Sunday, June 29, 2014

77. "Fat! So?" by Marilyn Wand

Wann, Marilyn. Fat! So? Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 1998.

198 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

I am very stingy with my use of 5-star ratings. Books that receive a 5-star rating typically need to have a "life changing" quality. In the experience of reading them, I feel different afterwards, changed, more connected to life and myself. Marilyn Wann's book Fat! So? is one of those books I gladly give a 5-star rating.

Wann is one of the founders of the Body Positive Movement, a movement that seeks to embrace bodies of all types and put an end to fat discrimination, hatred, and prejudice. The book starts with an introduction in which Wann describes discrimination she faced due to her size. From there, the book is broken up into sections similar to a zine. This is fitting as Fat! So? is based on a zine written by Wann years before the book came into existence.

Wann emphasizes the importance of re-claiming the word “fat” and returning it back to its neutral state of simply being a descriptor rather than a word loaded with other implications. She writes that fat should hold no more weight than the words “tall,” or “blonde.” While I like this idea on the surface, when it comes down to it, almost all words describing a person’s appearance are loaded with some connection to that person’s worth. It would then be more effective to cut the connection between a person’s worth and their appearance as a whole which I think is the underlying point Wann is trying to make. We are not defined by our eye color, the shape of our thighs or the length of our fingers. Therefore, none of the descriptions “fat,” “thin,” “tall,” “short,” should ever be offensive.

What really hit me at my core with this book is what is indicated in the subtitle “Because you don’t have to apologize for your size.” Fat! So? emphasizes the importance of letting go of shame and embracing who you are no matter what your dress size is. We all need to stop apologizing for our size. There is nothing to apologize for. Society tells us differently, though and nowhere is this more transparent than in the field of medicine. We are told if our BMI is too high, we are fat and need to change our bodies (even though BMI is one of the worst indicators of health, like, ever). We are made to feel guilty, ashamed, and worthless by the medical field. The thing is, Wann points out study after study after study that shows that people can be healthy no matter their BMI.

Fat discrimination is rampant in the medical field stretching into our insurance plans and the commercial diet field where people spend thousands of dollars on diet plans and pills that the diet industry knows won’t work. We are being conned, people! This isn’t new news really, but Wann makes it perfectly clear just how far and wide fat discrimination reaches. It is horrifying, but the knowledge is also empowering. When we know what we are up against, it is easier to stand up for ourselves and Wann offers many, many ways that people can stand up for themselves and stop feeling ashamed.  

I really feel this book should be required reading in schools. For what class, I’m not totally sure, but it is a message that needs to be heard. I know this book changed my life and the way I carry myself in doctor’s offices or during conversations about body size. I know it will change the lives of many others if they can have access to it.

5 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Sunday, June 22, 2014

76. "Allegiant" by Veronica Roth

***Spoiler Alert***

This review contains spoilers

Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. Katherine Tegen Books, 2013

523 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

In Roth’s final book in the Divergent series, plot holes abound. I didn’t enjoy this one and not for the way it ended, although the ending was lazy and juvenile. My points of contention are as follows:

1. Bad point of view shifts: In Allegiant, Roth attempts to switch the point of view between Tris and Tobias. She failed….horribly. When using two separate points of view, a writer needs to make the narration different in each POV so readers can distinguish between characters. Tris and Tobias’ voices are identical. The only way a reader can tell the difference between the characters are by the convenient chapter titles indicating who is narrating. Sometimes there was a telling context clue to indicate the narrator, but the voice and narration style was identical. IDENTICAL.

2. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far. There were some serious plot holes. A few plot holes here and there and readers can typically suspend their disbelief to make the story work. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far before the story falls apart. The most egregious plot holes are listed below, but there are others outside this list, even.

