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Political Protest in Democracy

Political protest.

Protest is usually lauded as a tenant of well functioning democracies and forward thinking liberal societies. In actuality, it is demonized at every moment accept when it happens outside democracy.

Let’s look at the American political landscape as an example.

When is protest seen as a positive occurrence? Hell, when is protest seen as anything but an illegal and violent act against the state? Is it when protest is nonviolent? If this were the case, the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 and 2012 would have been seen as legitimate. But that did not happen. Instead, protesters were viewed as incongruent with working societies. They were seen as lazy. Worse still, when they protested, governmental authorities deemed them as ‘impeding the flow of commerce’ which legitimated the use of force to remove protesters from their encampments via military grade mace, militarized transport vehicles, and midnight raids when dump trucks took all the belongings of protesters and carted it away to landfills. All the while, the American public stood by and nodded its collective head at the government’s designation of protesters as homeless people against free trade and commerce.

Perhaps you consider this a bad example.

How about protests against civil rights violations? In this case, we have government both legitimating violence against certain populations as well as perpetrating much of that violence itself. What of these protests?

The water canons and beatings in the street for otherwise peaceful protests shows government then did not stand for protest. The white American public today still largely believes protesters started all of that violence. Even if that were true, which it largely isn’t, the state authorized the violence against blacks long before the first stone was thrown by protesters.

One may argue, well, Martin Luther King Jr. is a shining example of proper political protest.

This only partially accurate.

MKL so encapsulates American democracy and correct use of protest that he has his own federal holiday in remembrance of his Jesus like qualities. See people, this how you protest and get things done. By pointing at this MLK, the government, and by extension, its people, can do three things. It can suggest this sort of protest is legitimate and allowed. It can point to positive outcomes from this heavenly democratic act. And it can claim to learn from its mistakes…a sort of ‘that was then, this is now’ mentality that allows gross misconduct to be swept under the rug with simple recognition of past mistakes.

But MLK was seen as far more violent against the state than commonly understood currently. It is the idealized dream like personification of MLK that Americans gravitate toward now, not the MLK that many demonized then.

MLK was arrested. MLK took part in protests that would today be seen as violent acts against the state and against commerce, which, in the eyes of the state and in the minds of the citizenry, is far more violent against a free market society than physical violence ever could be.

To be considered legitimate protest, one must ask the state for permission to do so. Without permission of when and where and how a protest can take place, the state and, in turn, its citizenry, will call that protest illegitimate, illegal, and violent. However, seeking permission from a governing body to protest against it is ludicrous. Not only because that’s akin to a five year old asking their parents if they can slap them and steal their authority away. But because, even if the protest is allowed, it is so limited in scope and location, that it steals what little power the protest could have, or would have had, away. Likewise, it still allows for government to call that legal protest other things like full of lazy participants or people who just want to disrupt commerce or delegitimate government itself.

There are only two truly legitimate forms of protest in a modern democracy.

Pre-democracy protest and Social Media protest.

Pre-democracy protest is on par with the MLK Effect. It is transformed into a badge of honor, a medal of valor. It is heralded as the embodiment of democracy itself and utilized as a beacon of nationalistic identity and an orb that emits light in the form of patriotic exuberance.

The Boston Tea Party and the entirety of the American Revolution is a prime example. These incident incite mass chest puffing and nationalism and lauded as the very hallmarks that make the United States a great democracy. The Tea Party was a violent act against commerce in a rather literal sense. It was the taking over of vehicle carrying freight to be sold by protesters where all that freight was destroyed in the name of protest. The American Revolution as a whole was a violent protest against the government by the citizenry.

However, both of these are vastly more violent than any protests we witness today in the United States. When political leaders today claim protests impede commerce, they are talking about protesters standing in the streets, impeding traffic, or standing in front of a bank, impeding customers from entering that back, or sitting in a college grassy knoll, impeding…who the fuck knows what.

Not only were these acts far more violent, they happened before the current government was legitimate. The United States government can relish in these protests because these protests are the very social movement that created their legitimacy and power. To allow protest today would mean allowing the very thing designed to destroy it.

The other form of protest that is allowed is Social Media protest.

Of course, this is quite a recent phenomenon. But it must not be ignored.

