Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: The Call by Peadar Ó Guilin

I LOVED THIS BOOK.

Image result for the call peadar ó guilin

This is not going to be a detached, professional review, because I'm too excited about this book for that. It was amazing, and really exceeded my expectations. I was in a hurry looking for a book to read on the bus from Dublin to Cork and a friend of a friend pointed this one out so I bought it, and I sure am glad I did because despite the fact that it's a YA dystopia and that market has been saturated for years, it was fabulous.


The blurb it comes with really doesn't do it justice, so here's my description of it:

Thousands of years ago, the Irish pushed the fairy race Sídhe out of their Many-Coloured Land and banished them to the Grey Land. Now, the Sídhe are back for revenge, determined to wipe out Ireland. 25 years ago, they cut the country off from the rest of the world by crashing planes out of the sky and destroying ships and communications; now every Irish teenager gets a Call at some point in their adolescence, spiriting them to the Grey Land where they have to outlast a day running from the Sídhe who are very powerful and want to torture, twist up and murder them and contort them into strange pitiful shapes. School has been replaced by training, where everyone practises becoming as fit and strong as possible and studies the Sídhe to have the best chance of surviving and continuing their race. Still, in twenty-five years the survival rate has increased only from 1% to 10%.


Into this world comes Nessa, cursed by polio with twisted, useless legs she can hardly walk on, never mind run. When she is sent to the school aged 10, everyone knows she's a goner - but Nessa is determined not to be. With no medicine or means to fix her legs, she builds up arm strength and uses her intelligence to come up with ingenious ways to overcome her disability and diligently studies the Sídhe. But in a world where 90% of even trained teenagers will die, will it be enough?


Rating: 

Image result for 4.5 stars

Characters:


The character creation and development in this book is brilliant. I adore Nessa, and I haven't been as emotionally invested in a character in a long time. I love strong characters who never give up despite the difficulties they face, who are smart and brave and hardworking and proactive, and Nessa meets all those criteria in spades. I really liked her on a personal level too - we both rely on our brains. 


The secondary characters are also well-developed, and we get a very interesting insight into everyone when they're at their most vulnerable, in life-or-death situations with the Sídhe. Conor, a power-hungry egomaniacal fellow student, has a cool (and suspenseful) arc, I liked the subtlety of Nessa and Anto's fledgling forbidden romance because it never came near overpowering the plot since both were very aware of the stakes, and Megan and Nessa's friendship was nice. I liked the different alliances and enmities among the children -- it's an interesting exploration of what happens when you put a bunch of children with likely PTSD from seeing their siblings mangled by the Sídhe into an environment where they are constantly thinking about the Sídhe, speaking in Sídhe and competing to be in the surviving 10%. 


Stakes & Suspense


The overall stakes are exquisitely clear in this book - the Irish are a dying race, and the fate of the entire country rests on the shoulders of these teenagers who must survive a day with the murderous Sídhe. Towards the end of the book it gets very interesting, as some surprising stakes are uncovered and certain actions turn out to have unexpected but foreshadowed and resonant consequences that only serve to make the book more gripping. The Call is difficult to put down, especially near the end. 

Writing Style

I didn't really notice much about the writing style, to be honest, because I was so immersed in the story. Which means this is an actual good story instead of some annoying pontificating literary fiction. At the start of the book, the writing annoyed me because it was very on the nose, but once I got swept up I stopped noticing the writing. All I can say is that it's effective and occasionally memorable. It's sharp, direct and does the job, so for that I say it's well-written. It's perfect for this story because it avoids bogging down the action and doesn't slow down the thrill. 


Representation


There's a two-girl couple, which isn't made a big deal of, which is nice.  I have no idea what the characters look like (probably because I have aphantasia), except that Nessa is described as beautiful from the waist up, so I can't say much else on that. 


Ending (No Spoilers!)

I mostly liked the ending, and it was one of those nailbiters where I looked at the number of pages and wondered how the plot could possibly get wrapped up in that few pages. I can't say much because of spoilers, but the book is left open enough for a sequel. That said, most of the threads are wrapped up. I took off half a star for leaving it open for a series and I'm sick of YA doing that. 

YA landscape

Sorry to compare something to The Hunger Games, but this is like that except more horror, a school dynamic and more fleshed-out characters. Similar in other ways.

Aphantasiac Review


I have aphantasia, which means I can't visualise at all except sometimes when I'm asleep. I can't remember images or generate them, and when I'm reading a book, even if it's very visually descriptive, I see nothing. 