  • Plot hole #1: David. David is supposed to be inoculated against the death serum. He is the leader of this highly important governmental organization. Why would he not have also been inoculated against the memory serum?
  • Plot hole #2: The government is supposed to be highly organized and scientifically sophisticated. They are sophisticated enough to add and remove genes. Supposedly by removing certain genes they created genetically damaged people, so instead of using their incredible gene technology to fix the problem, they decide to wait a couple centuries to see if it will magically cure itself. Are we supposed to believe that in several centuries' time, they aren't still advancing the genetic science used to remove the genes in the first place? This plot is hasty, lazy and illogical.
  • Plot hole #3: The government used memory serum on the Chicago population to start the gene program. The study falls apart when factions turn against one another, violently wiping out the divergent populations that the government seeks to preserve. So to solve the problem they decide to re-set the population’s memory….because that worked so well the first time. Riiiiiight.
  • Plot hole #4: The ending, according to a blog written by Veronica Roth, was meant to show how Tris chooses Abnegation values over all others. This is a nice thought, BUT it completely erases the entire point of what it means to be divergent. Divergent means that people are able to make choices based on several skill sets and critical thinking skills. They aren’t locked into the patterns of thought that define their factions. If Tris was truly as special and as “genetically healed” as she was described to be, she should be able to think of a creative way to overcome the situation with David without sacrificing herself in the process. The idea of being divergent is something I actually really liked about the series, but this sloppy ending annihilated the entire concept.

3. Poor development of periphery characters. Several periphery characters die in Allegiant: Tori, Uriah, etc. The problem with this is that character deaths are only an effective writing device if the reader is somehow attached to that character. The lack of development in these periphery characters creates a “meh” reaction when they die. It makes their deaths a quick way to tie a neat little bow around their story arc without having to put much creative thought into it.

4. Four. In the first two books, Four/Tobias is a brash, hard, brave leader of the dauntless. He's mature and makes intelligent decisions. In Allegiant he becomes a weepy, fearful, indecisive man-boy. The problem with this is that the change is abrupt. There is no transition or progression that would constitute, you know, character development. The transformation is instead instantaneous with no trigger. This version of Four is far less appealing than the Four of the previous books and serves little purpose in moving the story arc. If Roth was trying to show vulnerability in his character, it could have been done without making him an entirely different person. 

Often, I can redeem books I don’t like by feeling entertained regardless of the weaknesses. I could do that with Divergent and maybe even Insurgent, but I can’t do that with Allegiant. I don’t recommend reading this book. The only reason I can give for picking it up is so one will know how the series ends, but honestly, watch the movie instead. It will probably be better.

1 dart out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: Return to library

Sunday, June 15, 2014

75. "Mistborn" by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn. New York: Tor Books, 2006

541 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Have you seen the movies Ocean's 11 and The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring? If yes, imagine the Ocean's 11 story set in Mordor and you'll have Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn. In a city where ash falls from the sky, Vin must learn to navigate her powers of allomancy, a power allotted only to those royal-born called Mistborn. Allomancy is a complicated process that I won't attempt to break down for you here, but with her allomantic skills, Vin joins a thieving group with the intent to overthrow the final empire.

Mistborn kept my attention through the entire tome of 500+ pages. It took me a long time to get through the entire book, but it was worth the perseverance. The characters are interesting and amusing and the story, while predictable at points, was highly entertaining. Mistborn explores questions of morality, honesty, trust, and justice.

I'm not an experienced fantasy reader. I mostly stick to urban fantasy which is like "fantasy lite." I have read the LOTR series but that is the extent of my true fantasy reading. With that in mind, I'll say that I was surprised at how easy it was to dive into this book. LOTR was dense and had miles and miles of wordy description to slog through before getting to the meat of the story. Mistborn was much more accessible and if I were to recommend a fantasy "starter" book, this would be it.

4 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: Returned to the Borrower

Sunday, June 8, 2014

74. "Insurgent" by Veronica Roth

Roth, Veronica. Insurgent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2012

544 Pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

I am not the audience for the Divergent series. I get that; I really, really get that. Insurgent, despite understanding that the series is aimed largely at teen girls, left me disappointed. I'll admit, I got my wishes for more action and better plot development I'd hoped for after finishing Divergent (read review here) but there are some really blatant screw-ups in Insurgent that negated any improvements from Divergent.

