A Review of “Hunger” by Roxane Gay


Dear Tatiana and Mike

Hunger is probably one of the most heart-wrenching and powerful memoirs I have ever read.  Written by Roxane Gay, the author of Difficult Women, Hunger is a personal and harrowing tale that details her struggle with weight and how it has impacted her childhood, teens, and twenties. In the beginning, she opens up with the struggle of dealing with her “wildly undisciplined” body and how she claims she is “trapped in in a cage” (Gay 17) because of the rape she suffered when she was twelve years old. So, she turned to food as a comfort, gaining more and more weight because “[If] I [Gay] felt undesirable, then I could keep more hurt away” (Gay 15).  I felt a strong sense of understanding with this topic. I don’t know about you guys, but while I’ve never struggled with my weight, I know first hand about what trauma can do and how it can decimate a person until they are nothing. You feel like nothing so you treat yourself like you are nothing because that’s what you feel what you deserve.

I liked how straight-forward and honest about the content of her memoir, stating that “This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover…Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story” (Gay 4). I find myself admiring her cutthroat approach of warning the reader that not every book will have happy endings. Life is full of hardships; most things will inevitably get worse before it gets better, until you reach a place in your life to balance out the bad and the semi-good things that come across your life.

I look forward to hearing from the both of you soon,


Dear Tiara and Mike,

I also found Hunger to be a very well written and powerful memoir. This novel really helped me to understand Gay’s struggles in ways I never would have imagined. Gay’s trauma plays a very large role in her struggle with her body, and in a way this memoir puts you into her body and makes you feel all of her imperfections. Like Tiara I also felt as if I could better understand her point of view when Gay went into detail about her trauma. She looks at her body as a constant physical reminder of the trauma she endured: “The past is written on my [Gay] body. I carry it every single day,” (Gay 41). Through all of this, she also struggles to fully tell her story for the next 25 years and had chosen to keep this trauma a secret from everyone. However, now that she is in the state of mind to be able to write this memoir she is also able to begin to unravel how she felt, and how this trauma has shaped her mind. “Those boys treated me [Gay] like nothing so I became nothing,” (Gay 45). This analogy works really well in that it paints a picture of what’s wrong with anti-feminist thinking. Girls’ bodies are viewed as objects that are only in existence to serve men. So, when you ingrain this into a twelve-year old girl’s brain that her assault is a result of her having a nice body, then it only makes sense that she would in turn choose to destroy it to avoid having to face that trauma again. However, it wasn’t until high school that she learned that, “being raped wasn’t my [Gay’s] fault,” (Gay 71). Yet, even with this new possibility of healing we see that Gay doesn’t see herself being able to truly heal.

Gay’s trauma being a key factor for her weight gain is very in tune with current social issues. I think that is what made this novel so successful was it’s urgency with a topic so prevalent. She cites many examples of how she is discriminated in the American culture because she is overweight. We see the importance of understanding mental illness in today’s society. Without understanding Gay’s mental struggles over most of her life we wouldn’t really be able to see how that has shaped who she is. Without this back story all we see is a woman who became medically overweight, but once we have the trauma we understand that she is a woman who is a victim of rape culture. Eating was Gay’s coping mechanism, and not a result of being lazy. In a world where girls are told to dress more conservatively to avoid harassment from boys, Gay’s adolescent self took that one step further and changed her body to protect herself.

One thing I noticed that was very prominent in this section was that Gay tip-toed around the subject of her trauma before diving in with details. This left me feeling somewhat confused because for a while I didn’t think she was ready to acknowledge that part of her life. With this being such a sore subject I began to wonder if the trauma was too painful for her to write about. However, then she dove in and that part felt somewhat abrupt to me. The writing leading up to the story didn’t seem to flow very well into it. Once she had actually gotten into the story I feel that the writing became more comfortable and all of her ideas began to reconnect.

I look forward to your thoughts,


Dear Mike and Tatiana,

Following up with Tatiana’s statements, Gay elaborates how, while she is the cause for her weight gain, she does not agree with the extreme health and beauty standards that America has adopted. Obesity is not only looked down upon in America, but in several different cultures as well. Gay is Haitian-American and in her heritage and household, being overweight becomes a huge concern. She states “when you are overweight in a Haitian family, your body is a family concern” (Gay 55), mostly, as she also explains, is the fact that they associate being overweight with being gluttonous. As some of you may know, Haiti is (sadly) mostly known for being underdeveloped and poverty stricken. Though this is just a common stereotype, people only have an outside point of view. However, because of the psychological trauma she suffered as a result of her rape, she is never successful in keeping the weight off for long. Both cultures have a very negative outlook on individuals who are overweight and while not all people think that way, the media portrays it as such. 

