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

Between the World and Me By Ta-Nehisi Coates

betweenInspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles the American racial crisis and sentiments of the necessity of securing one’s black body. Through his own personal narrative, Coates writes to his 15-year-old son, Samori, to explicitly portray many of the inevitable hardships that his son will face throughout his lifetime and that America’s dark past is to blame for the “black body’s destruction.” Coates’ novel is not so much that of a call to action, but instead an explanation of America’s lack of progress regarding racial injustice and also touches on the prevalence of the unconscious belief of superiority that is ingrained in the minds of white people.

Coates tells of various impactful moments in his life which span from his childhood through late adulthood. Many of these events were momentous in confirming the nearly complete lack of accountability concerning police brutality and many also served to illustrate the societal standard of being “twice as good,” which Coates asserted that black people are universally expected to meet. Coates relates the outcome of his experiences to the America’s history of the exploitation of “black bodies” and attempts to utilize these personal experiences as a platform to answer questions of racial injustice for his son. A powerful and poignant story that Coates tells is of his schoolmate Prince Jones. Although they were only acquaintances as Howard University, Coates describes that he always had a special affinity and appreciation for Prince. Many years after their college career had ended, Coates recalls the day that he heard a report on the news of a black man who was murdered at the hands of a police officer. The victim had driven to visit his fiance in northern Virginia, when he was suddenly shot down by a county police officer. There were no witnesses and when the police officer was interrogated, he claimed that the victim had attempted to run him down with his Jeep. Unbeknown to Coates at the time of the report, this black man was none other than his old companion, Prince Jones. Through this anecdote, Coates’ position seems to be that due to America’s horrid past, it is nearly impossible for black people to escape the looming danger of being disproportionately discriminated against, whether that be a threat, prison sentence, or more drastically, a victim of murder.

Coates captivates us by poetically illustrating the horrors of America’s past and that the idea of “race” is detrimental to everyone, but most prominently to black men and women. In his confrontation of today’s societal climate, Coates reminds us of only a handful of the victims of police brutality: Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown to name a few. He uses these victims not only as a sad reminder of the entrenched belief of police officers, that they have the power to obliterate a life, but to also emphasize the fragility of the “black body” to his son. In a more direct address to his son, Coates asserts that black people love their children with a certain “obsession” due to the prospect of the “black body” being broken down instantaneously by this society. He surmises that black parents would like to kill their children themselves rather than seeing them “killed by the streets that America made.” In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, we see a similar ideology when Sethe attempts to kill her children before the slave catchers arrive at her home. Coates effectively conveys the gravity of America’s racial crisis and solemnly describes his fears and reasoning for them. Between the World and Me is a compelling book that is thought provoking, moving, and powerful. I highly recommend this book and hope that the reader is able to consider the inherent injustices of America.

Review by Sharde J. ’18

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

crimeFyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novel Crime and Punishment draws the reader into the unstable mind of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a poor student in 1860s St. Petersburg, as he contemplates the murder of a cruel and suspicious old pawnbroker. Raskolnikov tries to face the moral dilemma he is forced into by his murderous intent by using philosophical theories to justify his actions… or was his intent based on his theories to begin with? And what is the real punishment for a criminal, the punishment enacted by law or the guilt and psychological torment a criminal faces? It’s definitely not light reading.

The story opens with Raskolnikov leaving his apartment, taking great care to avoid his landlady, and coming out into the street. “I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles,” he thinks to himself, his monologue already revealing a conflicted and morally grey character. He isn’t sure yet whether he will do anything, or if he is even able to do that, asking “Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It’s simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything.” But Raskolnikov already has a plan.

While considering that, Raskolnikov meets a drunkard named Marmeladov in a bar. Marmeladov tells him about his family and how they are suffering because of Marmeladov’s alcoholism and inability to keep a job. Raskolnikov eventually becomes closer to Marmeladov’s family, including his daughter, Sonia, who is a virtuous woman who was forced into prostitution to help her family. Raskolnikov’s own family also plays a role: his mother and sister travel to St. Petersburg after his sister gets engaged to a businessman, Mr. Luzhin. And, of course,

Raskolnikov’s loyal friend Razumikhin. The characters are complex, and how much sympathy a reader has for any character depends on the reader, not unlike how different people see others differently. The characters embody both the best and the worst of humanity; there are no perfectly pure angels and no truly evil devils.

Crime and Punishment is a deeply stressful read. The language, heavy themes, and psychology make it difficult to read, which is perfect for a book dealing with difficulty in every sense. Dostoyevsky is a masterful writer: the reader feels the pressures of guilt and anxiety on Raskolnikov, and the dark mood makes the very pages seem shadowed. This, along with the conflicting and complex chatacters and moral grey areas make it a book that evokes a range of reactions from a range of readers. It’s worth reading Crime and Punishment just to see how you react, who you sympathize with, what your perspective on each dilemma is. It forces any reader to think, and take a good look at society and at their own perspective. Where do you stand?