For one, everyone seems to do it now. The constant changing of profile pictures to rainbow flags, ribbons of every color, black backgrounds, pithy comments on black backgrounds, and claiming to leave Social Media via a lengthy goodbye only to show up again a few weeks later…or sooner.

And second, it’s clear the United States government has not yet extinguished Social Media protest. And why should they?

The extreme vast majority of protesters on Social Media will never go beyond the show of pseudo-solidarity through pictures and sharing of anecdotes and touchy feely rhetoric that, after you’ve unfriended those who don’t agree with you, amounts to moralistic pats on the back and collective hugs where everyone is reaching around to fondle everyone else’s balls. It’s the equivalent of the crazy conspiracy theorists who sit in their parents’ basement and ponder the ways of the world rather than do anything.

It’s the one form of protest every democratic society can get behind. It makes everyone feel better, does absolutely nothing of value toward the end the protester thinks it is, and the democratically elected government can claim forward thinking liberalism by allowing the protester to say horrible things about it in public spaces knowing full well that that protester will never act on their urges because, psychologically, they already have.

We tap our phones like neutered dogs humping a couch cushion. The outcome is worthless, the act is pointless, yet still, at the end of the day, we feel the relief of tension exploding on the Social Media landscape.

On the rare occasion that a small segment of this canine population seeks to step outside the house to seek true protest in attempt at actual political change (note, this change requires a violence against the establishment), then government strikes down with fury. Social Media pups who continue to wear their solidarity on their profile splash page swear off the true protest as childish and taking two steps backward and cannot possibly have the end the true protest seeks.

That is the lie perpetuated by all democratic cultures.

True protests are by their nature violent against the only legitimate authority.

The true protest necessitates impeding commerce, becoming violent in the literal sense, and generally making life hell for the average citizen who is content bitching in a sewing circle while simultaneously claiming the moral high ground and demonizing those who become violent (and by violent I mean pressure against the only legitimate user of force).

Without this violence, protest loses its only strength. By forcing it to exist only in the places, the times, the ways of the establishment’s choosing, and by demonizing those who break that law and order, the establishment maintains its full and unfettered monopoly of the weapons of change, the chains of servitude. While doing all of this, it continues to hide behind law and order, behind liberal nonviolent political discourse that is no less nonviolent than any nonliberal civilization. It can continue to claim the moral high ground, the legitimate authority, the protector of peace and free speech while covering the mouths of those that wish to speak and allowing free speech for those who wish to remain silent, as they are of no concern to the establishment.

Car Door Chime: An Essay

The world does not go out with an explosion or with a whimper, but with the sound of a car door bell echoing through time and space.

The voiceless walk aimlessly. The once voiced go silent and stand in shock. Those who once thought themselves martyrs for goodwill and great possibilities now carry extra burdens on their backs, hoping all will not be for nothing.

All the while, people die. Either because you did not do what you could — or because they were unfortunate enough to be killed before your time came.

I assume this is how the Chinese people felt after Mao did what I think he did. Or how Germans felt after Hitler got elected. I say assume because I cannot go and look these things up.

To wonder what you can say that won’t get you murdered or disappeared or seen as treasonous and beaten in the streets as a public reminder of what it means to speak anything out of line has its own weight that slowly suffocates. 

To see the world for what it truly is. To see law and order for what it is. But be shackled by fear and need for survival.

Where does one draw the line between serving one’s country with serving oneself? How does one juxtapose fleeing to fight another day with watching the ones you’re obligated by morality to protect whither in the alleyways of humanity and shrivel in gutters you helped pave by remaining silent in hopes that your words would eventually make it into the hands of the young and full of heart.

The strangest part of all of this, at least at the moment, for me, is that this nation chose this. That democracy is as broken as much as we thought it was the savior of mankind. It was democracy that brought the Holy Roman Empire. It was democracy that brought Nazi Germany, Maoist China, the rise of the militant Middle East, the rape and destruction of the African continent, the pillage and torture of the native peoples of the Americas, and the fall of what used to be coined the bastion of hope for the West, for the World, and for mankind.

Democracy did not create war or even the worst war has to offer (sadly, I fear that has yet to be seen in its entirety) or discrimination. It did, and does, however, legitimate it in ways that kings and dictators only dream about in the sickest masturbation circle jerks of totalitarianism wet dreams. The worst part isn’t even the legitimization of hate and war and destruction for the betterment of goodwill toward whatever you think mankind actually means. No.

