Friday, June 7, 2019

The Witch Who Turned Percy Jackson into a Guinea Pig: A Review of Circe by Madeline Miller

Women in history and in fiction very rarely have their stories told properly or with sympathy. Oftentimes, when women take agency over their own lives, society casts them aside and they are remembered as villains and cautionary tales. In recent years, many of the stories of these women who have been known as villains have been reimagined and retold with varying degrees of complexity and success. I’m a huge fan of the genre of retelling famous myths and legends through a new, alternative lens, but a common pitfall of this genre is that in attempting to redeem or cast a new light on these characters or historical figures, they become flat or symbolic; the author uses these characters to teach the audience a lesson, instead of humanizing them, albeit the fact the lesson is contrary to what those characters were originally supposed to represent. Picking up Circe, I was worried that this would be the case, but I really loved The Song of Achilles, written by the same author, so I went for it.

In Circe, Madeline Miller tells the story of the famous villain in the Odyssey, the sorceress Circe who keeps Odysseus captive and turns his men into pigs. In many iterations of the Odyssey, Circe is cast as an unreasonable and unrelenting witch, who keeps Odysseus for herself, away from his loving wife at home in Ithaca. Western study of the classics and philosophy exemplifies Circe as the archetype of a sexually free women, who is evil and keeps men for her own purposes. Miller, while staying true to the events of the Odyssey, challenges this archetype and tells Circe’s story in a much more sympathetic light. She follows Circe from her birth to the events shortly following the conclusion of the Odyssey, drawing from various Greek myths and philosophy, including Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Miller has an incredible writing style and does an amazing job humanizing Circe. Circe stood out to me as a retelling of a story of a woman who has been often cast as the villain because Miller doesn’t shy away from the atrocities that Circe has done. While Circe hurts and kills others for reasons justified at times, she also does so out of pettiness or simply because she enjoys wielding her power. Miller never attempts to cast Circe as the victim in these parts, and instead recognizes her as worthy of compassion in all her complexity even without repentance for her actions. Along the way, Miller also manages to explore the theme of immortality and what life means when no matter what you do, you can not be harmed or killed - and when faced with eternity, what is the value of change?

Fans of Percy Jackson & the Olympians will enjoy Circe, and similarly no background knowledge of Greek mythology is needed. Circe is an incredible book and I highly recommend it as a summer read. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Two reviews of Agatha Christie novels

The Mystery of the Blue Train
Even though I've read countless Agatha Christie books, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The plot moved along at a nice speed, and the backstory of each character was wonderfully crafted. There's a fantastic twist at the end, and I definitely realize now I underestimated many characters' wits. The ending is revealed quite dramatically though the responses were somewhat hollow. Agatha Christie has an amazing way of introducing completely random strangers and tying their stories together, and this book is no exception to that.
Cat Among the Pigeons
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The plot was quite fast-paced and mysterious, but it lacked the little ingenious details of perception Poirot normally possesses. However, in my opinion, compared to other Agatha Christie books, the characters were better developed and their psychology stayed consistent throughout. The ending was unexpected (as usual), but the background and logic behind Poirot's deduction seemed a little bland. Of course, I hold Agatha Christie up to a very high standard, so this book was still an incredibly good read.

~Posted by a Homestead junior

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review of Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Nagan (380 pages) is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Laini Taylor, and Leigh Bardugo. Especially if you are looking for some representation within YA books. Nagan’s book does just that, blending cultures of the United Kingdom and Malaysia, China where she grew up. The book also has a lesbian romance as the main romance, and it was great to see the representation. I will put a trigger warning for scenes of sexual violence and assault here but the book also contains this warning but I decided to mention it for anyone thinking of reading the book, just to let you know. The scenes that contain sexual violence and assault are intense but I appreciate Nagan’s rawness in this sense and not trying to shy away from the topics which she writes beautifully. I feel that the book would be so much less if Nagan had tried sugarcoat the sexual violence and assault. But please be aware of this before you read it. Girls of Paper and Fire follows Lei a village girl who is selected for a competition every year in which eight girls, known as paper girls, are chosen to be the King’s concubines. But this year there are nine girls, and as Lei adjusts to life as a paper girl she falls in love. I loved this book because of the main romance and that the author (who is queer herself) chose to portray a lesbian romance, it means so much and also is just some fresh diversity that I needed in YA books and have not seen in a long time or read for that matter. I also loved the female relationships, while the girls struggle with their new life there are many friendships formed that are just very supportive and feel good, the characters are human and make mistakes within their friendships also, but band together within their groups and support each other within tough times. The book was an amazing read for me and opened my eyes to some of the many facets of the world and gave me insight into many topics. Which Nagan brings to life with her lyrical writing and talent. Not only that but I am so happy for the lesbian romance present in this book, the book receives only high reviews from me and I would highly recommend it if you are in the mood for a feminist type of read with a different take on romance.