Review by Kayleen M. ’18

Room by Emma Donoghue

roomJack is a five-years-old boy, living with his mom, so called Ma…and a skylight, a chair, a door…and a TV with “fake” people in it…and Old Nick. Being born in a room, Jack believes the room he is in is the only reality. Although he, at the age of five, understands a lot, he talks about “next week when [he] will be six,” which illustrates how his learning is limited inside the room. Living in a small room—his whole world—, he wakes up, eats breakfast, eats lunch, looks out through the skylight, takes a nap, eats dinner…then his day ends as Old Nick comes back home and Jack goes back into his wardrobe. No, Jack doesn’t just like to sleep in a wardrobe. He is told to, since not only does Old Nick rape Ma most nights but also she doesn’t want to put his son into her world.

Her world is different from that of normal twenty-year-olds. A stranger approached to her when she was a high school student, asking her for help for his dog and he kidnapped her. Since then she has been stuck in a room and has had his baby. While all her friends go to colleges, hang out with friends, and spend time with their families, the only place that’s allowed for her has been the room. In this room “the wide of the walls is the same as the wide of the floor, [Jack] count[s] eleven feet going both ways, that means the floor is a square.” Basically, in the whole world, she has spent seven years in an 11 by 11 size room, with not only limited space but also a lack of freedom.

All these confinements, after all, make Ma and Jack’s escape more valuable. After their escape, the second half of the book depicts their lives to adjust to real society, something which Jack has never been to, or even seen. Ma reunites with her family; however, the seven years that she wastefully spent in the room were enough to transform her family into “her mother and new stepfather,” which damages all of their relationships. As Ma’s story of kidnap and escape come out to the whole world, they have interviews, get fan letters…and Ma attempts to commit suicide.

Emma Donoghue carefully, but successfully, portrays little Jack’s life from his perspective, from living and knowing only Room to escaping and adjusting to the real world — from a five-years-old boy who only knows only his mom, the skylight, and the chair to getting to know families, friends, and society. Especially Jack’s response to his Ma’s attempt for suicide demonstrates his growth; a five-year-old cutting his long hair to show his mom courage is impressive.

Overall, this book can help people with struggles, such as Jack and Ma’s or, in general, adjusting to society. I hope the novel Room will remain in people’s lives with its themes of adjusting to society and overcoming struggles…until strength overpowers any encounter.

Reviewed by Alanna K. ’18

Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba

deathnoteLiving a mundane life, Light Yagami, finds relief from his boredom after discovering a notebook that had fallen from the sky. On the front is written “Death Note” and inside the book the first line of the instructions reads, “the human whose name is written in this note shall die.” Light throws the book aside thinking of it as a messed up joke, but something compels him to test it out. He turns on the news to see the name and picture of a criminal who is currently holding hostages for a ransom, so Light takes his pen and scribbles the name into the notebook. After forty seconds of no change, Light starts to turn off the TV when the news announcer exclaims a change in the situation as the hostages run out of the building unharmed. The victims state that all of the sudden the criminal collapsed and police later affirm that the criminal died of a heart attack, which proves that the death note is real. At first Light is terrified, but after a second thought he finds justification for his actions. He famously states “This world is rotten, and those who are making it rotten deserve to die. Someone has to do it, why not me?” However, he fears that his mind won’t be able to stand the weight of killing others but after speculation he concludes that he can’t trust the job to anyone else and that only he can do it. Light decides to

“use the Death Note and change the world” with the notion that he will become, “the god of this new world.”

Light continues to kill criminals with heart attacks and sure enough the public and officials become suspicious of these “coincidences.” They soon start to realize that there must be some mastermind behind these coincidental deaths. The detectives and secret organizations from around the world start digging into the case and only one starts to approach the truth. The famous detective, L, uncovers through a simple test that the mastermind is living in Japan, and starts using espionage techniques on Light after studying the connections of those in the Japanese Police Force. While some of society strongly supports Light’s actions of killing evildoers many believe it is just wrong. L states that Light’s work “isn’t divine judgment. It’s the work of some childish killer who’s playing at divine retribution. That’s all.” Throughout the series Light and L are trying to get the better of each other as one conceals and the other chases until one falls.

The Death Note series is a manga (or a Japanese graphic novel) that was published in 2003 and grew in popularity until its last chapter in 2006. The series was written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata with a total of 108 chapters, which later receives its own anime adaptation in 2006. The characters in the series are illustrated more realistically compared to more greatly exaggerated art in other manga series and has more dialogue in each page than most others. The series has been so popularized however, that another edition was published in full color with intriguing cover art. In one we see Light Yagami carrying a golden scythe and a red apple as well as accompanied by a death god. The scythe represents his power to kill others and the red apple that he holds high represents life and the new world that he will create. In another it again shows Light accompanied by his death god but he is bare handedly extending his harms while standing with one foot on top of a skull. This image is another depiction of Light’s power to kill others and dispose of rotten people in order to create a new and better world.

