Writing About Real People: A Discussion About Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Do you ever finish a book and wonder, “Why did I want to read this again?”

That’s how I felt after reading Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I think that the main influence behind wanting to read it was my childhood reading taste. See, when I was younger every time my mom would take my sister and I to the library I would check out stacks of books like the Dear America ones which, in short, are fictional journals from historical figures. I think it also stemmed from my love of American Girl books and I still love reading this style of first person historical story. So when I first saw a post about Rodham on Twitter I was intrigued and ended up requesting it from NetGalley. It took me a while to get to reading it and I ended up finishing it right before the election this past November so while I’m not sure how my feelings may have differed had I read it when I was first approved but I will say it was definitely a Choice.

Letting those reading this post now that it will contain spoilers.

Rodham is a fictionalized memoir type novel about an alternative timeline in which Hillary Rodham Clinton had not married Bill. It was a fascinating read albeit very long and tedious. Overall I could say I enjoyed the story but it did take me a while to actually finish reading it because I would set it aside to read or do other things. It never quite caught my attention enough to want to finish in one go. The book read like a self written memoir told from the perspective of a future Hillary looking back on her life and path to the presidency since in this alternative timeline Hillary won the 2016 election. That being said, there were enough aspects of the story that made me feel unsure about the ethics of a book like this so I decided not to rate it outside of my NetGalley account.

I do enjoy stories that follow alternate historical timelines so I was intrigued by the concept of Rodham but was almost immediately put off by the very sexual nature of this novel. It is an adult literary fiction novel so I’m not knocking it for that reason alone but for the fact that I found this sexual and relationship focus to detract heavily from the story overall. I was honestly hoping for a hard hitting story about female success and the struggle to break the glass ceiling but what I got instead was a heavy reflection on relationships and a surface level look at women in politics with a lackluster ending.

The way that Rodham was written ended up leaving me heavily questioning the ethics behind writing about living people. The writing was quite graphic in regards to the sexual nature of the relationship between Hillary and Bill and if it read more like a novel and less like a fictionalized memoir I may have been able to let this slide more than I already was. As I’ve reflected on these parts of the story more, I almost want to compare it to fanfiction. Like the author was pandering towards people who may find Bill Clinton attractive. I’m not sure I was meant to be part of the target audience. In the end I really couldn’t imagine Hillary writing so freely about her sex life, especially not graphically in a memoir. There were a lot of scenes in this book that made me highly uncomfortable and I had to make myself pretend that the characters were not real people because I couldn’t handle it if I thought of the real life Clintons.

Rodham had so much potential to go in depth about the experiences of a single woman in politics. It could have focused on sexism and personal growth as Hillary pursued higher offices. There were a few moments where we saw glimpses of this but most of her journey was glossed over instead to focus on how Bill Clinton continued to be a part of her life even after their breakup. His influence on the story heavily detracted from the quality. I also found myself at times wondering why the story seemed to almost depend upon Hillary eventually finding a partner. Did I understand aspects of why this was? I mean, yeah. And with that, fuck the patriarchy, but at the same time this left many of the political themes at surface level while relationships continually got explored more.

There were a number of heavier topics that were briefly mentioned, such as racism and Anita Hill’s story but these were ultimately brushed over in order to fill more pages with romance and relationship issues. Then the ending not only felt rushed but was also incredibly painful to read. It gave an influential and, dare I say it, positive voice to our most recent former president. I found it a very questionable choice especially considering this book was published in 2020 and while I will say my emotional response may have been heightened because I read it right before the election I do think this book was written in poor taste.

While working on this post I read an article from Vox which I’m linking here because I highly recommend checking it out after reading this post. The article added a lot of insight to the timeline within Rodham along with a lot of interesting commentary. The quote below was one passage that really stood out to me:

This book is enchanted that by the idea of tweaking one thing in the recent past, you can fundamentally alter the present. You can save brilliant, ambitious Hillary Rodham from her marriage to Bill Clinton; you can unleash all that frustrated potential on the world and then sit back and watch what happens next. And that idea is, especially to those who appreciate Hillary Clinton’s fierce and undeniable ambition as an attractive quality in and of itself, a heady one. But because Rodham is so narrowly focused on Hillary herself, it is never able to examine all of the other possibilities for the world it’s created.

Constance Grady, Fact-checking the alternate history and politics of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham

2016 and beyond have been tumultuous and the alternative timeline within Rodham felt like it was a surface level way to right some wrongs and play into fantasies about a real life person. I began to question whether there was a way to write stories about real people who are still living and the main example I thought of was the Netflix show The Crown. I actually marathoned all released episodes around the same time I read Rodham. I’m aware of the fact that members of the Royal Family have spoken against the show but I thought that it did a good job of fictionalizing historical events. The creators of the show have also made it clear that they are only going to follow the events up to *year*. This choice allows the family members who are currently heavily in the public eye to avoid having to endure this show “fantasizing” about the things they are going through in present day. I spent a lot of time while watching the show Googling the events and the people portrayed and I enjoyed reading about the differences between the show and real life.

Now, is The Crown perfect? No, I still think it’s a bit odd to portray real people who are still living. At the same time I had to consider how many other pieces of media portray real people and real events. The Royal Family is somewhat elusive and they do a lot to cover things up and overall the show didn’t seem wildly speculative nor did it stray too far off from what is already public knowledge. Sure actual dialogue and everything taking place behind closed doors had to be fabricated but considering Prince Harry doesn’t mind it, I think I’ll side with him.

Now in terms of the alternative timeline/world I thought a lot about Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. RWRB takes place in an alternative timeline in which a woman won the 2016 election but instead of playing with real people McQuiston created a new cast of characters to take the place of both the First and Royal families. Reading this book always feels cathartic and overall I enjoy it immensely each time I reread it. It separates itself enough from the real world that it doesn’t feel distasteful but the author themselves has noted that this was a bit of escapism and optimism from the political turmoil, paraphrasing from an answer they provided in the linked interview. I think this is where RWRB really differs from Rodham in that it was escapism in an entirely different world. I’ve read reviews of RWRB where people didn’t like the book because of the escapist nature of a different 2016/2020 election cycle but it’s also not a story for everyone.