This is very disheartening because not every person that is considered “skinny” are not always considered healthy and not every person who is considered “fat” is not always unhealthy. I have a family member that is constantly struggling with her weight because of her battles with depression and bipolar disorder. Because of this, she has adopted unhealthy eating habits, finding comfort in the one thing that continues to impact her negatively until this date. She also suffers from a number of different health complications like diabetes and sleep apnea. It can be frustrating to see how unhappy she is because of the way she looks. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s hurtful to watch the ones you love destroy themselves from the inside-out. It can be frustrating to see how unhappy they are because of the way they look. As I got older, I realized that the way you see yourself is all about perception and the cultural values which can impact those that do not fit within the norms. The terms “skinny” and “fat” have both become so skewed by society, that many people grow up not ever being fully comfortable with themselves because the definitions of the terms change so frequently even though the human body can not

Let’s talk about this some more in our next correspondence,


Dear Tatiana and Tiara:

I hope you both appreciated that I actually had to get out of bed to make coffee in order to write this and have it make sense. I was not coherent about 10 minutes ago.

You two have raise quite a few points about the struggles that this young woman faces with her introduction into American society. The literature is insightful into a very real situation that exists, especially in America. People who visit from foreign countries may be taken off guard with the harsh body standards that are present here. This is not to say that Haitians don’t like to eat, but they have a different societal expectation. In fact “Haitians love the food from our island, but they judge gluttony” (Gay 55). In America, gluttony is not such a publicly shameful thing, but being raised with different values has effects on people. Gay is one such example where her perception of body image was thrown off with the negative outlook she started to have about herself when she learned how the terms “fat” and “skinny” were used so extremely. Though she suffered with these standards, she also gained insight into how Americans differ from other countries’ populations and how people view themselves.

The fact that we mention that the author appears to tip toe around the recollection of past events in her life is an interesting prospect. One would beg the question as to why this might be the case. A few suggestions come to mind after reminding me what I had read. Gay could be nervous about remembering what had occurred in her life, not wanting to have to recall the traumatic experiences and the feelings associated with them. Another possibility is that she aimed to entice the reader to keep reading the work about gain more interest as time goes on. It could be as simple as a marketing ploy, but most would tend not to think this way. There are multiple interpretations that one could develop by journeying through this memoir. Perhaps one of you could offer some insight into her struggle with her body.



Dear Tiara and Mike,

To further dive into what Mike was working through on Gay’s struggle, I feel that Gay makes a point to say that the struggle she faces with her body is even more complicated by the shame she feels. Fat-shaming becomes an ever-present problem for her in her daily life, which we see when she says, “When I am walking down the street, men lean out their car windows and shout vulgar things at me about my body, how they see it, and how it upsets them that I am not catering to their gaze,” (Gay 188). She explains that this creates a conflicting environment for her (Gay 199). There is shame in the fact that she would have an eating disorder as a fat girl. She tells us that people are more likely to support correcting an eating disorder.

I think Gay hits the mark with another major social issue within this section, which I think only strengthen her writing. The last few years have been dedicated to focusing on body positivity. We see actors and singers like Demi Lovato who suffered with eating disorders as well as bipolar disorder. We also see actors like Jennifer Lawrence who worked to be a strong female lead that looks healthy instead of too skinny. We’ve even seen some countries like France ban the use of models that look too underweight from modeling as well as an increase in the amount of “plus-size” modeling included in magazines. The world is trying to move to a place that eradicates shame for being bigger. However, we still tend to really only focus on eating disorders where the person is only becoming too skinny. If they’re already fat we don’t really see it as an issue, but rather as a solution. This is what Gay made a point of when explaining her own struggle with eating disorders. She suffered from bulimia, but she never got to the point where she was skin and bones. Her body remained “imperfect.” Using this point of view on eating disorders helps us to see why Gay struggled so much in truly being able to come to terms and accept that she had an actual eating disorder that needed medical attention. She let it go on because she knew society didn’t see it as that big of an issue.

Warm regards,


Dear Tiara and Tatiana:

As I eat my incredibly unhealthy fast food, I am writing about eating disorder which is ironic to say the least. I have a McChicken and some fries to be exact.

Eating disorders are another major concern that many people have sensitivity to. It would be best that we stride carefully when referring to these concerns. It looks like we are doing just fine at this point which is great. The eating disorder that Gay faces in this book is a detail that could stand for a little more detail. That being said, I would propose the question of when Gay originally became aware of the eating disorder. The issues could stem from the manner in which she was raised and the values that she was raised by. She may not have been considered to have an eating disorder until certain people came across her and decided as such. Gay’s journey back through her younger years is as much of a recollection as it is a way for her to see how much outsiders influenced how she felt about herself.

Body positivity is another movement that we can appreciate throughout this book. People are typically supported when they decide to change their eating habits, but in a healthy manner. This memoir shows this by sharing how she “became vegetarian because [she] needed a way of ordering [her] eating that was lee harmful” (Gay 199). Gay went through her situation at a time before the body positivity movement was blown up as it is today. However, one could note that body image problems have always been present among woman and men, and especially focused in America. Only recently has it grown enough to sincerely be supportive. This is a good theme from the book: addressing body image concerns.

From the warmth of my bed,



Afterword from the Writers

Roxane Gay’s Hunger focuses on immediate social issues of body image. The book was written as a memoir to her body and she does something out of the box by using her body as a vessel to truly represent these issues. She brings to light issues such as stereotyping, mental health, eating disorders, and fat shaming all by using her own experiences. In these experiences we see firsthand that these issues are very real and in turn can have a depreciating effect on the human body.