Here's a link about aphantasia, and here's a relevant excerpt from it:


"I scour fiction like an archaeologist: Find the bones.
The slender, olive-skinned man brushed the golden locks out of his hazel eyes. He was so focused on preparing for the assassination that he burned his tongue on the scalding cuppa joe (hazelnut, light cream).
That becomes: There’s an assassin.
I hurdle over paragraphs and pages, mowing down novels in one night because—while others make love to the olive-skinned assassin—I’m just fucking his skeleton. Some books are so fleshy they’re opaque: Lord of the Rings numbs. But Lord of the Flies gnaws, because I could meditate on the idea of society-gone-wild forever. Animal Farm is awesome. 1984. The splendor of Hogwarts is lost, but the idea of a dementor is brain fuel. And 2 + 2 = 5."
So basically, books that are heavy on visual imagery are very boring to me because i can't remember or benefit from any of it (or have to do work in remembering the specific words) but I love books that are thought-provoking and suspenseful and have interesting issues I can mull over. I've heard that about 2% of people have aphantasia, so writers, remember that world-building is not just about the visuals of the world. I do not care at all about the landscape, but give me some fascinating world systems and I'll love you.

Anyway, I'll be doing a whole post or two about aphantasia soon, so back to The Call. The Call is very gory, and I'm kinda glad I couldn't actually visualise any of the ripped up faces, but I still got to enjoy the suspense and workings of the world and figuring out the plots and issues I could think about like who was to blame, the Irish or the Sídhe, and the group dynamics of the teenagers. 



Overall

I highly recommend this book to anyone who ever enjoyed YA dystopia, and also to fans of YA and Irish folklore, and fantasy.

The book has a pretty grim subject, but I think the amazing characters, gripping plot and high concept definitely make it worth reading. One of the most enjoyable books I've read this year. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Recent Reads

Hey dudes! Life's been pretty crazy lately but I did have time at the end of October to go book shopping. So here's the rundown on three books I read over the last month. Enjoy!

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity - Steve Silberman



Neurotribes is a masterful tome that traces the history of our understanding of autism from "childhood psychosis" to changeling children to refrigerator mothers to neurodiversity, through the horrifying extermination of disabled people during the Holocaust and the eugenics movement and the growth of nerd culture's creation of Aspie communities.

Neurotribes was a fascinating read on a topic that's very important to me, as someone who definitely aligns with the "little professors" archetype. I particularly enjoyed the parts about Asperger's syndrome and its first case studies. If I had any criticism, it would be that it can get bogged down in certain topics, like ham radios. It was very unpleasant to read at points through no fault of its own, like when discussing how 5,000 autistic children ("life unworthy of life") were murdered by institutions in Nazi Germany or the extreme behavioural therapists who essentially tortured autistic children in an attempt to make them seem normal (neurotypical), but it was definitely an illuminating, comprehensive and important read. Highly recommended.

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything is a YA love story, which normally would not be my thing, but I was intrigued by the premise of the protagonist having SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) which meant she would die if she went outside, and the love interest's efforts to reach her. Unfortunately, while I did enjoy the road, it did turn out to be just that, a love story, and so it didn't really stick in my mind afterwards like it would have if it had more scientific/medical content. That said, the twist at the end is pretty great. Recommended if you enjoy romance and YA and don't need lots of action and high-concept to keep you engaged.

Asking For It - Louise O' Neill




I was so hyped for this book after being floored by Louise's debut, Only Ever Yours, and hearing rave reviews and awards for Asking For It (e.g. winner of the Irish Book Awards) coming in from all sides. I couldn't get away from it - for months I've been seeing it on trains, had it recommended by people who usually don't read, seen it at awards shows, on Twitter, everywhere. I was told it was genius and a wake-up call to rape culture. And I really wanted to love it, because I loved Only Ever Yours so much.

But unfortunately, I was very disappointed. In a nutshell, the storyline is that the character is queen bee in a small village called Ballinatoom, then gets gangraped at one of the many parties she attends after drinking and taking drugs. Dozens of photos are taken and uploaded to Facebook on a public page for all to see, and her life is ruined.

The central question of the book is meant to be was she asking for it? and we're supposed to come out realising that no matter how someone acted it is never their fault for being a victim of rape. The issue is that Emma is a prick the least sympathetic character I've ever seen, completely unrelatable to me in every way. Not only am I not the type to drink and do drugs etc at parties (which on its own would've been manageable in a protagonist), she's a horrible person, an obvious bully who exploits the fact that she's beautiful to make others feel bad. She has no plans for her life beyond being a trophy wife, and after the rape she compounds problems for herself by lying to police and is just generally a weak character. There's only so far sympathy can go when someone is that unlikable. 