When I’ve read and reread RWRB I focus more on the characters than the underlying political plot though I don’t really have an issue with those either. The criticisms people have with this narrative feel like they land more on their own non-enjoyment over the choices made by the author. Now in Rodham, there were portions of the plot that featured a now former president. I genuinely couldn’t understand the motivation behind the choice to feature this person in the story and because he ended up endorsing Hillary which ultimately lead to her getting elected it took everything in me to control my rage. Sittenfeld actively gave a positive voice to a person who absolutely does not deserve one. Considering the book came out in 2020 I will say I understand that she could not have predicted the horrors that our country has experienced but that is absolutely no excuse as to why this person was included in Rodham.

In an interview with Refinery29, Sittenfeld said that there will be a “big wave of Tr*mp-influenced novels” coming our way and all I have to say in response to that is, why did yours have to be one of them? If you are so fascinated by the life of Hillary Clinton write about her. But the choice to give this person a positive voice in a novel published in 2020 was absolutely disappointing and I don’t care if you wanted to try and be accurate about who might have been in her social circle or whatever your excuse might be this was the final nail in the coffin for my utter regret behind ever picking up Rodham.

Overall, I think that fictionalized media about real people is something that is a case by case opinion by those that pick it up. Some may enjoy it, some may not. Same with alternative timelines that might lean towards escapism. In the end I just don’t think that Rodham was done well. The story was fine but it wasn’t anything amazing and it made me uncomfortable for numerous reasons. If you’ve read Rodham what did you think of it? I only mentioned one other example of a piece of media created about people who are still alive but if you’ve got other examples let me know what they are and what you thought of them!

You can also find me on Twitter @/nihilisticactus or add me on Goodreads here. If you’d like to support the blog my ko-fi is here.

I’ll talk to you all in my next post!

Group by Christie Tate is a Messy Misrepresentation of Group Therapy

ARC of Group by Christie Tate was provided by NetGalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

The refreshingly original debut memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—her psychotherapy group—and in turn finds human connection, and herself.

Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that still plagued her in spite of her achievements?

Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.

So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect.

Group is a deliciously addictive read, and with Christie as our guide—skeptical of her own capacity for connection and intimacy, but hopeful in spite of herself—we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.

Please note that I will be discussing this book in detail with specific examples as well as providing trigger warnings below. I do not recommend reading this book at all but if you’re interested in not being spoiled now is the time to click off the post!

Trigger Warnings: Suicidal ideation, self harm, eating disorders, infidelity, discussion of death of a baby, discussion of death by drowning

I want to preface my review by saying that this book represents the author’s own experiences in regards to mental health and therapy and this is all valid. I’m glad that she was able to get the help that she needed to in order to live a fulfilling life. However, the experiences within this book feel misrepresentative of the typical process of group therapy and there were many instances of unethical practices. I will also say that I am not a therapist nor am I licensed in any way to facilitate group therapy but I have spent my fair share in therapy. Over the years I’ve been in individual therapy, group therapy, inpatient programs, and outpatient programs and while each of these has been wildly different in terms of treatment if I had ever set foot into a setting like the one created by Tate’s therapist Dr. Rosen I would have never gone back after the first meeting.

When I first requested Group for review I was looking forward to reading about another person’s experiences with group therapy. I was interested in seeing how it differed from my own experiences because I don’t know anyone in my personal life who has ever attended group therapy. Since I have also spent most of my life struggling with my mental health I also always enjoy when other people speak candidly about their mental health. I thinks it’s important that people continue to be open about mental health because the stigmas surrounding it run deep.

So Group started off fine, I wasn’t immediately hooked but I had enough intrigue to continue on. The writing itself was difficult at times to keep me entertained and I feel like it could have benefitted from a slightly more casual style. As I read on the more I wanted to put the book down and never pick it up again. I was appalled by what Tate chose to share and was even more appalled with how Dr. Rosen conducted the groups that Tate attended. The amount of red flags left me worrying about the impact that this book could have on people who are hoping for a miracle for their mental health. It made me nervous that someone may end up seeking out unhealthy therapy in order to try and “fix” themselves. A bit that stood out to me at the end of the book was when Tate described herself as a “lifer” amongst Dr. Rosen’s patients. This ended up being the final straw that had me wracking my brain wondering how anyone was getting real help from these groups.

Now you may be wondering why I had such a strong reaction to someone being in therapy for a lifetime and honestly if I hadn’t read this book I would be wondering the same thing! The short of it all is that I felt like Dr. Rosen created a codependency in some of his group members and it seems like Tate would be unable to function without them. And before I go on I want to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with spending a lifetime in therapy. I mean, the further into my own time in therapy I’ve realized that a balance between individual therapy and medication is the best way to care for my emotional well being. When it comes to each group therapy program I’ve been a part of, the goal is to “graduate”. Some have a set amount of time I’ll attend and the others have had more of a general estimate. I’m aware that this may be different from programs elsewhere and also differs from things like AA but I’ve generally found that group therapy is used as a means to learn skills and talk with peers in order to foster healthy relationships and reactions in the wider world. I also know that many people will attend individual therapy for specific things that they are dealing with in their lives and work through these issues with their therapist in order to move forward. Therapy is supposed to help you learn how to function on your own, not become so reliant on a group of people that you can’t make decisions without them.

