On Blogging and Feeling Generally Stuck

You might’ve noticed that I took a three-month hiatus from blogging at the end of 2018. (You also might not have noticed because, like me, it’s more difficult for you to tell that something is missing when you aren’t actively looking at it. ūüė¨) This wasn’t a planned thing, but it felt necessary for me, and I wanted to talk a bit about my absence and my plans going forward.

(A note that I’m going to be going into some depression-y stuff here just a bit — it won’t be that deep of a discussion, but I wanted to mention it up-front.)

I realized in the last quarter of 2018 that I was more depressed than I had thought I was — I had so many things going well for me, and I guess that having good things happening for me tricked my brain into thinking I was actually happy when I wasn’t. I wasn’t enjoying things anymore, and I just kind of crashed at the end of the year… On the one hand I wasn’t pressuring myself to get things done and that was kind of nice, but on the other hand I wasn’t doing much of anything, and that was really difficult because I need stimulation in order to keep myself moving and I wasn’t really getting that from anything. I had a bit of an upswing during the first eight days of 2019, and then I hit a low point again and I’m trying to level my moods back out now. It’s difficult.

I’ve never had much of a “schedule” for this blog, and after the last few months I’m thinking that I need to continue not having a real schedule for a while. I’m going to aim to post twice per week for a while to see how that goes, and then later in the year I’ll reassess to see if I want to make any changes. I’m really behind on reviews right now because I’ve been so stressed and I haven’t been reading all that much and writing has been even more difficult for me.

I’m working on getting myself back in check — I have a monthly ARC checklist in my bullet journal that I’m going to try to stick to, and I’m hoping to catch myself back up because I have a LOT of fantastic ARCs on my iPad that are just waiting for me to devour them right now. I also just have a lot of leftover 2018 ARCs that I haven’t read, and a lot that I HAVE read but have struggled with reviewing. I don’t think that putting this kind of pressure on myself has been helping me, and I’m trying to get myself to relax a little more and stress a little less about this.

Also, in 2019 I really want to focus on drafting out my novel. I’ve had this story in my head for over a year now and I know where I want it to go, but I’m having trouble getting the words down. I started trying the silly “writing in Comic Sans” trick during my last writing session and for whatever reason it seems to be working, so I’m going to be trying that out for a while.

My other writing-related goal for this year is that I want to attend the Rainbow Weekend workshop at The Writing Barn, but I don’t feel that this is likely to happen because I don’t have a lot to show for myself in terms of writing, and I honestly feel kind of ashamed. My lack of any creative writing in the last several years is trauma-related and I know that this isn’t my fault, but I’m still blaming myself. I’d like to go to the workshop to try to break myself out of this slump I’m in and to try to write in a new place and reinvigorate myself, but even if I’ve done enough to actually get accepted the only way I’d be able to afford to go is with a scholarship, and that’s even less likely to happen because I don’t feel like I “look” serious enough to actually get one. I’m going to work on things and see if I can get myself situated to where I can apply, but I don’t feel hopeful.

I’m hoping to do more non-review blog posts this year and to try to do more collaborative things than I did last year — I have been feeling really lonely, and I think I need a tighter community around me at this point. Interacting with people is a challenge, and I feel very distant from most people and like most people are keeping their distance from me, and I want more engagement… More interaction… More feedback… More friends… More. Support goes a long way, and I think I need more of it than I have in the past.

Overall, I’m going to try to let my creative instincts drive me this year. I don’t know where they’re going to take me or what will happen, but I need it. It could take me a while to get my footing, but I’ll get it. I just need to keep at it.

Thank you so much for your support, and I hope we can have an amazing 2019 together!

ARC Review: Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Darius the Great is Not Okay

Author: Adib Khorram

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Dial Books/28 August 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37506437-darius-the-great-is-not-okay

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Darius-Great-Okay-Adib-Khorram-ebook/dp/B077WZ46TC/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/darius-the-great-is-not-okay-adib-khorram/1127582464?ean=9780525552963#/

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this unforgettable debut introduces a brilliant new voice in contemporary YA.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for racism/xenophobia, homophobia, fat-shaming, depression/depression-related ableism, bullying, terminal illness in a family member, and strained family relationships.

This is one of those books that, after reading it, you want absolutely everyone to read it. Darius is such an intriguing main character, and Khorram managed to balance how Darius doesn’t feel like he fits in with either side of his family in a very delicate manner. Darius feels disconnected from his Persian heritage because he wasn’t taught to speak the language from birth like his younger sister was and because the culture doesn’t really “approve” of his medication for depression, and he also feels disconnected from his white father who doesn’t seem to approve of Darius’s life, constantly policing him for being fat and for choices he makes in his life. The feeling of being a teenager, especially a fat teenager of color, who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere was very well-done, and I really empathized with Darius.

