I read books of all kind, but this year I was inspired to pick up the "No Dudes Allowed" reading challenge from Lilit Marcus. I have a very long list of books that I want to read by all sorts of people, but I think this challenge with be fun and I hope to share my experience.
My actual rating is 0.5 for effort and because I actually want to read Rowell's other book, Fangirl.
Eleanor & Park is a racist piece of shit.
Don’t get me wrong — I am ALL about Asian-American representation. I applaud Rowell for writing a story about a MoC and a white woman, since that pairing is not as commonly seen as a WoC and a white man. So interracial relationships aren't a problem. The problem is that the interracial interpersonal relationships in this book are poorly written and riddled with stereotypes.
Before you jump to Rowell's defense about how it was set in the 80's and in Omaha, I want to remind you that racism (sadly) is not limited to a time frame or a region. The racism that happened in 1986 is not difference than the racism that is happening how. Since before and after 1986, there is still racism directed at Asian-Americans in the form of bad kung-fu jokes, "You are Asian=You are Chinese" assumptions, "What flavor of Asian are you" guessing games, and Bruce Lee references. That's right, those things do not just happen in this book. I know, I have experienced it myself, having lived in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona.
The sad thing is that half these descriptions are obviously supposed to be flattering except they are not.
Maybe Park paralyzed her with his ninja magic
"...You're so pretty, and so good. You have magic eyes," she whispered. "And you make me feel like a cannibal."
I would have actually felt better if Rainbow Rowell had written Park as a vampire or a werewolf or some other inhuman creature, the stuff of teen girl YA fantasy because vampires and werewolves don’t actually exist. With such creatures, she could write about whatever the hell she wanted, because at least she wouldn't contributing to some very harmful societal stereotypes. But she did. She is now a participant in a lasting tradition of fetishizing Asians.
But back to the creature thing. Park is portrayed as an “edgy”* indie boy who wears eyeliner and listens to the Smiths and is also a loner at school. It's like his edginess make him magical stand out in the same way a vampire or a werewolf or otherwise nonhuman creature would. The descriptions of Park made me think of Twilight. Not because they are things that normal teen girls say or think, but because we’ve seen this archetype of “magical hero” that comes into this special-because-she's-not-like-the-other's-dream-girl's life and sweeps her off her feet. When you use those kinds of descriptors for a character who is very visibly POC and then give them an uncommon feature like green eyes, they become a kind of mythical creature. They are dehumanized and not real, they are just a fantasy that the other (usually main) character wants to have. But even then, dreaming about dating a vampire or a werewolf is so very different and again does not carry the same weight as being hellbent on dating the perfect Asian boy.
Since I touched on the fetishization of Asians, I must bring up the insecurities that Park may feel about being an Asian-American boy. Park never overcame his self-hate for being short and feminine compared to his father and younger brother, Josh. In fact (as if Asian men aren't emasculated enough in American society), when Park's father is shown throwing a bitch fit about Park wearing eyeliner and is shown favoring Josh (who is described as taller, "more white," and more masculine than Park), Par's father is upholding the image of Asian men as short, effeminate, sensitive, and undesirable. If Park learned to accept himself and move past his insecurities, then it would be a decent good because character growth is an important aspect in writing fiction. But that didn't happen. Overall, his self-hate and insecurities were ever discussed in a respectful manner.
"Nobody thinks Asian guys are hot," Park said finally. He had to look away from her when he said it – way away, he turned his head completely. "Not here, anyway. I assume Asian guys do all right in Asia."
"That’s not true," Eleanor argued. "Look at your mom and dad…"
"Asian girls are different. White guys think they’re exotic."
"Are you trying to come up with a super-hot Asian guy, so you can prove me wrong? Because there aren’t any. I’ve had my whole life to think about this.”
"There aren't any," Park said. "Look at M*A*S*H. The whole show is set in Korea, and the doctors are always flirting with Korean girls, right?...Everything that makes Asian girls seem exotic makes Asian guys seem like girls."