Initially I really thought that Tate would be discussing her eating disorder in depth and how she uncovered underlying trauma and then learned how to cope and move on in her life. The biggest struggles she had seemed to relate back to her binge eating disorder (her own description, as far as I know she was never formally diagnosed with anything). It took me until I was about 60% of the way through the book when I finally accepted that this was not the case. This entire book was essentially a “woe is me” tale of a privileged woman who just wanted a relationship. Can therapy help you learn how to have healthy, long lasting relationships? For sure! But being in a relationship is not and will never be a magical fix. The fact that Tate’s only goal for therapy was to end up in a relationship felt very weird to me and that Dr. Rosen accepted this as her goal was even more odd. He essentially guaranteed he could get her into a relationship instead of doing something like redirecting her thought process and suggesting goals that would lead her towards having healthy and long lasting relationships.

When it came to the therapy itself, Dr. Rosen seemed to be creating groups that are antithetical to everything I’ve experienced in group therapy. One of his major viewpoints is that “secrets are toxic” which is why this book was filled with personal and intimate details of each of Tate’s fellow group members as well as herself and Dr. Rosen. This also included detailed sexual encounters including some that Tate had with other group members. I felt beyond uncomfortable because even though Tate changed people’s names it all felt like an invasion of privacy. The first time I attended a group therapy program I was really nervous about opening up to the other members. In the end though I was so thankful that I had a group of peers that I could speak candidly to without having to worry about people in my personal life finding out what I was saying. And in listening to the other group members I found myself appreciating that they too trusted us enough to open up. By not speaking about what goes on in group to other people it’s not keeping secrets and it’s not toxic. It helps people build trust and interact with others who may have been through similar events. It’s a different experience than individual therapy in that it allows you to discuss mental health and other life stressors without potentially burdening or worrying people in your personal life. Holding this idea that secrets are “toxic” is really odd to me and the over sharing in the book cemented that in my opinion some secrets are just fine not to share with the world.

Another thing that made me uncomfortable while reading Group were the “prescriptions” that Dr. Rosen would give to group members. Many of these were highly inappropriate such as telling Tate to stay in an unhealthy relationship or telling her boyfriend at the time (also a group member) to perform oral sex on her. Instead of allowing group members to get advice or figure things out on their own, Rosen seemingly manipulated people to do things that may or may not lead to their desired therapy goal. This motivation of his was never explained which really rubbed me the wrong way because so many things that Rosen did were things that therapists should never do. At one point, Tate physically harmed herself during a group session and Rosen simply sat there and let it happen. Afterwards, he put some ointment on her wound and that was the end of that.

So not only did the overall group therapy experience that Tate had make me uncomfortable but I genuinely couldn’t figure out what the message of this book was supposed to be. Tate had numerous reasons to attend therapy and once again I’m glad that she was able to find the help she needed but she seemed completely naive to the benefits of therapy outside of her own experiences. She didn’t seem to learn anything from her time in group other than this magic resolution of her “happily ever after” relationship. Over the course of her book, Tate mentioned three things numerous times: the fact that she was first in her class at law school, her job at a prestigious law firm, and exactly how much she spent each month on therapy. Now mental health doesn’t discriminate and no matter what your life circumstances are you could experience mental health issues. The issue that I took with these three facts was that Tate never acknowledged the privilege that she had that even allowed her to get the health care that she needed. I won’t get into how incredibly expensive the group sessions cost her each month but she was lucky to be able to go at all. She grew up in a two parent household, she was well educated, and there were just so many advantages that she had and I’m disappointed that there was no acknowledgement of that whatsoever. There are far too many people who will never be provided with the mental health care that they so desperately need and I found myself feeling no sympathy over the fact that the chief complaint Tate held over the entire course of this book was that she was unhappily single.

It was very clear to me that this book was a memoir and a singular experience. However, with a title like Group and no pointed disclaimers of this being a memoir I worry that it could potentially lead people to seek out or stick with unhealthy therapy because it worked for Tate. I mean in the end Tate “fixed” her problems by achieving her goal of getting into a permanent relationship. I was so annoyed that there was next to no discussion of the larger arc of Tate’s mental health even though I feel like this should have been the main focus. Instead, Group focused heavily on Tate’s romantic relationships while she also happened to be attending this group therapy that largely didn’t seem like it was helping her. On more than one occasion she threw violent fits during sessions and then *poof* onto the next part. There seemed to be an utter lack of self awareness and instead of therapy helping Tate develop this she just relied on her group members and Dr. Rosen to fix everything for her.

Group was such a disappointment and the only reason I’m glad I read it is so that I can prevent other people from reading it. And as I’m wrapping up writing this I realized I never even touched on the problematic language used throughout the book. Since I did read an ARC and I won’t be seeking out a finished copy I can’t confirm whether or not any of it was changed before publication but if you’re writing about mental health don’t do shit like describe someone neatly making their bed as “borderline OCD”. It’s beyond disappointing that there are still people who aren’t actively working to erase problematic phrases and language from their day to day speech. And with that I think that’s everything I had to say about Group.

Oh, and as a little side note since this doesn’t technically have to do with that book. I found this out when I was perusing other reviews on Goodreads. Tate is none other than the mommy blogger who refused to remove content that involved her daughter after her daughter explicitly asked her not to include her in content anymore. I remember reading the articles when this situation originally occurred and it made me so sad for her daughter.

I’m going to sign off here before I start thinking of other things to rant about. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

Oh Look, Another Dual Timeline Historical Fiction Book: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner Review

Portions of this review do contain spoilers but there will be warnings ahead of those sections if you want to skip them.

Despite how the title might make it sound, I’m a sucker for dual timeline historical fiction books. I enjoy the mystery and intrigue that revolves around the story that plays out in the past because of something another character has found in the present. They’re usually quick reads and I’ll probably continue to pick them up even with the issues that I do tend to have with them.

I find when it comes to these dual timeline books that the main character in the present day timeline is used to give some sort of conclusion to the character(s) from the past. The present day character tends to use this investigation into the past as some sort of distraction from events that are taking place in their own life. I don’t necessarily mind this but at times it can be jarring to be thrown from one perspective to another, especially because it also involves a time jump. When it comes to historical fiction I usually prefer books that take place entirely in the past without needing to time jump in order to learn the fate of the characters.