The worst part is that in the end, the pendulum will swing ever so slightly toward the righteous path again. And when it does, democrats the world over will claim the previous millennia to be a mistake that has now corrected itself.

Interestingly, when these instances of pseudo-open-mindedness rear their ugly heads and humanity stands at the precipice and stand at the edge and look out over the torment it left in its wake, it will smell its own fart and call it lavender sunshine and double rainbows. It will then whip out its collective cocks and urinate upon the heads of its predecessors before closing their eyes, thinking of themselves naked, and wanking off as the take that last step. All the while saying out loud that it was all in the name of freedom and democracy.

Who was it that said those who believe themselves most free are the least free of all? Again, I would research this, but it has nothing to do with a Kardashian or insignificant action movie or TV show therefore it has no place in the public sphere we call the Internet.

Humanity would much rather insist the emperor has new clothes and blame the mistakes of the past as being the past and mistakes rather than implicate itself in the sin that is self-mutilation.

When all is said and done, when the proverbial and physical dust settles, when you go to work tomorrow and when you come home from work and turn on Netflix to watch the recently added full season of Bullshit-topia, this yet again another seeming tipping point will fester and wallow until it fades into the background behind stupidity and opiates we call modern entertainment. The colosseum we pay $15 a month for the privilege, nay, the right, to ingest, is a cage of solitude. It’s where humanity goes out, not with a whimper, or an explosion, but with eerie, continuous chime of the car door left open.

Why I’m destined to read “Wind Up Bird Chronicle” in perpetuity

It’s no secret that I find “Wind Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami to be one of the best books ever written. Not only does instill a sense of longing and distance from the world in ways no other author has managed, it takes you on a journey from reality into a gradual descent into madness and fantasy, blurring the lines the entire way.

What truly stands out to me with this book is what happens when I read it, or when I work on my novel that is loosely based on Wind Up Bird.

In the novel, the main protagonist is in knee-deep in a marriage this is slowly falling apart. To seek out answers, he plops his butt at the bottom of a dry well and asks the neighbor girl to close the lid and come back for him later. I know this sounds weird, but I promise, if you read the book, he does it for legitimate reasons.

But when I read it, weird things start to happen. Take today for instance. I’m rereading Wind Up Bird AND revisiting my loosely based manuscript and I get an email from a friend with a link to a blog page. Someone had taken a picture of me at a poetry slam, used it as the main image, and titled his piece: Digging in the Well!

This is just one incident you say?

Well, while writing my manuscript, there’s a character with a mental disability who goes by John Birmingham. The main character, Kidd, finds out that Birmingham is not his real name and the rest of the book is spent trying to find Birmingham’s real identity. While writing that scene where Kidd finds out that Birmingham isn’t really Birmingham’s name, I find out that the man who Birmingham is based on also has been going by the wrong name the entire time he’s been in supportive services!

There are dozens of other coincidences. And, being a Vonnegut admirer, I know that these are just that, coincidences. But I can’t help but think each of these are signs to a specific end. And, in the end, does it really matter if the signs are real or not? What matters is that these signs are real to me and that they are driving me forward in my writing career.

Slam Poetry: What I’ve learned by Slamming

For the last few months, a friend and I have been trying out Slam Poetry. We love watching/listening to Slam. We love to read and write poetry. So, the next logical thing was to do it!

As an introvert of the highest caliber, I dread speaking in front of people. And speaking poetry puts my nerves into the stratosphere. Add to that the fact that my friend and I are both very much NOT the average slammers. We’re well past the traditional high school/college age of the average slammer and quite a bit paler. That’s not to say great slammers aren’t either of these, but they are fewer and farther.

