The Winner’s Curse

Dear Jeannie,

Okay so I’m going to cut you some slack since it’s midterm week for you but bruh, post already.

Now that the obligatory chiding is out of the way, instead of getting ahead on/doing problem sets and whatnot this week, I read a bunch of YA novels (the others of which I’ll be reviewing in the upcoming weeks). The one I finished most recently is The Winner’s Curse (which I will be abbreviating with TWC because I’m not about typing the same thing over and over) by Marie Rutkoski. (First of all, it’s still so strange that when I read YA now, all these characters are younger than me?? Like smol child, please stop doing these things before you get actual PTSD.)

TWC is mainly about star-crossed lover pair Kestrel and Arin, (Arin starts out as Kestrel’s slave before we find out they are on opposite sides of the political situation–Romeo and Juliet on steroids?). Kestrel, a Valorian, is part of the currently ruling faction, in fact her father is the general of Valoria’s military, while Arin hails from the conquered people, whose houses and land Valoria has seized.

I will say that to its credit, TWC actually reads like a plausible historical fiction novel, if you know, you made Valoria (I hate these stupid made up fantasy names) France during Napoleon’s reign or Genghis Khan’s empire. And there was a surprisingly low level of emotional constipation from the leads once they figured out their own feelings (obviously pre-confession there were still tense moments). But for sure the highlight is Kestrel’s intelligence & deviousness. Unlike many YA novels where the heroine is “like super smart while still kicking sooo much a$$” Kestrel actually has a believable talent for strategizing and scheming. It almost reminds me a lil of good ol’ Artemis Fowl.

While not mind-blowingly awesome, it was a fun read. Would recommend.

Love,

Crystal

Night

Dear Crystal,

Sorry for the late post. I had been in the middle of a paper for Global History, and I didn’t think people wanted to read a review on books about Confucius’ life and teachings. But I’m here now, and that’s all that matters! I recently read Night by Elie Wiesel. Many of my favorite books are realistic fiction about WWII, like The Book Thief,  All the Light We Cannot See, Sarah’s Key, and etc., however, Night is a work of non-fiction that struck me just like these other books written by renowned writers.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Night is written almost like a work of fiction; it has symbolism on every page. As the title suggests, the symbol of nighttime and darkness recurs.  It delves into the idea of horrifying and traumatic events such as the Holocaust forcing people to betray people that they love. We often times hear of heart-warming stories like a mother giving up her life to save her child, but the reality is that many people were turned into animals and dehumanized the Jews. It was each man to themselves in those concentration camps. The Nazis turned ordinary people into the barely living dead.

Nobody asked anyone for help. One died because one had to. No point in making trouble.

Wiesel displays the harsh reality of the emotional and physical torture people had to endure. People wished for death to save them. Sons were betraying fathers, letting them die and some hoping that it would to ease their burden. The strongest of the strong giving up at last. People being stripped of their faith. Here’s is one of the many passages that were extremely powerful:

[My father’s] last word had been my name. He called out to me and I had not answered. I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!…

Wiesel had been loyal to the end; he lived with his father in mind until even he, who was one of the emotionally strongest, could not bear it anymore. The Holocaust and the Germans killed him inwardly.

Occasionally, we would pass through German towns. Usually, very early in the moring. German laborers were going to work. They would stop and look at us without surprise. One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker wached the spectabcle with great interest.

Wiesel spent his life trying to make people aware of the dangers of indifference. A famous quote of his is, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I’m gonna be honest, this book had me sitting in my room on a Saturday night next to an empty tissue box bawling my eyes out. 100% recommend if you like crying.

But all jokes aside, Night’s lessons for humanity is more valuable than gold. It is truly eye opening and devastating. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself. I beg you to pick this classic up if you haven’t already- I guarantee that it is 1000x better than my very limited description.

Love,

Jeannie

A Lesson Before Dying

Hi Crystal,

WOWOWOWOWOW this country is going crAZY right now. Election day was pretty rough ngl. Tbh it was an emotional roller-coaster for everyone, but I’m sure the panic will set in eventually.

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On top of the fact that our nation is falling apart, I have a biology test tomorrow that I’m pretty worried about. Wish me luck!!

Recently, I have been reading and annotating A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. It is about a young black man named Jefferson who is falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death in the south during the 1940’s. During his trial, he is called a “hog” by the white lawyers. Hearing this, his aunt, Miss Emma, tries to convince Grant, an African American teacher in their quarter, to go and “make Jefferson a man again.”