Oh yes, this just got worse. Here, Park blatantly reinforces the idea that Asian men are undesirable, and he perpetrates the misogynistic and racist belief that Asian women have it better because white guys desire them. "Exotic." THAT'S NOT A FUCKING COMPLIMENT. That's fetishization. Do you know what I, an Asian-American female, have to put up with because of it? Constant verbal and sexual harassment, a higher chance of being raped than white women, endless “dragon lady” and “geisha girl” stereotypes, and all the other gross things. Even Eleanor contributes to this harmful mentality.
"Maybe I’m really attracted to Korean guys," she said, "and I don’t even know it."
So instead of encouraging to accept and embrace his identity as an Asian-American boy, the white girl makes him feel better by stating that she likes his "exoticism" and thinks that he’s "prettier than any girl." But wait...it gets worse...
His mom looked exactly like a doll. In the Wizard of Oz...Dorothy goes to this place called Dainty China Country, and all the people are tiny and perfect...Eleanor had thought the Dainty China people were Chinese...Eleanor imagined Park's dad, Tom Selleck, tucking his Dainty China person into his flak jacket and sneaking her out of Korea.
"[H]is Dainty China person"...Just because there's the word "person" at the end doesn't make this any better. Park's mom, whose Americanized name is Mindy, is still turned into an object to be moved at Tom's whim. The argument against this would be that it was sweet of Tom to "liberate" Mindy from her oppressive/dangerous country then marry her. He took her away from her country, her home, her culture, her language, and her people. How romantic. But seriously, like, Miss Saigon, anyone? Mindy speaks broken English and is demure yet madly in love with Tom, who is a typical American machismo, a simple guy, but at heart a good one. If Mindy and Tom's relationship wasn't written like it was a one-sided yellow-fever wet dream, I would have been more interested in it. But the indecent stereotyping of Asian women doesn't stop with Mindy.
When Eleanor was around girls like that—like Park's mom, like Tina, like most of the girls in the neighborhood—she wondered where they put their organs...Eleanor knew she was fat, but she didn't feelthat fat...Park's mom could wear Eleanor's rib cage like a roomy vest.
Not only is this passage depressing because it upholds the false assumption that all Asian women are "thin, pretty, and petite," it also shows Eleanor’s own self-hatred and fat-shaming. I understand that she has issues with her insecurities, but (like what I wanted to see in Park) she never overcame them. I didn't see her character grow, in fact she remained static throughout the novel. I know she isn't suppose to be perfect and I'm glad she has very realistic issues, but I was disappointed by her constant need to run away, hide, and alienate. Eleanor would sort of getting close to Park, then freaking out and pushes him away. This cycle was repeated ad nauseam.
Also, note that it's not just Eleanor who is racist, but also essentially everyone in the neighborhood and school. In the neighborhood, when a girl becomes pregnant, residents were not worried about the act of unprotected sex and conception. No. They were too focused on the fact that the girl's boyfriend was black. At school, Eleanor makes a monologue about how she want to spend more time with her white peers in the Honors classes by taking less regular classes where all the blacks are. Say whatever you want about how she's expressing her want for social interaction, but I found that this passage could have been written without too much mention of race. Alas it wasn't, because the whole book is full of racial stereotypes for blacks (as well as Asians) and it revolves around this white girl “who isn’t like all those other weird white girls.”
I'm sure Rowell doesn't condone racism, I feel as though she is unaware of the implications her treatment of race in this book has. She clearly didn't do enough research when writing about cultural and historical issues, but that doesn’t give her an excuse to be completely sloppy and/or disrespectful when handling them.
