The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

secrThe Secret Life of Bees is the compelling tale of how one girl’s life spirals out of control when she runs away from her abusive father. After falling upon the Boatwright sisters, she lives in a world of uncertainty and apprehension. She has finally found a place of refuge and happiness, but fears everything she has gained can be taken away in the blink of an eye. It follows the journey of one girl’s living nightmare, transformed into an unimaginable heaven in a world of tumult.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, Lily Owen’s lives with T. Ray on a peach orchard. He is abusive, violent, and ignorant of his daughter’s feelings and existence. She is cared for by Rosaleen, an African American woman who used to work on the orchard. Lily goes through each day, curious about the blurry memory of her mother’s death when she was four years old. For her fourteenth birthday, she asks T. Ray for more information about her mother, because all she has are a few small belongings buried in a box under a peach tree: one being a wooden carving of a black woman with “Tiburon, SC” carved into the back. He reluctantly tells Lily that her mother cared for all living creatures and used to lure cockroaches out of the house using graham crackers and marshmallows. Lily cherishes this information and the next day, Rosaleen is going to town to attempt to register to vote and Lily joins her. On the way, they are approached by three white men who question why Lily, a young white girl, is walking with a colored woman. Rosaleen proceeds to spit her chewing tobacco on their shoes, which lands her in jail. The men also beat her when she refuses to apologize. T. Ray angrily brings Lily home and punishes her. He tells her that on the day of her death, her mother came to pack up her things to leave Lily because she did not love her. Determined to refute this information, Lily packs her belongings, writes T. Ray a note that states her hatred for him, and runs into town to sneak Rosaleen from the hospital where she is strapped to the bed and being treated for her wounds. Lily and Rosaleen hitchhike to Tiburon, South Carolina in an effort to discover the missing pieces to the puzzle of her mother’s life.

Once they reach town, they stop at a general store where Lily notices a jar of honey, labelled with the same image from her mother’s wood carving: a black Virgin Mary. She asks the store clerk for the details of the source of the honey and Rosaleen and Lily make their way to the house. They meet May, June, and August Boatwright who warmly invite them into their house after hearing Lily’s story about how both her parents died and how she is on the way to her aunt’s house in Virginia. They plan to work for their stay, with Lily helping August on the honey farm and Rosaleen helping May around the house. They settle into their new, peaceful life and seamlessly transition into the Boatwright lifestyle, with no questions asked about their reasoning for being there. One day, Lily discovers May attempting to lure a cockroach out of the house using the same method as her mother: with graham crackers and marshmallows. Lily asks May if she knew Deborah, her mother, and May says that she used to stay in the honey house. This causes Lily to bring up the wooden carving with August. When she finally builds up the courage to open up about the real reason she ended up at the honey farm, it is revealed that August has been aware of the lie the whole time. August recognized Lily the second she walked through the front door many weeks before. When Lily’s mother needed a break from T. Ray’s violence and oppressiveness, she came to stay at the honey house for a while. She left one day and decided to go back to the peach orchard and pack the rest of her belongings and bring Lily to live with the Boatwright sisters. It was this event that resulted in her death. This news leaves Lily stunned when she fills in the missing pieces of her mother’s story and how she came to be. She is comforted when she realizes that she has eliminated a toxic male figure in her life but gained three new mothers who love her deeply. The theme of mother-figures is present throughout the novel when Lily is reminiscing about her mother or rejoicing in the three new mothers she has gained in her new life at the honey house. “Walking to the honey house, I concentrated on my feet touching down on the hard-cake dirt in the driveway, the exposed tree roots, fresh-watered grass, how the earth felt beneath me, solid, alive, ancient, right there every time my foot came down. There and there and there, always there. The things a mother should be.” We witness the transformation of Lily from an ambitious, sheltered young girl to a kind, mature, and determined young woman.

Sue Monk Kidd successfully blends the issues of segregation and gender inequality in the twentieth century. August Boatwright exhibits the breaking of racial and gender stereotypes by being a black woman who owns a house, runs a business, and is highly educated. The novel embodies female empowerment and color-blindness as Lily blossoms while living in an all-black community. The Civil Rights Act is newly enacted but is “nothing but a piece of paper,” and the presence of racial injustice is evident throughout the novel. We witness the overcoming of abusive relationships and the power of persistence shining through.