One major theme in the book is the idea of staying to fight your fight. Grant, one of the few educated black people in the town, goes off to college basically in search of a way to escape the prejudice in the Cajun community he’s from. However, he winds up back there as a teacher, a job which he clearly isn’t too happy about. He lives a pretty depressing life, caring very little about his job, as he feels it is unnecessary and all in vain because the kids still end up in jail (like Jefferson). He always talks about running away and becoming more in life but never actually leaves. Throughout the novel, he learns to become a man while helping Jefferson become a “man” as well. He learns that as a truly educated person, he has to stay and fight the fight because that’s the only way things will get better for the African American community.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been making comments on every other line of the text or because I have to write an 800 word essay every week, but I thought this book was very slow-paced. Basically 300 pages long and with a pretty uneventful plot, the story line is a little boring sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, however, the writing is very good. It seems like every line the author writes has a purpose and a symbol. Gaines is an obviously a talented writer, clearly displayed when he can make me so frustrated when I read certain scenes that I want to bang my head against a wall.

Imma be real for a hot sec– I straight up didn’t enjoy reading the book. Something about literally NONE of the characters being likable just didn’t rest well with me. Yeah, yeah, I know all of them are supposed to be bitter about racial inequality and feeling trapped, but the whole “negativity is EVERYWHERE” mindset is just a struggle to read about. Even the main character, Grant, is a straight up self centered a**hole and doesn’t care about anyone else. Yes, the book is about growing up and becoming a “man” but it seems like 99.9999% of it is essentially just him going like “ugh i h8 this place sm!!1! i wanna run away w my still-married gf!!1! but she doesn’t want 2 leave?? WTF vivian!?!”

I dig a really good historical fiction book– it’s one of my favorite genres ever, but I can see A Lesson Before Dying being a book I remember for being kinda a pain to read. 5/10.. (not my #1 choice for a book to read for pastime, but certainly a fine book for studies)

Love,

Jeannie

 

The House on Mango Street

Dear Crystal,

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading and analyzing Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. I read it a while back but didn’t fully interpret the book’s deeper meanings. I’m not going to completely spoil the book in this review, (so my plot part only goes half way into the novel) but I want to show some parts of Esperanza I didn’t notice the first time.

The House on Mango Street, a novel written with a series of vignettesis narrated by a girl named Esperanza who is trying to find her identity. She lives in a home that she is ashamed off; it’s run down and cramped. She lives life with a pretty bleak outlook, if you ask me.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It mean s sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

She goes on to say that she feels trapped, citing a story of her great-grandmother. It’s pretty powerful:

I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman… Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off… She looked out the winder her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or she was sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

Esperanza hopes that her name and other things she was born with doesn’t affect her future. She even describes herself as a “red balloon tied to an anchor.” She feels trapped and that she is destined to live a miserable life because of her family situation–she has no friends, no money, no real happiness, that is, until she befriends two girls named Rachel and Lucy, with whom she starts to open up with.

Esperanza starts to discover who she is through several “coming of age” experiences. She has more responsibilities, which include getting a job, breaking news to her younger siblings, etc.. She has few pretty creepy things happen to her. Old men kiss her and she gets sexually assaulted :/

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Esperanza learns what it means to develop an identity. It doesn’t come from your family’s past or your social class or your heritage. Esperanza was mistaken– you don’t have to reinvent yourself. Your identity is what YOU make of it. 🙂

That’s all for now,

Jeannie

The Stranger

To my darling sister, Crystal,

I am still stressed.

I hope you are having a decent week! I’m so sorry for the late post. Right now, I am sitting in a corner of the library surrounded by a mind-boggling amount of math and science homework and labs that are all due tomorrow. Wish me luck!

*MAJOR SPOILERS*

I recently read the book, The Stranger by Albert Camus. The story, originally written in French, follows a man named Meursault. The book opens with him finding out that his mother died. He then goes to her funeral and expresses little to no emotion. He has a girlfriend named Marie, who he doesn’t actually love, he just likes having sex with her. Already, I’m thinking, huh, this guy is a sociopath. BUT THEN HE GOES AND KILLS A MAN FOR NO REASON. Why?? Because it was “hot” outside and he wasn’t thinking straight. Meursault is arrested and goes to court. Even in court, he doesn’t regret anything. There, they condemn him to the guillotine, and the book ends with him accepting the idea of his execution.

Here’s a favorite meme of mine to describe my thoughts:

To be honest, when I finished the 100-something paged book, I was angry. I don’t know why, but I expected The Stranger to be riveting, invigorating, and just a thrill in general to read. It was certainly not that. However, this novel is extremely deep on a philosophical standpoint. After some deep thought, I think  Meursault is the stranger after which the book is called. He feels little to no emotion about anything. Society doesn’t accept him as a functioning member of it because of his indifferent attitude about things “normal” people would usually react strongly to. Judged and misunderstood by different characters throughout the book, Mersault is perceived as a crazy freak. He is charged with murder with no mercy– he is headed straight to the guillotine (no pun intended ;)). I honestly don’t know why he would be pardoned after what he’s done, but yet again, I am part of the “judgmental” society that rejects people like Meursault.

Overall, this book is too profound for me to appreciate it to its fullest extent. But, if you are really into analyzing deep philosophical ideas like those, try The Stranger out. Otherwise, don’t step within a 5-foot radius of it.