However, racism was only one of the problems with this book. I felt as those Eleanor's situation was over exaggerated. That is, her struggling with familial issues, poverty, alcoholism, and bullying didn't seem authentic. I'm sure these issues can all occur simultaneously, but in the end I stopped caring about Eleanor's family situation because the way Rowell handled it wasn't doing it for me. Her relationship with her family members was one-dimensional, superficial. I didn't see the literary depth to it; her relationship was a device to make Eleanor more sympathetic to the reader. The device broke on me.
I found the romance to be a la Romeo and Juliet and bland. The idea of the romantic development of the title characters (girl and boy meet and connect over mix-tapes and comic book) is cute and charming, but was poorly and unrealistically executed. Eleanor and Park spend several week after their first encounter not talking at all, until Park lends Eleanor one of his comic books. But they still don't talk when they read comic books together on the bus. Next thing that happens (within two chapters to be specific), Park proclaims his love for Eleanor despite both bemoaning the fact they know little about each other. (I'll give him credit for taking it slower than Romeo.)** They never truly knew each, until maybe some important secrets were revealed until the final chapters. Their love is founded on illusions and fantasies they have made of each other; it is not true love, despite their shared passion for music and comic books.
All the potential this initially seem to have quickly vanished as a cracked out the book and started Chapter 1. I would love to forget about it, but I can't. Eleanor & Park is highly problematic and has no true plot(s). No matter how much I tried to not get infuriated by the messages and execution of the book...resistance was futile.
If you want to read it, I won't stop you. You have been warned.
*Quick comment on the following description Park's "edginess":
Park didn't look pretty. He looked dangerous. Like Ming the Merciless.
Yes, "Like Ming the Merciless." Who, as you might know from the Flash Gordon comic, was originally introduced in 1934 and is a pretty clear stand-in for yellow peril.
Review | Commentary
Wicked is brilliant. The book out shines the musical, because only in Maguire's writing can you explore the liveliness and discourse of Oz, the trials and tribulations of all the characters, and the complexity of evil, immorality, and morality.
Maguire's capability to reconcile a fantasy world and the real world by permeating the mystical with realistic hard ships and emotions.Even in the "fantastical realms of Oz" he creates, he brings up discussion about discrimination, racism, ableism, and religion/spirituality. He insinuates that even in a whole different world, our "human" nature as well as the understandings and issues of our society carry on. In other words, no matter where you are, life happens. People are hateful. People get jealous. People feel resentment and hurt.
He takes the childhood perception of Oz and distorts it to something recognizable—Oz becomes a version of our world with almost all the things that us humans have done and felt, both good and bad.
That brings me to the topics, or rather themes, of morals in this book. It is much easier to believe that there is distinctive gap between good and evil, do and don't do, moral and immoral. If only things were that simple. But our world isn't like that, neither is Oz.There are no cut and dry, no distinctively defined moral in this book. There may be at least one, but, in my reading of this, I haven't found one.
However, in this book, the infamous Wicked Witch of the West is a sympathetic character who has been thrown into and survived through very troubling situations. Her birth, her childhood, her upbringing, her schooling, her activism, and her journey in becoming know as The Wicked Witch. These situations seem so bizarre and yet, her feelings resonate with us.
Elphaba is the most powerful character in the history of fiction. I have no qualms about saying that, and I'm usually indecisive about choosing absolute favorites or "mosts". Because of her, I analyzed people I had once considered enemies, and saw that they had human nature built into them long before they became my "enemies", they had feelings that led them to wherever they happen to be now. (Admittedly, this does not apply to people who I just really dislike. I'm only human and I have follies.)
If Elphaba was a man...
I always wondered if the fact Elphaba's green skin was so abhorrent to people was because she was a girl. Oz seems to be old fashioned. For example, there are no women 'professors' (there are few teachers, but that's beside the point) and most women seem to hold a more Daisy Buchanan-esque status. That is, they are mostly objects for whatever use or pretty faces for the real movers and shakers. "Beautiful little fools" the lot of them are. Perhaps the only break from this mold was Madam Morrible, and even then she worked mostly behind the scenes and did not take any government positions above Press Secretary.
