Revitalized

Mina Kim explores the intensity and emotional turmoil that romantic relationships can bring in “Revitalized.”

 


 Thank you.
Thank you for the love.
Thank you for the fear.
Thank you for the tears.
Thank you for the rejection.
Because I learned to like being alone.


Thank you for the love.

Your cheeks are aching from all the smiling.

It is around dinner time when the baby blue color of the sky fades into shades of pink and lavender. Leo’s hands intertwine around your waist, and his head rests gently on your shoulder. The smell of his cotton perfume, which he adamantly argues is not limited to a woman’s scent, fills the space around you (and the entire apartment—it is quite strong). Staring out from the slightly dusty windows of the living room, you and Leo watch the sunset and frequently comment on some of the bizarre outfits of your neighbors outside, laughing a bit too loud when cranky Mrs. Dallows leaves the complex to walk her three Pomeranians in an electric purple jumpsuit paired with knee-high striped socks.

“Look! Mrs. Dallo—oh god—” you breathlessly manage to get out. Leo’s chuckling from behind, and you can feel the soft vibrations of his chest on your back.

“I feel like I’m in The Wizard of Oz all of a sudden!” he laughs.

Then, mindlessly, you crook your head to the side, locking your eyes with his doe ones. Bliss. It’s the only word that comes to mind when you’re with him.

Leo faces you, his eyes lingering a second too long on your lips. When he looks back to your eyes, which are still gazing at him, his cheeks wrinkle as he smiles, and he’s hugging you tighter.

“I love you,” you suddenly blurt out.

“I love you, too.”

And even though you’ve been together for three years, that’s all it takes to get your hands clammy and your heart beating erratically.


Thank you for the fear.

Your cheeks are sore from constantly gnawing on the insides of your mouth.

Sounds of light rain echo through the busy streets, and people are still out and about, socializing even during the darker hours.

You’re waiting. You’ve been waiting for an hour and twenty minutes now, and there’s still no sign of Leo.

Today is supposed to be a reunion date, where you both can catch up, after Leo’s month in Spain with his friends. Specifically, catch up on the past few months because you’re both living hectic lives: Leo with his new office career as a manager and you with your graduate school schedule and studies in English. Classes overlapped with business projects, internships with late-night shifts. But, despite the conflicts, it wasn’t like you to easily give up on a relationship, especially when you still think about Leo wherever you go. So, you desperately cling onto hope.

You wince when you accidentally bite your tongue and grab for the cup of water, which stands alongside a glass of Coke—his favorite—that stopped fizzing an hour ago. It’s pitiful. The side-stares you’re getting from the happily married couple on your right, the glances from the waiters, who are too nice to ask you to leave, and the replies you have yet to receive from your missing-in-action boyfriend.

You wonder if it’s worth calling Leo when you’ve already texted him every five minutes. But, scrolling through the previous messages in your conversation, you decide against it. He hasn’t messaged you anything longer than “no” or “sure” for over five months now.

It’s okay, you think. Leo’s probably jet-lagged and sleeping right now, you attempt to comfort yourself. But, your heart clenches funnily, and your lips begin to quiver.

The fear of losing him has haunted you for too long for you to spit out another reassurance. So, you leave the restaurant in hopes that the blackness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the tears.

Your cheeks become stained from crying.

It’s been a long day of classes, and, in between each one, you are either half-running to a building on the far end of campus or haphazardly stuffing a bagel into your mouth to satiate your grumbling stomach. It’s one of those days where Professor Helen didn’t get much sleep and screamed at you in front of the class about how your essay papers weren’t double sided. One of those days where your clumsy hands decide to spill hot coffee onto your new jeans and where you want to be with Leo, even after months of your daily calls going ignored and your date plans postponed.

Are you two still together? In your heart, yes. Even now, he has you wrapped around his finger.

The afternoon wind brushes the exposed parts of your skin, chilling your ankles and slapping against your face and neck. You are walking back to your apartment, choosing this over the bus or taxi so that the coldness of the winter will completely obliterate the thoughts in your mind.

Strolling through the city, you feel mocked by the buoyant sounds of laughter coming from the restaurants and cafes at each block, and there is a twang of jealousy every time an elderly couple or family walks past you. But, all the pessimistic thoughts come to a halt when you see him. The man who you cared for and loved; the one who made you feel so worried for the past seven months; the one who seemed to carry no worries as he walks towards you, his hands enclosed with another woman’s.

