Uzumaki / Junji Ito
It took me way too long to realize that as much as I might like the idea of horror I don’t really care for it much in practice. This is largely because many of the people I hung out with in college really liked horror movies. As a result, I watched a lot of horror movies. Even after college I still tried to convince myself that I liked the genre. It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to realize that I didn’t have to force myself to sit through media I didn’t enjoy because I thought that was what I was supposed to like.
I still like the genre in theory. It competes with science fiction for the “genre best suited for social commentary” award. It’s a genre where imagination is allowed to operate more freely than in other genres, where there are deeply entrenched tropes that tend to limit one to either following them or deconstructing them. Not to say that horror doesn’t have its own set of clichés (see the interesting but not exactly thought-provoking Cabin in the woods) but that in many cases there’s more room for experimentation. Theoretically this is also true of science fiction, fantasy, and graphic fiction in general but in practice the Golden Age problem shows up frequently.
I also like horror because on a fundamental basis it tends towards stories about people trying to survive in a universe that is at best wholly indifferent to them. There’s a sense that slasher films are like mystery novels in that they fundamentally serve to uphold social norms as those who are visibly or behaviorally different are murdered in creative ways (once again, see Cabin in the woods, as it serves a useful function as ur-text for the slasher genre). I’m more tempted to read them as an indictment of the way society as a whole punishes difference and enforces conformity and adherence to “appropriate” social norms (where being a visible minority or sexually active gets you killed first).
So in general I don’t really watch many horror movies. Living with someone with a low threshold for terror means I don’t have many opportunities anyways (not that I’d seek out opportunities at this point). I’ll check one out once or twice a year but in general Doctor Who is as scary as things get at home. I’ve also found that the more I’m exposed to real-life horrors the lower my tolerance is for fictional ones.
Which brings me to the actual subject of this post, Uzumaki. Originally published in 1998-1999, Uzumaki is the story of a small town plagued by spirals.
A small town in Japan experiences a series of strange events involving spirals. From snails to hair to smoke, spirals plague the town and its inhabitants. Kirie Goshima* and her boyfriend Shuichi Sato* appear, at least initially, to be the only people in town to realize that something very wrong is happening.
*Yes, purists I’m using the Anglicized name order. The English translation does it that way so I’m just reporting the names as presented in the book itself.
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The hunger games / Suzanne Collins
The hunger games was a series that I actively resisted reading for quite a while. I’m not sure why – I think I expected it to be something like The maze runner (which I didn’t read until after I had read The hunger games, so it’s not exactly a perfect comparison). I didn’t get into the series until the first movie came out. It was a friend’s birthday and they wanted to go see it so we went and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, so I decided to read the books.
Brief plot summary
In a dystopian future, what was once the United States is now Panem, a collection of 12 carefully segregated Districts all serving the Capital. As punishment for an earlier rebellion, every district must send one boy and one girl as “tributes” to participate in The Hunger Games, where they are thrust into an arena filled with weapons and traps and forced to kill each other until only one survives.
Katniss Everdeen is a teenager from District 12, which is primarily known for its coal mines. Alongside baker’s son Peeta Mellark she finds herself in the unenviable position of being one of the tributes from district 12.
Continue reading The hunger games
Ten things I hate about me / Randa Abdel-Fattah
Ready for a break from fairies, mutants, and time travel?
Then this may just be the book for you!
Ten things I hate about me is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second book. It won the Kathleen Mitchell award, an award I had never heard about before but that is apparently some Australian thing.
Brief plot summary
Jamilah Towfeek is a Lebanese-Australian teenager living in the suburbs of Sydney. Embarrassed by her religion, ethnic background, and overprotective father, Jamilah dyes her hair and wears contacts in an attempt to pass as a “normal” Australian.* She attempts to maintain strict separation between her school life and home life, keeping her background and religion a secret from her closest friends. Her only true confidant is an anonymous online correspondant.
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Montmorency : thief, liar, gentleman? / Eleanor Updale
And now for something completely different
To contrast with my recent posts, now I’m going to go back to historical fiction and books for younger readers.