The Secret Life of Bees sends a powerful message of breaking the barriers of stereotypes and we travel with Lily as she overcomes challenges while venturing to a South Carolina town that holds the key to her mother’s past. The writing style is fluent and powerful, and the word choice leaves the reader feeling mesmerized and captivated. The language makes us feel as though they are right there with Lily, enduring her fear, pain, and happiness. It makes us question our own lives and the way we live them. This excerpt captures the ambiguity yet power of Kidd’s writing. “Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.” We journey with Lily as she overcomes the abuse of T. Ray and transitions into a life of bliss and contentment.

Reviewed by Charlotte K ’18


Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

invIt is a universal experience for humans to battle with the solidification of our identities and the experience of self-exploration varies among each individual. For the main character of Ralph Ellison’s novel ​Invisible Man​, the struggle to define his identity is his greatest challenge.

From his education-driven life in the South, to the hustle and bustle of Harlem, the protagonist recounts the difficulties of self-discovery and establishing his purpose in life. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Ellison’s novel is that the protagonist’s name is never revealed to the reader. One’s name is arguably the most notable factor of their identity and it is given to you when you first enter this world in order to establish your singularity and character. Not only does the main character feel as though he is invisible, but Ellison’s decision to emit his name from the entirety of the novel relates enhances this belief and allows the main character’s struggle to define his identity to become a firsthand experience for the reader.

We become very familiar with the main character’s interests and qualities, yet despite this familiarity, we never learn his name which causes him to remain slightly foreign to us. One of the most renowned moments of Invisible Man​ is Ellison’s vivid description of the infamous “Battle Royale” which reduced young black men to animals. The main character and the other participants in the Battle Royale were forced to brutalize each other for the enjoyment of wealthy, white men. This moment displayed how the dehumanization of black men in this time period were so easily dehumanized and taken advantage of. ​Invisible Man​ is a difficult read as it confronts various instances of

racism and the difficulties surrounding defining one’s identity. Although it is a challenging read, the detail and descriptiveness are profound and overall I recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Sharde J ’18

Settle for More by Megyn Kelly

setFor my last book I read the autobiography, “Settle for More,” by Megyn Kelly. This book starts off at the beginning of her life. She was born in Bethlehem, NY, and lived with both of her parents and her two siblings. Megyn lived an ordinary life; went to public school, was an average student, and took high school social drama. Megyn attended Syracuse University, and then Albany Law School. After a lot of hard work she became a lawyer, which brought her to many places around the country. We learn about her life in Chicago, Washington D.C, and then New York. My favorite part of this book is the second half of it. This is where she talks about her time as a journalist on Fox News. Megyn was in charge of helping with the Republican Party debates. She tells her side of the story when she and Donald Trump had their differences, and she explains her reasoning behind every question she asked in the debates.

I picked this book because I have enjoyed watching Megyn Kelly on TV, and I found it interesting that she is from the same area as I am. This book encourages hard work, and teaches us that hard work pays off. I have read many autobiographies, but this one sticks out as the best one I have read. Megyn doesn’t just tell us about every important detail in her life, but also teaches us through her mistakes, and successes. She realized she was on the wrong path in life: “spending your life pretending you are something other than what you are is unsustainable,” and was able to get herself back on track embracing her best self.

One important lesson I took out of this book was to never go to bed angry at someone that you love. In the beginning of the story we learn about Megyn’s close relationship with her father. One night they got in a fight because Megyn wanted the most expensive class ring. When her father told her that they couldn’t afford it, she stormed off too her room angry at her father. That night her father had a heart attack and died in his sleep. After her father’s sudden death Megyn said “the answer was that I had gone through a major transformation the past year and a half, and as I changed myself for the better, better things started coming to me. I was settling for more. And “more” meant more from myself”. This book has taught me to never settle for less and always work hard.

Reviewed by Caroline G ’18

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

redRed Sparrow is novel published in 2013 by Jason Matthews, a retired CIA field operative who has experience collecting national security intelligence and recruiting new officers. He conducted operations against Russia, and operated in areas of East Asia, East Europe, the Caribbean, and Middle East.

