Recommend a Diverse Classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a Diverse Classic

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Zora Neale Hurston was both an author and a folklorist, whose research influenced many of her writings. Her best known novel is perhaps Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), which centers on Janie Crawford and her three marriages. Janie’s tale recounts how she initially was married off to an older man for protection, only to find that he doesn’t love her. She then runs off with another man, who only wants to use her. Finally, she marries for love, but again finds her relationship with her husband to be unstable. Through her three marriages, Janie (and Hurston) explore the gender roles and the expectations society places on women.

Though published in the 1930s, Their Eyes Were Watching God still feels incredibly relevant. The issues it grapples with, from domestic violence to the role of men and women in marriage are issues that society continues to grapple with. In many ways, the novel feels a bit ahead of its time, with Janie seeking love and self-fulfillment, while being open to her own sexuality, in the face of a disapproving society. The book, however, presents no easy answers. While Janie’s third marriage appears to be her happiest, because her husband Tea Cake sees her as more of an equal than her previous two husbands, the novel also suggests that Janie is not fully realized as an independent woman until after Tea Cake’s death. In this way, Their Eyes Were Watching God illustrates an intriguing tension that many readers may find relatable. Janie wants to find her identity in a happy marriage, but, if she cannot be seen as an equal to men, she may ultimately not be able to do so. She wants both love and respect, but can women truly have it all?

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a powerful novel by a talented author–one whose work was not always appreciated in her own time. If you have not read it yet, maybe now is the time to give it a try.

Things I Learned after a Brief Foray into BookTok

BookTok Discussion

Disclaimer: This isn’t a definitive guide to BookTok. It may not even be fully accurate, compared to how people who use BookTok extensively view the platform. It’s simply some impressions I got after trying to navigate the platform for a while.

After the New York Times published an article title “How Crying on TikTok Sells Books” on March 20, 2021, arguing that BookTokers are selling hundreds of thousands of books for publishers by making videos as brief as 7 seconds and getting millions of views and money from publishers in return, the online bookish community went into an uproar. Bookish influencers on other platforms wondered why they couldn’t get the same amount of attention (and cash!), and publishers and authors quickly joined BookTok themselves to see if they could make their own books go viral and boost their sales.

I joined BookTok, as well, just to see what everyone was talking about. I’ve historically been a hold-out on joining different social media channels for this blog. I took a year after starting the blog to join Twitter. I took much longer to join Bookstagram because I didn’t initially “get” the point of posting a photo of your book on a park bench or whatever. I’m still “late” to TikTok, especially because clearly the platform has wildly taken off and apparently I missed it, but I figured checking it out now was better than waiting two years, again.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the platform is for me. There’s the small issue I don’t like to show my face online, and a lot of popular BookTok videos feature the creator themselves in them. But I also find TikTok itself a bit difficult to navigate and to show me content I like and am interested in. Perhaps I’ll give the platform another go in the future, but I’m think I’m done with it for now. Nonetheless, here are a few observations I made while briefly using BookTok:

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1. Not Everyone Has a Million Followers

This is probably self-evident if you think about it, but it’s worth saying since the New York Times seems to have given many people the impression that all Booktokers are mega-TikTok famous and raking in sponsorships from publishers because of their legions of followers. My impression is that it’s like any other platform: there are some big creators, and then there are a whole lot more who have a much more modest following.

2. Follower Number Doesn’t Seem Correlated to Video Views

A lot of BookTokers seem to be hovering around 300 views per video, and this is regardless of whether they have 5,000 followers or 500. I’m sure there’s some variation in this, and if you have a gazillion followers, of course your videos will have more views, but I didn’t see a strong correlation between followers and views, the way I’d expect to see on someone’s blog or on Instagram.

Three hundred views is still a lot, of course, and I think many people would be thrilled if their blog post gathered 300 views over the course of the week it was published, but keep in mind that “views” doesn’t mean people finished watching the video. (And frankly I find it a bit sad you can post a 7 second video and people will stop watching it after 1 second. How brief does content need to be???)

3. My Own Video Views Varied Widely

When I posted my first few videos, they were getting anywhere from 500-800 views, which I thought was incredible considering I literally had 0 followers at the time! (You can see right now I only have 26, after having posted 10 videos and pointedly having gone around to comment on other videos and follow other people to see if I could get some followers.) The latest videos have 6-12 views. 6-12!!!