I wrote a review back in 2019 about the book A Fire Sparkling by Julianne Maclean which is written in a similar way and has more of my thoughts on books like this. Now let’s jump into the review for The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

First off, this cover is GORGEOUS which was a big reason as to why I picked it up. Definitely an impulse buy but the synopsis was intriguing too.

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Besides the murder aspect of this I would also like to add trigger warnings for miscarriage, suicide, sexual assault, vomiting, and blood.

The Lost Apothecary, while containing darker themes, was a light read so as expected I flew through it. Another reason to this was the fact that I didn’t really enjoy the present day chapters that followed Caroline so I kept reading in order to get back to the chapters that followed Eliza and Nella in the past. I’m not a fan of plot lines that center around infidelity and while I understood why the author chose this to be part of Caroline’s story I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like Caroline was an awkward character in the way she was written and I don’t think she was as dynamic as Eliza and Nella were. Though I will admit that I didn’t particularly find any of them to be truly dynamic or unique characters. Nella had such a fascinating backstory and yet she was given a hardened personality that seemed to leave her unable to share her inner thoughts with even herself. I also found myself wanting so much more from Eliza because while I loved her determination she would go back and forth between being so obviously “young” to all of a sudden behaving in a way that contradicted this.

Just a heads up there will be spoilers in this next paragraph so if you’d like to continue with my spoiler free thoughts feel free to skip it!

The more I thought about Eliza the more I wondered how the story may have been written if she was aged up slightly, even just to 15 (she is 12 when the book begins). An aspect of this book was that Eliza gets her first period after her employer’s husband is poisoned and subsequently dies. She thinks that she has been possessed by his ghost and this is why she’s bleeding. It takes a majority of the book before she ever gets an explanation and while it broke my heart to see how scared she was I also felt that this was an odd plot line considering she otherwise acted so much older than she was. It didn’t even seem like just a difference of the times, Eliza was just oddly written. It was as if she needed to be a heroic character who could still be naive and romanticize the world since Nella was such a pessimist.

Despite not loving the present day chapters, the past chapters were really intriguing and I think the fact that the author is a historian played into the enjoyment that I felt when reading those portions of the book. At the end there is a section from the author about the historical aspects of the story. She gave context to some of the choices she made and I really enjoyed this! Whenever I read a historical fiction I tend to enjoy it even more when authors include resources or context because it allows people who are passionate about history to have a starting place to look into the real world inspiration for the book.

In terms of the plot, again I was intrigued from the moment I read the synopsis. However this was a shorter book and I thought that the balance of events was off. Both storylines took forever to develop to some sort of climax and then the ending felt rushed. It was as if the author had been planning on writing a book that was longer but had to fit it into a specific page count and instead of editing the beginning portion, she just cut chunks out of the ending in order to get to the conclusion in time. And as I had mentioned at the beginning of this post the ending of Nella and Eliza’s story completely hinged on what Caroline could discover in her own quest. I don’t want to completely talk down on this because I do find enjoyment out of reading books like this but it often just feels like a way to avoid writing a book that entirely takes place in the past.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for Caroline’s storyline so if you want to continue a spoiler free review skip to the next section!

As I’d mentioned earlier when discussing Caroline as a character I thought she was awkwardly written and I didn’t really enjoy her story. It focused heavily on infidelity and wanting children as well as regrets over life choices. I feel bad for talking down about these types of stories because I know that there’s an audience for them but it’s just not for me. And the more I think about the way her storyline ended the more I realize how weird the timing was. Her husband ingests an essential oil and ends up in the ICU during which time Caroline is accused of trying to murder him because her notes about Nella were discovered. The entire situation felt poorly handled by all parties and in the end Caroline’s husband who was just in the ICU is casually just going to hop on an international flight and leave. SIR???? IS THAT ACTUALLY A GOOD IDEA??? By the end of this whole ordeal Caroline also reveals that she is going to grad school in order to begin to live for herself again. I was just really confused by the timing because as someone who is also going back to school (granted not abroad and I’m just going to be finishing my undergrad) everything seemed so definite and in the end it was. It just felt like no matter what decision Caroline made she wasn’t going to fail in order to give her some sort of happy ending.

Alrighty, now that I’m done with that mini rant I will say that I did overall enjoy The Lost Apothecary. If you’re looking for a quick dual timeline historical fiction book I would definitely recommend giving this a go. However, if you’re not a fan of historical books that do have a larger focus on the life drama of characters instead of the actual historical context and events I would probably pass this book. This is Sarah Penner’s debut novel and I have to say that despite the issues that I did have with her work I will most likely pick up any future books she writes because I’d love to see what else she might come up with.

If you’re interested in picking up The Lost Apothecary you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Indie Bound (for local indie stores) // Bookshop // Target

And with that, I hope you all have a great day and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

This Wasn’t the Post I Was Going to Make Today

As the title says, this wasn’t the post I had planned on making today. I had a review ready to go up but due to current events I’m making this post instead.

Trigger warnings for discussion of police brutality

On Sunday night in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota a 20 year old man named Daunte Wright was fatally shot by a police officer. The trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd last year, just entered its third week miles from where this shooting occurred.

I’ve heard the statement “this doesn’t happen in Minnesota” too many times because no matter how many times people want to play the “Minnesota nice” card it doesn’t matter. These things do happen and have happened because the system is racist and no amount of reform or retraining is going to fix that.

Last year, I went to work in the predominantly white Minnesota suburb that my job is located in. The store next door had decided to put boards on their windows because of the protests and all day I watched as random people pulled into the parking lot to take pictures. All day I listened to my own customers say, “oh my god did something happen next door?” Among these the other comments spilled out:

This doesn’t happen in Minnesota

I hope nothing happens here

I can’t believe what they’re doing in Minneapolis

The comments of concern all centered around the city, the buildings, the inanimate things that could be fixed, rebuilt, or weren’t harmed in the first place. Not about the life of a man that was taken.