61jizcrzvxl-_ux250_About the Author: Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.

About the Authors of this Post: Tiara Hawkins is a junior majoring in English with a writing emphasis. She enjoys reading and sleeping when she is not working or going to school. She works as a reader and operates the Facebook and Tumblr page for 30 N.

Michael Larrea, on his last term at North Central College, is majoring in Information Technology. His knowledge of how to make equipment work really helps with events that 30 North has wanted to host this year. He is forward thinking and expressive with his ideas.

Tatiana Guerrero is a senior at North Central College pursuing an English writing degree. She loves curling up on the couch with a good thriller novel and a hot cup of coffee. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

A Review of “Patience” by Daniel Clowes

PATIENCE_FC_Colors-(1)Daniel Clowes is considered one of the most notable comic artists of our era, and has had a couple of his works made into feature length films. An example of this would be his book Ghost World, about two girls and their journey after replying to a man’s newspaper ad for a date, which was turned into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch. He tends to feature lonely, self-loathing men who want to feel connected, but push away those that try to get close; the male ego is a constant in his works. In “Ghost World”, the man from the newspaper ad exemplifies these traits. In “Patience”, Clowes has made subtle changes of this theme, while also still remaining true to his tendencies.

As the story begins, it’s 2012 and Jack Barlow learns that Patience, his wife, is pregnant. As they are discussing their financial worries and how they will make it work, Patience reflects on her early years:

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Clowes overloads the reader with tons of information in the beginning of the novel. He is purposefully using this tactic to leave the readers confused; it can be difficult to follow what is happening during the first time reading through, so it helps to read a second or even third time to truly capture all of the little intricacies. When Jack goes back to 2012, the readers will also learn more about why things played out the way that they did.

In the scene after the one shown above, Patience starts to talk about her old life but Jack doesn’t to talk about it and quickly diverts the subject back to the baby. Everything seems to go well afterwards, but if you’ve read any of Clowes’ other books, you know not to be fooled by this.

One day, Jack comes home to find Patience has been murdered. Clowes takes on the cliche of a woman, dying early on in a story to provide momentum for the rest of the story, also known as being “fridged.” There are other occasions in his works where he has used cliches to call attention to them and even parody them to reflect the current state of our culture. While they can at times be subtle jabs at the cliches, Clowes makes his purpose clear by overly drawing on the use of the cliche of Patience being “fridged” and makes it over-the-top. He does this with his use of dramatic language, especially when Jack finds Patience’s body, and his colorful palette.

After being framed for the murder of his wife and unborn child, Jack was sent to prison for 18 months. He was released after evidence appeared that proved him innocent, further giving him fuel for his quest for revenge. It’s suddenly 2029, and Clowes paints a picture of what he envisions the future to be like: inappropriately sexual public displays, monitors projecting a dictator’s speeches on loop, and people dressed in crazy outfits. A lot of this can be considered stereotypical of what people visualize when they think of the future. Clowes has been know to have depicted the future in a similar fashion in previous works of his.

Jack learns of the existence of a time-traveling device, and his hopes of seeing Patience again are hurtled into the forefront of his mind. This is when the “cosmic timewarp deathtrip” part of the tagline comes into play. The novel follows Jack as he is flung around time and space, trying to save Patience. As I mentioned earlier on, Clowes has a type. His protagonists are lonely, self-loathing creatures who have an ego. Jack is no different, and it becomes unclear at times what his true motives are in continuing on with his journey. There is a point in Jack’s journey where he contemplates why he is even doing this anymore. He doesn’t know if he’s even doing it for his wife and unborn child, or gone beyond all of that to a point of pure revenge:

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Page 88


The line becomes more and more blurred as Jack keeps leaping through time, being yanked about time and space by the time-traveling device. Jack experiences these strange visions, and his body begins breaking down and reforming. Throughout the graphic novel, Clowes includes these wild, colorful images, and during the evolution of Jack reforming, he really takes advantage of that. He uses a much broader color palette in “Patience” as compared to some of his other works, such as Ghost World with its black, white and green palette and other of his works that have stuck with the more basic black and white template. The vivid colors are very impactful in the scene where Jack’s body is being ravaged by the process of time-travel, his interior organs becoming visible through his exterior flesh.

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Pages 79-80

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While “Patience” has a similar thematic style to Daniel Clowes’ other works, there are some interesting differences. His male protagonist, while still a loner with self-deprecating tendencies, goes to great lengths to exact vengeance for his wife’s murder. Fans of his oeuvre may be conflicted about their feelings for this piece. There are several cliches that occur throughout the novel that can give readers pause, but by the end they should be able to see the way that he is using them in a parodic manner. His art style was amped up for this piece, as well, so die-hard fans may have a hard time liking the immense color palette that Clowes uses.

“Patience” is a story of love, murder, and self-discovery. Clowes paints a vivid picture of love lost, and a man doing whatever it takes to find his wife’s killer while struggling with the morality of changing fate. The visuals are so beautifully executed that Clowes’ storytelling is amplified by their use.