So what I’ve learned:

  1. It’s scary, but…: Sure, you soil your boxers as an introvert and an outsider. But I’ve learned so much about myself and about slam and about poetry and did I mention about myself?
  2. The audience is heavenly: OK, terrible song reference there. The truth remains, though. Even if you screw up, the audience gets behind you. Case in point: The first time I did an incredibly soul-bearing slam, I forgot my lines part way through. FOR NEARLY A MINUTE. I stood up there staring at the audience. Things went quiet. Then people start to snap fingers, then root for me, then outright applause. Eventually I remembered the line and finished strong…ish. The response was amazing! My highest score to date! Granted  I was penalized for running over the 3 minutes. I’ve never felt better about failing in my life!
  3. It’s about the learning: Sure, I’ve learned about slam and I’ve written some new poetry as a result of all of this. But best part is, I’ve learned about myself. I learned that I CAN memorize entire poems (6 so far!). I also learned that fears aside, I’m capable of performance spoken word. And do it well enough that I’ve placed 1st a couple times and made the top 3 more than 2 other times. And the poems I’ve written have really made me dig deep into my soul and my unfinished past and unthwarted demons. I’ve become a better person all around.
  4. Community: The other performers and poets are so supportive, so brilliant, so poetic, so loving, caring, inviting, everything! They are not snooty or discriminating against anyone like you’d expect poets to be. Well, like I expect poets to be…says the poet.
  5. It’s not about winning: As one of the hosts of ABQ Slam says after every vote, “Fuck the score! Give it up for the poet!” And he means it. Everyone means it. There is no animosity for winners and winners are humble.

In all, I learned that Slam Poetry is about the poetry. It’s about the pain, the humor, the feels, the art, the beauty and the hideous, the hate and the love, the life and the death.

 

Recent Writing Successes

I’m rarely one to speak of the successes of my life for two reasons:

  • Partly because I don’t think I’m that good.
  • Partly because good things seldom happen (aka see first reason)

However, the last couple of weeks have seen so many great things happening, that I need to talk about it to someone. And, by someone I mean the nobody that reads this blog.

First, I participated in a poetry open mic at Voices of the Barrio. Since one of my favorite slam poets, Marcial Delgado hosts this event, and since it was his poem about his mother that inspired me to write my most recent poem, I read that one. It was the first time reading it publicly. It was one I struggled to get through without losing my shit and crying like a little boy, but I did it.

Not only did my reading go well and many people support me afterward with with kind words and hugs. But ABQ’s Poet Laureate Jessica Lopez gave me a kudos!!! This is on par with someone meeting their favorite musician and having them say, “Dude, I like your riffs.”

Second, I’ve been participating in a 24 Hour Short Story Contest for about 3 years. It happens every quarter. I’ve never won, but nearly every one of those “losing” stories has been published elsewhere.

But this past week, I made honorable mention for a story I didn’t expect to place with because it’s a prequel to my as of yet unpublished YA trilogy.

Third, I participated in the Short Story Challenge. Round 1 results came out yesterday and I made it from 36 people into the top 5. So I move to Round 2. Round 2 start tonight.

In all, it’s been an amazing few weeks for my writing life. I’m hoping this continues. We shall see.

Book Review: Jane Eyre, a dude’s look

In keeping with the situation of branching out and reading classics and stereotypical chick lit (I hate the term BTW), I set out to read Jane Eyre.

Short preface: My better half has a beautifully bound pocket sized hardcover copy she reads at least once a year. The title is worn off the spine and the cover is showing some experience to be sure. She also didn’t think I would read it, or finish it, or enjoy it. But leave it to a dude to set out to prove a woman wrong! And wrong I proved. Mostly because she really got excited about me reading it, which got me excited. When we got home in the evening and settled down, she’d ask how far I was and we’d talk about literature. TRUE LOVE.

As for the story, much of the first 100 pages or so I was feeling a little ripped off that the language didn’t sound as elegant? old? as Pride and Prejudice. I felt like I was reading a more contemporary novel. People have told me it IS more contemporary. But 30 years, hardly places it at the edge of a new age of literature.

But I moved on quickly from this feeling as the language was far more heart tugging and vivid and poetic than P & P. I know, comparing it to P & P probably isn’t the best idea, but it’s all I’ve got.

And Bronte seemed to be willing to “go there” where I didn’t think a book by a woman of that era would. Angry children, ghosts, hallucinations?, disturbing deaths that are far more gruesome than I was expecting, sexual overtones and sexual promiscuity, insane wife (also a hallucination?)? All with the descriptive insight that would make any poet turn green with envy.

I don’t need to give a real review. Jane Eyre has been read a billion times by billions of people and reviewed a hundred times over. But I did want to mention something I learned while discussing Eyre with my better half.