The clicking sound of your shoes ceases at once. You can’t take your eyes off of Leo, and maybe it’s your rapidly heaving chest or your tear stained cheeks that reflects the city lights, but his eyes meet yours. His smile falters at the sight of you.

Please, don’t leave me here like this, you plead with your eyes.

But perhaps her beauty is more outstanding than yours. Perhaps you look too embarrassing for Leo to approach you. Perhaps he can no longer conjure up his feelings of endearment for you. Maybe that is why he averts his gaze to her, scratches his head as if he sees nothing, and calmly walks past you.

Are you two still together? In his heart, no, and the thought of that breaks you.

Muffled whimpers escaped from your throat while streams of tears burn your numb face. The signs of the restaurants become far too blurry to read. Once again, you hope the city lights will disappear and the darkness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the rejection.

Your cheeks squish against your pillow.

You wake up on the couch with stains of wine on your shirt, but it doesn’t bother you. For the last few weeks, you’ve greeted every morning on the couch.

Since the breakup, or so you assume, you’ve come to realize that you can swat away or ease sadness, but you can’t avoid loneliness. Loneliness clings so tight that you begin suffocating. Loneliness can’t seem to get enough of you, hindering your ability to properly eat, sleep, study, or function as a normal human being. It creeps into your dreams, your mornings, your nights, and into your mind. It constantly reminds you of the image of Leo and that woman.

Do people drift away from each other this easily? you wonder.

You can’t help but look through pictures of you and him when there was happiness at the very beginning of the relationship. At the time, Leo was the type of guy who would walk you past your home so that he could spend the ten minutes it takes to go around the neighborhood to be with you. But now you realize that he was distancing himself because he was too much of a coward to tell you directly, I don’t love you anymore. Then again, could you handle the impact of those five words?


Because I learned to like being alone.

Your cheeks are getting hit by the rays of the sun.

By the time the sun has fully risen, you’re skipping from your bedroom to the kitchen to make breakfast. Pancakes have become your favorite breakfast food these days, and you begin mixing the batter after you turn on the turquoise colored record player, a recent splurge for yourself, to play some Frank Sinatra. From the refrigerator, you pull out a few strawberries and a handful of blueberries to top the pancakes. Sitting on the couch, you look out the window and smile, seeing the beautiful cherry blossom trees and dainty flowers fully open to admire, for the new season of spring had finally come.

Sometimes, when you’re greeted with the scent of cotton or see your still oddly dressed neighbors, you think of him. Sure, there was no exact closure or apology, but you’ve come to a point where there are no poignant thoughts about him. It took time and the understanding that you can depend on and be satisfied with yourself to stop rebuilding the walls that had been torn down from hurt and rejection. You even learned to embrace doing the activities you used to do with Leo alone—taking walks around town, enjoying Friday nights with movies and wine, or dancing to music.

Feeling fulfilled, you munch on your delicious pancakes, grin at the sight of Mrs. Dallows walking her Poms, and feel content with only the sound of music filling your apartment.

 

Mina Kim is currently a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School who has been enjoying creative writing through her class at school this year. She especially loves freewriting on sense or specific detail. In her free time, Mina likes to travel with her family, drink coffee, and doodle in her journal.

Photograph, titled “Inhale,” by Jules Landa Ventre.

Scars

Margaret Madole illustrates the struggle of helping friends with mental illnesses survive another day in “Scars.”

When I look at my wrists, I expect to see her scars. It doesn’t matter when I glimpse them—at dance, in the shower, on the bus—it always seems wrong that they are unblemished, perfect and whole in every way that hers are not. I can’t feel any other way, not when we live an hour apart and yet I keep her tucked in my pocket, closer than any neighbor. I never stop checking for her texts; I pause in the middle of phone calls with others just to type my replies. When she asks for a high number, I give it to her without question, and agree that yes, I will send her 93 texts if it will keep her from putting scissors to her skin and making more of those wounds. My English presentation can wait until we’re done—it can wait forever if it needs to. I ask my friends from school, the people who somehow have become less important than a girl who ever since we left camp has existed only within my phone, her soul contained in circuit boards and enclosed in a plastic shell, how I am supposed to care about Thoreau when all the way on the other side of the state, my friend has decided not to eat for fourteen days and there is nothing I can do to stop her. I don’t tell them that I half-expect to be the one who will faint from hunger in the middle of class before the two weeks are up if I don’t somehow talk her out of it. The worry keeps me from memorizing my speech, and yet I can recall exactly what she ate on December second: a single candy cane. Is it any wonder that I expect my frame to be skeletal, my stomach flat to the point of hollowness, my lunch box still full at the end of every day?