Look, I get that she was intentionally made unlikable and a bad victim so we would be tested in our support for her and taught some big lesson about supporting rape victims in all cases, but I just didn't appreciate being preached at. I don't have to empathise with a character if they're an awful person. 

So yeah. It's an issue book, with completely unlikable characters (except neighbour boy, whom the protag ignores). You might be able to get past the characters, but I wasn't. Which is a pity, because I really wanted to like this book. So if Louise writes future sci-fi/dystopian books, I'll definitely take a look. But something like this, maybe not. 

I feel like I could've gotten the same value from the book by reading a pamphlet saying "Sex with someone unconscious is rape, and rape is difficult to prove in court even with loads of evidence". And I've already read those.

On the bright side, she did manage authentic teenage slang? So there's that.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Review: October 2016

October's been a busy month, to say the least! Great fun though. I'm only going to put down the days when particularly big things happened, but pretty much every day has been super busy with long hours in college/meetings/fun so bear that in mind. Let's go.

3. Attended an event on the future of learning with global Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Thanks to DCU President Brian MacCraith for inviting the Naughton scholars!

10. Flew to Manchester. Met an internet friend IRL for the first time and attended a workshop run by Thinking Digital Conference Manchester on paid social media marketing.

11. Attended Thinking Digital Conference Manchester, which was amazing. Flew back to Dublin. You can read my blog post on that here. Also, I ordered a tablet from Ebay because I was sick of not being able to take photos when I saw how beautiful Manchester was. Then when the tablet arrived a week later, I discovered that it didn't actually have a back camera...


Photo from Happy Creative

12. After college, I attended a TEDx preview party back in Drogheda the day before our official TEDx talk videos came out. It was great to see everyone and I was so proud of how much everyone's talks improved since the workshop, definitely including mine. Here's mine: 


Elle Loughran from Infocus Media on Vimeo.


13. I spoke at Zeminar. Met lots of cool people, including Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh and Twitter media EMEA leader Mark Little, and got to see the lovely Aoife from Outbox again. Will update this if/when the video comes out.

14. This happened. I love my squad (three of us featured here, the fourth took the picture).



15. Attended Coder Girl Hack Day at Dogpatch Labs. 



20. Watched the third presidential debate at a PolSoc/SOFIA event with Will. 

24. Had an interview in Intel. If only I was any good at interviews!

25. Donated to my friend Edel's crowdfunding campaign to help her get her work closer to market. Was delighted to find out the next day that she reached the fundraising goal! Helped out with Physoc's Brain Food session, just like every Tuesday.

26. Flew to Budapest, explored a bit (Heroes' Square) with the Romanian member of the Youth Platform of the European Talent Support Network.

27. Had 6 hours of meetings and then spent the evening on a guided tour of beautiful Budapest. Just look at this! The photo is taken by a member of our group, Indian delegate Rohan Shetti, and is the view from atop St Stephen's cathedral.



28. 6 more hours of meetings. Gave a presentation along with the four other members of the team. Have some photos sent to us by Csilla.



29. Flew back from Budapest and hung out with Ben. Finished reading Neurotribes by Steve Silberman.

31. Celebrated Halloween with Ben just like last year. Spent a ton of money on books and, not gonna lie, it felt great. Bought and read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and bought Asking For It by Louise O' Neill, Oasis by Eilis Barrett and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Excited to read the last three! 

____________________________________________________________

So that's that. Probably looks less busy than it felt at the time, because wow I was swept off my feet trying to do all that and intense college work and Physoc committee and the things that are still in the works at the same time! If you want to compare and contrast, here's the October 2015 review.

Dear Hillary

Dear Hillary,

First of all, I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. You deserved so much better than what you got. Not just yesterday, but over decades.


The thought of you making that concession call to Trump is so painful to think about, and I'm just some Irish teenager you've never heard of. I can't imagine how it feels for you. I am glad you didn't give a speech Tuesday night -- it would be beneath you. 


I'm currently waiting for CNN to broadcast your concession speech. I hate this. I was so looking forward to what I'm sure would be a beautiful, inspiring acceptance speech for the first Madam President. I don't understand how you go on, how you have persevered through so much that would break a lesser human.


I just watched your speech and now I'm sobbing. You have worked so hard. Thank you. You are the first female major party nominee and the first woman to win the popular vote to be US President. We will not forget what you've done for us.