The plot begins with Nathaniel Nash, a CIA officer who is on a mission to secretly exchange information with MARBLE, a seasoned Russian officer who aids the CIA with top-secret information about the leader’s plans. However, Nathaniel and his ally experience a near-encounter with Russian surveillance. Fortunately, both men are able to escape and successfully complete the mission. Nevertheless, Nathaniel receives a harsh scolding from his director and loses his job and opportunity to gain a higher position in the CIA. Although this outcome may seem severe for a one small mishap, the author reveals how Nathaniel has been dealing with the cut-throat mentality of the CIA for a long time. This explains why anger spills over in Nathaniel’s mind. He explodes into rage and dares to yell back at his director.

From the outside, Dominika Egorova seems to be an ordinary, simple, and beautiful young woman. However, the novel reveals her painful experiences with the Russian government, which provokes her to prove her worth to the Americans in order to be able to work under their care. Dominika never yearned to be a spy for any government. However, when her promising ballet career ends in an accident and father dies in a stroke, she takes up on an opportunity to work for the SVR, an Russian Intelligence Service.

On her first mission, Dominika is put to work with Egrov who orders her to seduce to possibly gain any useful information against an enemy of Putin. While she performs her duty, an unexpected assassin murders Dominika’s target. This puts her in danger due Egrov’s expectation that she could possibly unleash this happening that would ruin his ambitions to become an elected official. As a solution, Dominika suggests her admission to the SVR academy, where she could officially become a qualified spy under an oath. However, her uncle sends her off to Sparrow School, where women are taught to use their physical attributes to seduce and gain secret information about their enemies. Once again, Dominika feels belittled because of her beauty and gender and because she is not able to lead a formal mission using her intelligence, but instead is forced to serve as a pawn under the Russian government. She responds to her uncle with a short, yet blunt reply.

“You’re sending me to whore school.”

When Dominika is sent to Helsinki to uncover who who has been passing information to an American officer, Nathanial Nash, she unexpectedly falls in love with him. The author’s way of portraying the relationship between the two truly captures how love can still blossom in difficult times and induces a sense of hopefulness in the audience.

“Dominika,” he said, and the rushing in his ears started, the old danger signal.

“Will you break your rules again?” she asked. She saw his purple lust, it lit up the darkened room.

“I want you to violate your rules … with me… not your agent, me” said Dominika.”

Despite disapproval from both sides of their intelligence comunities, the relationship blossoms. However, after Dominika’s mission fails and she is suspected of helping the Americans, she taken away, jailed, and tortured. Without a confession, the Russian director decides to reinstate her as a spy and this leads her to work with General Korchnoi.

The audience is taught that General Korchnoi is actually MARBLE, the double spy who has been working with Nathaniel from earlier in the novel. He possesses an ambitious plan to train Dominika to become the next “MARBLE,” and persuades her to turn him in as a traitor. If Dominika follows his plan, she would be able to gain enough trust from the SVR in order to become the next general. Eventually, Dominika discovers Korchnoi’s plan and feels extreme betrayal towards the Americans. She claims that she will not go back to Russia, rejecting SVR’s orders. The SVR makes a deal with her, promising her the safety of Korchnoi if she returned to Russia. However, just when the swap is about to become finalized, Korchnoi is murdered by a Russian assassin. Betrayed by both countries, the audience is left to wonder whether she will go back to the Americans or the Russians.

The heart-wrenching plot of Red Sparrow, overflowing with intricate details of the inner workings of the CIA and restless portrayal of a spy’s mindset is a must read. The author’s background truly adds a sense of realism to the novel, which sets it apart from other spy novels I’ve read that sometimes seems too far-fetched and or unfathomable. After much analysis, I feel that this novel encompasses a significant literary thread that I personally relate to. Throughout her journey, Dominika is constantly refused by men to serve as an intelligence officer and instead forced to use her physical attributes to her advantage. The constant feelings of rejection and humility are experiences that I have dealt with as a woman living in a patriarchal society. Before attending an all-girls school, I struggled more than my male counterparts to secure certain competitive positions, because of the public’s mindset that boys are generally more intelligent and reliable when working with “big matters,” such as representing the school. This captivating and relatable thread is another reason why I feel this novel is not simply an ordinary spy novel.

Other works by Jason Matthews include Palace of Treason, The Kremlin’s Candidate, and Cipher’s Sisters. Novels that deal with similar themes as portrayed in this novel include A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, and The Prodigal Spy by Joseph Kanon.

