romance

The Light Between Oceans | Review

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I took my time reading this book as I was buddy-reading with the host of “Take Me to the Video Store” We read about five chapters per week as suggested by the Goodreads group. We tried to borrow some questions from the group for discussion and followed their plan. I know this book is widely-read, popular, well-loved, and has even been turned into a movie with Michael Fassbender, but yet again I am late to the party. This was my first time reading it, and I enjoyed it immensely.

imagesThis novel follows Tom, a soldier in World War I who has recently obtained a job off the coast of Australia as a lighthouse  keeper on an isolated island, quite some distance from the main shore. As he spends the first six months in complete silence, all alone, upon his first visit to shore he befriends a woman named Isabel. As they correspond via snail-mail (only when boats would go to and from the island) over time the two decide they love each other and get married. Isabel joins Tom on the island and the two live in romantic honeymoon bliss, taking care of the lighthouse and livestock. Isabel gets pregnant three times and loses the baby, each when she is further and further along. The devastation of miscarriage, inability to become a mother, and concentrated loneliness break Isabel’s spirit quite rapidly. One day a boat washes up on shore. In it they find the corpse of a man, and a living baby. After much discussion, Isabel convinces Tom to break the rules, bury the man, avoid marking this event in the lighthouse log, and to let her keep the baby.  The plot takes a turn from there. We find out about the baby in the prologue, thus it is not a spoiler.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. The first is the personal reason: how I read it. For the first time since high school I read a novel at a glacial pace. Five chapters per week is not fast, not a lot, and not how I’ve read since University started six years ago. To take it slow with a book, to think about the characters and allowing them to stay with me for eight weeks rather than one or two days was such a strange experience.

I can also see the appeal for readers (myself included). After so many books with intricate plots, exciting ‘effects,’ twists, layers upon layers of magic systems, military combat, and cliff hangers with plot twists upon plot twists it was so nice for a book to focus in on a simple setting with two main characters. I felt like time stood still and I enjoyed every minute at the lighthouse. Like Tom, I too felt like I was getting away from it all. Stedman invites you to listen to the wind and the waves, to experience the isolation and loneliness but in a way that is similar to a vacation rather than forced exile.

There are several themes explored in this novel that are worthy of discussion. The first is the effect of War on people (on an individual level and as a community). PTSD for soldiers (or Tom) is only the beginning. Isabel lost brothers, other people lost children. Reading about the characters in Isabel’s home town and how they dealt with the effects of war and loss of beloved family members opened my eyes to the varying levels of grief.

The second theme explored at large is that of motherhood. This novel follows what it means to be a mother from conception to child instruction. The horrors of miscarriage described in the early chapters, forcing Tom (a regular man who went to War) to look at the bloody mess that is pregnancy and miscarriage, particularly for Isabel who really wants a baby was a very interesting contrast. It was intriguing to see Tom become horrified at the sight and compare it to the battlefield. In addition, we see themes of nature vs. nurture, does one own a child because she gave birth or does one own one because she/he/they raised it?

This book had me asking “what is the right thing to do?” at almost every step of the way. Every moral conundrum in this novel is such a grey area, where the right thing to do is not clear and simultaneously you cannot blame any of the characters for their choices. Every action is justified, and somehow it’s not okay for everyone involved.

I loved this book, and I strongly recommend it, particularly if you are looking for something calmer. You won’t be able to forget this lighthouse.

Gork, the Teenage Dragon | Book Review

“For inside my scale green chest, there beats a grotesquely large and sensitive heart.”

32766443I hope this book gets turned into a children’s cartoon series because I would watch it with a lot of passion. Gork: the Teenage Dragon, is Gabe Hudson’s debut middle-grade fantasy novel. The narrative follows a dragon named Gork who, you guessed it, is a teenager. What’s particularly charming about this novel is its snappy humour. Gork narrates his story and in the first chapter he establishes himself as:

“My first name is Gork, my middle name is The, and my last name is Terrible, and like I said, I’m a dragon, plus I’m a poet”

But not before criticizing Beowulf and Tolkien to no end for their bad portrayal of dragons. He says:

“Mr. Tolkien was a real low-hearted sonuvabitch.”

Gork is in high school at WarWings Military Academy where he is a little different than the other dragons. He is afraid of heights, and really does have a large heart. His nickname is: Weak Sauce. His main purpose in this novel is to find himself a queen, for if he fails to do so he will become a slave forever.