It seems unfair, even when she’s in the thick of it, for me to claim I feel anything at all. My wrists are empty, my stomach full, my brain free from the lies of mental illness. I know I cannot tell a teacher, “I can’t do this presentation because my friend is depressed.” Besides, I fear they’ll tell me that I’m wrong, that I should just leave it all to the professionals. They don’t know that I emailed her school counselor and still, when she stopped eating completely not once, but twice, it was me who snapped her out of it the first time and me who led our friend to give the warning that saved her the second time, even though her counselor had been pulling her from class for a period every day. The professionals cannot text her at midnight to keep away the doubts that crop up while everyone else is sleeping. So I learned how to fight with her, to throw every thought onto my keyboard in the hope that just one will click. The words to an anti-suicide speech are typed at the slightest alarming message, before I can even think about what to say. I have already adapted so much that it seems a miracle that my outside does not match my inside, that my figure has not lost its padding to the jaws of unsatiated hunger, that I can wear short sleeves without the fear of exposing white “cat scratches,” and that after everything, the only way we match is the bags under our eyes. It only seems fair that if I feel her anguish, I should carry her wounds.

After a month, her mother sends her to the hospital for evaluation.  There will be no more scars made with scissors, no more delayed meals, no more early morning conversations. Those are not allowed in psych wards. Meanwhile, I remain at home, in school, trapped in my own sort of isolation. A part of me enters the hospital with her as her wrists heal and her hunger dissipates; the rest lingers in honors classes, pretends that everything is all right. I hide how I’m afraid of her coming back with nothing fixed. I resist the urge to ask everyone fretting about their grades if they’ve ever thought about what it’s like to have real problems. I have to right to shout at them. After all, I am safe. I eat regularly. I have no lines on my wrists. But if that’s true, then how come in my worried haze, I can see the scars residing on my arms, bright and clear, marking me forever? Why am I, too, overcome with fear at being removed from everything I care about until some doctor deems me stable? How come, every time I look in the mirror, I am able to count my ribs?

 

Margaret Madole is a 16-year-old sophomore from Connecticut who refuses to be reduced to a collection of nouns in a bio. Other people have described her as a writer, actress, dancer, violist, and girl scout. She prefers adjectives like eclectic, loud, enthusiastic, nerdy, and creative.

Visual Art by Öykü Seran Harman

The Sky Apnea Collection

In “The Sky Apnea Collection”, Ariel Serene uniquely paints picturesque scenes of nature. Her surprising terminology creates a masterful description.

Apnea

Spasm of noontime yellow

Atop aching valley of strawberry root.

The wafting of pumpkin sun

ribbons

across dimpled doughy green.

To collapse here,

To become just a thing

Compressed under heavy

brilliance of air.

The heart balloons as does

The oak

And sparrow.

 

Here also lays wing, broken.

Bumbling oramagmied bird hungry

For carbonated sky,

for a hushed god

In this kneeling.

This building again

Amongst red bulb berries

Dangling from shrub

Swallowing the scent of sunset.

Cartilage cocoon spools

Through and out,

Wing mends as does the

Drunken maid and

Womb.

 

Sky Junction

The ivory’s obsidian counterpart:

Minor exhale twinges to

splinter compressing grey

And red

Dripping down a spine;

Matted fur in a ruffled song.

Do we dance slower now

Or speak underwater,

Where time slips

And gurgles through a palm.

Or

is it the heart allowing it,

A caven cry and leap

In love, I do

The birdwatcher and stargazer

Find mirrors under athick curdling sky

In adeafening dance with liberty,

beheading of gravity

30 feet above

A blistering suburb

Plagued and shredded into sun

And cement

Waiting for return of yesterday.

 

 

Summer’s Sister

Everything new under a young

Blue shadow.

Gasoline rainbow

Cracks under rubber boot. an

October lays her head heavy

Upon sharp wet road,

The brittle dead

Succumb to weight,

Gasped into swirling

Rust and orange.

Fold into the

courtesy after summer.

A quieter bomb, shaggy

And burrowing. the

Frothy atmosphere

Licks bare arms.

Night bites further into afternoon and

sun yolk drips quicker,

Heavy and crumbling with submission.

 

Ariel Serene is a 17 year old aspiring poet and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. Although new to the poetry scene, this determined young writer quickly fell in love with the art and is currently applying to major in English at UCLA.