Reviewed by Susie Y ’18



Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind ​by Yuval Noah Harari

sapEvery page of Yuval Noah Harari’s ​Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind​ is packed with a plethora of such intricate history and neat thoughts that I truly do not know where to begin. Harari leads us through the history of Homo Sapiens, starting from how our species wiped out all other human species (Contrary to popular belief, we are not the only humans to ever exist.) to what is going to happen post-humans, or post-Homo-Sapiens to be exact.

The development timeline of Homo Sapiens has three major milestone, for now: the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution and the Scientific Revolution (which triggers the Industrial Revolution which triggers the Biotechnological Revolution.) Harari suspects that the rise of the Biotechnological Revolution which brings about nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, genetic engineering, etc might be the end of Homo Sapiens once and for all. Soon we will be replaced by genetically engineered post-Homo-Sapiens capable of living forever.

The most interesting section is the Cognitive Revolution. Before the Cognitive Revolution, forager bands couldn’t not sustain more members than the Dunbar number of 150. The Cognitive Revolution solved this problem with the evolvement of imagined orders, or “intersubjectives” that exist for as long as we believe they do.
“Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have been living in a dual reality. On one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so

that today the very survival of river, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.”
Prominent examples of intersubjectives are religions, countries, laws and money. In the natural world, none of these things actually exists. However, because most humans believe they exists so they are as real as any rivers, trees or lions. Objective matters exist independent of human consciousness, like the galaxy or the ocean. Subjective matters exist solely in our imagination, like the imagined friend you used to have when you were a child.

“The intersubjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals. If a single individual changes his or her beliefs, or even dies, it is of little importance. However, if most individuals in the network die or change their beliefs, the inter-subjective phenomenon will mutate or disappear.”
Harari lays out these intricate matter to the readers in an informative and engaging fashion. Sapiens ​is a page turner for those who are eager to learn about how humans become humans. If anthropology, history, biology and psychology ever had a child together, this would be it.

Reviewed by Nghi L ’18

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

girlWhat makes us human? What part of our existence makes us who we are? What puts us above others who do not categorize themselves in the same checklist as us? Is it our job to protect those that are different than us, or is it our duty to lord our authority over their existence? Within his novel M.R. Carey takes you through a thrilling, bittersweet journey that answers these questions and ultimately depicts what it means to be human.

Melanie knows nothing but her everyday schedule within her four concrete walls. She has seen nothing but concrete since as long as she can remember. She is used to having always at least two guards escort her to and from the classroom with guns drawn. She is used to being locked into her wheelchair with straps from her neck down to her ankles while her lessons with the other children take place, each in their own fortified chairs. She does not understand why the guards do not laugh when she says, ‘don’t worry I won’t bite.’ What Melanie does know is her love for her favorite teacher Miss. Justineau; her ancient Greek myths story-time the children and her treating the children like they are kids, earns her a special place in Melanie’s heart that she did not know was empty. Melanie is the brightest of her class, but when the stern, brooding sergeant comes in one day and yells at beloved Miss. Justineau, Melanie can’t get one phrase out of her mind, “ Not everyone who looks human is human.” She could not unravel the unknown riddle, and she does not understand why sometimes children leave and never come back.

M.R. Carey has not written the typical zombie novel. Melanie completely breaks that mold, as she embodies what it means to be human without fully being that. She is naïve, has hopes and dreams, and experiences love just as deep as any other person even though she is considered a monster. Carey uses beautiful language and imagery in the process of describing a devastated, dying world through the eyes of a child who sees its true beauty for what it is, “ A landscape of decay – but still gloriously and heart-stoppingly beautiful. The sky overhead is a bright blue bowl of almost infinite size, given the depth by a massive bank of pure white cloud at a the limit of vision that goes up and up like a tower.” Carey uses an underlining theme of Greek Mythology that involves origin myths and classical stories in order to compliment this novel centered around the ‘end of the world’ as well as to express human suffering not only physical but on a deeper level.