Now, if Elphaba had been born a boy, how would her life be different? Would being the eldest boy change the way she was perceived by the world? Unfortunately, I think yes. The society of Oz reminiscent of pre-20th century, so it is heavily patriarchal.Thus, the belief that women are expected to meet certain, superficial requirements before anything else, transcend through from our world to others.
If Elphaba was born a man, her green skin could be excused on the account that one day she'd be the governor of Munchkinland (because, though she was the heir as a girl, I always got the vibe that she'd be expected to give it up to her son if she had one). In fact, her skin could actually be considered exotic (in a good way!), rather than disgusting. It's an unfortunate truth—if a women does not fit the mold of classic Ozian beauty, she's a freak. If a man doesn't (like Fiyero and his diamond tattoos), he can be considered more handsome.
In the case of Nessa - in all other ways she's described as being "tragically beautiful" with the exception of her arms. So, even though she is physically disabled and has faced some ableism, Nessarose still does not merit the same abuse as her sister because she’s still considered a classical beauty.
That being said... Elphaba would make a very handsome man, despite being the absolute best fictional female character of all time.
Chapter Twelve: Chinese American During the Great Depression
Chang on the rise of Asian (more specifically Chinese in this case) fetishization in America. This issue has always been around since the Europeans first came in contact with Asians, but it has become increasingly worse because almost all men have done little to halt this fetishization.
To this day, men still exploit Asian women (and women in general) for their benefit/business. For instance, I was watching “What Asian Girls Like” (I know I shouldn't but I did anyway) by two brothers who make profit out of making Youtube video (some are decent) and advertising their or their friends' merchandise. Then in their comment section you may see various ways of saying how hot Asian girls are and all that bullshit. Ugh just horrible.
It took me a while to finish this because it's so forgettable and I've been busy preparing for my impending doom, otherwise known as finals week.
This is one of the few cases where the film was actually better than the book itself. There were a few things I like about the book better than the movie, but overall I'd much rather read the screenplay. Not only does the book lack diversity in body shapes (in the book Andrea is thinner than how Anne Hathaway portrayed her), it also lacks dimension in the characters (Andy especially even though she's the main character) and plot. There wasn't a really conflict. Since Andy is a narrator she wants you to be on her side and cry "poor Andy". But honestly, besides maybe losing her friends Andy didn't seem to face any other obstacles. And it's not just the narrative or Andy who never changed in terms of intensity, because nobody changed at all throughout the course of the novel. Especially Lily who I guess I'm suppose to feel sorry for because of her controllable alcoholism. No. Of all the 2D characters that I wanted to laugh at, Lily is right behind Andy. Out of jealousy of her bestie since the eighth grade who trying to build a successful career for herself, Lily goes out sleeping with whatever guy she can snatch up, showing that she obviously has more problems than alcoholism.
Maybe I'm biased because I like Anne Hathaway, but book-Andy is much more whiny and an overall unlikable person. She bitches, she moans, and she essentially steals from the company. Not to mention the narration is so ineloquent. She apparently graduated from Brown and wanted to write for the New Yorker. She expressions and vocabulary felt very limited to me. Then again, this is suppose to be a gossipy, chick-lit novel, and she was young and working in the "hippest" place ever.
It's the "something for nothing" mentality that really drags the book down - she seems to think that she can do a year as an admin and it's worth 3 years anywhere else - but somehow, that isn't going to involve work. So that's passable.
Now, this would be a one-star* review except for a overlooked clever bit of writing in the entire novel. It struck me after I finished the book that Miranda Priestly is never wore Prada. At least, not as far as I recall. Andy, however, admits that she feels good about herself when she leaves her apartment decked out in Prada from head to heel. Thus implying, of course, that the "Devil" in this book is Andy and not Miranda Priestly. Of course one may not realize this unless they were truly bored out of their mind and/or were good at noticing details. Even so, Weisberger tries so hard to never make Andy come across as a true devil; just a young woman trying desperately to do what it takes to establish a good career in the publishing world. Either way, I had no sympathy for the lead character in this novel...If she was truly a strong heroine who could think, she could keep her job without selling her soul and becoming her boss.
