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Marie Kondo in the Time of COVID-19

Over the last few years, mindfulness literature has been a growing subsection of the self-help nonfiction genre. What began as a response to a growing anxiety within America has suddenly come to a head with Covid-19, a crisis just as mental as it is economic. 

Amidst this with fortuitously good timing, Marie Kondo, known for her previous New York Times Best-Selling work, the life-changing magic of tidying up, has released a new book titled, Joy at Work, co-written with Scott Sonenshein. Kondo is a Japanese writer focused on the mindfulness and philosophical elements of decluttering one’s home life. Her books, fittingly published in stark white binding with red cover lettering, are beautiful hard-cover volumes that give practical and simple advice to working on the core of one’s home life. At the center of this approach is the idea to sort through items by category based on if they “spark joy” in your life. Her sophomore book is titled Spark Joy, and functions as an illustrated companion work to her first book. Her stance on reducing one’s possessions is refreshing in a time when we are physically unable to go out and spend money.

Kondo’s newest work is particularly applicable now that many Americans are working from home. The bedroom writing desk has been suddenly thrust into the position of full-time workstation. The home is neither physically nor emotionally designed to function as a universal space for all aspects of our lives. We can see this effect in the collective longing for external  work and social spaces. 

Joy at Work takes the same approach of mindfulness and decluttering that was so critical to finding joy and peace within a home, and applies it to the office for the purpose of maintaining focus and productivity, a task made all the more difficult by the tumultuousness of the present. Mindfulness works like Kondo’s are critical to maintaining a sense of momentum and poise in a time of crisis.

Kondo has unintentionally cued into a Covid-19 zeitgeist of craving in the American public. Much like how Nintendo soothed the youth of America’s need for control and plasticity with their recent Animal Crossing release, Kondo has done the same for the sudden shift in the American work life. If there was ever a time for self-help books to bring about overwhelming positive change in the face of adversity, it is now.

 

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The Guttural Poems of Billy Childish

With the world trapped at home, Americans have had their lives and communities forced into micro focus. Poetry is one expression of day to day life under adversity. Concentrated prose is a natural fit for moments that are small, honest, but also potentially ugly. An artist who expresses this reality like no other is the English writer Billy Childish, whose work examines the grit and grime of the domestic and the industrialized community.

billychildish-696x522-1Childish is well known for his poetry collections and longer form memoir. However, he has also had a successful career as a punk rock musician and studio artist. His accentuated British style with tweed, suspenders, and a waxed mustache makes him out to be a living deconstruction of working-class England. As an art school dropout and someone who lived on the dole for over a decade before making a living as an artist, Childish certainly walks the walk.

His poetry books are interspliced with original paintings and prints which create a modern Neolithic style, depicting sex, naked bodies, and misery. These drawings, which feel like neolithic cave paintings, make Childish out to be the artistic intersection between a back-alley addict and a Celtic shaman before the arrival of the Romans. Childish’s poetry is written like a primeval record of a cockney England in its most degenerated form. His writing forgoes the principles of the King’s English in favor of phonetic spellings in lowercase type with minimal or no punctuation. Stanza breaks and enjambment are the reader’s only guide to what feels like the ravings of a drunk outside an English pub. If Bukowski is modern masculinity unveiled in its ugliest and most honest face, then Childish walks that same path back much further to literary tradition of a decrepit England spanning back to the settlement of the British Isles.

His writing contains raw expressions of sexuality and violence. He writes in a poem titled, when the spunk hits yur in the face, “then this bloke says/ ‘ya nans dead’ n its the same man/ who raped you/ then it starts raining/ then someboidy makes yu nob sore/ then all this spunk starts flying atcha// then the bus comers/ but it dont go your way/ it aint half fare…” Childish not only fully displays the raw violence in life, but also a mundane ache and pain that comes with the grime of day to day living. This juxtaposition, combined with strange phonetical spelling and the fearlessness of his subject, makes for fascinating reading. 

The poetry of Billy Childish looks at the world with an apocalyptic glee. His focus and introspection is critical at a time when we are all confined to looking at the world through unwashed windows and bad news on the radio. I return to Childish for a connection with an ancient neolithic dread made new by industrialization. Though not uplifting, the poetry of Childish is certainly liberating in its unflinching gaze into the dark night of the city. 