(Mild spoilers below…so if you haven’t read it yet, you’ve been warned)

I called Eyre a crazy person with serious depression issues and likely hallucinations. Melanie asked what made me think this first part (about her being crazy and depressed). I explained my reasoning was because when Eyre learned of Rochester’s intent to marry a beautiful woman, Ingram, rather than pining over Rochester and drawing pictures of what she can never have (again, Rochester), she drew pictures of the woman he was courting. Pictures that probably took Eyre hours and hours to draw! On details given to her by 3rd parties since she had never met Ingram!!!!

What sort of psycho does that?!?

Then Melanie explained to me something that hurt me deep inside. She said that that is what most women did. Sure, they dream and pine for the idle that is their heart’s desire. But moreover, they latch onto what it is that desired person wants in a woman. They measure themselves against the women they are competing against! This is what women tend to fixate on! He likes blondes, I’m not a blonde. He likes skinny girls with pouty lips, I’m not as skinny as her and my lips do this weird smile thing.

This still rattles me to my core. It pains me that so many women struggle with this every single day. It’s like having severe depression with anxiety issues but with a socially acceptable nod from the universe.

I recently mentioned something about this concern of mine to friends. Many said it was human nature that woman want to be more attractive and men seek that out like moths to light and that it’s NOT some socially constructed media blitz or some situation that men put on women. I still can’t buy this argument. I’ll concede some nature involvement. But I think there’s something more going on, and I don’t like, and I don’t know how to stop it, or what to do, so…It just keeps happening. And nobody cares.

Which I suppose is not terribly unfitting since the novel itself does not have a truly happy ending.

Facing Fears as a Writer with Poetry Slams

It’s probably true of most writers, we’re naturally introverted creatures who tend to take criticism to heart. But selling myself and my writing and taking constructive criticism is a necessary evil I’ve grown to tolerate.

However, I always loved Poetry Slams and always wanted to do one. Of course, doing a slam requires writing poetry and getting up in front of a crowd and performing said poem and following up said performance with a loud and boisterous vote on how good, or shitty, your poem was.

When I’m watching slams, I can’t help but think I want to do it. I get the bug. I get an itch that can’t be scratched. Then, I found a writer friend (Robin Reynolds – well known for her Ink and Alchemy project) that also wanted to attempt a Poetry Slam. So we made a pact. We would each do it the following month. Put up or shut up!

Fast forward 3 months.

We’ve competed in a half dozen Slams. Mixed success I must say. HOWEVER, we are up against people who have been slamming for YEARS. We even compete against the biggest names in New Mexico! Robin was even invited and competed in a Women’s slam.

Does it still scare the crap out of me to get up in front of drunk strangers and perform gut-wrenching poetry to be judged by the masses? HELL YES!

That said, I have to say, it’s made me a more confident writer, poet, and self-supporter. The audience is almost ALWAYS supportive. Only the judges have been jerks…but if you’ve been to slams, you know that’s part of being a judge.

Even when I forgot my line for nearly a minute. A full minute! I stood up there and stared at the room. Everything was silent (IN A BAR)! Then the cheers started happening. Then the clapping and the “You can do it!” I finished…eventually. Fist bumps and great score and cheering brought me back.

What I’ve learned: You really do just have to get yourself out there. Nobody will promote you except YOU! And, when you do promote yourself, honestly, and truthfully, others WILL support you! The love you feel in a Poetry Slam room is downright intoxicating.

So, if you want to come see me perform, check out my Events page and join me!

Reasons to NOT do NaNoWriMo, and why those reasons are bogus!

It’s that time of year again when hundreds of thousands of writers and would-be writers converge on a global scale to unleash the novel within them. And every year there’s a new group of eye-rolling naysayers that complain that NaNoWriMo is the opposite of what any writer should do.

I’m here to dispel these arguments once and for all.

Argument #1: NaNoWriMo confuses discipline with motivation

Here the argument is that one should write every day in order to excel at something instead of getting excited and running right out of the gate. And, there’s some truth to that. You can’t expect to write for 30 days out of 365 and become a master storyteller.

That’s not what NaNoWriMo is. WriMo is about breaking through the barrier that is the blank page. It’s about having writing coaches and encouragement. It’s about learning that “waiting for your Muse” is no way for anyone to get better or even do ANYTHING.

NaNo takes the motivation and excitement, builds on it, and makes you keep going for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, I’ve met few who reach the 50k goal and DON’T keep writing. Why? Simply put, it creates discipline.