Maybe I read Spinster, and All the Single Ladies too closely together this year and only in the last month, but this ‘despair’ that young Gork has throughout this novel really resembled for me the pressures society put on women in the past. You must find a husband or be ridiculed as a ‘spinster’ or enslaved in various other forms. I hope I’m not reading incorrectly into this children’s book, but this is the first time I’ve read a book where the male character is forced, nay, obliged and in ardent despair to find himself a partner. While other books have shown this dynamic from a male perspective, never with such urgency, and I’ve personally never encountered it in children’s literature. Well done Gabe Hudson!

Politics aside, I must return to the humour. This book is so funny. I found it funny as an adult who is quite in love with dragons and I wonder how the children would take this same humour. There’s something in his voice that echoes Lemony Snicket for me, though his publishers insist that it’s ‘Harry Potter meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ Either way, I suggest we, the readers, allow Hudson to have his own voice through Gork. I also enjoyed the ways he doesn’t shy away from swearing a little bit (never vulgar though). Highly recommend! I would also suggest that parents read this book aloud to their children, or librarians to their students at circle reading time. It’s a great bonding book! I look forward to Hudson’s future novels.

This book is scheduled for publication on July 11, from Knopf Publishing Group.

Peter Darling | A Book Review

 

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When it comes to analyzing Peter and Wendy, Peter is often interpreted as Wendy; the two characters being one and the same. Peter is seen as a symbolic or metaphorical way of dealing with issues regarding adulthood and growing up.  Wendy herself is forced to by her father, and she approaches this dilemma by escaping mentally to a separate space where she can work out her issues. In the original play the actor playing Wendy’s father would also play Hook as a continuation of the ongoing confrontation. Although there can be much read through a Freudian lens, a practical explanation is that the two characters never meet and so it would be an efficient use of the actor, rather than hiring another one. However, I much prefer the former. Jen Campbell discusses this in more detail on her YouTube channel (certainly worth watching).

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Front cover designed by Natasha Snow

I am a huge Peter Pan fan, and as a result have watched almost every possible adaptation, and am working my way through reading retellings. Austin Chant’s Peter Darling is by far one of my favourite retellings. In his novel Chant shows how Peter and Wendy are one and the same. Peter Pan returns to Neverland as a grown man after he had chosen to grow up ten years prior, back in London, as Wendy. Chant captures the voices of the Lost Boys particularly well, (the dialogue is absolutely perfect) and most importantly he captures the spirit of Neverland. I have read some retellings that lost the essence of those characters while trying to achieve a different goal through plot, but Chant kept them all in tact as if Barrie is just continuing on. I loved how well-preserved they are through dialogue and interactions.

Chant writes the character as Peter as a trans individual who had been born Wendy. This new added dimension told through the metaphor that exists in Peter Pan is one of the best ways to create a means by which anyone can begin to listen, and understand the trans narrative. Chant adds a layer of depth to these characters that deals with identity, losing and finding oneself, and struggle for power and asserting oneself in places that were theirs to begin with (in Peter’s case: Neverland). Here are some examples of dialogue that stuck with me:

[Ernest:] I knew…I was different somehow…I had to get away from my family. They kept saying there was something wrong with me. In Neverland, nobody cares about that. You can be free.”

“I know what you mean,” Peter said without thinking (page 30)

“It hit him again that his skin didn’t belong to him, that he was a puppeteer moving a stranger’s body. That was playing a character, while the real, lonely, frightened Peter was buried inside him…. I’m here to fight. I’m a boy.” (page 47)

This Peter Pan however, is very pro-fighting and pro-war. He arrives in Neverland driven to take his place back as leader almost immediately, and wants to fight the pirates even though there has been a ten year peace treaty on the island. He sees pirates as one dimensional and is constantly in the mood for a fight. My interpretation is that this is a result of years spent among regular people and growing up back in London. Before Pan was a playful fighter whereas now he just wants to fight with an anger-driven passion.

There is a romantic/sexual dynamic between Hook and Pan which others find distracting, based on some reviews I browsed, however, I thought it worked really well with this retelling. I didn’t know I’d love that but I did. I always thought there was a strange sort of tension or sexual energy between Hook and Wendy (even more apparent in film adaptations like Hogan’s), and if Wendy is Peter, then it makes perfect sense.

The author, Austin Chant, identifies himself as “a bitter millennial, decent chef, and a queer, trans writer of romance and speculative fiction.” He co-hosts the Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to LGBTQIA love stories, and the art of writing romance. I look forward to his next books, and I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys retellings, Peter Pan, or just wants to look at Pan from a different angle.