 

Visual art piece titled “Looking Through The” by Meicen Deng.

A Conversation With Alice Bolin

Alice Bolin is the author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession. It is a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and a New York Times Editor’s Choice book, is on the list of Kirkus’ Best Nonfiction Books of 2018, and is an Edgar Award nominee.  Alice has published poems, stories, and essays in numerous publications, and is the former Poet-in-Residence at Idyllwild Arts Academy. She is currently a Creative Nonfiction professor at the University of Memphis.

 

Delany Burk and Kalista Puhnaty sat down to interview Alice about her recently published essay collection, Dead Girls, a large portion of which was written during her two years as the Poet-In-Residence here at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

 

Q: You write in many of your essays about the sexism that is present in the media. Do you think it is improving with the “Me Too” movement and the issues that are being brought up surrounding that?

 

A: I do think that it is improving, and that there have been a lot of changes when it comes to representation, and more diverse stories, but we have a really long way to go. I also still think stories that are supposedly combating sexism often play into it in certain ways. Even with the Sharp Objects thing, where a lot of it is just an excuse to just watch violence against women, and also watch women be ravaged by their past trauma. I don’t necessarily know if staying in that mode is doing us any favors, and I would like to see just more diversity in stories, not only in terms of representation but in terms of the kinds of stories we tell, and more experimentation with plot and structure. It is happening in some ways, like–I don’t even want to use this example–with anthology series like Black Mirror, changing the ways that people consume TV, which is really cool, and we aren’t as stuck in this season arc thing. But I think that we still have a long way to go, that’s my basic answer.

 

Q: Do you think that the fascination with dead girl shows, and stories like that, have anything to do with the “damsel in distress” theme from many older stories?

 

A: Yeah! It has everything to do with that. That sort of overlap between fairy tales and dead girl stories, and the ways that they always feel fairy tale-esque, harkening back to those attitudes about women, about women needing to be saved or helped by men. We still feel really comfortable with that narrative, of “Oh, let’s get a dad to come help,” but that’s what’s interesting about dead girl shows. The dads are the heroes and the villains, and that tells us something about our culture that we didn’t know before, which is ultimately sort of the good thing about them. But yes, it definitely harkens back to that damsel in distress image for sure.

 

Q: Why do you think that serialized crime shows are so popular, when a majority of people don’t know about real cases of women disappearing and dying, especially with the killings of women of color and trans women often going unspoken about?

 

A: I think our conception of what a mystery is has everything to do with the identity of the victim, and probably the perpetrator. When I lived in Los Angeles, two guys were shot right near my house and their killers were never caught. What they said in the newspaper was, “Oh, it was probably gang related,” and that they were two Latino guys, and that’s all we ever heard about it. That’s a mystery, we don’t know who did it, but it wasn’t treated like a mystery. Gang violence answers the question. “Okay, mystery solved!” When a white girl gets killed you feel like, “Oh! Who could have possibly done it?” because we don’t think that white women deserve violence in the way that we think that other kinds of people deserve violence. Or maybe because that’s just not our image of a victim of a violent crime. So that’s part of it, the allure of “the perfect victim.” Also, I have read literary theory stuff about serialized fiction even in the Victorian era, you know, Dickens and Wilkie Collins, but also journalism. Once the daily newspaper would come, people would follow these cases that were salacious, and serialization is kind of this method of getting people addicted to narratives, where once you have that cliffhanger, people start to fill in their own ideas of who did it, and what the answer is. It is perfect for these kinds of stories. I think that it has to do with structure too, there’s something about it that has been around for 200 years.

 

Q: Is there ever a time where having a dead girl in a story can be justified? And If so, how do we write stories about dead girls in a way that doesn’t fall in the same pitfalls that other dead girl stories do?

 

A: I don’t really feel like I’m the arbiter of what kind of stories people get to write. I even met the writer Megan Abbott who has written a bunch of literary… you might say literary thrillers, and they all center around female characters, and female rage you might say, and she explicitly said about my book, even though she liked the book, and she gave me a blurb, she said about my book that she doesn’t necessarily agree, and she thinks that we need to keep telling dead girls’ stories, and keep exploring that idea, because that’s where we’re going to find some answers about why this violence is so prevalent. Which I think is valid. I respect that opinion. So basically my answer is I don’t know… but I think there are ways that dead girls shows, and dead girls stories can kind of reveal our feelings towards women, and our feelings about crime and about who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, in ways that other stories can’t because they’re so outlandish and over the top and even fairy tale-esque, and magical. They kind of illustrate our really messed up interest in these stories by being so over the top. I think Twin Peaks is the perfect example of that.