I don’t know if the algorithm promotes the videos of new accounts to get them invested in the platform and then stops after a while, but that’s one guess I have to explain this. The content I was posting wasn’t particularly different. At any rate, the 6 views were definitely a factor in why I’ve paused using BookTok, at least for the time being, because it’s not worth it to me to spend time making a little video that only 6 people are going to watch.

In contrast, I posted some of the videos, like the YA Books Based on Lesser-known Fairy Tales to Instagram as reels, and they got around 1,700 views, which is much more encouraging.

4. Creators Don’t Seem to Reply to Comments

This was also a big factor in why I left the platform. I went around commenting on other BookTok videos, particularly on accounts that didn’t have 5 million followers, and nearly everyone just “liked” my comment instead of actually responding to it. Perhaps some people are more responsive than others, but my personal experience was that commenting seemed like a waste of my time, and it’s definitely a different vibe than I’m used to from blogging.

5. Personally I Wasn’t Interested in Much of the Content

This is a “me” problem, but I simply don’t “get” a lot of the content that’s posted to BookTok. The New York Times article talks a lot about really short videos where creators basically hold up a book, cry, and say the book was devastating, and while I personally didn’t see any of those types of videos, they’re a good example of content I wouldn’t find useful or interesting. If someone posted a blog “review” that amounted to, “The ending of this book is sad,” that wouldn’t tell me much about the book or whether I would like it, and that doesn’t change for me just because the sentiment is expressed in a short video.

Similarly, I saw a lot of videos where people filmed something that amounted to a meme, or they dressed up and dramatically said a quote from a book, or they offered recommendations like “two books about dragons.” I don’t care for spending my time watching meme-type videos, the cosplay is cool but I don’t really get it if I haven’t read the book, and if I wanted a list of books about dragons I could certainly find a written list that has more than two!

I don’t mean to insult the platform or the videos that people are making, but I prefer to spend my time engaging with content that’s more in-depth or tells me something useful or that I didn’t know, and the videos that TikTok was putting into my feed weren’t giving me that, for the most part.

Will I ever go back to BookTok? I’m not ruling it out entirely. Maybe if I have some inspiration for videos I want to make, but right now I’m short on time, so I’m going to spend it focusing on the blog and maybe Instagram.

Briana

Mr. Knightley: My Favorite Jane Austen Hero

Perhaps it is no surprise that my favorite Austen hero comes from my favorite Austen book: Emma. My road to loving Emma was not a short one. When I initially read the book I, like presumably many others, found Emma to be a rather mean-spirited and manipulative individual. How was I supposed to sympathize with her or cheer her on to find true love? Over time, however, I began to see Emma more as a high-spirited young woman who did not know how to guard her tongue. Somehow it feels easier to forgive youthful enthusiasm. At any rate, Emma became my favorite Austen book. But I think Mr. Knightley may have always been my favorite Austen hero.

While I recognize that the large age difference between Mr. Knightley and Emma can be off-putting for modern readers, I still cannot help but appreciate their romance. Some of my favorite love stories are the ones where the characters move from being friends to lovers. And Emma gives me that. Mr. Knightley and Emma have a long history with each other, one that means Mr. Knightley is comfortable giving Emma (much-needed) advice. I love that Emma has someone in her life who cares about her enough to want her to do and be better!

Many of the people around Emma either accept her bad behavior or do nothing but feel sad or offended behind her back. As a real friend, Mr. Knightley calls her out when she is wrong and challenges her to do better. He does not accept her rudeness or call it witty. He does not talk about her behind her back. He is honest with her at all times about what she is doing, the effects it is having on others, and how she can fix it. This is a real kindness, even though it may seem harsh. Emma does not always know how her words and actions are being received by others, and she allows bad influences to let her get carried away sometimes with her little flirtations and “amusing” observations. She needs someone to let her know when what she is doing is harmful because, in the end, Emma does not actually want to cause people harm. A lot of her behavior is her trying to be entertaining because she wants to be liked.