The series is a mind blower full of suspension and unexpected twists as each of these two geniuses fight to outsmart the other and bring their own justice to the world.

Reviewed by Inti K. ’18

The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

51+eJFxRr4L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The novel, “The Lilac Girls,” by Martha Hall Kelly is all about three girls. Their names are Caroline, Kasia, and Herta. The story takes place during World War II, and highlights three very different experiences of the girls. Caroline, who lives in New York, works for the French Consulate. Charity is very important to Caroline, especially when it comes to helping French Families. Kasia lives in Poland and is like any other teenager. Hitler had just invaded Poland and Kasia is partly Jewish. Even though this is the case, Kasia’s main worries are high school and making friends. Lastly, there is Herta, who is a medical student in Germany.

Unfortunately, Herta believes all of Hitler’s lies, and thinks that the Jewish people are bad and stealing their jobs. Over time she comes to find out that she feels just like some of the Jewish people. People have been treating her unfairly in medical training because she is a woman. She also has to work with her Uncle who constantly takes advantage of her. The author does a great job at separating their three stories, and then eventually having them come back together. I was captured from the first page because it started off from Caroline’s perspective and I can relate to her. She lives in New York and is always trying to please her parents, but sometimes doesn’t succeed doing it.

The author does a great job at transitioning between the three girls’ lives. Throughout the beginning of the book it is hard to tell how their lives could connect in any way. The three girls are so different yet I still am captured by all of their stories. I chose to read this book because I love to learn about World War II. I was specifically impressed with the fact that it shows how the war affected three totally different people in places all around the world.

My favorite line of this book is, “If I’d known I was about to meet the man who’d shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in” (1). This is the opening line of the novel and is narrated by Caroline. Opening this book and reading this line was just what I needed to grab my attention. It showed that there were going to be funny parts to the novel.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in World War II and who believes in girl power.

Reviewed by Caroline G. ’18

Orlando: a Biography by Virginia Woolf

orlanTimes change, people change, societies change, yet some things stay more or less the same. This is the theme that runs throughout Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: a Biography. The novel is narrated by a biographer recounting the life story of a fictional English noble, beginning with his boyhood in Elizabethan times and ending, with the title character having undergone many adventures and a change of gender along the way, with her return home decades later. Along the way, Orlando encounters interesting characters, foreign lands, famous poets, and the passage of time from one era to the next.

Virginia Woolf’s prose is very beautiful, feeling at times more like poetry. Her descriptions of landscapes and settings are especially vivid: for example, she writes of London: “As the sun sank, all the domes, spires, turrets, and pinnacles of London rose in inky blackness against the furious red sunset clouds”. Her sentences often stretch half the length of the page and contain layers of both imagery and clauses, which may be frustrating to follow for a reader expecting to read prose. This is partly due to Woolf’s style, partly due to Orlando’s own dramatic nature. The biographer occasionally intersperses slightly overwrought language with reminders that it is the result of the subject’s perspective: “Now the Abbey windows were lit up and burnt like a heavenly, many-coloured shield (in Orlando’s fancy); now all the west seemed a golden window with troops of angels (in Orlando’s fancy again) passing up and down the heavenly stairs perpetually”. However, once you dive in and accept this strange slightly stilted style, you appreciate the spiraling but intricate writing as part of the book, and as an insight into Orlando’s mind.

“Diving in” applies not only to the language itself, but to the story as well. Within the narrative, concepts like time seem extremely fluid, as the story begins during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and ends in the year 1928, yet the biographer gives Orlando’s age as thirty-five by the end of the book. Some characters in Orlando’s life seem to age (or not age) in a similar fashion, while others slip out of the novel as the years move along, with the biographer never quite explaining the mechanics of this world and why this is. This ambiguity adds to the dreamy feel of the novel, but is slightly frustrating at times. This fluidity can become more of a melt, as important characters and events are introduced only in passing (for example, Orlando’s engagement is covered in less than ten words), and plot takes a secondary role to Orlando’s ruminations and meditations on life, love, and time. However, once the reader accepts this unusual world and unusual protagonist, it is a captivating read. Orlando is a strange combination of adventure and poetry, but overall a book of beautiful language and a thought-provoking inner monologue.

Reviewed by Caroline G. ’18


In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

butterHave you ever looked at great heroes or revolutionaries, and wondered where their bravery came from? “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez answers that question by following the lives of four sisters, codenamed “The Butterflies”, who were involved in the resistance against the dictator of the Dominican Republic in the 1950s.

