Coalescence

Reduction linocut in response to short story “She Who Will Not Be Contained.”

“She Who Cannot Be Contained” (excerpt):

“A barely-born daughter, I was wrenched from my cave, slipping loose from the outer skin. Behind me is the memory of another body, never born at all. My squall splits the silence; my layers peel back and away, off my shoulders like hard wings that flicker behind me in the wind. The word that comes to mind is muscovite. It splits into sheets, thin panes to peer through, glass-like. Peel away the lacquered exoskeleton, and the light shines through.

Later, I hang skins over the cave-mouth, wish I had never left.”

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Spoon-fed Poison

Acid etching in response to prose poem “Red Tides.”

“Red Tides” (excerpt):

“It was a long spiral back to the bottom from the surface of the tide, and now it is not a confession I am choking on, but karenia brevis, bitter on my tongue. I am dragged beneath, hair tangling like red seaweed in the water, and it occurs to me that this has been destined all along.”

Biochemistry

Drypoint engraving in response to prose poem “Red Tides.”

“Red Tides” (excerpt):

“I am stuck on a memory of filth, seeing the red bloom of karenia brevis on the Gulf Coast tides, but most likely, I never saw this anywhere but my own mind. Toxins have already choked the vitality from our cells, everything slowing down inside the lines of our skulls, our brains, biochemistry betraying us.”

Brigid O’Brien’s Little House

Aquatint in response to short story “Flora Mala.”

“Flora Mala” (excerpt):

“…walking in the street miles away from home, bougainvillea ripped out from Brigid’s shoulder blades, broke the skin with sharp red-tipped thorns.

The branches twisted around her until she found her voice, breaking an unintentional vow of silence. Her confession was hidden inside the stories she told to wide-eyed children in the street, stories about parents who were carried away on a northern wind and never returned to the small child left behind.

No one could look away…

‘Sinner,’ they whispered.

‘Wicked.’

‘Witch.'”

War Story, Glazed with Glitter

A History of Glitter and BloodA History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this book not even five minutes ago, and already I’m writing a review. My reviews are never written so quickly, and sometimes they never get written at all, which should tell you something about the depth of my feelings toward this book.

One review here on Goodreads described this book as a gorgeous mess, and you know, that’s totally accurate. Reading this was an incredible amount of work; I wrote in the margins, highlighted bits, and left sticky notes all over this thing. In short, I treated this book pretty much the way I treat the books that get read for my lit classes, and that’s mostly because a book filled with this much attention to detail deserves to get reviewed by someone who loved it so very very much, at the very least. This was not the book I expected. This takes the whole fairy-fantasy genre thing, runs with it for a little bit, and then immediately creates something that feels really new.

Two quotes from the jacket feel super relevant — “this is not a love story” and “this isn’t a fairy tale; this is war.” I am not a fan of romance in books, really, but this book was not about ships or true love or any other tropes that dozens of other books have used and re-used. Don’t let the glittery cover fool you, because this is a violent book. We follow a band of magical teenage creatures who have survived a brutal war, and who now have to navigate the complex politics of a city that is still anything but peaceful. Online, I’ve seen this listed as being for teens 14 and up, and that just blows my mind, because this was such a heavy book. It didn’t shy away from the realities of war — violence, prostitution, grief, PTSD, and racism (there was the whole ethnic cleansing subtext (or maybe it was just text)).

The whole thing was just phenomenal. The unreliable narrator, the way it moves throughout time, even the prose. Just read this: “Another smile from him, this one a little sad, and a word, not for the first time, flashed in Beckan’s mind: disarmed… This, not the bomb site, was where the war first affected Beckan. She was a little fairy who could barely read and the war wormed its way into her words.” This book was just astonishing.

(Also, the epilogue is hilarious and amazing.) (Especially that moment where Beckan speaks for herself at the end.) (Oh, and there is LGBTQIA+ rep in here, and it’s adorable.)