*Images consist of photos taken by Kayla Etherton and images found on Google

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.14.09 PMAbout the Author: Daniel Clowes was born in Chicago, Illinois, and completed his BFA at the Pratt Institute in New York. He started publishing professionally in 1985, when he debuted his first comic-book series “Lloyd Llewellyn.” He has been the recipient of multiple awards for his seminal comic-book series, “Eightball.” Since the completion of “Eightball” in 2004, Clowes’ comics, graphic novel, and anthologies have been the subject of various international exhibitions. Clowes currently lives in Oakland, California with his wife and son, and their beagle.

About the Author of this Post: Kayla Etherton is a recent graduate of North Central College majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Marketing. She enjoys reading all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy literature, but has recently been reading mostly graphic novels. She is also an alum of the NCC Women’s Track and Field Team.

A Review of “Steal It Back” by Sandra Simonds

9780991545490Sandra SimondsSteal It Back is a call to action for readers and a personal reflection that gives commentary on modern social topics including feminism, capitalism, and motherhood. Simonds takes the reader through her personal journey of stealing “it” back – everything from femininity to power, adventure to vulnerability – and along the way, readers are prompted through Simonds’ breathless, fierce writing to steal “it” back as well – whatever that may be to the reader.

The most unconventional poem of the collection is also one that best encompasses Simonds’ unique style. “Occupying” is a single paragraph that extends nearly seven pages without a single period. Though there is the occasional exclamation point or question mark, the lack of periods adds to Simonds’ quick-paced, intense voice and forces the reader to consume the poem in one breath. Simonds also utilizes repetition effectively in this poem, and in others of the collection. The line, “They are building a Catholic schoolgirl” is repeated throughout the poem. This draws the reader’s attention to Simonds’ idea that “they”, whether it be her parents or another authoritative figure in her life, tried to shape her into a good, Catholic girl, for better or worse. Simonds talks to the reader in meta fashion and seems to be replying to her critics, writing, “Oh you think this is so terrible? Well / you try to write a better one, friend.”

While it may seem like the nonstop, continuous, repetitive nature of such a poem could lose the reader’s interest, Simonds manages to transition between different subjects and scenes seamlessly; she recognizes when the reader’s mind may begin to trail off and regains traction with a fresh image or line.

Simonds’ most effective technique is to juxtapose heavy topics with the everyday.. McDonalds, Sephora, and Lady Gaga all make appearances alongside feminism, the monotony of unfulfilling jobs, divorce, and the trials of motherhood. She uses her personal experiences while still relating to the larger issues at hand in the world. In the poem, “I Grade Online Humanities Tests” she writes about her complicated relationship with a mechanic, but also about the larger issue of men feeling entitled to things because they are used to being in power. She writes, “the guns are male because he owns the guns…and Home Depot is male because he owns and owns/and owns and all he can do is own/everything that will rot/like privacy or speech or porn or black swans/or my big tits.” While her poetry may have started out for Simonds as a release for her own emotions, she expands and touches on the bigger problems in society that her life experiences bring up.

One aspect of Simonds’ writing that may not appeal to all readers is her tendency to write poems that clearly show a passing of time during her writing process. She separates some of her poems into pieces on different pages and the subject changes slightly on each page. The disconnect suggests that she may have left the poem and returned at a different time to finish it. In “A Poem For Landlords,” Simonds outright states, “I am writing this so fast./I will not be able to look/back at it but just now/I am looking back at it since I made/dinner and cleaned the house.” Some readers will be turned off by her blatancy in stating these actions and describing her writing process, however, it adds honesty and an interesting pacing of time to the poems. She may also be giving commentary on the futility of poetry in enacting change.

Simonds has created a collection that is not easy to digest, or to forget. By the time the reader reaches the final lines of the book “I know what is real/and I know how to steal/back what is mine” they won’t be able to resist the urging of Simonds to do the same.

sandra-simonds About the Author: Sandra Simonds’ poems have been included in the Best American Poetry consecutively in 2014 and 2015, and have appeared in many literary journals. She is an Associate professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Georgia, and lives in Tallahassee, Florida.


Review of “Find Me” by Laura van den Berg

Find Me by Laura van den BergLaura van den Berg’s Find Me explores the mind of Joy, an orphaned cough syrup addict, as she experiences life after the potential end of American civilization.  The novel opens during Joy’s stay (or imprisonment) in a hospital searching for the cure to a disease that wipes the memories of its victims before taking their lives. Eventually, Joy escapes and wanders in search of her biological mother in a dystopian landscape. Although the novel seeks to be a more distinctive narrative in a sea of dystopian novels, Find Me maintains a sub-par impression upon the reader. Ultimately, van den Berg confuses and continually loses touch with her readers through spoon-feeding themes, disclosing unnecessary information, frequently using clichés, and distracting the reader with a jumbled organizational structure.

Throughout the novel, van den Berg spoon-feeds her audience with overstated messages of profundity. Rather than allowing the reader to dissect the possible meanings of the work, such as the importance of belonging and being found, one is bombarded by statements such as, “To be looked for is to matter” (223). The theme of the novel is not open to interpretation and discussion. Thus, the narrative feels simple and interest diminishes.