Miss. Justineau tries to do all that she can in order to protect her ‘class’ from the higher ups in one of the last standing military bases north of London. How do you tell a class of 30 ten year olds that the world for the past few decades has been ravaged by a fungus called ophiocordyceps and that when in its host eats all but vital areas in the brain creating ‘hungries’ that only live to fulfill their basic instinct to survive. You can imagine what their diet consists of. She does not see how the rest of the people on base cannot see the children for what they are… children. Even though she knows and has been told several times that the children are already gone. “When you walk into that classroom, you think you’re talking to children. But you’re not, Helen. You’re talking to the thing that killed the children.” The parasite has just not yet devoured all of their delicate minds reducing them to nothing more than the monsters outside of the walls of base. Miss. Justineau refuses to believe this and vows to protect the children no matter the cost.

When the base is overcome by hungries just as Melanie is about to ‘disappear’ as the other children had to be examined by Dr. Caldwell, the unexpected happens. She is rescued by none other than Miss Justineau. Even though Melanie does not understand the hunger that begins to edge itself into her when Miss. Justineau cradles her and tells her everything is going to all right, she has only one thought in her mind that pushes the hunger away, “ I love you Miss. Justineau. I’ll be a god or a Titan for you, and save you.” Thanks to her they are able to escape and find others who have escaped as well: the ever-brooding sergeant focused on everyone’s survival, a young scared officer trying to stay alive, and Dr. Caldwell who is only concerned with the safety of her last ‘specimen’ to fulfill her research. They embark on the journey back to one of the remaining safe bases south of London and learn along the way that they must work together in order to survive no matter how high the tension between each other. Whether they, the sergeant and doctor, like it or not, they need Melanie to be able make it through the journey.

Along the road they are forced to confront what they believe about the world and its future as well as they how they label and understand Melanie. She is the key to their future whether they want to believe it or not in a way that no one could have predicted. Through love and loss the fate of the human race is saved, dependent on what your own definition of ‘saved’ means.

Reviewed by Elizabeth L ’18

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates

fox“For FOXFIRE was a true outlaw gang, yes…

But FOXFIRE was a true blood-sisterhood, our bond forged in loyalty, fidelity, trust, love.

Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, told from the perspective of Madeleine Faith Wirtz, looking back on her days as part of a girl gang in upstate New York: FOXFIRE. As a teenager, she was FOXFIRE’s chronicler, recording their actions for posterity; “Thus distortions and misunderstandings and outright lies could be refuted.” As an older woman, she looks back through the record and assembles the pieces into these FOXFIRE CONFESSIONS.

The novel burns with the passion of teenage girls banding together to seek power in a society that is determined to disempower them and to seek revenge against men who treat them with violence and hatred. FOXFIRE demands freedom in the face of sexism, poverty, abuse. The girls of FOXFIRE throw themselves into a female power fantasy, demanding respect and fear when none is given. Their actions are criminal and their violence has consequences, yet they share a bond and earn power that one can’t help but desire. The language of the novel mirrors the gang itself, full of energy and passion, careening towards a yet unseen end. Sentences run through entire paragraphs with little punctuation hindering their speed.

Names change as a person’s image changes: Legs visits a rich girl’s house in the guise of reformed, wide-eyed girl “Margaret,” Maddy lies in wait as “Killer” for a man with money to try his luck with her, as she becomes an innocent girl who gives her name as “Marg’ret.”

The center of FOXFIRE: a girl named Legs, sometimes Margaret Ann Sadovsky, andogynous in appearance yet burning with feminine fury. Legs brings FOXFIRE together and leads them with charisma and reckless rage. Boys fear her and girls vy for her attention, especially Maddy, who is for the most part closest to Legs and when she isn’t, becomes jealous of whoever is. Maddy describes Legs with awe: “I’d watched her striding across the asphalt school yard, I’d seen her running in the street, solitary in running, she was happiest running, in my memory once a few years before leaping over a dangerous pit of an opening in a sidewalk on Fairfax where coal thundered down a sliding chute from a truck, and the delivery man shook his fist at her, and swore at her, and Legs ran on not hearing, you wouldn’t have known except for the wild bushy ashy hair that she was a girl thus especially forbidden to take such risks.”

Foxfire is a book that tells about crime and violence, yet it holds a mirror up to the reader and asks, what would you do? When you are faced with crushing disadvantage, do you lash out? Do you find someone else to put down, and say, at least I’m not one of them? Or do you live in the boundaries of what is acceptable? The characters are relatable even in the midst of blood and rage, and they demand to be heard. Even when it’s over, you still feel the heat of FOXFIRE, after all, FOXFIRE BURNS & BURNS.