The wonderful thing about Mr. Knightley, however, is that he already likes Emma. He likes her just the way she is, without her needing to put on her cheerful and witty social persona. He has known her for years, seen her at home, seen her interacting with her author, seen her in all her unguarded moments. Emma does not really try to impress Mr. Knightley because she initially just sees him as her father’s friend, not as a potential suitor and perhaps not really as her friend. And so Mr. Knightley knows Emma better than most. And he loves her, flaws and all.

I am sure Mr. Darcy will be many Austen fans’ first choice. And I like Mr. Darcy, too! But I really love how close Mr. Knightley and Emma are, and that they get to build a real relationship on years of friendship and knowing each other. There is something wonderfully sweet about the friends to lovers trope. And I fall for it every time.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers

Information

Goodreads: Amari and the Night Brothers
Series: Supernatural Investigations #1
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

After her brother Quinton goes missing, Amari receives an invitation from him to join the mysterious Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. She thinks she can discover Quinton’s whereabouts if she accepts, but first she will have to pass three trials–and prove to the supernatural world that she is no threat, despite possessing illegal magic. Things become even more complicated when Amari learns that an evil magician has risen again, and he has plans to infiltrate the Bureau.

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Review

Amari and the Night Brothers is a gripping fantasy adventure sure to enchant fans from the very first pages. Amari’s brother has gone missing and, though everyone is convinced he is gone for good, Amari is determined to find him. Then she receives a mysterious suitcase inviting her to interview for a supernatural society–the same one her brother secretly worked for. Amari seizes her chance to find her brother, but, if she wants to stay at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs she will first have to pass three trials–not easy when she unwittingly possesses illegal magic. Readers who adore high fantasy involving magical schools, supernatural creatures, and plenty of mystery will love Amari and the Night Brothers.

Although I am always wary of book comparisons, suggesting that Amari is something like “Harry Potter meets Nevermoor” does not seem like too much of a stretch. Amari is immediately whisked away to a magical school where she undergoes a test to be sorted by ability. Unfortunately, her ability is illegal because the only known individuals who possess it are evil. This means that she has to prove herself by training at the school and passing a series of trials, before the others will accept her and allow her to stay. Amari’s sense of isolation, her desire to win acceptance, and her determination in the face of confusion (she’s never seen a magical anything before!) all create the emotional pull that will keep readers invested in Amari as they cheer her on.

And what a wonderful world Amari discovers! Lovers of fantasy stories will be enchanted by all the details, from Amari’s mysterious roommate to the somewhat humorous revelations about the truth of yetis and what really happened at the first moon landing. Discovering this world along with Amari is a wonderful treat, and readers will certainly be eager to get their hands on book two, so they can continue to immerse themselves in the magic.

Anyone looking for the next thrilling magical adventure will want to pick up Amari and the Night Brothers!

4 stars

The Geography of Middle-earth: How Isolated Is Everyone?

The Geography of Middle-earth

One of the defining characteristics of the Hobbits in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is their insularity. They’re committed homebodies, and most of them barely venture even as far as Bree by the time of The Fellowship of the Ring. Other people in Middle-earth have all but forgotten about Halflings because they’ve never seen one; the Ring is safe for a while because Sauron and the Ringwraiths have to spend so long traversing Middle-earth asking where this “Shire” place even is.

Yet every time I reread The Fellowship of the Ring, I am struck by the fact that, actually, Hobbits are not the only ones who tend not to leave their own lands. When I’m not actually reading the book, I tend to imagine the other peoples of Middle-earth as worldly and knowledgeable — but it turns out that most of them don’t travel, either, and A LOT of areas of Middle-earth have passed into the stuff of legend for the people who don’t live there.


At the Council of Elrond

One of the first instances we see this is at the Council of Elrond, where a surprising number of representatives of various lands have serendipitously gathered to help decide the fate of the One Ring.

For example, Boromir notes that he travelled for 110 days after his brother Faramir had a dream speaking of “Imladris,” and Boromir set off to find this land that the lore masters of Gondor knew about but no one had visited for a long time:

‘. . . but since the way was full of doubt and danger, I took the journey upon myself. Loth was my father to give me leave, and long have I wandered by roads forgotten, seeking the house of Elrond, of which many had heard, but few knew where it lay.’

Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring

Later at the Council, Boromir gives news of Gondor and the battles they are already having with the forces of Mordor, suggesting that no one there is aware of what the valor of his people is accomplishing. In this case, people know OF Gondor, but it’s clear much news hasn’t come from there recently.

News then trickles in from the other attendees, and readers get the shocking announcement that the Dwarf Balin and some followers went to check out the long-abandoned Moria THIRTY years ago, and no one has heard from them in quite awhile. No messengers to Moria, and no messengers from Moria in years. And apparently this is normal.

The sense readers begin to get is that there are some travelers in Middle-earth, and there are some messengers sent about to give and gather news, but characters like Gandalf and Aragorn who have been all over Middle-earth and familiar with many parts of it are clearly rare.

Lothlórien

Issues of how isolated the peoples of Middle-earth are get highlighted again when the Fellowship exits Moria and comes to the eaves of Lothlórien. Like Moria, Lórien is a place of legend to most of the characters; Boromir in particular is wary of a dangerous woman he has heard dwells in the wood. Gimli is initially skeptical anyone lives in the forest at all, and Legolas — the prince of another Elven kingdom, who one assumes would be in regular communication with both Elrond and Galadriel — seems only vaguely certain Lothlórien is still inhabited:

‘If Elves indeed still dwell here in the darkening world,’ said Gimli.

‘It is long since any of my own folk journeyed hither back to the land whence we wandered in ages long ago,’ said Legolas, ‘but we heard that Lórien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power there that holds evil from the land. Nevertheless it’s folk are seldom seen, and maybe they dwell now deep in the woods and far from the norther border.’

Gimli and Legolas, The Fellowship of the Ring

Once the Fellowship runs into some of the Elves of Lórien, readers learn that they do, in fact, rarely leave their own land. Haldir is one of the messengers occasionally sent out, but his command of the Common Speech seems uncertain, suggesting he doesn’t get to practice it that much.

‘Welcome!’ the Elf then said again the Common Language, speaking slowly. ‘We seldom use any tongue but our own; for we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and do not willingly have dealings with any other folk. Even our own kindred in the North are sundered from us. But there are some of us still who go abroad for the gathering of news and the watching of our enemies, and they speak the languages of other lands. I am one.’

Haldir, The Fellowship of the Ring

Furthermore, Haldir indicates that he, like Legolas, is not entirely certain where there are other Elves in Middle-earth; the fact that there are Elf Havens still inhabited near the Shire is news to him:

‘Even if we could come to the shores of the Sea, we should find no longer any shelter there. It is said that there are still havens of the High Elves, but the are far north and west, beyond the land of the Halflings. But where that may be, though the Lord and Lady may know, I do not.’

Haldir, The Fellowship of the Ring

Other Places

Finally, readers get some hints near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring that there are even more places that practically no one in Middle-earth ventures. There are, of course, the various ruins that the characters encounter, from Weathertop at the start of the novel to Amon Hen near the end.

And then Boromir tells readers directly that much of Middle-earth seems foreign to the people of Gondor:

‘Indeed we have heard of Fangorn in Minas Tirith,’ said Boromir. ‘But what I have heard seems to me for the most part old wives’ tales, such as we tell to our children. All that lies north of Rohan is now to us so far away that fancy can wander freely there. Of old Fangorn lay upon the borders of our realm; but it is now many lives of men since any of us visited it, to prove or disprove the legends that have come down from distant years.’

Boromir, The Fellowship of the Ring

The statement is a fun foreshadowing of Fangorn, which readers may think is a bit of a throwaway comment about geography at this point, and not somewhere some of the characters will end up, but it also clarifies that anywhere in the surrounding areas, besides Rohan, is not much explored by Boromir’s people.


Conclusion

I don’t actually have a big conclusion about what any of this means at this point. It is perhaps a topic I will continue to ponder and eventually write a follow-up post on. But I am always intrigued while reading to realize that, in fact, many of the characters are as little familiar with the various lands of Middle-earth as the Hobbits are! Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin initially (perhaps always) feel out of their element when they leave the Shire, the only place they’ve ever known, but most of the other characters are not big travelers and have also seen relatively little of the world. They don’t even always know whether certain lands are still inhabited or not! They may be more familiar with stories and legends of these places, but they haven’t been there — and often no one they know has been there either. Middle-earth has a long and rich history, but it also apparently has a larger and wilder geography than I tend to keep in mind!