 

Q: What other criticisms have you received for Dead Girls, and how would you address them?

 

A: I think that the biggest criticism that people have of it is that it is not all about dead girls. There need to be more dead girls in it, that it’s too personal, and there’s not enough analysis of that phenomenon in it, and it’s a little bit of a bait and switch. Which… whatever. But I think for me that was not the book that I was interested in writing, was a critical analysis purely of this dead girl phenomenon, not that it would be difficult to write. But I also felt like, “Well there are endless dead girls, I could write about that forever. Where do I find an end to that story? How do I find my way out of it instead of just staying in it? That book could be 1000 pages long. How do I find a resolution?”  And the only way that I could do that was sort of veering off course, and examining other stories, maybe examining alternatives to that story and thinking about my own stories and the ways that I have sort of been complicit in the kind of oppression I was critiquing. That was how I found my way out of it. I’ve talked to women who are really cool who are like “Oh I’m so excited for your book, I’m a PhD student and I’m writing about violence against women in literature for my dissertation” or something and I’m like, “That’s great…” and you know I think that can exist alongside my book, and be kind of an alternative. I’m not the only person who is writing about this stuff but that’s kind of my take about it.

 

Q: You seem to have a fascination with mystery; have you considered writing a mystery novel or story? If so, how would you approach it?

 

A: Yeah! I want to write one about Idyllwild. But the thing is, I do like mystery and mysteries, but what I like more is that kind of mood, a really noir-ish or thriller-ey tone. And I love that in books that really have no mystery or the mystery is kind of missing, like books by Shirley Jackson, or Patricia Highsmith. I think those books, or even books like Toni Morrison, or “Ghost Story” books where you feel like there’s a mystery and you are reading it like there is one but ultimately the mystery is never going to be solved. That’s the kind of book I’d like to write. And maybe about Idyllwild. I think it would be the perfect setting. It’s so creepy.

 

I moved to Idyllwild from Koreatown in LA, which is the most densely populated part of LA, and I never felt worried about walking around at night because there were always people everywhere… but here? No. I’ve written about it a little bit, I think it’s so perfect for that creepy mood. That’s what I’m more interested in, because I do want to question our addiction to mysteries.

 

Q: Has teaching influenced your opinion on women in media?

 

A: I mean, teaching has influenced sort of everything that I think, but… Basically I think one thing that teaching helps me do is be more open-minded towards kind of practical ways that representation is important or sticking by what I believe in in certain ways, where maybe even if I like a book, or an essay, I’m maybe not going to assign it if I think that it could be offensive or marginalizing towards my students. And it is more important for me to represent more diverse and interesting voices because that is what my students need, and also what they would appreciate. So I feel like in some ways it has put me more in a mind of how I can be more responsible for my own choices, and the media that I’m personally consuming and recommending or assigning. Because I have this weird kind of power where I can make a group of people read books that I tell them to, and so I want them to read books that do have good representation of women, that don’t have damaging ideas about women, unless that’s something that we want to talk about.

 

Q: You’ve dug quite deep into many aspects of the media that are considered shallow. Are there any rabbit holes you’ve gone down that didn’t make the cut?

 

A: Lots of them. Yes, tons. Especially stuff about music and country music. There’s none of that in the book but I have written lots about country music, because I think that country radio is really fascinating and especially actually how it relates to women and female artists and the kind of values that it perpetuates to its audience. Also stuff about reality TV, there’s a little bit in there but I have, much more to say about MTV. I think I am probably going to be writing about stuff about media in my next collection, especially women and social media influencers, stuff like that is something I am really really interested in and love to write about.

 

Q: What is your opinion on the media’s obsession with bad mothers?