Reviewed by Kayleen M ’18

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

gunsWhy did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? This is a question seems too broad to be explained, but the answer is in fact unfolded in an ambitious, impressive nonfiction book called Guns, Germs, and Steel, covering over 13,000 years of human history.

In the book, Jared Diamond introduces his analysis by starting with his experience in New Guinea. He was inspired by his friend Yali, a local politician, when he asked Diamond, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” While most anthropologists would quickly relate this to racial differences, Diamond focuses on environmental differences surrounding different cultures. He then gives his thesis statement for the book: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among people’s environments, not because of biological differences among people themselves,” also known as geographic determinism.

Through the four parts, twenty chapters of the book, Diamond keeps emphasizing geographic determinism, one of his main theories; that it is geographical and environmental features, rather than human intellectual ability, which determines the path of history. For example, the Fertile Crescent was the site of the earliest human agriculture because it held the greatest number of different species of plants that could be domesticated and farmed efficiently—annual hermaphroditic crops. As population increases, agriculture provides the stable food supply that civilization requires, so these regions have the advantage of abundant domesticable plant resources.

In addition to Diamond’s theory, his analytical approach and writing style are also impressive. He aims for a scientific approach to the study of history, using experiments to figure which causes are related to certain effects. As history is a complex field, it is difficult to isolate the causes of historical events because there is no experiment that can be used to identify an independent variable’s effect on a dependent variable—there are so many causes to analyze. Nevertheless, Diamond believes that there are ways historians can make their approaches more scientific; for instance, they can compare two civilizations with similar environmental conditions, thereby doing better at examining the effects that longitude and altitude have on technology diffusion. Although this is a human history book, in general, and can seem daunting to read, Diamond does a great job at keeping his language straightforward and content clear. The in-text illustrations including figures, tables, charts, and pictures are cleverly used and well connected with text to help with comprehension. Besides, in every chapter different questions are thrown in to be analyzed, and they are truly interesting and mind-blowing. Have you thought about: “why did Europeans succeed in domesticating the horse while Africans never domesticated the zebra”, “why did the New Guineans near Australia develop agriculture and elaborate technologies while the aborigines did not?”, and “who came up with the idea to domesticate a crop?” …… These distinct differences of Guns, Germs, and Steel from a history textbook have worked to attract people to read and learn history.

In the epilogue, Diamond concludes that there are four underlying environmental factors that determine the course of human history: 1) availability of wild plants and animals for domestication, 2) barriers to diffusion and migration within a continent, 3) barriers to diffusion and migration between continents, and 4) population size and density. While some of Diamond’s arguments are beautifully constructed, some other facets are not thoroughly analyzed. However, just like Will Hamblet comments in his book review, Diamond should be praised for his attempt to bridge disciplinary fields to shed light on thousands of years of history.

Reviewed by Nina X ’18 guns

The Way I Used to Be

wayIn the United States, every 8 minutes, a child is sexually assaulted. This reality may be difficult to acknowledge and take action upon through simple statistics. However, through
personal narratives, like Eden’s story in The Way I Used to Be, I could much better comprehend the extent to which sexual assaults can shape an individual perception of life. Thus, this novel by Amber Smith furthered my ambition to advocate against sexual assault on school campuses.
The novel unravels from Eden’s perspective. Eden, called by Eddy by her friends, is a
typical freshman in highschool. She is a competitive member of her high school band, has a best friend named Mara, and lives with her family in a ordinary neighborhood. However, something is different about Eden as she attempts to proceed through her freshman year. On a Saturday night, Eden is raped by her brother’s best friend in her own room. Her raw afterthoughts are portrayed as, “…Why it didn’t register that something was wrong- somercilessly wrong- when I felt the mattress shift under his weight. Why I didn’t scream when I opened my eyes and saw him crawling between my sheets.” Like most other victims, Eden blames and even shames herself for being assaulted. To make matters worse, she does not tell a soul and goes about her life like nothing ever happened.
Unfortunately, the events of Saturday night takes a immense toll on Eden’s outlook on
life. Although no one knows besides her, Eden’s disposition is raginingly driven by anger and silent cry for help. Suffering from constant panic attacks and conflicts with her best friend Mara, she pushes her family and friends away, blows off their expectations, and begins to look for ways to completely distance herself from the innocent girl that she used to be. Her first opportunity comes forth in the form of a popular upperclassman from one of her classes. Eden’s response after their date truly encompasses her new ambition. “I sigh loudly… I leave without another word. I know he’s watching me as I walk toward my house. I make sure I don’t turn around until I hear the engine fade into the distance surrounding me.” From this scene, it is clear that Eden cares for Josh, but she is unable to open up to Josh due to the mental and emotional aftermath of her assault. Eden’s unusual ways of interaction towards others not only reflect her
struggle to adjust to a normal lifestyle, but also how difficult it may be for victims like her to accept and seek for help.