As for Miranda Priestly, I get that she's suppose to be fabulous, but do fashion magazine editors really have all that Miranda has? A private jet that she can use to fly off to Paris whenever she wants to act like a bitch. Other aspects of the book were also hard to swallow but I was able to suppress my urge to roll my eyes because I didn't want to get dizzy. I find it exceptionally difficult to believe that a woman who's turned a fashion magazine into the kind of success could demand that two copies of the new Harry Potter book be jetted to her hotel room in Paris the day before the book is released. Also, I wondered why DID she care about what label her assistants and employees were wearing even IF she is absolutely obsessed with fashion. It's obvious that they have to look nice because they work for a fashion rag and are around the heart of NYC, but shouldn't Miranda be more concerned with efficiency and performance from her employees than the label on their clothing? And the idea that said fashion editor keeps a staff and a huge closet full of spare high-end clothing specifically to make sure her staff looks right just didn't fly with me. Again, maybe I just to suspend my disbelief (which wasn't hard to do because I was desperate for something to do without actually thinking) to get through what the milieu Lauren Weisberger has conjured up out of her fashion-addled imagination.
The only truly good thing this book gave me was a laugh and mind-numbing breaks from intense study session. For some reason the plight of the lifeless characters and the never-ending pop-culture references helped me relax. Strange, I know. It was fast, fluffy, and frivolous.
But if you feel you must muddle through this, rent the movie. Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway are worth it (oh and Emily Blunt too).
*I gave her a pity point.
As I have mentioned before, this challenge will be a test of self-discipline. These conditions were not made by Lilit Marcus, I come up with them so that they can help me keep prioritize my reading. Since I want to step out of my comfort zone and expose myself to different perspectives and worldviews, it's fair if I try not to read about the same basic argument over and over again.
The items under "Rules" are the conditions that I have to absolutely follow, where as the items under "Guidelines" are conditions I will try to follow to the best of my ability and they can be subjected to change over time.
1. No books by male authors. (If it wasn't obvious enough.)
2. No comic books or manga by male authors. (This will be a huge obstacle to face since the mainstream comics are almost-all written by men. I saw a few comics by women, but not a significant number; even in the indie-comics scene, men seem to have more work out than women. I don't have to worry too much about manga, because I actually enjoy some Shoujo and I know there are a few really good non-Shoujo series by women.)
3. School-assigned readings are an exemption, because I want to pass English.
1. No less than 40 books.
2. Don't go re-reading stuff to go through the minimum 40 books faster. (This won't be followed very well, because I love Jane Austen. But it's a good rule of thumb for picking out totally new books and I plan on exceeding 40 anyway.)
3. There's a library nearby (three actually) and a bookstore (not-so-near, but close enough), I don't have an excuse not to be reading except for when studying for AP Exams.
4. Take a break once in a while. (I already started a pile of Chick Lit, and I am not ashamed. Not even of the fact that I included Meg Cobat's The Princess Diaries.)
5. Finish at least one series/trilogy.
6. Included books by LGBT authors.
7. Choose books with different perspectives.
8. Balance Non-fiction and Fiction, as well as the amount of Non-fiction about whites
9. Reading spoilers of male-authored books/comics is okay.
This is all I'm going by for now. After I finish The Devil Wear Prada by Lauren Weisberger, I plan on reading The Chinese in America by Iris Change (author of The Rape of Nanking).
I love reading. I love books. It's important that I make that fact as clear as possible.
Each time I read a book, I am stretched as a person. I am exposed to new thoughts, perspectives, ideas, etc. which urge to me reevaluate myself. I am taken to different places and enjoy conversations with an array of people. I am inspired, entertained, and invested in them, but I want to do more than just reading a lot. So for the new year, I have decided to take up a challenge.