Now, another man has lost his life. The claims of accidents and warrants leave a bitter taste in my mouth. A warrant is not a death sentence.

Police violence is a plague. I’ve experienced it and I still replay that experience on a near daily basis. The only answer is to abolish the police.

Daunte Wright leaves behind a family. Among them are his girlfriend and almost 2 year old son. Below are some of the ways that can help support them.

I’ll update this post at a later time with other resources but for now I’ll end with this. I’ll talk to you all on Thursday.

Update 4/14: Here is a link to an article from Bustle with action steps that you can take to help demand justice for Daunte.

Please Stop It With the Toxic Romances: A You Deserve Each Other Rant Review

***This post will contain spoilers for the book You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle***

Trying to gather my thoughts for this post is proving to be very difficult. I have six pages of notes that I want to pull from on top of other points that have popped up the longer I’ve been away from my initial reading experience. I read You Deserve Each Other this past fall and I still get angry every time I think about it or see it mentioned.

At the core, You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle is a toxic mess. It is hyped as an “enemies-to-lovers” rom-com story about two people who have fallen out of love and enter into a prank war. I think I’m also majorly in the minority with my views. This book currently has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads and a slew of rave reviews.

The synopsis really doesn’t even begin to describe the inner workings of this story. When I first started seeing people talk about the book it sounded like it might be about a couple with cold feet, nervous to go through with the lifetime commitment of marriage but neither wants to admit it so they try to pull away from each other. I was ready for the “pranks” that were supposed to ensue, ready for some complex and heavy conversations about relationships, ready for a candid look at a “real” relationship. But instead I was sorely disappointed and left questioning why so many toxic traits are applauded in hyped up romance novels.

One of the major flaws in YDEO is the fact that while being a story about two people, there’s only one perspective and unfortunately for the reader, that’s the inner thoughts of Naomi. Naomi is a highly flawed individual and outright toxic, her views are heavily laced with casual sexism and not only did she change herself in order to fit into the relationship, she also never communicated. If the author had intended for Naomi to be an unlikeable character who shows growth over the course of the story I think I would have enjoyed the story slightly more but in the end I don’t think that’s what the author had intended. Throughout the whole book I desperately wanted to be able to hear from Nicholas because when he actually was given the opportunity to speak his mind I loved it. I really didn’t think that any of the characters in the book felt developed enough for me to really understand who they were. I was hoping to learn more but the limited perspective that Naomi gave us kept that from ever happening.

In my opinion, YDEO is not an enemies-to-lover story. Naomi entered into a relationship with Nicholas and instead of communicating about the issues that she had and fostering growth, she changed herself and accepted a stagnant and mediocre partnership in which she felt insecure and eventually threatened. The pair rushed into the relationship and instead of, oh I don’t know, GOING TO THERAPY they eventually started this petty “prank” war in order to force someone to forfeit the relationship. I genuinely think that this would have had potential if it was written as a fake dating story and if it also brought in the perspective of Nicholas. I could totally see Nicholas and Naomi pretending to be getting married in some sort of scheme against Nicholas’ parents. The Rose family was absolutely deplorable and this clip from John Mulaney sums up my opinion about how I feel in regards to family and relationships.

I’m really tired of picking up books that are marketed as romantic and then they end up just glorifying toxic relationships and toxic traits. Naomi had such a black and white way of thinking that she often took her reactions to an extreme. At one point, Nicholas sent her a plant and instead of taking a moment to Google it or even simply ask him what was up with the plant Naomi decided that he absolutely had to be trying to murder her with a poisonous plant. She got so caught up in needing to dislike Nicholas that it took over her life. I don’t think that it was inherently bad that Naomi was so stuck in her current position but her stubbornness ended up leading to increasingly frustrating situations for her to end up in.

I’ll admit that there were some parts of the book that I didn’t hate which is why I ended up rating it two stars instead of one. In the end though I found YDEO to be yet another adult romance that glorifies toxicity in order to develop a plot. I felt like the characters were underdeveloped and the story itself was incredibly disappointing. I wrote a post quite a while ago about lack of communication within enemies to lovers books and after reading this book I think I need to avoid adult romances with this plot line for a while. I might need to step away from adult romance as a whole for now because I truly can’t understand how many toxic traits are played up as favored tropes. I don’t think it’s necessary to use these in order to create a story, there are plenty of healthy romances that could be entertaining to read. This is a big reason why I dislike the typical “third act breakup” that so many romances include. Conflict happens but oftentimes the extreme reactions could easily be avoided and it’s not that I find it unrealistic but a lot of times it’s just not healthy.

As is a very common opinion of mine, You Deserve Each Other had potential to be a much better book than it ended up being. I got caught up in the hype and was misled by the synopsis that was provided. It was a disappointing read and incredibly frustrating and it’s not something I would recommend picking up.

Well, love that reviewing again started off with a good old rant review! I just knew I still wanted to get this one posted so I figured it was worth it to finally get written up. I’ll talk to you all again soon with another post.

The Neverending Hiatus

I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back to the blog. The longer I went without reading and the longer I went without posting the guiltier I felt. I’ve never quite felt like I belonged in this community so I really considered just disappearing and not coming back. More than once I almost deleted everything.

I started this blog the summer before I went to college. I was 18, almost 19 and excited and anxious about the future that was ahead of me. I never expected to be where I am now and it took me way too long to start taking care of myself and doing the things that I want to do. I got really good at running away from the things I needed to confront and in the end it all caught up to me.

The funny thing about rock bottom is that you never really know what the lowest point is. At least that’s the experience that I had. And the not so funny thing about rock bottom is that being a pessimist makes it incredibly difficult to want to crawl out of the hole. For a really long time I wanted nothing more than to simply stop existing.