Argument #2: NaNoWriMo trivializes the writing process

This comes from “serious” writers and authors who have toiled and tormented over their work for decades and expects the same from you even when you first start out.

Their argument rests on the fact that they have long since forgotten how they started out as a writer. Sitting in their room at 14 and scratching away at their composition notebook. They didn’t toil and bleed then. It grew into a craft. NaNo says it’s time to up your game from the short scribblings and “plans” to write that novel.

Sure, some people write during NaNo and don’t write the rest of the year. Those people will never publish and probably have zero interest in publishing. They’re just having a little fun living in a world they created. The rest of us treat it and the craft with the utmost respect.

Argument #3: Writing a novel is a year-round process

So true. Nobody said that come December 1st you have a finished novel that is then ready for publication.

WriMo is for getting the words down on paper. It’s a first draft. It’s getting you over the biggest hurdles: the blank page and the Internal Editor. It lets you unabashedly try new things, new ideas, new plot points, that you wouldn’t allow yourself to consider otherwise. Heck, it pushes you to work out all the details so you can then go back (AFTER NOVEMBER OF COURSE) and edit and perfect the word choice and grammar.

There are a small percentage that write in November and then try to publish in December, but that’s not the majority and those people are off anyway. Then again, 1% of 400,000 + people is still WAY more than any agent or publisher wants to see in December.

Argument 4: Word count isn’t everything

This might be true. And in WriMo, we only care about word count. But the serious WriMos still consider the words in that count counts for something. Most don’t just drop gobbledygook.

But again, remember, NaNo is just as much about building discipline and building muscle (both imagination muscles and typing/writing muscles) as it about word count. It’s just that word count is a quantifiable goal. Just like Book In A Week which uses page numbers as the goal.

Conclusion

A lot of writers, myself included, need goals and deadlines. NaNo provides both and does so in a fun and entertaining way.

For me, I use NaNoWriMo to write the first draft of my new novel. I spend the rest of the year editing, writing short stories, rewriting, and submitting older novels and short stories. I need the kick in the pants to get past the dreaded Blank Page. And writing a full novel from nothing is daunting. November gets me over that hump in a way that’s fun for me. This is true of many many other WriMos.

There’s nothing damaging about WriMo and nothing bad about it. But like anything fun, misused it because a problem. If you ONLY write anything in November, you lose. If you submit your 1st draft of ANYTHING to any agent or publisher, you’re bonkers!

 

 

Book Review: Knife of Never Letting Go

Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series starts with this piece of brilliance.

Knife of Never Letting Go shows what breaking the rules can do for your story. The book also proves that YA really can be a solid genre that, like Romance, deserves more credit than it’s given.

It’s part science fiction, part fantasy, part dystopian YA. And ALL beautifully executed.

The Good: I’ve put off writing this review for months because I have nothing negative to say.

Pacing: In true YA fashion, it’s very fast paced. The story line keeps you riveted. Things are revealed so often and so quickly and IN YOU FACE, you struggle to even put it down. And at nearly 500 pages, you have to put it down at some point.

Concept: The Noise is a fun, unique concept that I can’t help think it’s a play on Social Media and the overabundance of ‘noise’ and information that we’re bombarded with every day.

Narration: Not only is narration from a poorly educated young man which leads to constant misspelling of words (which you adjust to quickly), but the narration, you quickly realize is ACTUALLY what the character is thinking at the MOMENT he’s thinking it. Several secondary characters even bring it up. That’s so brilliant! It’s actually the character telling you the story as he’s telling himself what’s going on and what he’s thinking. It’s a stream of consciousness style without the painful inability to keep up with the author or the story.

YA Gold: The coming of age story is so poignant, so spot on, so everything. There is so much to learn for young readers in terms of what makes a person an adult, what makes you honorable, choices, life, love, hate, death, trust, etc. And none of it’s thrown in your face as it can sometimes be.

And for the YA critics who hate sex and gratuitous vulgarity in their YA. You’re OK here. Granted, there are a few swear words, but they are tasteful and very appropriate (Nothing like Grasshopper Jungle or Winger). And the sex is so nonexistent. Though, be prepared, the violence is extreme.

The Bad: And this isn’t bad by any means in terms of writing. But it’s a warning to the reader who might decide to now read this book.