Before I fully explain the challenge—though I am sure at least one person reading this may already know what it is—let's first boldly go where no one—
You know what? No.
I prepared some very imaginative taglines for my sign posts, but frack that—
Cause. Effect. Conclusion. Engage.
Like many other decisions that have been made, there are causes: First, I have found (after much introspection) that I harbor some biases, prejudices, and shame; and Second, I have been inspired by Lilit Marcus and her experience in doing the challenge I will be doing.
First: ...I do harbor some unfair biases against certain books or at least certain aspects in books. As far as I'm aware, that is completely normal—it's a part of being human. However, some of my biases actually made me one of the worst types of humans out there—a literary snob...for the last few years I thought that the only works of literature worth reading were the classics, renaissance literature, philosophical fiction, and all that fancy "serious literature". Most of the contemporary and commercial books that didn't fall into my book criteria were deemed unworthy. My snobbery combined with my unwillingness to invest time in these "unworthy" books makes me a sectarian. I wasn't really interested in reading something that was too "easy" for me, since I am apparently a very smart individual. So I was conditioned to confine myself into the "standard reading level" people have put me in and made a nice comfort zone out of it. But I later learned that by staying in my "comfort" zone, I was missing out on how fun reading is when you take a vacation from a tome and read unserious and/or fluffy stories.
...as much as I love books in general, this year I have read, wish-listed, and preferred more books by men than I do by women. I had succumb belief that "Men write more interesting fiction than women because all women focus on is the romance." That belief goes by many other descriptions, but essentially it's about how male-authored books are generally preferred more than female-authored books. What's worse than my succumbing to it was the fact that I deliberately avoided certain female authors specifically because I thought what they wrote wasn't as good as some of the fiction I read by men. That went against my beliefs as a feminist, but I did it anyway.
Obviously I must seem like a hypocrite to you, because I am. The fact that I am a literary snob who will harshly judge you if you read something that I condemn, then goes around in secret and read that something because it's my guilt pleasure makes me a hypocrite. The fact that I am a self-proclaimed feminist and advocate for fair treatment, yet upheld a social belief that goes against fair treatment and equality makes me a hypocrite. I admit this because not only does it make me feel extremely guilty, but also ashamed of what I like and what I read.
Remember the explanation of my snobbery? Well in a nut shell, I became a literary snob partly because of the reading level I have been placed in when I was younger and partly because of the expectations that people have for me. (e.g. "You should be reading Tolstoy and Dickens, not John Green or Holly Black.") But don't think I made myself miserable just reading the "serious fiction" someone of my stereotype was "supposed" to be reading, because I actually enjoyed a lot of the them—because they had very interesting messages about humanity and the self and all that academic spiel...However, there were a few books that I didn't enjoy, which made me feel stupid because they were the holy college standard books that the academic world said I should be reading. In a way, I felt like the academic world was basically telling me that reading all of these YA/contemporary/light novels is a waste of time.
To make matters worse, since I secretly wrote "unserious/light/fluffy" fiction (on top of just reading it), I felt like I was also being told that the stories I actually liked writing were a waste of time. Somewhere along the line, I started to feel ashamed, not just of my reading tastes, but of my writing. Feeling powerless to the stigma of reading unserious fiction and too embarrassed of my hypocrisy to be truthful, I allowed myself to be put down my others and stopped writing completely. People made me feel inferior and I consented.
Clearly I have issues that I need to change. And I will. But before I want to go to what I will do about those feelings, I should first elaboration on my second point.
Second: In early January, I read an article by Lilit Marcus about why she read only books by female authors in 2013. After all wrapped up my New Year reflections, it was obvious I had to find a way to make those changes I wanted in myself. Marcus gave me a way. Her experience with reading books by women seemed not only interesting, but enlightening.