Over the years I’ve abandoned a lot of projects and the more I worked on myself the more I got sad about the idea of completely abandoning this blog. I started reading for fun again (ended up marathoning EIGHT of Sarah J. Maas’ books in a week back in March) and when I didn’t feel the looming pressure of having to rate the books and write reviews I actually started to miss blogging.

When it comes to my hobbies I almost always put too much pressure on myself. I need to be good at things, I need to monetize my hobbies, or my worst thought which is that my hobbies aren’t actually worth my time. I used to have so much fun writing blog posts. Some of my older posts like this one on Empowertising involved outside research and I remember how hard I worked on it and how excited I was to finally post it. I really missed that aspect of blogging.

I’ve felt completely lost and utterly stuck for so long. Doesn’t help that it feels like every time I make a bit of progress something else comes up that ends up knocking me further backwards. I’m trying to not get too discouraged because in the end I am finally getting back on a path that I’m excited to be on.

With that being said, I wanted to say that if I find the motivation (or someone to help me with it) my blog is going to get an overhaul in the near future. There’s a lot of housekeeping matters that I’ve put off for too long and I’d rather not dread writing posts because there’s stuff on the back end that still needs to get done. I’m not sure how active I’ll be but I’m looking forward to dipping my toes back into writing again.

In other news, I’m going back to school! I applied to a couple schools back in January after many months of stressing and deliberating over what I wanted to do with my future. The longer I waited the more anxious I got but I finally heard back from my top choice and my transfer application was accepted! It feels like a fresh start and for the first time in a very long time I’m excited. I won’t be starting classes until August but I’m a bit overwhelmed with how short that timespan feels anyways.

As my to do list gets longer I do have to question my want to start blogging again. However I think it’s finally time to end my seemingly neverending hiatus. Plus I should probably have something to do in my free time that isn’t rewatching clips of British panel shows…

If you’ve made it to the end of the post, what’s your favorite book you’ve read recently? I’ve been doing a mix of rereading old favorites and comfort books but also have picked up a number of new books that I’ve really enjoyed. I’m in the middle of reading four or five different books right now and if you have any suggestions for what I should pick up next I’d love some recommendations!

I’ll be back soon with another post and in the meantime I hope y’all are doing well!

Book Review: We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

*** ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for honest review ***

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years it’s that relationships end. Romances, friendships, even acquaintances will fizzle, fade, or sometimes unluckily go out with an explosion.

Click the cover to head to the Goodreads page!

I’m not great with relationships of any kind and when I first read the synopsis for We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding my heart hurt. It follows James and Kat, a best friend duo that met in kindergarten, as their friendship changes (and fizzles) over the course of their senior year of high school.

The pair are personality opposites but they’ve made it work. They’ve navigated life changes and growing up together and it seems like nothing could have broken them apart. The book opens with a chapter from James as she leaves for college and then the story unfolds in alternating chapters and storylines. James narrates her senior year from end to beginning and Kat from beginning to end. If you’ve ever seen the movie or musical The Last Five Years this book has the same sort of format!!

This was an easy five stars for me and I genuinely wish I had this story back in high school. It was extremely cathartic and had me reflecting quite a bit about a friendship that I had back in high school that reminded me a bit of Kat and James. I felt broken at times while reading this but I honestly appreciated being able to read a story from two perspectives because it reminded me that no friendship is one-sided and an ending friendship doesn’t necessarily stem from solely the faults of one person.

As a high schooler, especially a senior, you can feel on top of the world. Your future is bright and everything seems possible. Being a teenager is one of the easiest and hardest things to be because you can have your whole life laid out ahead of you and be none the wiser to all the changes that are going to occur. Growing up is intense and navigating the transition between high school and college can throw many obstacles in one’s path. James is a planner and thought nothing would change her 15 year plan and unexpected events in her family end up throwing her into a new mindset that she’s never had to deal with before. As her life falls apart she turns inward and begins to catastrophize the choices that she’s made and wants to make. In contrast, Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, especially in regards to the people in her own life. She’s hesitant and anxious when it comes to changes but in the end all she wants is the best for anyone.

Despite being inexplicably linked, Kat and James were quite unique. Their approaches to navigating obstacles and changes were not only realistic but helped to illustrate how easy it is to allow differences to get in the way of friendships. Over the course of the book, Kat sees things falling together while James sees things in her life falling apart. The choices and events occurring in each of their lives caused a schism and the pair grew apart as neither girl truly acknowledged that they were both changing. Growing up is different for everyone and without realizing it, you can find yourself growing quickly apart from those “best friends for life”.

Kat and James are a bit of personality opposites, similar enough to make it work but when outside circumstances begin to come in between them it begins to cause a schism that ultimately changes their relationship entirely. Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, using this to compete with anxiety about changes she experiences. James, on the other hand, experiences unexpected changes and ends up catastrophizing the events which leads to even more unexpected changes. As a teenager it’s easy to wish the best for life and to think that you have everything figured out. Being a senior can give you that invincible high on life feeling and having to accept the open endedness of the future is a struggle. It doesn’t help that high schoolers are immature, even those seniors that think they have it all figured out! When you begin to get caught up in your own issues, you can lose sight of what’s going on around you, often to the point of neglecting things you shouldn’t. I could see how people might look at Kat and James and see two immature girls and a very mismatched pair but friendship when you’re young is as easy as spending all your time together. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of effort if you’re lucky enough to go to the same school or live nearby. But being mismatched is what ended up leading to issues and that’s something that happens in many high school friendships.

Having a friendship end at any age is hard but when you’re in high school when things change with a “best friend for life” it can be absolutely heartbreaking. One of my favorite things about We Used to Be Friends was how open ended so many aspects of it were. Reminiscent of life itself it drove home for me the fact that there are no guarantees and there is always a chance for things to change. We want happy endings, we want things to turn out perfect, we want all of our plans to work out but that’s not something that we’re promised. This was a touching and realistic novel about growing up. It navigates those relationship changes and allows the reader to reflect on the choices that each character made. Friendships are a two way street and when you accumulate so many years with someone it’s easy to assume that nothing will ever get in the way of many more years. We might not all get the chance to reconcile or have the ability to make different choices. To put it frankly, losing friends SUCKS and this book illustrated an almost grieving process between a best friend duo. This is one of my new favorites and an easy five star rating at that. A highly cathartic read for anyone who has found themselves in a changing friendship I couldn’t recommend this more!