They're talking about how you have likely no future in politics now, much like others have been saying that the Clinton dynasty has ended and that you are now just a footnote in history. You are not a fucking footnote. Not only did you make 60 MILLION cracks in the glass ceiling this year alone, your whole life you have been a shining feminist beacon of hope and perseverance and fortitude. You have been so strong and admirable.


I don't know how Donald Trump won. I can't even bear to put his name and "President" in the same sentence. But it is wrong. Regardless of whether or not he turns out to be good at the job (which I doubt), this shows that tens of millions of Americans are cool with his disgusting sexism, racism, homophobia, lechery, fraud, mendacity, climate denial... 


Well, I understand how, even though I don't think he should have. People wanted change. I read that your campaign was delighted when Trump was nominated by the Republicans, and so was I -- I thought it was a sure victory for you. But then we discovered that America is a media nation that has now propelled Trump, media manipulator extraordinaire and king of branding, to the presidency. Trump and Bernie were so successful as these exciting change agents that your good policies, steady hand, intelligence and work ethic got left in the dust. I don't think that's fair, but I guess we all have very low attention spans now so that's how it worked.


Of course, the thing that lost you the Presidency was the Electoral College. Your coalition was mostly located in safe states, like Texas and California, so you drove up the margin in California and got within ~3% in Texas (!). 


CLINTON LEADS IN POPULAR VOTE, LOSES PRESIDENCY


That headline. What a way to add insult to injury. It's strange that, in the end, your much-vaunted campaign infrastructure didn't deliver the presidency for you despite your winning the popular vote. The media just constantly talked about Trump's lack of a ground game and your stellar GOTV effort. Bad tactical decisions were made regarding Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, I guess. This is one place where the pundits were less wrong - 538 predicted a 10%  chance of you winning the popular vote but losing the presidency. 


Hillary, there's a reason I'm calling you by your first name rather than Secretary Clinton or Senator Clinton or First Lady Clinton or Professor Rodham. I hugely respect you for your work in all of those roles, but I'm calling you Hillary because I identify with you, and though I will likely never know you, see you as a kindred spirit. I say it to fight back against all the pundits who say you're just unlikable. I like you. So many people should. That so many don't is testament to the rancor and division of American politics. 


I resent having to start every complimentary sentence about you with "She's a flawed candidate, but". It's bullshit. Everyone is flawed, but we don't talk about them like that. We love Obama despite his dodgy surveillance laws and drone strikes killing innocent civilians. You never get anything like that benefit of the doubt.


I have seen some of the hideous propaganda against you - Photoshopped images of you hanging from a tree, cartoons from white supremacists of your face and hands twisted into anti-Semitic caricatures; I've only been politically engaged for the last two years and it's hurting me so I don't know how the hell you stand it. 


You have led an incredible life, and I believe you will continue to. Not only have you been a feminist icon - we will not forget that you are the first woman to win the presidential popular vote - but you are one of the most experienced, impressive, intelligent people in America of any gender. It breaks my heart to think of your rejection letter from NASA saying they didn't accept girls as astronauts to now, when the nation is still so appallingly sexist that they'll elect a racist Cheeto over an eminently qualified woman.


Not all votes against you were because of sexism. But all votes for Trump did excuse and allow for his disgusting and well-publicized sexism. So people who say this isn't about sexism can back off.


There is more that is tragic about this election than the pain it has caused you and your supporters. This result is horrific for the environment, the economy, for marginalized groups including women, racial minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, for common decency, for the belief that the President should be a moral example to the people ... but I'm avoiding thinking about those right now, because the more I think about them the worse it gets. 


Dear Hillary, thank you. You will go down as a pioneer, as a fighter, as one of the most underrated Americans of all time. I refuse to respect Drumpf. I hope the Electoral College rebels and refuses to elect him. If not, I hope his presidency is not too destructive -- but I know that you would be a far better President in every way. I'm sorry that owning a penis is apparently still a requirement to lead the USA. You'll always be Madam President to me.


Thank you for your struggle. Thank you for being the first woman to win the popular vote. Thank you for showing us all the horrific difficulty a female candidate for President faces. You were not a bright shiny idealist like Obama in 2008 - because who would've listened to a female Obama? You had to be an establishment candidate. You had to claw your way up. The boot of misogyny kicked you off at the last hurdle, but you have done us a great service. Now we know what we're up against. We can no longer deny the sexism that faces America. Our next candidate for President - if we can possibly find someone as steel-made as you - will know the path because you have mapped it out for us. And someday soon, she will make history as the first female candidate to reach 270 electoral votes.


The honour of first woman to win the popular vote, to have most of the nation believe she should be President -- that goes to you. Thank you for being our champion.


Love,

Elle.