 

A: Hmmm. I feel like the media probably has pretty equal obsessions with bad mothers and bad dads, but they’re portrayed in different ways. I think we villainize women more for being bad mothers, like it’s almost perverse to be a bad mother. But to be a bad dad is sort of expected. It’s like, “Oh, sure.” It’s sort of a cliche, where a bad mom is like gasp, “So shocking!” and that’s something that in fairy tales, usually the mother is dead. But there might be an evil stepmother, or there’s this witch figure off in the wings and there clearly is literally or figuratively a stand in for a bad mother or an absent mother. I think it has a lot to do with our anger towards women, and towards our own parents. That’s something I talk about I think in the dead girl show essay, that the Philosopher Julia Kristeva, her theory of the abject had to do with this anger, maternal anger, anger towards our moms, she was a psychoanalytic theorist, so its like this Freud thing, but I think that it’s kind of gross, right? That’s really my only take on it, I really like stories about moms, and about moms who are in the picture, and who are good moms. I think that’s actually much more interesting than bad moms… Bad moms can be interesting too. That’s what my student at Idyllwild said to the class once: “To get writing ideas, I google ‘I hate my kids.’” I was like, “How many stories can you write about people who hate their kids?” but still, that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.

 

What You Didn’t Learn in History Class

Ryan French reviews Killers of the Flower Moon, a non-fiction book authored by David Grann.

David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, $12.71, ISBN-10: 0307742482

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, is a book you wouldn’t pick up on your own if you saw it on the shelf of your local bookstore. With a tiny sign that reads, “A great read! Based on a true story! It’s riveting! An absolute brilliant non-fiction book!” its cover is a reminder of how you were forced to read a book like this for an English class in your freshman year. You should still pick this book up though; covers can be misleading.

The novel follows the story of a bizarre case of murders in Osage County, Oklahoma, that occurred in the early 1920s which ultimately lead to the formation of the FBI. The murders appeared as elaborate but randomly timed events, and the government thus formed a group of highly-skilled detectives to solve these cases; this led the government to keep the newly-founded Bureau for future cases. The case study is examined by the novel, and David Grann exposes the corruption that was a result of greed and racism the government held for the Native American Osage people. Grann does a beautiful job of unraveling the mysteries behind these horrendous crimes, bringing to light what is left out of the history books.

Reading Grann’s book, you almost forget that this all happened in American history—it’s written as if it’s a work of fiction. The incredible details put into the book are remarkable, detailing the most trivial of minutia, such as how the sun was shining on the day of the first killing. Killers of the Flower Moon makes you search for the reason why someone would commit these murders, leading you to believe one thing until it pulls you into a different direction. It’s thoroughly researched to the point where the Osage people seem almost to be like characters you could touch with your own hands at any given moment. Grann goes into great detail about the people’s past, such as how their lives were  previously disturbed by the US government forcing them to move from their native land.

Even if this book looks like one you were forced to read in high school, it’s not; it’s much more. This is not your average high school non-fiction read—it details what others refused to look at previously, and goes in depth as to what these people suffered through, keeping their tales alive while still being fascinating to read.

By Ryan French

 

 

Love In The Time Of Stomach Bacteria

Bailey Bujnosek writes about John Green’s seventh novel, Turtles All The Way Down.

John Green. Turtles All The Way Down. 2017. 304 pages. $12.28. ISBN: 0525555366.

Turtles All The Way Down, John Green’s seventh novel, focuses on both a missing person and sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, a teen struggling with mental illness.

The book’s strength is also its weakness: a complex character study of Aza and her challenges is made subplot to the mystery of a missing billionaire, as well as a budding romance between Aza and the billionaire’s son, Davis. The portrayal of anxiety and OCD in Turtles is well-done, but it gets overshadowed by the flimsy mystery of the missing man which takes up the first three-quarters of the book.

This is the sort of book you’d expect from John Green, as much of his work focuses on romance. His most popular novel, The Fault In Our Stars, follows two teens whose struggle with cancer draws them together. But despite a history of similar plots in Green’s past, Aza’s story feels original. Her character’s voice is shaped by a unique struggle to find out who she is, while often feeling out of control of her emotions.  

Aza meets Davis Pickett at a camp intended for children dealing with grief from the death of a parent, as they both lost a parent at a young age. The duo is drawn together by their mutual loss, as well as an unspoken understanding between them referred to as “seeing the same sky.” But the romance in this book is not nearly as sappy as Green’s previous works. For example, every time Aza and Davis make out, Aza falls into a “thought spiral” about how she’s going to get a bacterial infection called C. Diff—which leads to inflammation of the colon and potential death—if she continues exposing herself to Davis’s germs.

Aza’s self-destructive coping methods, such as compulsively sanitizing a cut on her thumb, escalate in the background of her new relationship. Her regular teen problems only add to the stress, with many of her relationships deteriorating as people feel pushed away. While there are attempts to solve the mystery of Davis’s missing father, including some Internet detective work, little progress is made. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are red herrings, like the shady nature of the billionaire’s staff; some are consistent to the point of convincing the reader they’re vital information, only to come to nothing.