Spoiler-Free Review and Spoiler Filled Rave: White Ivy by Susie Yang

*** This post will contain spoilers for White Ivy, readers will be warned at the end of the spoiler free section***

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!

Click the cover to be taken to the Goodreads page!

White Ivy is a spectacular debut novel from Susie Yang following Ivy Lin, a young Chinese girl growing up in the United States as she does whatever it takes to find status in a world in which she feels she never quite fits into. It’s a narrative of an adolescent wrestling with her identity and I was immediately struck by how engrossing this book was.

I grew up reading books that were usually outside of my age range and as soon as I started reading White Ivy it reminded me of some of the adult books I had picked up over my late elementary and middle school years. The writing fit the time period encapsulated in the book perfectly. I think the writing style was one of my main draws for this because it took me back to the early 2000’s and completely sucked me in.

It’s hit or miss how I end up feeling about novels with main characters like Ivy. She’s conniving and selfish and I continuously cycled between hating her and having a smidgen of hope for her. There were moments where I related to her and moments I pitied her and even more where I was in absolute disbelief of who Ivy was becoming as a person. The other characters in this book both infuriated and intrigued me and I was amazed at how easily Ivy molded herself to fit into the situations she was placed into. As her past and present begin to overlap and intermingle the emotional arc I went through had me reading as quickly as I could. Ivy was so filled with disdain for her past and her own family that made drastic choices to fulfill goals that she felt she had to reach. The inner wrestling she had to do made me want to reach through the book pages and shake her.

The plot was slow moving but as I read this in one sitting I felt so many emotions. It burned to read and while I tried to predict where the story arc was going multiple times when I finally did flip to the last page I was speechless. Each of the characters so clearly had their own motivations that even after finishing this book I can’t help but imagine what else might have been revealed if other characters had their own perspectives. Ivy was so biased and so consumed with her own need for success that her neglect towards pieces of her life outside of her romantic relationship was painful. I wanted so much more for Ivy but her ultimate decisions led to a shocking ending that I still can’t stop thinking about. This book was so different from any thriller I’ve read in a long time and while it wasn’t a flashy shocking book, it was uniquely shocking it it’s own way.

If you’re looking for a book that encapsulates a troubled girl who just wants success and in turn will do anything she can to reach her goals, I highly recommend this.

SPOILERS INCLUDED STARTING NOW, EXIT POST IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THOSE 🙂

Okay, wow. This book!!! Like I had mentioned earlier the plot was slow going. I’m not good with literary terms so I don’t know if she’d be considered an unreliable narrator but she was so indecisive that I have to believe that in the end her mind was reeling.

As Ivy developed her relationship with Gideon I was so surprised by how the past came back into her life with her childhood friend. When they started up their affair I honestly was not surprised in the slightest. The more I thought about the way Ivy was living her life, the more I saw the comparison between the path that she took versus the one that her mother took. They both married the “safe” option after the untimely deaths of their more spicy flings (that was the worst way to describe this but I can’t think of anything else to say right now).

Ivy worked so hard to fit this “perfect” version of herself that she began to curate after coming home from China. The years passed by and yet she couldn’t move on from her childhood. The constant disdain for her family was exactly what led to her marriage and future which she resigned herself to after realizing that Gideon was gay. The murder part of the plot was not quite as shocking as it could have been, I knew that Ivy was going to do whatever it took to make sure Gideon didn’t find out about her affair. The realization about Gideon though actually made me gasp.

This book was so good at layering both the issues surrounding being out of place growing up but also the conniving nature of someone who will do anything to be successful. It was an amazing debut and I look forward to reading more by Yang!

Vote 2.0

The 2016 presidential election was the first election I ever voted in.

I posted this on Election Day and not to really go too deep but wow what a different person I was back then. But everything I said in that post still stands.

In 2016 I went to bed feeling hopeless and let me tell you, I’m fucking tired of feeling hopeless.

So I urge you all to vote. Make your voices heard. And if you’re too young to vote or are unable to vote for other reasons? Urge your family or friends that are eligible to go out and cast a ballot.

I’ve done my part. I donated to a lot of campaigns and my ballot was turned in a few weeks back. This was the first presidential election that my sister got to vote in and we turned our ballots in together.

Then
And now

If you need to know where to vote look here.

And if you’re concerned about your ability to exercise your right to vote, check out this website.

Reconciling With A Half-Lived Life

TW: Mental health, trauma, self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation, abuse

As with most nights when I can’t sleep, I ruminate. I go over every aspect of every moment of my life and I can’t help but wonder how I got here. Sometimes it amazes me that I made it as far as I did before utterly falling apart but I think I should have known it was always only a matter of time.

I don’t have many memories from my childhood, I’ve locked them away along with most of my life but I do remember the stark difference of who I was from the beginning of elementary school to the end. I was obnoxious, I was the lead in the school plays and would memorize all the lines for the entire thing. I loved to research and devour new books. I would dream of acting and writing and I always raised my hand in class. And then things changed.

At home I was always told I needed to be quiet, always needed to behave, I had the highest expectations because I was the oldest and I was “smart”. According to my father I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything that required a lot of school and would eventually make me a lot of money. At 9 I broke down crying and stopped sleeping at night because I was so scared that I would fail the standardized tests at the end of the year and that I would somehow end up not graduating high school (I never scored below “exceeds expectations” on these tests despite my crippling fear). In sixth grade I had a meltdown in front of my entire class, sobbing because I had forgotten an assignment at home, something I had never done before and I was terrified of the consequences.