Unable to come forth to her family and friends, Eden’s anxiety and self-harm becomes a
norm in her everyday life. Her presence becomes common in the party-scenes and her
community labels her as a “slut” for her unprecedented behavior. Instead of fighting back, Eden assumes her label and slowly lets the clashing persona seep into her head. At a college party, she sleeps with a guy that she just met and has no true feelings for. She thinks to herself, “Josh. I see his smile. Feel his sweetness. His arms around me… As soon as my consciousness kicks in, he’s gone. But he was there just long enough and just clear enough to jolt me, to shock my system with a surge of fresh heartache.” Again, Eden’s inner thoughts confirms her one and only affection for Josh, but also her incapability to express herself.
The Way I Used to Be is a work of fiction. However, this does not discredit its value in
the realm of sexual assault advocacy, as it deals with true matters that can be related to by many survivors of sexual assault. Eden’s experience realistically depicts the harsh truth. There are many sexually assaulted victims that are suffering due to the mental, emotional, and physical aftermath of the assault. Furthermore, this time-dependent matter worsens as the victim is often denied of trust and rapid response. Unlike many others, Eden’s story ends on a fulfilling resolution. Her brother’s best friend is investigated and eventually put away in jail.

However, note that this resolution is not the usual outcome of many victims.
This novel is not a difficult read. However, I do believe that this functions as a tool for the
author to reach a more extensive range of audiences, which is a significant aspect of a book dealing with critical matters such as sexual assault. Amber Smith is an prominent advocate for more awareness of gendered violence, which includes sexual assault and LGBTQ equality. When she is not writing or reading, she focuses on making visual arts and working as an art consultant in her current home in North Carolina. Other works by Smith includes, The Last to Let Go and Our Stories, Our Voices. Other novels that explore similar topics such as this novel includes, We Believe You by Andrea E. Pino and Annie E. Clark and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.

Reviewed by Susie Y. ’18

Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

phanOriginally published in French, The Phantom of The Opera is a Gothic romance novel that tells the story of the young and talented Swedish singer Christine Daaé and the struggle between Raoul de Chagny, the Viscount of Chagny and Christine’s childhood friend, and Erik, otherwise known as the Phantom of the Opera, to attain Christine’s love.
Throughout the book, the readers can see time and again the burden that is laid upon Christine by her crazy “lovers.” To quote the narrator:
Then Christine gave way to fear. She trembled lest Erik should discover where Raoul was
hidden; she told us in a few hurried words that Erik had gone quite mad with love and that he had decided to kill everybody and himself with everybody if she did not consent to become his wife.

As the title suggested, Erik is the main character of the book, but Christine is no doubt
the character that has to sacrifice the most. She has to mediate the jealousy of both of her lovers and keep them and their egos from exploding, She is a genuinely kind woman who is willing to suffer in order to protect the feelings and interests of others and does not take her frustration out on anyone but herself.

It seems at many points that the Persian, a rather mysterious character coming from
Erik’s past is the main character. He is the unexpected hero, saving himself, Raoul and Christine, successfully convincing Erik to leave Christine alone and saving the day. However, the Persian is not treated with the kind of appreciation and love he deserves. In many theatrical and filmic renditions of the novel, the Persian was omitted entirely. Raoul, on the other hand, remains a stubborn, spoiled and selfish young man. He obtains what he wants at the end of the book, but only at the expense of other people’s life, sacrifice of love and emotional and physical turmoil.

Reviewed by Nghi L. ’18