Briana

Speak for Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson (ARC Review)

Speak for Yourself book cover

Information

Goodreads: Speak for Yourself
Series: None
Source: Giveaway
Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Official Summary

Girl meets boy. Girl likes boy.
Girl gets friend to help win boy.
Friend ends up with crush on boy…

Skylar’s got ambitious #goals. And if she wants them to come true, she has to get to work now. (At least she thinks so…) Step one in her epic plan is showing everyone that her latest app is brilliant. To do that, she’s going to use it win State at the Scholastic Exposition, the nerdiest academic competition around.

First, she’ll need a team, and Skylar’s not always so good with people. But she’ll do whatever it takes to put one together … even if it means playing Cupid for her teammates Joey and Zane, at Joey’s request. When things get off to an awkward start for them, Skylar finds herself stepping in to help Joey. Anything to keep her on the team. Only, Skylar seems to be making everything more complicated. Especially when she realizes she might be falling for Zane, which was not a #goal. Can Skylar figure out her feelings, prove her app’s potential to the world, and win State without losing her friends–or is her path to greatness over before it begins?

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Review

Speak for Yourself is a gripping novel that combines academic competition, app creation, and a hint of romance to create a story that will have readers cheering on Skylar page after page.

I found the opening of the book slightly confusing, as I didn’t understand the Scholastic Exposition Skylar wants to compete in (and, honestly, still don’t understand the point of a quiz part that relies solely on participants memorizing information given to them by the competition organizers), and I wasn’t sure what Skylar was talking about in reference to her app development all the time. Additionally, there wasn’t a lot of exposition about some of the characters; I felt thrown into the narrative rather than as if the author were introducing people to me so I could understand them and their relation to Skylar. After these initial hiccups, however, the story takes off, and everything comes into place, and I couldn’t put the book down– no mean feat, as I don’t often find contemporary novels to be page turners.

Skylar is such a well-rounded protagonist that I felt as if I could know her, or someone like her, even as she accomplishes things in the book that certainly no one at my high school ever did. She has big dreams about going to Stanford, starting her own company, becoming rich young, etc., and it seems likely she’ll be able to do it with her coding expertise (and well-to-do parents), but she’s not perfect. She’s not even academically perfect, as readers get to see from her Scholastic Exposition performance.

And the celebration of different strengths is another lovely part of this book. The Scholastic Exposition requires teams to have members with a GPA above a certain level and members with a lower GPA, and when another character questions this, Skylar spouts a talking point line about smart people not all being academic achievers. And it sounds cheesy and a bit like a throwaway line, except the book shows this is true over and over again. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, whether it’s art, literature, math, public speaking, etc. Really, considering ScholEx is an academic competition, it’s almost surprising there’s no one on the team who seems like the typical well-rounded academic individual who would sign up for that type of extracurricular (for example, someone in line to be valedictorian of the class). It’s really a nice, subtle representation of the fact you don’t need to be good at everything to succeed in life.

I also like the romance aspect of the book. And while I have to say I was personally wary of another book about a romance-related app after reading the mess that was The Boyfriend App, Johnson handles the app and questions of romance vs. creepiness thoughtfully and ultimately writes romances I was really invested in. While the app and Skylar’s goals do seem like the “main” point of the book, perhaps not least because she herself considers them to be the most important things, the romance really shines through, and it made me smile.

Speak for Yourself is such a fun and thoughtful book that I can’t help but look forward to seeing what Johnson will write next.

Briana
5 stars

Jo: A Graphic Novel by Kathleen Gros

Jo

Information

Goodreads: Jo: A Graphic Novel
Series: #1
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

A modern-day graphic novel adaptation of Little Women that explores identity, friendships, and new experiences through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Jo March. A must-read for fans of Raina Telgemeier.

With the start of eighth grade, Jo March decides it’s time to get serious about her writing and joins the school newspaper. But even with her new friend Freddie cheering her on, becoming a hard-hitting journalist is a lot harder than Jo imagined.

That’s not all that’s tough. Jo and her sisters—Meg, Beth, and Amy—are getting used to a new normal at home, with their dad deployed overseas and their mom, a nurse, working overtime.