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Noteworthy

Noteworthy-by-Riley-RedgateOkay, I cannot sing this book’s praises enough. (Ha ha.) The way Noteworthy handled Jordan’s questions of gender and sexual identity — there are so many books I’ve read that could’ve benefited from Noteworthy’s self-awareness. Jordan recognizes that although she is “playing a role” and trans people are not, she is uncomfortably occupying a space that people could easily mistake as trans identity. The first time anyone realizes that she isn’t a cis dude, they immediately assumes that she must be trans.

Similarly, when other characters realize she is attracted to guys, they immediately assume she’s a gay dude. Again, Jordan acknowledges that this is an experience she can’t truly claim, and is suitably uncomfortable. In real life, in these circumstances, I’m sure the answer to this discomfort would be “stop occupying these spaces where you doesn’t belong.” But, you know, the plot must go on, and plot demands Jordan continue her act for as long as possible — until the competition. The fact that the book even engages with this discomfort to such a degree is incredible. It makes the story that much stronger, allowing Jordan explore her own discomfort, thus solidifying her own gender identity (and eventually, her sexuality).

In terms of story structure, I loved how perfectly the emotional notes were hit. (So many music puns in one review!) There’s this underlying tension regarding Jordan’s home life throughout the novel, and it builds and builds. Jordan’s frustration is palpable. So the moment where her parents bond over how apparently NO ONE NOTICED SHE WAS A CHICK IN DRAG is pure catharsis. It’s the turning point in the background-tensions-at-home thing. The worst is over — Jordan has accepted a situation which has made her miserable, she and her parents are all communicating fairly honestly and bonding, and she is “out of the woods.” so to speak.

I loved this book so much I forgot to take notes. I had to go back and find all my favourite sections to draw little hearts. Definitely recommend.

View all my Goodreads reviews here.

The Careful Undressing of Love

The Careful Undressing of LoveThe Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beware, here there be spoilers.

There is so much to love in this book. I love how aware of itself it is, how Lorna points out the casual racism in Brooklyn that meets the Devonnaire Street Girls. The language is so so beautiful (I drew pink hearts next to all my favourite sections, and there are a lot of hearts). I adore how the prose weaves in and out of the past, how memories break into the present moment and color the reader’s understanding of the current events (like Lorna and her father’s conversation on page 95, with the conversation abut measuring love, or like all the other memories of Lorna’s father).

Throughout most of this book, I was screaming, “But what about the girls that don’t fall in love with boys?!” Aka, any girl who isn’t straight. And then the book addressed it. I feel mostly positive toward its portrayal of gay girls. What bothers me about it is how she was forced to closet herself, to “sacrifice,” but that’s more an issue with the toxic Devonnaire Street culture than it is with the story itself.

But that’s a perfect segue into my other nitpick with this story, and that’s Angelika, and the way she controlled the entire street. I thought the way Angelika acted was emotionally abusive, the way she slut-shamed the girls, policed their bodies and their agency, enforced the gender binary, and employed her racist views when choosing their clothes. Even though she thought she was justified, she psychologically tortured them and terrified them for this entire book, and it was cruel. And no one ever called her on it, even in the end, when it was pretty obvious that the Curse wasn’t real and her propaganda had killed a girl. The young women on this street were so damaged by this culture around them, and not once until the very end (until it was too late for one of them) did a logical adult step in to remove Angelika’s influence. I thought that was a little unsatisfying, but I suppose it could argued that it’s realistic; abusers don’t always get punished. (But I want them to!)

(Also, the press was so gross in this book. Can they just not sensationalize the tragedy of these girls’ lives?)

Overall, I liked the ending. I wanted Angelika to get punished, but it was beautiful that it was Lorna’s mom’s love for her daughter that ultimately saved them both, got them free of Devonnaire Street and let them have a fresh start. Especially since it was clear that they did both have people they loved romantically, but for their own good, and because they loved each other, they left them both behind.

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