Graffiti (and Other Poems)

Title: Graffiti (and Other Poems)

Author: Savannah Brown, Ed Stockham (illustrator)

Summary: These poems are about growing up, budding and grappling and shedding, about how wonderful it feels and about how deeply it aches.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book’s been on my radar for a while, but i’ll admit, in the end it was this second edition cover that had me buying it (black > white). I also seem to be a bit hit-and-miss with poetry. Sometimes i love it, sometimes it just doesn’t click with me; i’m always apprehensive going in.

It was the third verse in this collection that got these poems clicking for me. I so immediately felt like an adolescent again, old and familiar emotions swept over me so effortlessly. And the best part was that they weren’t unwelcome or uncomfortable. Often, remembering emotions from my teenage years can stir embarrassment and shame, but that’s not what i felt and recalled when i read this book.

The poems are written from a place of introspection, but with enough perception to make them astute and mature. Poems like a poem just for me, real estate, and the only things i know to be true reveal an author who knows herself, but knows she’s not infallible, and knows she’s going to grow and change. While i relate to many of the feelings and sentiments in these poems, it’s with hindsight–i would never have been this self-aware as a teenager.

To me these are the poems of someone processing their own experiences and emotions in a safe and intelligent way, and that makes them massively relatable and fascinating. If these were written during and about Brown’s teenage years, i–as a woman a few years into her 30s–would be very interested in reading any poems she writes in her 20s.

And the art! The accompanying pieces amongst the words. They’re perfect little visual snippets of the poems. There is one in particular of a capsizing ship that I would consider having tattooed on my body. Such simple artwork speaks volumes, in just the same way three verse poems contain as much depth as a novel.

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IT

Title: IT

Author: Stephen King

Summary: It was the children who see – and feel – what made the small town of Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurks, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reaches up, seizing, tearing, killing…

Time passes and the children grow up, move away and forget. Until they are called back, once more to confront IT as it sirs and coils in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: Straight off the bat, i’ll admit: This review is bias. As a 10 year old kid, i graduated from Point Horror books to Stephen King, and my first novel was IT. I don’t remember first picking it up and deciding to read it. I do remember re-reading sections dozens of times. I remember reading the first chapter aloud to friends during a sleepover. I remember this book being an important part of my childhood.

So this was maybe my fourth or fifth time reading the book cover to cover, but the first time in over 15 or 20 years. The memories flooded back to me. I remembered the overall gist of some parts, and others i remembered almost word for word. I took almost three months to read this book, and it’s because i was savouring it. Fair warning: there will likely be (at the very least, out-of-context) spoilers.

For the most part, the book takes place in two timelines: the summer of 1958 and the summer of 1985. It follows the same group of characters, interspersing their lives from when they are 11 with their lives 27 years later, when they’re 38. This group of characters is the Loser’s Club. Shall we start here then? I love all the losers in one way or another, but my favourite is Beverly. As an 11-year-old kid she’s super awesome–tough and brave and taking no shit. She’s a tomboy who plays rough and dirty with the boys and thinks nothing of it. She won’t let other people’s judgements on the fact that she’s a girl stop her from doing anything. As an adult, i liked her less. She somehow let life wear her down, and she wasn’t as hardy as her younger self. King used her as the much more emotive adult character, where as children it seemed they were all allowed to have a spectrum of emotions. Of the others, i especially loved Ben (emotionally intelligent and intuitively ingenuitive) and Mike (unknowingly wise and unshakably steadfast). But all of the characters are brilliant in their own way–they all have depth and flaws and talent.

The Loser’s nemeses are twofold: an ancient demonic evil entity that preys on children by taking the form of their worst nightmare… and the school bully and his minions. It’s a toss up as to which i find more abhorrent, to be honest. But i guess the ancient demonic evil entity just pinches it, because at least we get the bully’s back story. Henry is a tad twisted and a lot fucked up; full of anger and hate and inadequacy he projects it all at those weaker and more easily targeted, in typical bully fashion. This is heightened, however, by the influence and coaxing of IT. IT has many guises–as a werewolf, a leper, a shark, dead children, a giant bird–but it’s more common facade is Pennywise the dancing clowns (though i don’t recall him doing much dancing). Every 24-27 years, IT shapeshifts it’s way through the odd town of Derry, killing children, before hibernating the time away underground until the cycle begins again.

On the surface it’s a book about monsters, childhood fears, and children’s ability to believe (in the monsters, and in the things that will kill the monsters). But the books is much more than that. It’s about friendship, loyalty, and growing up. It’s about the way society often disregards and controls children. It’s about the ways in which people change as they mature… and they ways in which they stay the same. It’s about how people’s fears and desires influence them on conscious and unconscious levels. It’s about a lot of stuff, okay?

I liked the 1958 timeline more than 1985. I found the characters as kids much more interesting and generally more developed and fleshed out from a writing perspective. The adults seemed a little more two dimensional in comparison, and that wasn’t helped by the fact that for most of the book they couldn’t remember much of their childhood. I think that memory loss left them as less themselves (and that’s me being generous, making it part of the plot, rather than a flaw in the writing). It even goes as far as what they each bring to the group; as kids they all had specific traits that aided their fight against IT, but come adulthood and these are all but gone. While Eddie still showed them the way to IT’s lair as adults, they didn’t need him to get them out. Bev was a natural with a slingshot, but as an adult she didn’t even touch one. It seemed that on the whole, as adults, there wasn’t as much to them as when they were kids.