The inside of my head was turmoil. Every thought was consumed by the way the clothes on my body felt, how the hair on my head looked, the exact positioning of every part of my body. And the thoughts that weren’t focused on myself ran in millions of different directions while I focused on everything and nothing at the same time. I turned every negative thought into a catastrophe and yet the only comments on my report cards were that I “was a pleasure to have in class” but my teachers “wished [I] talked more.”

The older I got, the more I struggled. Not only with school but with my own self-image and inner feelings of shame. I constantly carried with me the idea that I was never enough and would never be enough and no one ever told me any differently. I turned to self-harm to cope with the emotions that wanted to bubble out because I couldn’t risk letting the mask of what I thought was curated perfection slip. I began to lose my drive and my passion and I worried that my interests and dramatic tendencies, should they be revealed to the masses, would cause me to be ostracized, demonized, or just laughed at. Every statement said aloud would be rehearsed a million times, something that has followed me into adulthood. I started to just agree with everyone else and lose the bits of myself that remained truly me because I wanted nothing more than acceptance because I never felt truly accepted anywhere.

Looking back I always wonder why people told me I was such a good student. I was just really good at faking it. I only ever completed two books for English, relying mostly on Sparknotes and my skills at bullshitting. My nights would be spent watching Crash Course videos, cramming for assignments and tests that never really seemed to be done. I passed math and my first chemistry class with flying colors by writing formulas on my hands before every test. I only truly excelled in a few classes but I constantly felt like I wasn’t truly good enough to be good at anything and eventually my imposter syndrome lead me down a path of burnout and shame. Many nights I would openly sob over my textbooks wondering how I would ever have a future, begging and bargaining with the universe to end it all just to give me a bit of peace.

And yet I pushed on, terrified of what would happen if I ever admitted to pushing myself too hard or showing how deeply I was truly struggling. I eventually turned to communities outside of my home for support because there wasn’t anyone in my home that wanted to help. But I had spent so much of my life being threatened and punished for imperfection that I couldn’t truly ask for help because I couldn’t trust anyone but myself. The communities that I tried to find solace in also began to turn into something toxic. Recently stumbling upon the term “toxic positivity” I realized how much of my late teen life and now young adulthood was skewed by the idea that I am only the way that I am because I have simply not tried hard enough or prayed hard enough. That everything bad is in my head and I somehow have all the power to make it all better in the snap of some fingers or perhaps the wave of some wands.

College turned into the same nightmare of high school, overworking myself for the results that I was looking for and tumultuous relationships that began to cut me deeper than I could have ever expected. At the end of my freshman year of college I took a philosophy class and I cried every time I had to do the homework assignments because I couldn’t handle the thought of death… Funny how just a few years later I can hardly go a day without getting sucked into the void of existential nihilism.

After I dropped out of college in 2017 I worked so much that it took months before I felt the shame of my decision. There were many factors that went into dropping out and my therapist at the time and I discussed it extensively before I did it but I still feel the guilt of that decision to this day. By the end of 2018 I had fallen so hopelessly into a depression after years of making decisions for everyone else, constantly striving for perfection and failing, and a series of extremely toxic lifestyle and relationship choices that I truly felt like the most logical choice was to leave.

I don’t want to get into details but now nearly two years later I still can’t figure out why I am still here. As every thought process turns towards my mistakes and failures and the uncertainty of the future I get stuck wondering why I wasn’t “better” when I was younger because where I am sitting right now is so far off from where early elementary aged me thought I would be. Every time I seem to take a step forward, something else comes out of the shadows absolutely determined to drag me down. It’s a constant cycle that leaves me wondering at every fork in the road what could possibly be waiting for me should I make a decision instead of settling into crippling sameness.

Almost two months ago I was diagnosed with ADHD during an extremely bittersweet psychology appointment. How so much of my life was explained in 45 minutes and yet now I am left to cope with the consequences of my half-lived life. I have no sense of self, a myriad of comorbid diagnoses, strings of failures and shame following me since childhood, and still no hope for the future. To somehow look back at everything and wonder how I slipped through the cracks and figure out a way to move forward is not something I had expected to have to do. While my peers are all starting their lives and looking ahead to their futures I am looking into my past and trying to cope with everything that has turned me to this point. When I inevitably fall into a pit of despair I lose all interest and abandon things with ease. Projects never get finished, routines become meaningless, and all of my energy gets thrown into simply existing until the next day. These periods stretch on for so long and if I let my anxiety feed into it, sometimes I don’t want to allow them to ever end because I know how much it hurts to crash if I allow myself to feel good again.

Hopelessness comes easy and as I mentioned before, nihilism is the sweet spot in which my mind currently lives. My therapist told me that my thought process for decision making is exhausting and it took everything in me to not say that she should try dealing with being in my brain every single day for a bit then. It’s like no wonder I start off every meeting answering “How are you” with “I’m tired”. Every set back is something that makes me have to try ten times harder to fix it because if I can’t do everything perfectly, then it’s all wrong and while I usually do still try a bit, a lot of times I give up because it’s easier than letting everyone down again. If I’m just the failure now, the used-to-be golden child, then somehow maybe I can be myself again. I look back at my younger self and my heart breaks because I see every missed opportunity and every struggle that I faced and I wonder how everything would have turned out had I been diagnosed when everything started to change. The signs were so obvious, the genetic history is glaringly there, but I just have to accept that I adapted to survive and I figured out how to cope by myself and it’s hard to accept but I’m still here.

I’ve had to reconcile with a lot of things from my past this year, but it doesn’t make the future any easier. So that’s where I’m sitting at now. Finding purpose or drive for an uncertain future after living for so long always feeling less than. My life feels half lived, my brain stuck feeling terrified of making the wrong decision or letting down the people around me in case I don’t perform the way they expect a normal person to. It’s time I started to live for myself and stop feeling the shame that I have always felt for not being perfect. And I might still realize that life doesn’t really have anything great out there for me but maybe I just have to learn some things instead.