Brief plot summary
Montmorency is a thief lurking in the streets of 19th century London. Captured by the police and gravely injured in the process, he is taken in by an eccentric young doctor who is going to use his success in treating Montmorency to secure his position in the London Scientific Society. Montmorency makes a discovery at one of these seminars that will inspire him in the greatest heist of his career.
Continue reading Montmorency : thief, liar, gentleman?
The thief of always / Clive Barker. First published 1992.
The thief of always is somewhat difficult to classify in that “unabridged fairy tale” kind of way. It’s a horror novel that features a ten year old protagonist, but it’s not exactly an “adult” book, nor is it really a children’s book. Originally published in 1992 and illustrated by the author, there was a graphic novel adaptation by IDW in the early 2000s. It’s one of the more well known books in a genre that’s surprisingly underpopulated. I’d guess that authors are hesitant to write straight-up horror geared towards both children are adults. It would be astoundly easy to write a book that is too “adult”, making it difficult to publish and market as well as inviting the outrage of upset parents, but it would be just as easy to write a book that’s not adult enough, that ends up too elementary for older readers. The thief of always walks that line very well.
Harvey Swick is the 10 year old spiritual descendent of Milo of The phantom tollbooth. Dissatisfied with his life, he dreams of being whisked away to somewhere more interesting. To his surprise, this happens when a thin man with an improbably large grin arrives to take him to Mr. Hood’s Holiday House, a paradise for children where Christmas happens every night. Harvey quickly realizes that all is not as it seems, and when he starts to become homesick discovers that returning home is harder than he expected.
Continue reading The thief of always
Under the jolly roger / L.A. Meyer. First published 2005.
After my previous post I figured it was time to move on to something different. Under the jolly roger is the third book in the Bloody Jack series. It features a return to the naval novel-style adventures of the first book after the school story interlude of Curse of the blue tattoo.
Brief plot summary
Having made her way back to England aboard the Pequod, Jacky immediately attempts to track down her sweetheard Jaimy. After an encounter with his mother’s classism and a romantic comedy-esque Hilarious Misunderstanding, Jacky finds herself press-ganged into service on the HMS Wolverine.
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The maze runner / James Dashner. Originally published 2009.
In which I struggle to be objective about a book I absolutely hated
The maze runner is the first book in the eponymous series, soon to be a poorly reviewed but possibly financially successful film. It’s a post-apocalyptic YA novel that has been widely successful but has less name recognition outside its target demographic than more popular series like The hunger games.
Brief plot description
A boy named Thomas wakes in an elevator with no memory of anything but his name. He soon finds himself in the company of about 60 other boys trapped at the center of a mysterious maze, none of whom have any idea how or why they are there. The most well-respected of these children are the “maze runners”, who daily explore the maze in an attempt to map it out and find an escape.
Continue reading The maze runner
The curse of the blue tattoo / L.A. Meyer. Originally published 2004.
The curse of the blue tattoo is the second novel in the Bloody Jack series. Like the rest of the series, the setting departs considerably from that of the previous novel while still maintaining its wit and sense of adventure. It is in equal parts school story, fish-out-of-water comedy, and murder mystery.
Brief plot description
(minimal spoilers for the previous installment)
Bloody Jack ends with Jacky Faber, her gender having been discovered by her captain, being dropped off at an East Coast bording school for young ladies. Jacky is then forced to contend with a minister named Mather, “old money” types, and strict teachers all while trying to figure out how to be reunited with her Jaimy, her One True Love.
Continue reading The curse of the blue tattoo
Bloody Jack / L.A. Meyer. Originally published 2002.
In which the heavens open and I find a naval novel I can recommend unambiguously
Bloody Jack is the first volume in the YA historical fiction series of the same title. Set during the same time period as the Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin novels, the series follows the adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber.
This is another series, like the Vorkosigan books, where each volume is sufficiently distinct as to warrant its own post, although I will dip into discussing the series as a whole below.
Brief plot description
After the death of her parents, Mary “Jacky” Faber finds herself living on the streets of London, part of a gang of similarly orphaned children. Struggling to stay alive, Jacky decides to pose as a boy and join the Royal Navy in an attempt to secure a regular meal for herself.
Continue reading Bloody Jack