First, Roth is missing something with which all good writers are skilled: TRANSITIONS. One minute Tris is falling asleep and the next, with no transition whatsoever, she is traipsing across the city. One minute Tris is traipsing through the city, the next she's standing in the middle of Erudite headquarters. The complete lack of transitions made the story jarring and disruptive and not in a way that helped the plot or tone at all. It didn't flow; it skipped and started like a scratched CD.

Second, this is a post-apocalyptic society and survival seems awfully easy for these folks. Food, clean water, clothing and shelter are readily available as is transportation that seems to miraculously appear just when they need to get somewhere. Even as a teen reader, this would have made me lose interest. The factions are warring against one another. Roth repeatedly notes that the two factions NECESSARY FOR SURVIVAL ARE NO LONGER IN TACT. So how in the world are they magically having access to the resources needed to survive?!!!???!?!??!??? It's lazy writing. It's bad writing.

Finally, I might have been able to suspend my disbelief for my second point of contention if the story had not been so predictable. About a quarter through the book, I had it figured out. Very little surprised me about how Insurgent ended. None of the "twists" left me feeling the least bit surprised. They were mostly soap operatic and worthy of eye-rolls.

I think the best way to enjoy this book, is to become attached to the characters. If you are attached to the characters, then the tension that is built from conflicts might hold your interest. This is probably Roth's strength as a writer and what thrilled the general public about this series. It isn't the plot, or the universe, it is the rich, complex, and raw characters that grab readers. It is these characters that compel me to read the last book in the series. If it weren't for them, I'd write off the entire series as a dud.

2 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: Return to Library

Sunday, June 1, 2014

73. "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2012. Kindle ebook.

487 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

When I first sat down to read the first book in the Divergent trilogy, I was convinced that it would just be a rip off of the Hunger Games trilogy. From reading the description on the book cover, it looked like Roth might be grabbing hold of the streamers on the rocket success of The Hunger Games. Beatrice Prior, the protagonist must choose her faction. In the city of a dystopian Chicago, at a certain point in their lives teenagers must decide which faction they belong to and each faction represents a particular value as a response to a war that happened long before the start of the story. This is all very similar to The Hunger Games, particularly with the strong-willed female protagonist and post-war factions or districts.

That is about the extent of the overlap, though. As stated earlier, each faction represents the polar opposite value of what people believed caused the war. Further details aren’t really given about this war, but perhaps that is coming in the next couple of books. The Dauntless faction values courage and believe that cowardice was the cause of the war. The Candor faction values honesty and believes that lies were the cause of the war. You get the point.

Beatrice grew up in Abnegation, a faction focused on extreme selflessness. She is not allowed to have her own desires; she is not even allowed to look into a mirror because that is considered self-serving. Beatrice must decide if she will stay in her faction with her family, or join a different faction and never see her family again. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say which faction she decides to join, but the majority of the book traces her progress of initiation into this faction.

Before deciding on a faction, students are given an aptitude simulation test that indicates what factions they have specific strengths for. Most students end up with strengths aimed at one particular faction. In rare cases though, some students will have strengths for multiple factions or no factions. These students are called divergent and Beatrice is one of them. Not much is explained regarding her divergent status other than the perception that those who are divergent are dangerous and thus, in danger so Tris is not allowed to tell anyone about her divergent status.

Divergent is a nice set-up for the future books in the trilogy. There wasn’t much work done in developing the “world” as most fantasy or dystopian writers tend to do. As a result, it was difficult to really grasp exactly why Chicago was in its current state and what that current state was. If I were to grade it like a teacher, I would give this book’s world creation a C. I also thought that the middle of the story really dragged. It was full of teen angst and initiation processes and romantic tension and eventually I became bored with this. By the end of the book, the action started to pick up again and I liked it enough to be curious about what happens in the second book in the series. I am hoping for more action, less angst, and better plot development in book two.

Weaknesses aside, I had fun reading this book and if you are a fan of dystopian literature, it’s worth it to give this one a shot. Just remember it is written for a teen audience!

3 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: returned to the library.