Along with overstating themes, van den Berg frequently reveals information that neither affect its plot nor its message. In the second half of the novel, a character is hinted to possess psychic or predictive abilities (176). One would believe that such a profound disclosure would affect the premise of the plot, but it did not affect any element of the novel. It was not relevant at the time of its revelation, and it continued to stay irrelevant. If the author’s intention was to add depth to the character, or to garner interest, it did not appear as such. Sequentially, the disclosure of irrelevant information invoked feelings of disappointment and confusion.

Peppered throughout Find Me, clichés particularly common to young-adult dystopian novels frustrate the reader. Towards the beginning of the novel, as Joy is reliving a memory where she watches reruns of The X-Files, she states, “I’ve never liked the things girls my age are supposed to” (34). This overused statement not only turns off the reader, but feels mildly condescending. What are 19-year-old girls supposed to like? Why must Joy declare how she’s “not like other girls”? One cannot help but interpret Joy’s declaration of difference as a method of implying superiority to stereotypically feminine women. Furthermore, as the novel continues, Joy engages in sexual activity with her roommate in the hospital, and does not shower for days to hold fast to his scent. Her desperate hold on her moments with him has a poetic appeal, but feels empty; reactions to physical love such as this have been overused in romance novels and films. As a result, the many clichés of Find Me contribute to its lack of distinction in the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre.

Along with relaying random information and overusing clichés, van den Berg distracts readers with the confusing structure of the novel. Although it is predictable, with one chapter relating the present and the next revealing the past, it distracts from the plot. The reader can easily get lost along the way by forgetting the most recent events and constantly attempting to retain information about the past. Some of the chapters reveal disturbing qualities of Joy’s past that add emotional depth to her narrative, but others feel random and unnecessary. For example, the larger portion of chapter 18 is dedicated to stating facts about Norway and the origin of the disease that has ravaged America. While the disease has arguably caused the events of Find Me, and Norway is the home to a minor character, the information given about the two falls flat, thus unnecessarily interrupting the progression of the plot. Further assisting in the disruption of the novel’s flow was van den Berg’s consistent use of three-dot breaks. For example, within the span of the five pages of chapter 40, three-dot breaks appear 10 times. The excited thoughts that Joy experiences could easily have been encapsulated in paragraph form. The information instead reads as overexaggerated and encourages the reader to rapidly skim through it in anticipation of the last page. The chapter, along with the many others that exude the same love of scene breaks, resultantly reads as choppy, scattered, and lacking in cohesiveness. Laura van den Berg’s writing style ultimately detracts from the reader’s consumption of her work.

Although Find Me loses touch with its readers, it still has some charm. Van den Berg’s use of imagery was imaginative. When Joy experiments with an unknown drug she states, “my brain is a blue jellyfish that has crawled out through my ear and is hovering somewhere along the roof of the tunnel, happy to finally be free of the body” (225). An experience with drugs may prove difficult to convincingly describe, but van den Berg has accomplished it without seeming stereotypical or overdramatic. Additionally, the language was well-written; the tone felt conversational, yet still possessed gravity and poetic qualities in the right places. The positive elements of the overall work do not cover for its flaws, but they are still present and worth considering.

Fundamentally, explicitly stated themes, excess information, the overwhelming use of clichés, and a distracting writing style effectively contribute to the lackluster impression of Find Me. If the novel had better confronted its themes without overstating them, readers would be able to fully appreciate the novel. However, its audience instead becomes disinterested and lost in a book about the act of finding.

Laura van den BergAbout the Author: Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. Find Me is her first Novel, which was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, Buzzfeed, and others.


About the Author of this Post: Ashley Suslowicz is a freshman at North Central College majoring in English and minoring in Sociology. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she plans to attend law school near Chicago. She loves Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and coffee.

Review of “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders With Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders tells the melancholy tale of President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to balance grieving his recently deceased son Willie with holding together a nation that’s trying its hardest to tear itself apart. Simultaneously, Saunders tells the journey of Willie Lincoln’s soul as it travels through a sort of limbo state between life and death—the bardo as the Tibetan people would call it. It’s a story that’s as bizarre and fantastic as the President’s is sad and humbling. And Saunders writes it all in brilliant technicolor prose that burns itself into the brain.

At first, the style will throw many readers off: Saunders notes the speaker of the paragraph at the end of it, and chapters are quite short with some only lasting a few lines, like a kind of rapid-fire epistolary novel. Quotation marks are almost entirely absent, and tangible strings of conversation are hard to track down. At times it seems like the characters address the reader more than anyone else on the page. Yet the reader can quickly distinguish between the characters’ voices, and eventually quotation tags seem unnecessary, like the human appendix.  Once the style feels familiar, the rest is nothing but pleasure.

The novel breaks down into two main parts: Willie’s (more accurately, his soul’s) story and Abraham’s. Willie’s soul’s story is told by several deceased fictional characters that are also spending time in limbo. These characters include the printing press professional Hans Vollman, the homosexual romantic Roger Bevins III, and the Reverend Everly Thomas. Vollman and Bevins have the most interesting relationship; their petty bickering and stubbornness is funny but also carries a deep-seated sadness with it, like Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.”