The climax of Turtles All The Way Down reverses the main plot and the subplot, making Aza’s mental illness more significant than Davis’s missing father. Although Davis’ father’s disappearance receives closure, it comes late and feels forced, as if the author only remembered it at the last minute.

Watching Aza’s character grow and change is far more interesting than the romantic element of the novel. The darker elements of this book—poverty, the death of a parent, and a missing parent—are present, but unexplored. Most of the time, there’s too much going on to center on one thing.

Loyal John Green fans will appreciate his characteristic dives into philosophy, focusing on ideas of the self and free will, and the “intellectual” vocabulary the characters use. However, for casual readers, it does not hold a candle to his earlier successes.

Turtles All The Way Down is a decent book from a competent author, yet it attempts too much. Whether it was the pressure to meet the acclaim of his previous books, or the stress of accurately representing mental illness, Turtles All The Way Down is all over the place. While being dragged along on Aza’s spirals, you fall into one yourself—but it never reaches an end, and you are caught in the middle.

By Bailey Bujnosek.

Baptized in Fire

In “Baptized in Fire” Cole Kissam contemplates the self through religion and music.

Prometheus shaped us from the Earth,
but I have one rib fewer than my mother. My hidden
self cuts me open to look for what is missing,
finds my energy too precious to sign away.
Still, I sign in spit. In spite is how I spread
my words: paranoia, betrayal and loss.
There is no difference in what I say, only
how I say it. I learned this from the burials
and burnings in my nightmares keeping
me from closing my lids. They say we all seep
back to clay one day, but I see Cudi in the flames.
His muscles hardened, his skin pink and luminescent.
Baptized in fire. He crashes from a high place,
splinters into a million particles, blessings
spilling from him, a now broken pot.
The fire that once contained him blesses
over my skin. Then, I shape myself.

 

 Cole is a student who learns as much from failing as he does from his teachers. His favorite poets include Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum and Reginald Dwayne Betts.
Visual art by “Yuga” Yujia Li.

Rivers in Her Hands

In “Rivers in Her Hands” Viviana Wei explores a mother’s dedication to her daughter, and her daughter’s growth.

My most vivid memories of my mother are the thick, blue veins in her hands. They lurk beneath the surface of her thin skin, distant reminders of decades of age. I like to run my fingers over them, imagining that each line is a river encased in the pores of her skin.

Every evening, she raises me up to her worn chair, sits me in her lap, and runs her fingers through my hair as I trace the rivers in her hands.

“You can be anything you want to be,” she tells me.

“Really?” I always ask, even if I already know the answer.

“Yes.” My mother smiles a worn, tired smile, and I watch the earth crumble and crack around her eyes and mouth, the wrinkles etching her skin like moving plates.

I didn’t realize what she meant until I entered primary school, when talk of immigration and foreign countries began. During those times, I thought about my mother, and began to understand why she sat me down in her leather armchair every night after dinner and held me in her lap, whispering words of encouragement into my ear.

My mother, who never got the chance to be whatever she wanted to be.

My mother, who came to America in hopes that an unborn me would have a better future.

My mother, who never got the chance to go to school the same way I do.

But my mother is brave, resilient. She tells me how hard it was to learn English, how she spent years poring over textbooks, memorizing when to use “-ed” for past tense and when to change the word altogether. She tells me how hard it was when she first came to America, the strange looks and mocking from strangers with perfectly-enunciated English.

I can’t imagine my mother, who has rivers in her hands and the earth in her smile and the sunlight in her eyes, ever struggling with anything. It makes me feel lucky to have been born here—to speak English fluently.

When I came home from school crying after my classmates mocked my strange-smelling lunch, the shape of my eyes, the color of my skin, she was there for me. She picked me up, placed me on her lap, and sunk into the leather chair, whispering words of her home. She described Chinese countrysides and the family I had in a country across the world, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad about my heritage.

As I grew up, I learned not to cry about the teasing and smiled instead. Now that I’m too old for her lap, I sit across from my mother in a chair of my very own. Of course, she keeps her old, leather one; even when it sheds black flakes onto the carpet, neither of us can bring ourselves to get rid of it. We still sit across from one another in the evenings, but I miss the days when I fit in her lap. She still tells me stories of her beginnings in America, detailing her struggles, and how, to this day, she still hasn’t mastered English.