  1. Be prepared for a very sad middle. I’m not going to spoil it, but trust me. Ness has even said that he STILL gets LOTS of negative reactions over this one important character’s…inevitable…situation.
  2. Have the next book (The Ask and the Answer) ready and in your hands. Knife of Never Letting Go ends on such a cliffhanger that you’ll go batty until you get Book 2.

Conclusion: There are 2 YA series I keep coming back to as probably the most perfectly executed groups of novels devised thus far. Chaos Walking series is one of those 2 series!

I tend to enjoy stories heavy in political/social commentary and this series STILL makes the cut as one of the best even though it’s not heavy handed in this respect. Other than the …inevitable…situation of one of the characters, I can’t image a single reader walking away disappointed with this book. There’s so much to learn, to enjoy, to imagine, to engross yourself in.

 

Book Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle was an amazing book by Andrew Smith. It came recommended to me by a bunch of YA readers. I loved it. So, naturally, I found another book by Smith, Winger.

Smith does something few parents will like. He tells it like it is without ANY filters. And when i say ANY filters, I mean it. If it’s a curse word and a 14 year old boy would use it, it’s there. If a 14 year old boy would think it, it’s there. Which, in Grasshopper Jungle, I struggled with it. I tend to NOT read crass stories because most read like they are using coarse language for the readers, not for the story. Smith skirts that line better than anyone.

One last comment about Smith’s style. Reading his stories, especially Grasshopper Jungle, but also Winger, it reads as if Kurt Vonnegut rose from the dead and started writing Young Adult. The pithy commentary, the crass language dropped for artistic measure but still means something, sharp and dark humor, is all very Vonnegut. Something I haven’t found on this level in YA or in anything.

The good: Winger is like Looking for Alaska without spending half the book crying.

My assumption is that most of Smith’s readers will be boys. And that’s OK. Winger reads much more like a boy’s story than one for a more neutral audience. Does that mean girls will not get anything from it? Of course not. If teen girls want to learn about the male psyche, the boy meets adulthood struggles, then there’s plenty to learn. And, of course, without spoiling the end, the end has a lesson for everyone.

Smith appears to have a rather prominent gay character in most of his stories. The best part about this is, that’s not what those characters are. They are just teens struggling with life and love and growing up…with a side of gay for good measure. The best kind. They are real. They are genuine. And they’re not there to BE gay.

The only person that makes a big deal about the character’s sexual orientation are the main characters when they continue to wonder about homosexuality the same way they wonder about why parents work for jobs they hate or wonder why the sky is blue. Also, the main character, in this case Winger, constantly struggles with his straightness, the testosterone ‘Queers are stupid’ mentality in American high school sports and schools as a whole, and the ‘how can I be friends with a gay guy but not be gay…am I gay?’. You know, the questions every boy asks himself (mostly because all he thinks about is sex) and probably girls too since I assume girls go through at least SOME sort of ‘sex is the cool new thing to think about’ phase at some point in their lives.

The not so good: Winger’s story did 2 things I just couldn’t get past.

1. The main character is a complete ass to most people around him. He cheats on his mostly-girlfriend, screws over half his teammates, fights with them after he screws them over, gets wasted drunk twice, and the only consequence he sees is feeling stupid. He’s a middle class jerk with no consequences for his actions. Yes, most boys do stupid things. That’s part of learning. But when we read stories of these antics, I expect true consequences. His constant high-fiving jock attitude for all his antics and getting away with them didn’t help me like Winger any better.

2. The ending (And I’m going to try to do this without giving anything away). Not so much that it ended the way it did or that the lesson wasn’t perfect. It was. And it ended mostly the way it should. It’s that it happened so damn fast. Part of me understands. Winger is a jock boy at heart so the tough subjects are tough to talk about. But that doesn’t mean you can just wait until the last few pages to swing the door open, let the bulls come charging in, give your moral of the story, and drop the mic. There was zero building to the climax. This is where Looking for Alaska and Winger differ…and disappointingly.

Conclusion: Winger is a great book for boys who don’t usually read. Actually, so is Grasshopper Jungle. Andrew Smith is like if Vonnegut and Chuck Palenchuk (Fight Club?) were one person. It’s about the in your face writing with a touch of dark pithy social commentary. Still, for the readers Smith is going for, I think he hits a home run here.