Several other characters pop in and out, but they don’t do a whole lot to move the main events forward. They don’t take anything away either. Each character, even if they appear for no more than a few paragraphs, contributes some little detail that adds to the constellation of beauty that is Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders gives us the death story of nearly (if not) all the souls we encounter in limbo: everything from a razor blade to the wrists, to a drunken carriage-trampling, to a nose-smashingly high fall from a window. The means of death often reveals more about that character than any details pertaining to their previous life, a clever narrative trick that spices up exposition and makes the introduction of new characters a treat and not a task. Many of the souls in limbo have bizarrely distorted persons, reflecting some aspect of their character. Roger Bevins III grows multiple sets of arms, ears, noses, eyes, etc. when reminiscing about the pleasant sensations of nature. Hans Vollman’s penis is perpetually swollen (for reasons you’ll have to read to find out) and sometimes grows so large that he has to hold it with both arms so he doesn’t trip over it!

These bizarre features of the bardo may read as excess to some, but they work. Especially when put up against the incredibly somber delivery of the President’s story, told through excerpts of dozens of historical documents and primary accounts. Saunders pulls short passages and sentences from these various texts and combines them to make a parallel narrative to Willie’s posthumous journey. I never would have thought a method as ambitious as this could produce poignant and cohesive prose, but somehow it does! The historical-collage chapters read so effortlessly that, if I didn’t know any better, I would be convinced it was just Saunders executing his normal prose.

These chapters offer crucial details, such as impressions of Willie before he died, descriptions of the emotionally broken President visiting his son’s grave, hints of Mary Todd’s mental fracturing, political critiques of the President’s wartime moves, and grisly accounts of the carnage on the battlefield the day after battle. Even though these chapters have been arranged to create a new narrative, they still have an air of historical accuracy. And it’s this idea, the sense of this really happened, that grounds the wackiness of the bardo sections and makes the whole novel a deeply moving and utterly human affair.

To anyone looking for a novel written in vivid prose that doesn’t let up for one second, look no further. In Lincoln in the Bardo you’re sure to find a wildly original story told in a wildly original way that somehow, against all odds, seems faintly familiar at heart. It’s the most human novel about dead men with giant penises wandering a Tibetan purgatory you’ll ever read.

Author George SaundersAbout the Author: George Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas, but grew up in Chicago. He completed a degree in exploration geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines. He later completed his MFA from Syracuse, where he also met his future wife, Paula Redick. Saunders has had various works published in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.

Review of “All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers” by Alana Massey

All the Lives I Want

All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers is a collection of essays written by Alana Massey where she connects the lives of celebrities to her own life. From Winona Ryder to Princess Diana, Massey explores the legacies of these famous women while using them to reveal personal details about herself. She does this to show both that we are not that different from celebrities and how their lives both relate to and have an effect on her own. This book is the first for Alana Massey, but her experience in writing goes beyond this. Her essays, criticism, reviews, and reporting have had regular appearances in publications such as the Guardian, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, and more.

All the Lives I Want contains fifteen different essays featuring over twenty famous women between them. Her first essay, “Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Celebrity Type,” discusses Winona Ryder’s shoplifting incident from 2001 and Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Massey created a theory that she was a “Winona in a world made for Gwyneth’s.” As she states “This theory positions the one time best friends as two distinct categories of white women who are conventionally attractive but whose public images exemplify dramatically different lifestyles and world views.” She identifies herself as a Winona and her ex’s new girlfriend as a “total Gwyneth”. She understands that she used Winona as “an avatar that represented [her] own suffering.” She makes a point here which she makes in later essays that people are their own selves and even if someone identifies with someone else, that doesn’t mean they are identical.

An essay that wasn’t as strong was “Heavenly Creatures: The Gospels According to Lana, Fiona, and Dolly.” This essay discussed a close comparison between Fiona Apple and Lana Del Ray and a loose comparison to Dolly Parton as a way to discuss how these female artists portray sex and relationships, with Apple and Del Ray being on the racier side and Parton being on the more conservative side. What I gathered her point to be in this essay was sometimes young singers such as Apple were forced to portray a sexuality that was reflective of a person older than themselves while Parton was able to move away from sexuality and focus on hurt in relationships. Maybe it was just me, but I felt Massey focused too much on Apple and Del Ray and portrayals of sexuality and then just threw Parton in there as a way to show not all singers have to do this.

The next essay, one that I looked forward to because of the subjects was, “No She Without Her: On Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and the Singularity.” Massey discussed a slight personal connections with the twins as they were students with her for a brief time at New York University. “They were not just celebrities, they were our classmates,” she notes while discussing a fellow student who had wall to wall pictures of the twins. Massey also remember how there was a countdown until the Olsens turned eighteen and how that disgusted her: “[The media] wrote as though the only thing in the way of unbridled passion between ordinary sleazes and billionaire teenage performers and entrepreneurs was a pesky statutory rape law that would soon be irrelevant.” While the message of this particular essay was clear—defying and dehumanizing women because they are in the public eye is wrong— getting to Massey’s point was a little difficult. In an essay where she is supposed to be relating these celebrities’ lives to herself, she barely mentions herself. She also never explicitly states her point, only her disgust and judgement. I wanted her to go beyond the concept of them being young and go into the problem with how young girls are made to feel like this dehumanization and degrading of women is okay, when it isn’t, but she never did get beyond the initial disgust.