-Reviewed by Alexi V., Homestead High School Junior

Friday, April 5, 2019

Review of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

East of Eden , This title is in.East of Eden is, most simply stated, a documentary of two families and their settlement into California's Salinas Valley. It follows the paths of the Hamiltons and Trasks as they explore what it means to be human while their worlds are destroyed and reconstructed again. The reader is offered a window into a 19th century California through the eyes of a marvelously flawed cast, and it is a novel I would definitely recommend. Posted by Helen L., Homestead freshman

Monday, April 1, 2019

Review of Birthmarked, by Caragh M. O'Brien

Click for more information on this titleThis book had a good concept and okay plot. But all in all, if I had to give it a rating, it would be a 3/5. The book was not short on action, but the plot was thin and the characters were slightly dull. Instead of enjoying the book, I trudged through it, wanting to see the ending more than anything. I wasn't committed to Gaia, the main character, or her cause. And to top it all off, the book ended on a cliff hanger because it is part of a series.
The book focuses on Gaia, a midwife in a future dystopian society. Every month, she has to give up newborns to the richer population of the city, but without knowing why. Everyone follows orders, and serves their society. Gaia's parents are arrested, and she spends the rest of the book trying to figure out a code her mother left her and get her parents back.

~ Posted by a Homestead freshman

Monday, March 25, 2019

Review of An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (with his writing style clearly shown throughout the novel) is a cute love story that's not quite focused on the romance. The story follows a child prodigy, a senior in high school, as he explores the algorithm of love while also discovering his own love of the small town he landed in.

~ Posted by a Homestead sophomore

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Warcross and Wildcard: In which Marie Lu does YA dystopian right

About four years ago, I read Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy and it was utterly unremarkable. I’m sure I thought it was okay at the time, but the fact remains that I don’t remember a single plot point or character from any of the three books. The one thing I can recall is that I couldn’t tell what gender the romantic interest was for the entirety of the first book, and that I was shocked to learn that he was male.

With this in mind, I had no expectations when I picked Warcross up off a desolate, 80’s-sci-fi-populated shelf in a health center lobby. It was simply the only book that appealed to me at face value, and as many people do, I judged it based on the cover.

Warcross centers on Emika Chen, a teenage, rainbow-haired hacker from NYC who can’t pay her rent and instead resorts to work as a bounty hunter, tracking down those who choose to gamble on worldwide sensation and household-name VR video game Warcross. Looking for more cash, Emika accidentally glitches herself into the opening night of the Warcross Championships (think a crossover between competitive gaming and the Olympics, and with more futuristic virtual reality). Fearing punishment, she ends up being sent to the corporation that produces Warcross, where young CEO (and Emika’s childhood celebrity crush) Hideo Tanaka asks her to find a worm in the championships’ security.

I don't have much to say about Hideo. Didn't really care for him. Like, okay, you're hot, rich, and you have a dog. So? reads my Goodreads review for Warcross, and I can’t say that my opinion has changed, two books and way too many chapters later. Though it also deals with the moral crisis of what it means to be truly “good”, Warcross is, at its heart, a love story, which honestly kind of sucks. Warcross and its sequel Wildcard’s fatal flaws rest in the fact that the supporting cast are just so much more interesting than the main characters. While Emika’s internal issues are tiring and even boring to listen to at some times (“I like this guy but I don’t like what he’s doing! Oh no, he has immense political power!”, over and over again), the colourful side characters provide a look into how insanely good this duology could have been. I enjoyed every look into the lives of Emika’s championships team and other members of the secondary cast (special shoutout to her competitive rival Tremaine Blackbourne for being the most complex and interesting character in this world full of utterly uninteresting personalities).

Now that I’ve trashed what I hated for a whole paragraph, let’s get on to what makes this book one of my favourite dystopians - the actual plot presented and the world-building had me excitedly anticipating the release of Wildcard. Too often dystopian plots boil down to “main character works for government, realizes they’re corrupt, rebels against them” (off the top of my head, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner all fit this description to a T). Though some of these same tropes are present, more importantly, Warcross presents a conflict based in the influence of technology on our lives, and how free will moulds our perspectives and identities. The world-building Lu does is phenomenal as well - throughout the novel, as Emika goes through levels of the game, Lu’s vivid setting descriptions provide wonderful and imaginative imagery.

Wildcard I can’t say much about without spoiling Warcross, as the story relies heavily on the events of the first book, but I will say that it was my favourite of the two. The plot and character developments made in it were everything I wanted Lu to give me (more Tremaine included), and that she did. Many YA dystopians are stretched into trilogies for monetary reasons or movie adaption purposes and end up being weirdly paced, a problem Lu does not have. The Warcross duology combines fast-paced action scenes and internal stream-of-consciousness monologues to paint a compelling narrative of what makes us truly independent and human.

At face value, the Warcross duology presents a dull and uninteresting main romance, but just behind the curtain is a riveting tale of moral complexity with an interesting, captivating set of supporting characters and subplots.

A similar book you might enjoy if you liked Warcross is the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi - another unique take on the YA dystopian trope with complex character motivations and subversions on typical tropes.

- By Ari Vishin, Homestead junior