In both timelines, it was the build up, the planning, and the brief encounters with IT that were the most enjoyable. The climax of the book–the children and adults fighting IT on its home ground, juxtapositioned–was less thrilling for me. For all that build up (over 1000 pages of it), not a lot actually happens. No real fighting or much action–all mind games. Which i don’t mind so much, in fact i rather enjoyed those scenes and getting to hear IT’s own point of view first hand… but the fact that a group of people had ventured there together, to then stand and watch one or two of them hypnotically communicate with IT telepathically was a bit of an anticlimax. It begged the question: Why were they all there?

What did get me was the forgetting. I knew it was coming, but it still hit me quite hard. This group of people forged incredible childhood friendships before gradually moving away and forgetting each other. They then get it all back–they remember each other, they remember all they did that summer, and they find they’re still bonded and care for each other deeply. But then it’s all taken away from them again–and this time they know; they can see it happening. That hit me right in the feels, and was the thing i found scariest of all. The connection these people had to each other, and the memories they made together… all taken from them. It’s altering who they are at such a deep level–they’ll never again know who they really are. That bloody hurts.

I believe we were both thinking the same thing: it was over, yes, and in six weeks or six months, we will have forgotten all about each other. It’s over, and all it’s cost us is our friendship…

Ultimately, it is the chapters detailing the summer of 1958 that i enjoyed the most. Meeting these seven children and them meeting each other. Following them juggle normal summer holiday activities, clashes with an ever more psychotic bully, and discovering and fighting an ancient demonic evil entity. Seeing them learn and experience and bond. Those are the chapters i remember most vividly from when i read this book as a child, because those are the chapters i re-read the most. It was nice to savour a full re-read of the entire book again, but it’s still that summer of 1958 that i’ll carry with me now i’ve finished.

I will also be re-watching the 1990 miniseries, which i was (unsurprisingly) also obsessed with as a kid. It’s likely i’ll write another non-review post about this book, and the film, and what they mean to me. I could have expanded on it here, but i wanted to keep this about the book (and otherwise this post would be far too long!). So watch this space, i guess!

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The Death of Bees

13156039Title: The Death of Bees.

Author: Lisa O’Donnell.

Summary: Hazlehurst housing estate, Glasgow, Christmas Eve 2010. Fifteen-year-old Marnie and her little sister Nelly have just finished burying their parents in the back garden. Only Marnie and Nelly know how they got there. Lennie, the old guy next door, has taken a sudden interest in his two young neighbours and is keeping a close eye on them. He soon realises that the girls are all alone, and need his help – or does he need theirs?
As the year ends and another begins, the sisters’ friends, their neighbours, and the authorities – not to mention the local drug dealer, who’s been sniffing around for their father – gradually start to ask questions. And as one lie leads to another, darker secrets about Marnie’s family come to light, making things even more complicated.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I enjoyed this book well enough. It was an easy read. With very short chapters i suffered from a case of ‘just one more…’ and finished it quickly. But as much as i enjoyed it, it wasn’t as good as i had hoped it would be. The blurb is very well written, and makes the books sound a lot more interesting that it actually is.

Told alternately from three different characters’ points of view, the book started off well. It launched straight into the story and information dropped along the way helps the reader catch up to what’s gone and going on.

What first stuck me was the discrepancies in Marnie’s narrative. She states in the first chapter that her parents were “never there” for her and her sister, that they were “absent.” But at several points through the book she reminisces about her childhood and shares stories about the family playing dress up, about names her parents considered for the girls and about a family photo album—all remembered in a happy, meaningful way and not the action of “absent” parents. Maybe the discrepancies are the point; Marnie’s lost her parents and she’s torn about how to feel. Although her mum and dad were far from ideal carers, they was love within the family. If this was the point, it didn’t come across very well for me.

Lennie was my favourite character. He was not at all what i had imagined, and i think that helped. He was a lovely person who had had a hard life, but still smiled. He cared. He cared about others more than himself, and the only other character to come close to that was Vlado.

Marnie was realistic. As a character and as part of her character. In so many ways she’d grown up too fast, but at the same time she was still so much a child. Marnie and Lennie made this story for me; their points of view were the ones telling the story that i was interested in.

The third point of view was Nelly. Nelly i could only stand through Marnie and Lennie’s eyes. She was an unusual character, and from someone else’s point of view she’s quirky, has a distinct character and is childlike, even for her young age. From Nelly’s point of view i simply found her annoying. Her manner of speaking is completely over done. For her to use a few odd or old fashioned phrases like ‘good golly’ and ‘what the Devil’s going on?’ is one thing, but when everything she says, everything she thinks is in an exaggeratedly posh, outdated caricature of the English language, it was too far fetched for me. I tried reading it in a Scottish accent, but it just sounded even more convoluted. Team that with her penchant for cola on her cornflakes and i just found her trying too hard to be weird.

I can cope with strange characters, they don’t actually hinder my enjoyment of a book that much. What bothered me the most, though, was the feeling that this book just went on too long. The narrative style of three first person points of view and short chapters made the story move along quickly, but the story went on too long without enough actually happening. By about halfway through i was ready for the climax; i was ready to see how the story would end for these characters and i was ready to say goodbye to them. Instead a new character is introduced, who manages to eke out the book for a little longer. I hated the grandfather just as much as i was supposed to, but i was hoping for some kind of twist to his storyline, to make the extra pages worthwhile. It didn’t happen, and to me felt rather superfluous.

Overall i did enjoy the book, but i saw so much more potential in it, it was a shame. It was a nice enough way to while away a little time, but i know i won’t want to re-read it. That feeling more than anything is what disappoints me.