In several of Massey’s essays, the connections to the particular celebrities felt loose and the points were difficult to grasp. There were some, such as “Our Sisters Shall Inherit the Sky: On the Lisbon Sisters and the Misnomer of The Virgin Suicides,” an essay which discussed Massey’s relationship to her sister and the book and movie The Virgin Suicides, where she seemed to alter too rapidly between casting judgment and admiration on the characters and narrators of the story. She would say things such as, “Though the boys never admit as much, it is crucial that the Lisbon sisters are all thin and beautiful within reason,” however she also states, “I wanted a boy to look at me and see mystery of my own making,” where she practically applauds the glamorized view the adult male narrators are putting on five girls who took their own lives years ago. She discussed how the characters were wrong but never really focused on the fact that the glamorization of depression and suicide portrayed in the novel is a bad message.

The concepts and points of each of the essays were practical and often relatable in the sense that everyone expresses insecurity and compares themselves to others and makes mistakes, To be honest, I would not recommend this book as a whole because many of the essays felt like they had no bigger point than the fact that the celebrities were living their lives and others were observing. However, I would recommend the essay, “Public Figures: Britney’s Body Is Everybody’s,” an essay that deals with weight issues and eating disorders and the pressures society puts on women to be the correct weight. In this essay, Massey states “[Men’s] standard calibrations for the weight of a petite woman is between 100 and 115 pounds, an average woman 115 to 125, and tall ones 125 to 135,” clearly stating that they are wrong to assume this and that is a major problem within society.

Another good essay was “All the Lives I Want: Recovering Sylvia,” This one debunked the myth that what we read and who we admire doesn’t necessarily have a major and consequential effect on our person. Just because Sylvia Plath committed suicide doesn’t mean her admirers will as well. As I discussed earlier, regarding “Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Celebrity Type,” not all women are the same and cannot just be put into two categories.

Lastly, “A Bigger Fairy Tale: On Angelica Huston and the Inheritance of Glamour.” This one shows the power of women. It displays a woman, Angelica Huston and how she was strong even though she was betrayed by a man. She was equally as strong with and without him and that’s the way it should be. She admires Huston, “Angelica’s memories are unapologetically steeped in Hollywood decadence and the class privilege that accompanied her fellow travelers on these journeys” These four essays were the ones that I found to be the most enjoyable of the collection and also the four that succeeded the best in getting their message across.

About the Author Alana Massey: I’m a writer covering identity, culture, virtue, and vice. I’m the author of All The Lives I Want, a collection of essays reimagining the lives and legacies of famous women in a way that makes it easier for us to forgive ourselves. My writing appears in Elle, The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Vice, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, BuzzFeed, The New Inquiry, and more. I split my time between Brooklyn and my farmhouse in the Catskills where I write, read,  drink champagne, listen to pop music, and Photoshop glamorous collages of myself like the one you see here.

About the author this post: Kate Haley is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing and Organizational Communication. When she is not spouting off random facts about anything and everything, she fills her time with reading copious amounts of books and writing novels that will hopefully become best-sellers (or at the best, sellers).

Review of “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

With Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances, the author has given us an assorted collection of short stories with a dabble of poetry. In this collection of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, you can learn about a mysterious American traveler who visits a quaint English town with dark secrets, solve a peculiar mystery with Sherlock Holmes, meet an odd man who claims to have uninvented the jetpack, and even defeat aliens with the eleventh Doctor.


Review of “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

everythinginevertoldyou-celestengEverything I Never Told You is a tale of a Chinese-American family in a time when diversity was constantly frowned upon. Set in the 1970’s, the Lee’s, a family of five, struggle to understand each other. They also struggled to fit into a world that didn’t understand them. The father, James, is of Chinese heritage, while his wife, Marilyn, is white. Their three children stand out as Chinese-Americans in an all white school. They kept one too many secrets from each other and in the end it caused their middle child Lydia her life. Ng uses this novel to explore the pressures with which parents weigh their children down, not even knowing they are doing so. Ng writes, “How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers” (Ng 25). This novel beautifully captured the terrors secrets can keep and just what happens when the web of lies begins to unravel; slipping like water through your fingers so quickly you never even understood how you could possibly have held it all in.

Through a stunning display of multiple point of views, Ng smoothly navigates from one character to the next, letting each story play out until all the secrets the family tried so desperately to keep are brought to light. By switching points of view the reader can hear the distinctive voice of the mother, the father, Nath, Hannah, and Lydia herself as the reader learns what they never told each other, making the title of the book a clever one.