In middle school I read “Before We Were Free,” which is another of Alvarez’s novels. It describes the later stages of the resistance against the dictator Trujillo through the perspective of a young girl. When I picked up “In the Time of the Butterflies,”  I was eager to read more of Alvarez’s captivating and intimate writing technique.

“In the Time of the Butterflies” shows the lives of the Mirabal sisters, commonly known as, The Butterflies, starting in their childhoods, and continuing through their time at Catholic boarding school, their relationships and eventual marriages, and their experiences raising children. Gradually, each sister except Dedé joins the resistance. Eventually, they become such a threat to Trujillo’s regime that he orders them to be killed in a staged car crash. Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa die, but Dedé was not in the car nor involved directly in the resistance, so she lives with responsibility of telling her sisters’ stories. Whether that responsibility is a burden or a gift, however, is unclear. Near the beginning of the book, Dedé recounts how visitors to her museum “inevitably ask in one form or another, why are you the one who survived?”

The novel starts with Dedé’s quiet day in 1994 getting interrupted by a visit from an American woman. Dedé gives the woman a tour of her childhood home, shows her pictures of the sisters as children, and sits down to talk with the woman. From there, Dedé recounts her past and present experiences, and the novel transitions between the point of view of each of the sisters in the 1940s-50s and Dedé’s point of view in 1994. Patria is the oldest sister, who is deeply religious and caring. Dedé is the second oldest, and she is organized and practical. Next is Minerva, who is strongly opinionated and outspoken. Maria Teresa is the youngest by far, and is originally quite focused on appearances and romance, but grows up to use her emotional intelligence to connect with others in a more meaningful way.

The author uses first person point of view, switching between sisters, to help the reader connect better to each sister. When I heard every little thought and feeling each sister had, I was better able to connect with them individually. They did not seem like unreachable symbols of bravery, but rather real women who were not so different than me. For example, when Minerva is about 12 years old, her friend Sinta tells the story of her father and brother being killed by Trujillo. Minera narrates, “I started crying, but pinched my arms to stop. I had to be brave for Sinta.” Here, Minerva is making a choice to be brave. It is a small choice that anyone could make, but it is one of many small choices that lead her to be a revolutionary.

Alvarez’s exploration of the humanity of heroines raises another question: How should these women’s stories be told? In one of the scenes from Dedé’s point of view, Minerva’s daughter states, “I’m my own person. I’m tired of being the daughter of a legend.” In another scene, Dedé ponders how she is unable to live her own life due to her sisters’ fame. But Dedé also realizes the importance of remembering, saying, “I’m not stuck in the past, I’ve just bought it with me into the present. And the problem is not enough of us have done that.”

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think other members of the Emma community would be interested as well. So if you want to explore big questions of how people become legends, and how we should remember and tell their stories, while getting to know four remarkable women, and learning about an important period in the history of the Dominican Republic, you should read “In the Time of the Butterflies.”

Reviewed by Katie F. ’18


The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

story Continue the story of Elena and Lila in Elena Ferrante’s, The Story of a New Name. Follow the story and see how new hardships affect their friendship and lives. Watch as family businesses, school, abusive cheating husbands, jobs, money, and so much more work to tear these two friends apart.

As the two friends’ paths separate they lose their close connection but always seem to come back to each other. Lina is now married to a rich abusive husband and lives an unhappy life until she meets Nino, whom Elena loves. Lina and Nino spend the summer together without Lina’s husband finding out who unbeknownst to everyone else is also cheating on Lina with another girl from their town. Lina finishes her schooling, leaves everything known to her to pursue her academics in college, on a full scholarship. She disapproves of Lina and is saddened by Nino’s fondness for her best friend so she cuts ties with both of them.

In college, Elena feels very out of place and felt that she, “would always be afraid: afraid of saying the wrong thing, of using an exaggerated tone, of dressing unsuitably, of revealing petty feelings, of not having interesting thoughts.” As someone coming from a very different background then everyone at her college she struggles to be accepted. She hides her accent and tries to seem more than she feels she is. She chooses to stay quiet in order not to accidentally say something that she thinks people would not approve of.

Elena Ferrante keeps readers engaged with her way with words that really make the reader think. By using issues that the reader can connect with when she conveys ideas that as normal people growing up can and may experience. Through Elena (the character), Ferrante teaches readers life lessons–some good and some not so good. In the story Elena struggles with being accepted but ultimately says, “I am what I am and I have to accept myself; I was born like this, in this city, with this dialect, without money; I will give what I can give, I will take what I can take, I will endure what has to be endured.” This teaches people how to believe in what and who they are and to always accept themselves because you can’t change the past.

Reviewed by Sarah C. ’18