And while it helps to hang out with Laurie, the boy who just moved next door, things get complicated when he tells Jo he has feelings for her. Feelings that Jo doesn’t have for him…or for any boy. Feelings she’s never shared with anyone before. Feelings that Jo might have for Freddie.

What does it take to figure out who you are? Jo March is about to find out.

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Review

Jo is a perfectly serviceable adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. However, because it has arrived after a number of similar retellings, it simply does not feel new, fresh, or even that interesting. How many times can one update Jo to a writer to the school newspaper with a sister who likes art, a sister who likes boys and makeup, and a sister with cancer? It has been done several times now and the stakes are getting higher to provide an original take. Jo will appeal to readers who enjoy graphic novels about the middle school experience, but it seems unlikely to make a real mark.

Writing a review about Jo feels rather difficult because nothing is strikingly wrong with it. Yes, some of the scenarios are rather rushed (such as Laurie getting over Jo’s rejection in about two pages). And some of the book feels just a little too easy, as if the author did not want to upset any young readers (so Beth is already cancer-free in this version, and Jo, when coming out, receives a page of affirmations and then goes about life as usual). On the other hand, however, there’s also not much striking about the book in general.

The one notable aspect of the story may be that if emphasizes Jo’s sexual identity more than some of the other modernizations. Making Jo gay is not uncommon in modernizations, but Jo takes some more time to explore Jo’s feelings–her confusion, her worries about telling her family, her thoughts about telling people beyond the ones she lives with. Everything ultimately works out, however, with Jo receiving nothing but love and acceptance. Readers searching for a modernization with a gay Jo March that is also very affirming may want to take a look at Kathleen Gros’s story.

Jo is a feel-good graphic novel where everyone is kind to each other and a bit of hard work and perseverance seem enough to solve any problems. Readers who enjoy Little Women will no doubt be interested in this modernization, but it will also likely be enjoyed by fans of works such as Smile, Sunny with a Chance, and Real Friends.

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Other Little Women Adaptations

3 Stars

Why Shakespeare Remains Relevant Today (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What relevance does Shakespeare have today?

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When I consider the sheer range of Shakespeare’s plays, the question for me becomes, “How could Shakespeare not continue to have relevance today?” His works deal with everything from relatable emotions such as unrequited love, social rejection, grief for the loss of a loved one, and the thrill of young love to deep questions about the nature of power, authority, and government. His plays contain meditations on topics such as gender and sexuality, and marriage and fidelity. They engage with religion, prejudice, politics, art, and history. Readers and playgoers looking for something in Shakespeare will very likely find it. And all these things continue to interest and influence people today.

Perhaps what continues to make Shakespeare extremely relevant, however, is precisely what kept him relevant in his own day. In his work A Year in the Life of Shakespeare, James Shapiro notes that Shakespeare’s plays tend to be extremely ambiguous. Interpretations of his works as both pro-government and anti-government both work. Interpretations of Shakespeare as Catholic, Protestant, and atheist all work. No matter what side of an argument one is on, one is likely to find evidence for that stance in the plays. Shapiro suggests that this helped Shakespeare navigate an extremely fraught political and historical moment because it meant he both avoided alienating playgoers with opposing views and because he avoided offending the government, who controlled and reacted to what was shown on stage. However, this extreme ambiguity is also what makes Shakespeare so topical today.

Other writers sometimes show their age by espousing views that modern audiences no longer agree with or accept. However, because Shakespeare never shows his hand, it is not entirely possible to label him as outdated. In his plays where the women cross dress and homoerotic relationships are hinted at, but the women ultimately reveal their identities as women, is Shakespeare endorsing same-sex love or not? In plays where kings are said to be the anointed ones of God, but are shown to be wicked, is Shakespeare endorsing monarchy or not? In plays where Shakespeare seems sympathetic to outsiders, but never fully brings them into the fold of society, is Shakespeare being progressive–or not? Shakespeare always walks a tight line, where audiences could convincingly argue either side, meaning that people from his own day to our own have continued to refer to him as an authority for their political stances.