I kiss her cheek. “Your English is perfect,” I say. She smiles and reaches forward for my hand. I place mine atop hers and see myself in her eyes, in the bridge of her nose, in her lips.

I am a spitting image of my mother, and I hope that, when I grow up, I’ll be as selfless and noble as she is, too. Because my mother has rivers in her hands, and the power to change the lives of people who come after her.

Even when these rivers dry up and the earth shatters, I’ll always be grateful for the chance my mother has given me.

 

 

Viviana Wei is a 16-year old girl living in Cooper City, Florida. She goes to American Heritage in Plantation and enjoys writing and drawing. As a first generation Chinese-American, she speaks both Mandarin Chinese and English; she is eager to share her Chinese roots through her writing.

Visual Art by Rudy Falagan

“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Emily Clarke submerges herself in the empowering stories of Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women.”

Roxane Gay. Difficult Women. 2017. 272 pages. $9.58. ISBN: 0802127371.

My dad and I are sitting behind a table covered in rainbow strips of cloth, ready to teach festival-goers how to twist them into cordage bracelets. I stand to look at the thick layer of thigh-shaped sweat on my metal chair and think, This is so something that would be in Difficult Women. A man sitting in the booth to the left of me glances over at the book in my hands and says, “That’s yours? For a second I thought it was your dad’s and I was gonna say, that’s a dangerous book for a man to be reading in public!”

I mean come on! If this isn’t the total epitome of Roxane Gay’s recent collection, I don’t know what is!

Twenty minutes later, my cheeks are covered in tears. Not because of the man but because of the honesty in “I Will Follow You,” the first story in Difficult Women. Forget the sexist guy who interrupted my reading! Every woman should read this. Every man should read this. Everyone should read this.

Difficult Women is not a book in which women overcome male-inflicted violence. Difficult Women is not a book in which women discover their sexuality. The women in Difficult Women have always embraced their sexuality. They use violence and tragedy to empower themselves. Gay whips her readers into shape with sharp commentary and humor with lines such as “We were young once and then we weren’t,” and “Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.” Roxane Gay makes her readers forget they ever enjoyed ‘skimming.’

From a woman receiving a fiberglass baby arm as a gift to a man flying into the sun and ridding the earth of light, Roxane Gay’s storytelling causes her readers to consider concepts that wouldn’t seem to be feminist. The feminism in Difficult Women sneaks up behind you only to laugh when you jump. In “I Will Follow You,” two sisters suffer through childhood violence and disparaging marriage; they are always together and always suffering.

Difficult Women is full of varying structures, and takes on a less traditional tone than most fiction collections. Stories such as “How” and “Difficult Women” are split into titled sections and read more like developed character studies than traditional short stories. “I am a Knife” uses a lyrical voice and focuses on poetic narrative rather than following a clear storyline. The first lines of stories like “Water, All Its Weight” and “La Negra Blanca” are bold and immediately submerge the reader into the story.

These stories are like nothing you have read or will read again. I didn’t spend hours in bed with this book and finish it feeling fresh and cheery. Difficult Women haunted me for weeks. I felt that Gay’s stories were my own. I was every main character she created. I took hour-long showers drenched in hot water and Gay’s words. I submerged myself in her narrative. This book will swallow you whole, but do we remember and cherish the books that don’t?

Emily Clarke is a Cahuilla Native American writer whose favorite words include meat, belly, milk, and mud. 

Solitude

In “Solitude”, Lu Yuan uses images of nature to explore the solitude of the self.

Waves strike against cement of solemn water.

One solitary seagull pierces through the clouds,

Slices sky from the sea without bound,

Watching it rise and rise out of sight

Like a balloon from a careless child’s hand.

Will the sky, too, pop,

If it climbs too high?

 

Sunlight crawls on snowflakes so purely warm.

One solitary nightingale sings among thorns of ice

And shatters the clear crystal with voice alone,

Its image flickering in ice shards,

As they dive into deep snow

Like dandelion seeds taking root.

Would the ice, too, grow,

Into a snow-draped forest?

 

Shadows retreat from the burning candle in haste.

One solitary raven trips over a bottle of ink,

Dips its wings in a pool of spreading black,

And drags the feathers across the parchment,

Composing poetry with such grace, an instinct –

How like a coffee mug rushes towards the ground.

Would the ink, too, drip so fiercely

That it wounds the floor?

 

Lu Yuan is a junior at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the school’s literary magazine, Chimera. Her poem has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. 
Visual Art by Audrey Carver