Letting Two Books Speak for Themselves
I seem to have been inspired to review my two most recent reads in very similar ways, through their largest themes. They are very important themes, in my eyes; though the reviews don't really say much of anything in comparison to the books, so this blog post isn't really about anything if it doesn't inspire a few readers to pursue the books themselves.
These two authors each have four or five YA books out now that are all excellent. They have also become friends and are currently working on writing a book together.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz
by A.S. King
Now Charlie’s dead and I’m here in the kitchen—on my way to school, and then to work. It’s my senior year and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. I am motherless, and in the last year, I lost my best friend twice, fell in love with a guy I shouldn’t have (twice), got beat up by a skinhead Nazi, and had things thrown at me, including beer cans, money, and dog shit.
I quietly hoped it would all go away and sent my old PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ signals into the atmosphere.
A brief word from the reviewer:
As I had my inspiration to make this review a string of quotes and started getting it all laid out, a small worry grew: that by focusing so much on apathy, I might give the impression that this book is simply a flat, one-dimensional lecture-lesson on the topic. It’s not. It’s also about empathy and pain and guilt and fear. And life. It’s about the scars that come with experiencing life and how trying to cope with our own shit makes us insular. It’s about survival; and about how it’s not enough to simply survive.
It’s about a very real character, and her embodiment of these abstract concepts plays out in a very real, very painful, very tangible way.
While this review may be more of an analytical essay, the book is definitely a deeply-felt story.
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.
- Elie Wiesel
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
- Martin Niemöller
As we drove out of Charlie’s drive, I said, “Dad? Do you think Mrs. Kahn is okay?”
Dad said, “She’s fine, Vera.”
“But she didn’t look fine, did she?”
“Just ignore it,” Dad said.
When he said that, I felt myself deflate a little. I’d spent the better part of my life hearing my father say “Just ignore it” about the loud arguments I’d hear coming through the woods from Charlie’s house.
In summer, the trees cushioned us. I couldn’t see Charlie’s house and I couldn’t hear Mr. Kahn yelling. In winter, I could hear every word, depending on the direction the wind blew. I could hear every slap and every shove. I could hear him call her a “stupid bitch” and could hear her bones rattle when he shook her. If I looked out at night, I could see the tiny orange ember at the end of Charlie’s cigarette getting brighter when he inhaled.
“Ignore it,” my father would say, while my mother fidgeted in her favorite love seat.
“But can’t we call someone to help her?”
“She doesn’t want to be helped,” my mother would say.
“She’ll have to help herself,” my father would correct. "It’s one of those things, Vera.”
. . .
It seems the older people get, the more shit they ignore. Or, like Dad, they pay attention to stuff that distracts them from the more important things that they’re ignoring. While he’s busy clipping coupons, for instance, and telling me that a full-time job will teach me about the real world, Dad is overlooking that the guy on Maple Street could have killed me and chopped me up and distributed my body, piece by piece, along the side of the highway. He’s overlooking every story on the news about drivers being robbed at gunpoint, or getting carjacked.
It’s one thing if he wants to ignore it. I guess that’s fine. I mean, I ignore plenty of stuff, like school spirit days and the dirty looks I get from the Detentionheads while I try to slink through the halls unnoticed. But there’s something about telling other people what to ignore that just doesn’t work for me. Especially things we shouldn’t be ignoring.
Kid bullying you at school? Ignore him. Girl passing rumors? Ignore her. Eighth-grade teacher pinch your friend’s ass? Ignore it. Sexist geometry teacher says girls shouldn’t go to college because they will only ever pop out babies and get fat? Ignore him. Hear that a girl in your class is being abused by her stepfather and had to go to the clinic? Hear she’s bringing her mother’s pills to school and selling them to pay for it? Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Mind your own business. Don’t make waves. Fly under the radar. It’s just one of those things, Vera.
Passenger (Marbury Lens #2)
by Andrew Smith
That's just how things were.
It meant there was going to be a fight, and neither one of us questioned or doubted the laws that dictated our nature.
He didn't even swing back one time; didn't even try to defend himself against me, which made me feel even more disgusted by him. The fucker didn't even know how to act like a real boy. His nose trickled blood over his lips and down to his chin. The kid was crying, trying to cover his wet and blood-streaked face with quaking hands.
Conner never cries. . . . like Conner, Jack doesn't do that, either.
I wished I had the balls to hold Conner and tell him how sorry I was for everything I'd done.
I believe it's my God-given right
To destroy everything in my sight.
It never gets dull, it never gets old,
The only it gets is more bold.
Drinkin', fightin', goin' to the game,
In our world it's a way to stay sane.
If you're askin' me, to have it my way
I'd say that's one fine day.
- The Offspring, "One Fine Day"
Jack worries about being "a guy." He wants acceptance and security. But his sense of masculinity has been violated in a way he can't get past. Freddie Horvath kidnapped Jack and nearly raped him. Jack blames himself, but his guy code doesn't allow him to feel shame or embarrassment, doesn't allow him to express--or even admit--the way it's made him feel, the hurt and pain and helplessness of the moment. It doesn't allow him to cry. All it allows for is anger and hatred, which he channels at anyone and everyone. Most of all, at himself.
Dr. Enbody tried to be nice.
He told me how long he'd known me, and how much I'd grown, but he asked if I'd been eating enough, too . . .
Then he asked me if I'd been "sexually active with girls or with other boys," and I almost choked. But I told him yes, that I had a girlfriend. And that pissed me off, too, but I wasn't sure exactly why.
I was so embarrassed, I guess. So Dr. Enbody told me that I'd better be using condoms, and I lied and said I always used condoms because I just wanted him to shut the fuck up and go away. I'd never even touched a rubber, and I couldn't imagine having balls enough to go into a 7-11 and buy a box of them.
It was the stupidest thing I ever had to talk about in my life.
When I closed my eyes, I saw Freddie Horvath, so I just kept watching Dr. Enbody until my eyes started watering.
Repressed feelings don't just go away, though, even after turning into anger. No, they still find ways to have their say if you won't express them. In Jack's case, they turn into Marbury, a desolated wasteland of a world that mirrors our own. A different version of Jack exists there, along with versions of his best friend Conner and the two brothers he looks after, Ben and Griffin, as well as everyone else he meets. Despite its violence and desolation, Marbury is addictive, and the four boys keep traveling back there by way of the lens Jack has. Except Jack and Conner are heading to England for school at the end of the summer and Ben and Griffin don't want to lose their access to Marbury, so they decide to break the lens in half.
Breaking the lens doesn't divide it, however; instead it shatters Marbury. Now the boys are split up at different places and times, jumping between layer upon layer of Marbury and not-Marbury and not-Calfornia and not-England. Everywhere they go is a hostile puzzle. They are isolated and lost and scared, and don't know if they'll ever find a way back to each other or their real lives. Heck, most of the time they don't even know if they'll survive long enough to try. Because, in all the different layers of Marbury, everyone is desperately vicious and life is a matter of kill or be killed.
In Marbury, everything is anger.
I never fucking got us back home.
Maybe I was just drunk, but as I sat there in The Prince of Wales, I decided that the reason I never told anyone except Conner about what Freddie Horvath did to me was that I believed everyone else would think it was my fault.
Everything was Jack's fault.
I accept the fact that I fucked up--that all of this isn't happening to me--it's happening because of me.
This is Marbury.
It was me.
I did this.