Not only has my respect for her grown exponentially, but also my motivation to overcome my snobbery, prejudice, and shame also grew.
When there are causes, there are (more often than not) effects. And I now have two of them: First, I have come up with a lot of commentary on what I have talked in Causes; Second, including inspiration from Marcus, I thought of a few other reason why I decided to heavily focus on this reading challenge.
First: More recently, I have toned down the snobbery and am planning on reducing it even more sometime in the near future (give or take some lapses because I am still human)...While there are so many serious books I've read and loved, I would be closing myself off from some really dynamic and entertaining things by reading them all of the time. I have come to believe that you can learn something from every book, even the horribly trashy ones and the serious ones that I feel like I've wasted hours of my life on.
Moreover, I found that by not reading outside of your favorite genre—be it serious fiction, YA, historical, or something else—you could be limiting yourself in terms of inspiration, too. Since I have started journey toward becoming a good writer (maybe not published, but at least enough to be a good blogger), I have slowly been taking up the "read everything and everything" philosophy that's suppose to expose me to different writing styles and what not. And it's been working! Whether it's an essay I read for English AP (Language and Composition, in case you're wondering) or a YA book or a book about a theory, when I get into it inspiration hits me like a lightning bolt.
I also recently realized that the real problem was not really with the people who told what to read; it was with me...Not that it really matters any more as I think about a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt—"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Basically, I've accepted that reading and writing unserious wasn't a waste of my time and it was nothing to be ashamed of since most of my friends would have been supportive. As for hiding it? That was a waste of time. I won't make that mistake again.
Second: I decided to follow the tradition of making New Year's Resolutions since I intended on changing a few things about myself anyway...[so] here are some other reasons why I want to take up this reading challenge:
- It’ll make me a better writer. Since I enjoys spreading thoughts and communicating with others, writing is important to me. And it's a known fact that reading always increases our capacity to write.
- It’ll increase my worldview and pragmatism. Since I will exposing myself to different ideas and cultures as well as different approaches to life and the problems we face, I am provided an opportunity to better discern what has worked in the past and what has not.
- It’ll increase my reading speed. While not a slow reader, I have never considered myself particularly fast either. Speed reading will be a good skill to have, especially if I need to read through a lot of passages in my textbooks.
- It’ll improve my self-discipline. No doubt, at times, this challenge will definitely require discipline. The best ones always do.
- It’ll stretch my creativity. By rediscovering like in new ways, we begin to see the world differently, and we find new creative solutions because of it.
That is in addition to the inspiration I have drawn from reading Marcus's article and self-reflection. Since I've started to think about what I can do to advocate for female writers, I find myself going with the most obvious method—reading and buying their books. By becoming an audience members for female authors, I will be giving them as much [free] publicity and support as I can, which is extremely important and heartwarming if you're a writer. By doing so I hope to overcome my vices and achieve a better understanding of feminism, sexism, social stigma, and prejudice so I can fight against it!
My goals for 2014 include learning a lot about the things I’m passionate about, contributing more proactively to issues I'm passionate about, writing better and more in general (because it should be quite obvious that my organization and conciseness is crap), and sharing my best discoveries by creating exceptional content for this blog.
I hereby commit to reading no less than 40 books, all by female authors.
Sections in this review: Research. Writing. Characters.
I was pleasantly surprised at how closely this followed the ancient poem "The Ballad of Mulan", who is a historical figure who make have lived around the Northern Wei dynasty.
I had low expectations for this since this was my first time reading anything by Cameron Dokey and because I thought since it was a "retelling"* it would be shallow, which it kind of was but at least she went above my expectations in terms of writing style.