As someone with depression, I also really loved the depression rep and the discussions around mental health in this book. Many people who don’t have depression don’t understand that it’s not a matter of “just being happy” and getting shamed for trying to treat it can be incredibly overwhelming. This part of the book in particular was one that I felt very deeply; it almost felt like a weight was dragging my shoulders down as I continued to read because this kind of talk is SO common and so harmful for someone who is just trying to seek help.

The romance in this book was very light and sweet, and I’m actually rather glad that it kind of took a backseat to the other themes in the book because this book covered so much ground and I think was stronger for having the romance be a little less prominent. This is a story about a gay boy, yes, but it’s a story about that gay boy’s Persian heritage and his family and how he’s viewed as a fat person, and I’m really glad that those things took the stage in this one.

I absolutely adored this book. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you really should.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution by Ann Travers

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (and Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution

Author: Ann Travers

Category: Nonfiction/Children’s Studies/Transgender Studies (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: New York University Press/5 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36747917-the-trans-generation

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Trans-Generation-Parents-Creating-Revolution-ebook/dp/B07C6898VH/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-trans-generation-ann-travers/1127195306?ean=9781479885794#/

A groundbreaking look at the lives of transgender children and their families

Some “boys” will only wear dresses; some “girls” refuse to wear dresses; in both cases, as Ann Travers shows in this fascinating account of the lives of transgender kids, these are often more than just wardrobe choices. Travers shows that from very early ages, some at two and three years old, these kids find themselves to be different from the sex category that was assigned to them at birth. How they make their voices heard–to their parents and friends, in schools, in public spaces, and through the courts–is the focus of this remarkable and groundbreaking book.

Based on interviews with transgender kids, ranging in age from 4 to 20, and their parents, and over five years of research in the US and Canada, The Trans Generation offers a rare look into what it is like to grow up as a trans child. From daycare to birthday parties and from the playground to the school bathroom, Travers takes the reader inside the day-to-day realities of trans kids who regularly experience crisis as a result of the restrictive ways in which sex categories regulate their lives and put pressure on them to deny their internal sense of who they are in gendered terms.

As a transgender activist and as an advocate for trans kids, Travers is able to document from first-hand experience the difficulties of growing up trans and the challenges that parents can face. The book shows the incredible time, energy, and love that these parents give to their children, even in the face of, at times, unsupportive communities, schools, courts, health systems, and government laws. Keeping in mind that all trans kids are among the most vulnerable to bullying, violent attacks, self-harm, and suicide, and that those who struggle with poverty, racism, lack of parental support, learning differences, etc, are extremely at risk, Travers offers ways to support all trans kids through policy recommendations and activist interventions. Ultimately, the book is meant to open up options for kids’ own gender self-determination, to question the need for the sex binary, and to highlight ways that cultural and material resources can be redistributed more equitably.¬†The Trans Generation¬†offers an essential and important new understanding of childhood.¬†

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for discussions of transphobia/queerphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, bullying, abuse, and suicide, and for a graphic description of a trans child dying by suicide.

I usually get incredibly frustrated while reading academic work on trans people because most of the time it’s littered with binarism and outdated/offensive terminology, so this book was a breath of fresh air for me because it was pretty spot-on for most of the book. Travers, who identifies as trans, did their research and their best to ensure that this book was as respectful toward trans kids as possible, and it was really effective. Overall, this book is very good and one that most trans people like myself will find reflective of their own experiences to some degree.

My favorite thing about this book is that it not only was respectful towards trans people, but it is also intersectional — Travers goes into deep discussions about how race, class, disability, and sexuality all play a part in a trans person’s experiences and acknowledges that these experiences are going to vary widely because of these factors. For instance, during one moment Travers tells a young trans person that things will get better as they grow up and go to college and move on with their life, and then later Travers realizes that the assumption they made that college is a certainty in that person’s future was incredibly classist and they felt guilty for how they had phrased that conversation. The trans kids and teens who were interviewed have a variety of gender identities and backgrounds, and the mix of different perspectives from these kids and teens were a huge boon to the book and to our understanding of trans people’s childhoods.

My largest issue with the book was how Travers approached being trans as being “disabled” by society — in a sense, I get where they were coming from. They very eloquently discussed the medical vs. social models of disability and how with the social model it is society that creates barriers rather than the disability itself, and Travers expanded this to society “disabling” trans people as well. I get what they were going for here and agree that that is the essential effect that society has on trans people, however as a disabled person I felt that the terminology around trans people being “disabled” was co-opted in a way that tries to equate transness and being disabled when these are two very different things, and I don’t feel that an abled trans person should really be describing themselves as “disabled” when they mean that society is creating barriers that cause them to be discriminated against. I felt that better terminology could have been used here. I did, however, appreciate the good understanding of how ableism comes into play regarding trans disabled people, and felt that that added to the larger discussion as a whole.