Sincerely,

Jeannie

The Big Sleep

Hey Crystal,

I have so much homework and studying to do, on top of sports and other clubs starting this week. UGH. So sorry if this letter sucks :).

This week I read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It is a short classic mystery novel that reminded of those old black and white crime movies from the 1930’s the entire time I was reading it. After I read it, I looked it up and turns out there is a movie for this book that was made in 1946! Jeannie knows it all..

Anyway, this novel is a thrill to read. The Big Sleep gives off a similar vibe as The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (It’s a children’s novel, but it’s actually fabulous!).

MILD SPOILERS!

The plot is pretty long for a short book, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Phillip Marlowe is a private detective hired by a dying general to investigate a blackmail attempt to his daughter. Marlowe digs into a case filled with murder and blackmail. The end is a total plot-twist– be excited!!

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.

Death is a recurring topic– over the course of the book, five people were murdered. The detective reflects on his own life and how much he valued it before. The characters were different people: a chauffeur, a pornography distributor, an ex-bootlegger who married into a rich family, a dying oil tycoon, a detective. Treasure your life because you only have one, and everyone’s the same when they’re dead.

The OG Betty White put it best:

sdasda

Phew. That was a pretty intense topic..  Time to go do 4 hours worth of homework :(. Wish me luck or I might end up in a big sleep!

Love,

Jeannie

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Dear Jeannie,

Well. It’s been over a year since I’ve had to organize my thoughts on a book in a way more coherently than a mosquito-like high pitched whining or a bland “eh” (I’m discounting school related writing because that’s its own behemoth). But I’m looking forward to using too many gifs and parentheticals to rant about literature again (and also to force you to communicate with me during the school year because YOU NEVER TEXT YOU NEVER CALL).

[While I’m talking about the past and all, I’m going to take this opportunity to bulldoze over the fourth wall and say, Reader, if a letter-writing, book-reviewing, gif-wielding Crystal sounds familiar, then welcome to the new and improved incarnation of (half of) letsplottwistagain.wordpress.com! Yes, I am back from the dead or Freshman year of college, whatever you want to call it, and I’m here to tell you that letsplottwistagain has been released into the wild. Maybe in 2 million years it’ll be sourced in some anthropologist’s thesis as another relic of this internet age. Also Ana is now busy doing life things, so.]

The book I’m reviewing today is written by Neil Gaiman, the mind behind Coraline, which in itself should tell you something.

Like CoralineThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, plays on fears that might be more often thought of as child fears. The protagonist for most of the novel is a boy of 7 years, who has to deal with supernatural monsters and make sense of impossible thingsand he does so, with remarkable dexterityyet he’s still afraid of the dark. What Gaiman does really well is the mark of the true author, that is, he’s able to close the age gap by making the reader 7 years old again. No matter how long it’s been since the last time you were afraid of the dark, for the next almost 200 pages, you’re 10 years or 20 years or 50 years younger, back when the dark wasn’t just an absence of light but the presence of every menacing possibility.

*Mild spoilers ahead*

He evokes in the reader that primordial helplessness of being a child in an adult world and turns it into heart-pounding terror. What can you do when your father is being controlled by a supernatural being that can take on the ultimate form of power—that of a really hot governess? The novel feels faintly like Cinderella. But instead of a evil stepmother, the villain is more like No Face from Spirited Away. She just wanted to make the people happy by giving them money. Is that so wrong? Like No Face, she’s a possibly monstrous, powerful being who has a skewed understanding of the way humans work. (Also it’s interesting to note that the “Be careful what you wish for” theme so prominent in Coraline features here as well. Surprise! The money doesn’t actually make anyone happier.)

“Something came to me, and pleaded for love and help. It told me how I could make all the things like it happy. That they are simple creatures, and all any of them want is money, just money, and nothing more. Little tokens-of-work. If it had asked, I would have given them wisdom, or peace, perfect peace…”

And later:

“I ONLY GAVE THEM WHAT THEY NEEDED, she was saying, petulant and afraid. I MADE THEM HAPPY.

‘You made my daddy hurt me,’ I said…

I NEVER MADE THEM DO ANYTHING”

The children vs. adults dynamic is drawn along the same lines as those in Spirited Away, wisdom vs. ignorance, adaptability vs. inflexibility etc. In this novel, the power of children is celebrated. Their ability to know hidden ways and to believe in things adults can no longer believe in is their strength, and allows them to triumph.

Gaiman has created another thematically rich and textually riveting masterpiece, as he does. If I had to unpack all of it (and I do want to) it would take me 200 of these posts, so I’ll leave with this one quote that speaks to the power of language. It’s reminiscent of the language-as-a-concept in the Bible, where speaking slides directly into being. But even if we cannot speak this “language of shaping,” it’s enough to know that with our words we can create powerful things too. Stories like this one, that can teach and elicit fear and joy and hope.

“In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly…I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

Love,

Crystal