 

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Renewed Relevance for the Forgotten War Memoir Written By the Father of NYC Ballet

In 1946, Lincoln Kirstein co-founded the New York City Ballet. However, lesser known then his contributions to the performing arts is his poetic memoir published in 1964 about serving in the US Army during the Second World War. Rhymes of a PFC is a tragically long-out-of-print collection of prose dealing with the stresses of combat, sexuality in the army, and existentialism under the constant threat of death. Now that we are the homefront of a biological struggle happening worldwide, Kirstein’s poems gain renewed relevance for their power and solidarity.

The book is split into sections reflecting the different theaters of war. Each section pays tribute to quiet moments so often left out of newsreels and documentaries. Instead of bullets and shrapnel, Kirstein chronicles the emotional struggles going on behind closed doors–battles not just with the enemy, but between allies and individuals. The complex and surprising nature of these issues can be seen in Kirstein’s reflection of the dynamic between American and British soldiers in regard to married women, which leaves the reader as burned-out as the cuckolded British Tommy. “Bert grasps the situation–/ After five long years,/ Young Bertie in a Yankee’s arms–/ And bursts into tears.// Bert will not try to kill him/ As the corporal thinks he might:/ He’s had his fill of fighting;/ He wants no fight” (50-51).

However, not all of the poems display animosity. There are several that reflect on the collective misery and desire for comfort among soldiers. Many of these sections have homosexual undertones that add a unique character to Kirstein’s poetic voice. In the poem, “Junior,” Kirstein chronicles the quiet tension of a transatlantic crossing. “Then Junior, through our nightmare, came stalking quick but dead;/ As I absorbed his fright from him, the mist on his shaved head/ Stood out like sweat. His two wild paws in helpless animal fright/ Trapped me in the clamp of love to nurse him through this night.// He was in peril. So was I. Be with us to the end/ Where every selfish soldier is rationed half a friend” (61).

Kristein writes wonderfully clever prose that outlines the entire conflict in Europe. The dreamlike quality of episodic poetic rhyme contrasts with visions of Atlantic Convoys, Uboats, and occupied Europe in the darkest days of the conflict. Now, in the biological world war against Covid-19, each of us is a soldier cooped up in a perpetual battle against infection. I’m sure many Americans are feeling the emotional strain of this war, and the economic strain of a wartime economy. In this regard, Kirstein’s recollection of quiet warfare is particularly enchanting and relevant.

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https://www.amazon.com/Rhymes-More-PFC-Lincoln-Kirstein/dp/B000I8UDGU

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Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker: A Literary Take of the Legend and Language of the Apocalypse

In 1980, Pennsylvania-born writer Russell Hoban was living in London when he wrote his fourth novel, Riddley Walker. The book is a piece of science fiction which takes place in the south-east of England, several millennia after a mysterious apocalyptic event. As the news of today paints a picture that looks increasingly like something out of one of these pieces of pessimistic fiction, reading books like Hoban’s can be oddly relaxing, as we find delight in beautiful passages of a bleak world, one rich with legend and language.

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The first page of Riddley Walker confronts the reader with the fact that the book isn’t written in English, or at least, not an English that we today recognize. The narrative is told from the first-person perspective of the titular character, Riddley. Hobban wrote the book as if a man living millennia after the end of the world was speaking to the reader in his native dialect. To accomplish this, Hobban created a changed and degraded version of English. We experience firsthand how Riddley and his people have reinterpreted lost signs and signifiers. The end of the world legend is called “the Eusa story,” referring to the EU and USA. The light of what is presumably a nuclear blast has been personified in stories as “the Littl Shyning Man.” Canterbury has become Cambry, and the once-popular Punch and Judy puppet show is now a form of public announcement, which tells the story of the world to its people and warns about the dangers of technology.

Books like Riddley Walker remind us of the creative powers of literature to imagine a more colorful vision of a dark future. The concept of apocalypse in Riddley Walker is not just dangerous and strange in a Hobbesian sense, but also wonderfully literary. For us as readers experiencing the growing nihilism as a result of climate change and the invisible dangers of the Coronavirus, consider reading this forgotten classic of British-American literature. According to Hoban, the apocalypse is, after all, literary. 

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