To clarify what I mean by shallow, I assumed Dokey would merely utilized archetypal and stereotypical conceptions of ancient Chinese people ad culture. However, Dokey showed that she did some do research for this. The description of the characters revealed the concept behind writing certain characters—the story and history behind a Chinese character and how it's important to its meaning. (Which I appreciate since that is why I adore traditional Chinese script so much.) Mulan's monologue in the beginning, fairly depicted the old-school ways of fortune-telling (by zodiac, birthday, numbers, and stuff) and—from what I observed from my mom's practice of that—Dokey's evaluation of Mulan in those terms were well done. She has shown a decent understanding of the culture and even gender roles, but it was still very generic to the point where the story could have been set in some other Asian country.
Now because this followed the original poem so well, it reminded me of the 2009 Chinese movie version (Hua Mulan, starring Zhao Wei)which made me have deja vu expereiences while reading the book. Seriously, if you want to watch this book, watch Hua Mulan (2009).
I like her style. The descriptions and introspective passages were beautifully written. Her sentences seemed short yet concise, which I love because it really help move the story along. Short and sweet and straight forward is a good way to go with such an overdone story like that of Mulan. But it didn't really do much for her character because even during introspection, Mulan's attributes are shallow and I don't feel anything really deep or relatable about her.
I appreciate that Dokey didn't focus so much on the romantic aspect of this book. Even though I enjoyed Hua Wei and Zao Xing's endearing relationship, it was only a plot device and I like it that way. I'm sure there are a few people who may have wanted Mulan and Li Po to end up together, but that wouldn't be right. It would take away from Dokey's subliminal message of how a girl and a guy can be friends without falling romantically for each other. Though I would be content if Mulan didn't really have a relationship, I see how important Jian is to be character. By establishing a relationship with Jian, Mulan established a relationship with her father. To be clearer, Hua Wei inspired Jian to be courageous, so when Mulan didn't really want anyone to uplift her spirits Jian unknowingly stepped in as her father would (eh, maybe he wouldn't but I mean they have a pretty tight relationship so...) by encouraging to be courageous.
Overall, good rhetoric and good use of characters and character interactions. But with the shortness of the book, it did feel rough and choppy at the time transitions as well as made her hastily establish herself as a hero to the point where there wasn't much any emotional struggle for her. Also, the narration in this book is so generic I didn't have a feel for anything distinctly of Chinese culture. It was nicely written, but it was like every other of "accurate" narration of the same story.
Hua Mulan: Realtic female protagonist in that Dokey displayed her strengths and weaknesses. In terms of her character, one flaw would be, that she gets over things a little too easily. She doesn't have that much of a struggle in which she was truly suffering. There were obstacle in her way, but she was about to get over them easily—even Li Po's death because at least her Prince was alive.
I like that she's head-strong, clever, and can shoot like a champion yet is mildly feminine (I'm referring to her gushy feelings for Jian), has that flaw of thinking she knows what's best (which she did most of the time throughout the book, but I'm just zeroing in on the "food incident" with Min Xian before Mulan left), etc.
Li Po: I really liked this guy. He was balanced in his attributes and I like that he didn't look down on Mulan for wanting to do what the boys did. Mostly like because she was higher on the ladder than him family-wise, but still...Li Po was a good friend and it was a shame to see him go.
Jian: The relationship between him and Mulan was very forced, possibly due to the shortness of the book. It's great that he is humble and has a sense of humor, but Mulan never really established an deep emotional connect with him, one that would be strong enough to fight for him and her country, of course.
Gen. Yuwen and Hua Wei: If you though I was happy Li Po being so accepting of Mulan's social defiance, than I was elated when I read that two army men were accepting and encouraging of Mulan's ambitions. These two are really good father-figures, but that still make this novel a bit too male-heavy.
Zao Xing: Thank goodness she is not an "evil step-mother", not that Mulan would really submit to that. She's a kind soul and a cute plot device; good addition to the roster, Dokey.
Min Xian: The sassy-caretaker. She's an archetype, but I love her anyway, like I do with every other sassy-caretaker I'm seen/read (e.g. Rhonda from A Cinderella Story).