Tuesday, November 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW | Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither follows the story of Rhine, who is living in a world where a disease has wiped out most of the human race, leaving only North America behind. Because of this disease, no one is able to live past the age of 20, if you're a woman, and 25, if you're a man. Rhine is forced into a marriage with two other girls for the sole purpose to produce babies, but she is finding that what she wants more than anything is freedom. Freedom from the disease. Freedom from her husband. Freedom from that mansion.

I know there are certain aspects of this book that have made people cringe. But, for me, the writing and the overall storyline made it well worth the four stars I gave. Let me start with the things that I noticed or others have pointed out to me.

In order of biggest inconsistency to least:

1. All of this snow that Florida can apparently create. As a resident of Florida, this made me cringe. Even if this were to take place in Northern Florida, it would be ridiculous. Perhaps there was some snowfall in Tallahassee back in 2010. I seem to remember news of it. But this was the type of snow that barely even made it to the ground because it was so cold. The snow that they talked about in Wither was somehow inches or more deep. All I could think of was, "What Florida is this?" My only reasoning was that maybe after the destruction of people (via virus), the state lines were re-done... but it was never explained to be so in the book. That bugged me.

2. Rhine never has sex. This did not make any sense. Now, I'm pretty laid back about sex in YA books. Sometimes it's unnecessary - actually, most of the time it's unnecessary. But in this case? Definitely necessary. You want me to believe that Rhine enters into a marriage which has the sole purpose to procreate and yet never has sex? I can see how DeStefano made Linden a weak man who wouldn't pressure her, but does anyone remember his father? This was not a man who cared enough about Linden, about anyone that he would sacrifice new life forms. If anything, he would have just killed Rhine, used her for scientific study, and then told Linden to move on. I don't care how anyone tries to justify this. Rhine would have been murdered or raped. The end.

3. North America is the SOLE survivor. Now, some readers may have already have read Fever and are shaking their heads at this because maybe this is explained in the second book. I took it as a projection of the character. North America is the only one they know to have survived. But if that is the case, why word it so? Why not simply say that instead of making a firm statement that North America is the only place with a population left.

4. Women dying before men. I suppose this was for plot purposes, but FYI, men die earlier than women. It's scientifically proven. It would have made more sense to have women die at age 25 and men at age 20.

Regardless, I still greatly enjoyed this book. DeStefano's prose was literally breathtaking. I read this in one sitting. She drew me in with her characterization and writing. I loved the character of Jenna and I could feel for the character of Linden. Oftentimes, I think that writing first person can greatly hinder a writer. This is because they are not able to explore any other characters than the one whose eyes the reader is seeing from. However, somehow DeStefano managed to make all of her characters seem so real and so vulnerable, even through Rhine's eyes. Because of this great characterization, I was able to look past more technical errors.

I also, personally, read books for the relationships and characterizations. I am a huge character reader dislike it when other characters are not fully developed. (Or if other characters all follow some kind of stereotype, etc). With DeStefano, the reader is able to understand a variety of personalities and view the story from different angles.

I purposely put the negative aspects first because I want people to understand how I could look past some blatant errors because of the beautiful writing and empathetic characterization. I would honestly recommend this to anyone. The pacing, the prose - it all made it worth it to me.

Friday, November 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW | Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosín

Memory is the only witness that
Remembers the women of Juárez
Now statues,
Scattered bones,
Heads and little ears.

Haunting. Melodic. Tragic. Hearthbreaking. Necessary. These are the words I would use to describe this book of poetry.

Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez is a collection of poetry written by Marjorie Agosín about the missing women of Juárez. From 2008 to 2013 over 211 girls have gone missing, but the murders have been going on since the 90s. The most disturbing issue of all is that the government has done nothing about it. In the introduction to these poems, written by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman, she writes that Mexico is a country with a "machista" culture that "often accuses women of provoking their abusers." With this kind of victim-blaming perpetuating the minds of those who are in charge, it's not surprising to see that there hasn't been much progress made towards stopping these murders.

She dreams about borders
A knife parts her in two
North and South
The body of a woman lies
In the middle of the night
In the middle of the day
In the middle of the light
On the border no one finds her
The desert petrifies her memory
The wind erases sounds
Everything is a darkness without sunlight.

She has crossed borders
And doesn't return home
Her mother wanders about crying
And looks for but does not find her

She crosses borders
Wakefulness and dream
Ashes and bonfires.

Agosín's goal was to give these women a voice. They have been permanently silences and are suffering a second death because of the negligence of the government. These murders have been going on for over 20 years with no change in the system or in the enforcement of the law. Agosín uses free verse, often conflating herself with the victims and reminding all women that in another time, in another place, or even tomorrow in your home, it could be you.

News Reports

The news report of Ciudad Juárez
Announces another death
The child says that it looks like the same woman
All of those women are the same, the father replies
The mother prepares the food
She sees herself in those women
The news report continues
They announce the winners of the soccer tournament
The child asks his mother why
They always kill the same woman
The mother's voice is strange
Like that of a little girl
And a well of silence
Forms on her sad mouth.

By using free verse, Agosín is able to give a voice to the traumatic experiences of the women who were murdered and the women who have been left behind. Sometimes I had to read a certain poem over and over until I understood it, and other times I read it over and over because it was just that powerful. Combining the Introduction, Poems and Afterword, there are only 143 pages in this book. (Which you can also cut in half because half of it is in Spanish on one side and English on the other, so if you're not bilingual, it will go even faster.)

This book has easily become one of my personal favorites. I really appreciate the accessibility of Agosín's style. Had she tried to make her poems more complicated, she may have run the risk of taking away from the violence. Instead, she made sure her poems were succinct, easy to understand and straight to the point - given the women of Juárez and the women who are terrified for their lives a powerful and booming voice.