James Shapiro’s book Shakespeare in a Divided America chronicles some of the fascinating ways in which artists and politicians have used Shakespeare throughout the years to further their own political agendas, to respond their historical moment, or to try to make sense of their culture. Through a few case studies, he reveals how Shakespeare has revealed everything from Americans’ discomfort with race to their views on matrimony to their understanding of government and authority figures. His book ends with an exploration of the infamous 2017 production of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare in the Park, which depicted a Trump-like Julius Caesar. Audiences were divided over the play was endorsing assassination or condemning it–an ambiguity the play also had when it was first staged in 1599. The outcry over the production illustrates just how much Shakespeare continues to speak to us, because the topics he deals with are ones that continue to engage and trouble us today. In the words of Ben Jonson, Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time.”

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Concrete Rose

Information

Goodreads: Concrete Rose
Series: The Hate U Give #0
Source: Library
Published: January 2021

Official Summary

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.

If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.

Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.

Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.

When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

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Review

Concrete Rose demonstrates that Angie Thomas’ powers as a writer just keep growing. Once again, she presents a story around an ordinary teenager, and transforms one character’s everyday struggles into an empathetic look at making mistakes and moving forward. Maverick Carter is a seventeen-year-old, lying to his mother about where he gets his money from so he can help support her, worried about things like girls and school, but suddenly finding life turned upside-down when he learns he is a father. Maverick wants to go straight for the sake of his new son, but taking care of a child is expensive, and legal jobs just don’t seem to pay. In Concrete Rose, Thomas makes Maverick’s hopes, dreams, and fears come alive, inviting readers to experience the terror and the wonder that is growing up.

One of Thomas’ greatest strengths is her ability to write characters who leap off the page. In Concrete Rose, Maverick gets to tell his own story, showing himself a relatable teen just trying to do the right thing–support his family, be there for his girlfriend, and create a better life for himself than his neighborhood, and even his father, might seem to suggest he can achieve. Unfortunately, however, Maverick makes a few key mistakes, dealing for his father’s former gang, and getting not one, but two different girls pregnant. But Maverick takes responsibility for his choices, getting a new job and doing everything he can to be there for his children. Readers will want to cheer him on, even if they already know how his story turns out.

To its credit, Concrete Rose does not gloss over how hard life has become for Maverick. Taking care of a baby is no joke, and Maverick gets the full experience of sleepless nights and explosive diapers. With only a slim network of friends and family to help him, Maverick finds himself strapped for cash to care for his new baby, and struggling to find time to work, go to school, and do childcare. One night’s seemingly harmless fun now threatens to jeopardize the future he worked so hard to create, making high school graduation, let alone college and a good-paying job, seem out of reach. Maverick’s greatest test will be his ability to continue envisioning a future where he escapes gang life and the inevitable early death or imprisonment that so often accompanies it. He will have to envision it, if he wants to be there for his children the way his own father was not there for him.

Concrete Rose faces the difficulties of life head on, acknowledging the hard choices that many teens make every day. It tells these teens that they are seen, and heard, and loved. And it reminds them that they are not alone in their struggles, and that there is hope for a brighter future, if they have the courage to imagine it.

5 stars

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Information

Goodreads: Hunted
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2017

Official Summary

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast? 

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Review

Hunted by Meagan Spooner is a quick and satisfying retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” If you want a take on the classic fairy tale that mixes things up a little but is more comforting than completely novel, this is the book for you.

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for several days after I finished reading Hunted because, frankly, I can’t think of must to say about it. The story is different from the versions of “Beauty and the Beast” most readers are familiar with; for instance, the main character is a hunter more than an avid reader (though she does enjoy books), and her bonds with her sisters are emphasized over her relationship with her father. The story is set in Russia instead of France, and there are other fairy tales and bits of folklore woven in.

And yet…in spite of all these obvious differences…the book doesn’t actually come across as original.

But while the book didn’t wow me, I enjoyed it, and I appreciate it for what it is: a fun take on an old tale, perfect for readers who want a cozy fairy tale retelling and to watch Beauty come into her own and then find her true love. I enjoy YA books immensely and have for years, but there has been a definite shift towards books that are trying to make points rather than tell stories, books that are incredibly dark, and books that are rather convoluted (with varying degrees of success). All this is fine, depending on what you’re in the mood to read. Hunted reminded me less of recent YA books and more of the ones I read when I was actually a teen: it’s really just a fun spin on “Beauty and the Beast.”

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

Briana
3 Stars