Aside from that larger terminology issue, this book adds a lot of value to discourse about the lives of trans kids and was a really thoughtful and insightful read. Though I disagree with some of the definitions of terms in the glossary, this book in general is a really great overview of how intersectionality affects trans youth and how trans youth are growing up in this generation. It’s a great read, and I definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Image of book cover from GoodreadsTitle: The Girl and the Grove

Author: Eric Smith

Category: YA Paranormal

Publisher/Date: Flux/8 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35059797-the-girl-and-the-grove

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Girl-Grove-Eric-Smith-ebook/dp/B07BHQHXHB/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-girl-and-the-grove-eric-smith/1127035191?ean=9781635830187

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for mental illness/anxiety/depression/Seasonal Affective Disorder, depiction of panic attacks, child abuse (mentioned), rape (mentioned), ableism, racism, and death.

I absolutely loved this book. The writing style is incredibly strong, and I connected with the characters near-instantly because of it. Leila’s mental illnesses were relatable, and her struggles with fully accepting her new adopted family tugged at my heartstrings. Her new adoptive parents, as much as they struggled with Leila’s difficulties with referring to them as “mom” and “dad,” were very sweet and tried very hard to give her a good home. Her best friend, Sarika, is also amazing and lovable and I want her as my own best friend.

There was lots of diverse representation in this book, from Leila being Black/biracial to Sarika being South Asian to group home/adoption rep to mental health, and I really appreciated it. Leila’s Seasonal Affective Disorder was especially relatable for me, and I loved seeing a character use a light therapy box as I regularly use a HappyLight while I’m at home and it really helps me a lot.

The fantastical elements in the book worked well within the world within the book; Leila’s interests are largely environmentally-related, and the magic within the book segues from there really nicely. It made the whole narrative tie together in a way that felt true to the story. Though the story is very environmentalist it was written without feeling preachy or overbearing; rather, it’s very immersive as if you were getting lost in the forest itself.

Overall, this is a lovely book with colorful characters and a well-rounded setting that is easy to fall in love with. Those who love outdoorsy stories with realistic teenagers and just a dash of magic will love this.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Herding Cats

Author: Sarah Andersen

Category: Humor Comic

Publisher/Date: Andrews McMeel Publishing/27 March 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35924705-herding-cats

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Herding-Cats-Sarahs-Scribbles-Collection-ebook/dp/B079JD9K2X/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/herding-cats-sarah-andersen/1126946455?ean=9781449489786

Adjusting to life as a world-famous cartoonist isn’t easy. Terrifying deadlines, piles of junk-food wrappers under a glowing computer screen, and an ever-growing horde of pets….umm, never mind–it’s pretty much the same.

With characteristic wit and charm, Sarah Andersen’s third collection of comics and illustrated personal essays offers a survival guide for frantic modern life: from the importance of avoiding morning people, to Internet troll defense 101, to the not-so-life-changing futility of tidying up. But when all else fails and the world around you is collapsing, make a hot chocolate, count the days until Halloween, and snuggle up next to your furry beacon of hope.

I received and ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for anxiety/depression/mental health.

I’ve related to very few pieces of writing as well as I did to this book. I hadn’t read any of Sarah Andersen’s comics before this one and I was initially drawn in by her art style and (to no one’s surprise) the cats, and while both of these aspects delivered I hadn’t expected the very relatable mental health depictions that came along with them.

Many, many of the comics involved situations that felt like they had been taken straight out of my life — be it wanting to be alone instead of around people, doing a terrible job keeping track of time and panicking over my poor time management, or feeling like everything in the world is terrible except for my cat, I could see myself in so many of these scenarios. These comics are funny and personal, and they made me feel less alone as I read them. Sometimes everything in the world feels like it just¬†sucks and the only good thing I can find is my cat — and that’s okay. Sometimes things are just going to be bad for me.

The end section about managing being an artist with anxiety was also a great touch, and I really appreciated getting another perspective on trying to balance mental health priorities with art. I felt better about my own work after reading this, personally, and think it’s wonderful for anxious artists who feel kind of alone in their situation.

Overall, I really loved this! I look forward to reading more of Sarah Andersen’s comics.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The History of Jane Doe

Author: Michael Belanger

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Dial Books/5 June 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36739332-the-history-of-jane-doe

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/History-Jane-Doe-Michael-Belanger-ebook/dp/B075HY7LTT/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-history-of-jane-doe-michael-belanger/1127085536?ean=9780735228818#/

A poignant, deeply funny coming-of-age story about first love, first loss, and the power of history to give life meaning.