Normally a common fault with some novels is not holding the reader’s attention. Ng does not make this mistake. The novel captured my attention right from the start and kept me guessing all the way up until the final word had been read. The text itself has a dazzling introductory line when Ng writes, “Lydia is dead. But they do not know this yet” (Ng 1). The mystery of Lydia’s death had me guessing the entire time. How did this happen? Why did this happen?  One thing I really enjoyed of this novel was how each character was guilty, because at some point they all lied. One example of Nath’s lies is when he said, “All Nath would know, for sure, was this: he pushed Lydia into the water” (Ng 154). It really captured through the characters and family dynamic how many secrets we keep and how many lies we tell to ourselves.

This is a great read for those who have suffered similar pressures of the family dynamic, and who want a read that will keep you captured from beginning to end. It was thoroughly enjoyable and will hold its readers captive from the first to last sentence. If you are looking for a quick and enjoyable read that runs your emotions all over like a rollercoaster then crack open this book and find out just what really happened to Lydia.

celeste-ngAbout the Author: Celeste Ng Celeste Ng is a writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts (It’s pronounced “-ing.”) Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, has won multiple awards and was a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and on the Best Book of the Year lists of over a dozen outletsHer second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be published in Fall 2017.

Review of “Dynamite” by Anders Carlson-Wee

The first poem in Carlson-Wee’s chapbook is titled, “Dynamite” and speaks of a childhood game he and his brother used to play, where everything they threw at each other was dynamite. They would hurl everything from pine cones to choke-chains at each other until they were bruised and bloody.


“Find Me” by Laura van den Berg

laura_van_den_berg_2015Ever been at a point in your life, wondering where you belong? Ever feel like you have no place in this world, that you’re just drifting through life on autopilot? This is how nineteen-year-old Joy Jones has spent her life. Abandoned as in infant on the steps of a hospital, Joy had spent the her childhood and teens in group and foster homes, haunted by the constant feeling of unwantedness until she aged out of the system. She spends her days working a graveyard shift at a Stop & Shop, nursing an addiction to Robitussin, in hopes of keeping the memories of her troubled past at bay. She lives alone in a basement of an apartment building that has no windows, stating that her apartment is “like a tomb, the door a seal-would I ever get out?” As Joy questions the meaning of her existence, a sickness threatens to ravage the United States. With no official name, “the sickness” is a disease that causes individuals to suffer silver sores, memory loss and immediate death. One day, Joy is approached by a man in a hazmat suit, who invites her to join a program at the Hospital to find a cure for “the sickness”-as Joy discovers that she is immune to the disease. While she and seventy-three others are subjected to questionable treatments, she forms fragile bonds with some of the patients (like her roommate, Louis and the twins Christopher and Sam). As winter approaches, Joy breaks free and sets on a journey to find her birth mother, unknowingly unlocking the secrets to her past that she tried so desperately to hide, while also finding meaning in her life and what it means to love someone unconditionally.

I found “Find Me” to be a very compelling and unique read. Van den Berg is widely known for her short story works (“Isle of Youth” and “What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leave Us”), so for this to be her first attempt at writing a novel, I give it a three out of five stars.

First, the novel is split into two journeys: we begin with the Hospital where Joy is being held. She narrates her experience there, as well as recalls her life before the Hospital in (mostly) innate detail. The second half, Joy makes a cross-country trek to California to confront the mother she never knew, chronicling her trials and tribulations as well as discovering her self-worth. I liked how the author establishes the character (Joy) very well throughout the novel. Her voice can be heard clearly; it was like she was speaking directly to me because Joy was speaking, not only to herself but to someone who was willing to listen. For example: “I got on the wrong bus. I was not awake and not asleep and when I looked out the window, I was in Kendall Square. The bus stopped. I got out. The sky was a bruise. I was unsure of the time.” Joy’s attention to every detail pertains the theme that memory serves in the novel, particularly the first part when she is in the Hospital.

Unfortunately, this theme sort of dies down once she leaves the Hospital, causing the novel to lose some of its drive. The whole sickness is revolved around the recurring theme of memory, so it was disappointing when van den Berg strayed from it. I also noticed the novel tends to drag on a bit. Parts becomes stagnant when Joy is on the road (jumping from bus to bus, suddenly running into a childhood friend, getting trapped in a “haunted house”).

Some readers may find the narration a bit confusing and strange; Joy often goes off on tangents (habits of listing things off to prove that she’s not sick) and the narration often jumps back and forth between the past and the present, such when she is talking about “the sickness” and then switches to her childhood (the past): “Experts now say that the toll could be worse than the 1918 influenza, which left half a million Americans dead…. When I was a child, I lived for a time with a boy I grew to love.” Even though it might perplex a few readers at first, the author’s grammar and cues in the book helped establish the sudden switch.

All in all, I’d give this novel a three out of five for its unique take on a post-apocalyptic America with a female lead that struggles to find her worth in a world that is struggling to put itself back together.

About the Author: Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her M.F.A. at Emerson College. Her first novel, Find Me, published by FSG in 2015, was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, and BuzzFeed, among others, in addition to being longlisted for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize.

About the Author of this Post: Tiara Hawkins