History buff Ray knows everything about the peculiar legends and lore of his rural Connecticut hometown. Burgerville’s past is riddled with green cow sightings and human groundhogs, but the most interesting thing about the present is the new girl–we’ll call her Jane Doe.

Inscrutable, cool, and above all mysterious, Jane seems as determined to hide her past as Ray is to uncover it. As fascination turns to friendship and then to something more, Ray is certain he knows Jane’s darkest, most painful secrets and Jane herself–from past to present. But when the unthinkable happens, Ray is forced to acknowledge that perhaps history can only tell us so much.

Mixing humor with heartache, this is an unmissable coming-of-age story from an exciting new voice in YA.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for suicide, mental illness, and depression.

This one is tough for me to review because while overall I really liked the writing style and the characters, it fell a little flat for me as a whole. I think that the counting down/counting up alternating timelines was interesting, but it would have worked better if what was going to happen with Jane wasn’t so obvious based on the “after” timeline. I knew what was going to happen to her by the end of the first chapter. This made the “reveal” a bit anticlimactic for me, as most of the surprise left was just gone.

I really liked the tone of the book — it was funny at times and yet didn’t hesitate to get serious when it needed to be, and I think this was handled very well. I think it highlighted how it’s not always easy to tell if someone is suicidal or not — a lot of people leave hints or ask for help, and others don’t. Sometimes you just don’t know, even if you sense that¬†something is wrong. And it sucks.

One thing that I really enjoyed was the recurrent therapy storyline in the book — in the “after” chapters, Ray often found himself in therapy, and he wasn’t always happy to be around his therapist. I¬†loved that he stuck through it, though. It’s easy to quit therapy when it just feels uncomfortable and wrong, but he gave it more than just one chance despite his attitude towards it and it worked out for the better for him. It felt very real to me, and I really enjoyed seeing that.

Overall this was a solid read for me in general, although the climax didn’t hit me as hard as I wish it did. It’s a good read, though probably not one of the most memorable.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse/2 January 2018

Edition: Hardcover

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30339479-you-ll-miss-me-when-i-m-gone

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Youll-Miss-Me-When-Gone/dp/1481497731/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515399866&sr=8-1

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/youll-miss-me-when-im-gone-rachel-lynn-solomon/1126512010?ean=9781481497732#/

Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist‚ÄĒand to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters. 

This book has content warnings for suicidal ideation and self-harm.

Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this book. I’ll just go with the words “exceeds expectations” and then try to work from there.

The tension in this book is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. The dueling points-of-view between the twins shows just how much they misunderstand each other, and while it feels frustrating while you’re reading it it also makes their worlds make that much more sense to you. That’s kind of the point — they¬†don’t understand each other, and they don’t know how to interact with each other because they don’t understand each other’s wants and needs. It’s a tense and complicated relationship, and it worked so well.

I¬†loved how central the family as a whole was to the story. Ima and Aba were caring and supportive, and while they didn’t always understand their children they did their best to listen and talk to them (something so often missing in YA). Also, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with bilingual Jewish rep in it and I’m loving it. Ima came to the US from Israel after serving in the Israeli army, and she and Aba speak both English and Hebrew with Adina and Tovah at home. Judaism is explored as both a religion and as an identity, and through the twins (and other Jewish characters like Zack) we were able to see a variety of ways in which Jewish people express themselves, especially as Adina questions her religion while still fully embracing her heritage. As someone who isn’t Jewish, I really loved getting this view of the family.

The mental health issues covered in this book were very relatable to me. I absolutely loved how anxiety and depression were depicted as illnesses that can cause very real physical symptoms in people; this is something that a lot of people tend to forget, and showing that they can be behind symptoms that seemingly point to another illness was refreshing. The portrayal felt very real to me, and it’s heartbreaking. I know little about Huntington’s Disease, but the portrayal appeared well-researched, honest and raw. The prospect of not knowing when you’ll develop a disease is terrifying, and I feel like this was well done.

(If you liked¬†You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone and want more teenagers and parents dealing with early-onset illnesses and more Jewish characters (as well as Deaf characters and romance and terrifyingly challenging races), you might want to give¬†Wild by Hannah Moskowitz a try! I definitely kept thinking of that book while I was reading this one.)

I loved how well-developed¬†all of the characters in this book were — not a single character in this book came off as flat to me. The twins themselves were the most well-developed characters I’ve read in a while, and their parents were definitely some of the most well-written parents I’ve read period. The characters felt real and were well-grounded in the setting, and I¬†love when books give me this feeling.

Also, I looked up Rhode Island School of Design’s mascot and I was not disappointed.

This was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases, and I was definitely not disappointed. This is a book that I would love to pick up again in the future!

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars