Monday, April 29, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath

Panda's simple thoughts on Grapes

I liked how (basically) every other chapter the narrator would step back from the actual story to give a big-picture narrative. In those parts it had a type of dialogue that wasn’t dialogue. It was the narrator assuming the voice/view of an outside character. It was an outside person looking in. And this let you view the main characters/the family’s situation in a wider perspective. 

All these outside “scenes” focus inwardly and connect to the main plot. 

Steinbeck paints an unlivable world. A world that reminds me very much of this one. Nothing has changed except the method of suffering. 

I liked how Steinbeck involved a lot of animals in this novel. The turtle. The cat. The dog. They were part of the picture too. 

This migration is perhaps the closest thing the U.S. had to European gypsies.  Or one of, anyway. It’s on the list. I want to call them nomads but their ties were so close to the land that they had no identity without it. They were not a “traveling people.” They were a people without a home.

Though you could compare them to the Hebrews searching for their Promised Land, I am reminded that even Israel struggles with its identity – even though it “has” Israel/its promised land. I don’t think Americans – at least white ones like the Joads – can HAVE a promised land. Even when whites take from other races we cut off our noses to spite our faces. The knife we use to cut it with is capitalism or the protestant work ethic. Same thing, really.

To show you just how twisted Captialsim/TPWE is, whites gave other whites derogatory names like “Okie.” Capitalism does not see race (unless it wants to). It finds hate even in the most familiar of places. That’s what makes it harder to get rid of. Its threads are thin but it has so many of them. 

Yes, it’s certainly woven into the bigger horrors of humanity (such as colonialism, slave trade, war, etc.) but I think the issue is that Capitalism/the Protestant Work Ethic will eventually crush those who believe in it – no matter your race.

And the white race ESPECIALLY needed to hear it. From this novel. Because we’re the ones who 
brought it into the world. We’re the ones tainting the world with this bull crap.  WHITE PEOPLE.

So, even if it’s not the official message of this novel,  I’d much rather read this book as a statement on how hopes and dreams – such as a promised land or self-madeness –are actually faults. The promise land, or the prosperity gospel, or the land of opportunity are sad illusions reinforced by capitalism.


“‘Well, we all got to make a livin’.’

‘Yeah,’ Tom said. “On’y I wisht they was some way to make her ‘thout takin’ her away from somebody else.’”

It’s passages like these that makes this novel still resonate today. To apply this to modern times: we no longer need to look for a promised land. There’s no more land to have even if we did. Humans cover it all. The only way to get your land is to literally take it from someone else. There is no middle class anymore. No in-between. It’s have or have not.

Steinbeck even acknowledges that California was once part of Mexico. Land is arbitrary. This book isn’t about land. It’s about what Capitalism has done to it. This is The Great American Novel. This captures “us” so perfectly…

When Noah decides to stay behind near the river, it reminded me of Siddhartha where, at the end, the river is all that Sid needs. Maybe if humanity was more like them (Siddhartha and Noah) humanity wouldn’t suffer as much. Live only where you can. Live on only enough.

Steinbeck’s line “the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage” reminded me of the biblical passage “our parents eat sour grapes and we’re the ones who suck and grit our teeth.” Blah, blah, blah, insert clever tie-in between the analogies here (I’m too lazy to create it b/c I’m heavy for the vintage).

Lastly: The ending of this novel I had NO FREAKING IDEA about. I guess people have only seen the movie because no one has ever told me about THIS. Oh my god. What an ending! I can see why they left it out of the movie (which I have not seen, either, but I sure as hell know it’s not in there).

Though Rose of Sharon lost a husband and a child, she was not “sucked” dry. There was always something more to give. And, because of that, always something more for others to take.

Hel speak:

I'm writing this without reading Panda's review. I don't care what you sez, fat Panda, I will not be influenced by you! Also, it's been a while since I read the book. I recent;y moved, had to wait for interwebs, then lost my computer, then was really tired, but now I'm here. Really.

The beginning and the end of Grapes really threw me off. I felt like it set Tom Joad up to be the bad guy. I immediately disliked him. I thought he was rude (although, come to find out, that's just how people talked back then. No one was afraid of stepping on toes); when he captured the turtle, I really thought that he was going to kill it. Although Tom isn't your typical protagonist (and really, he's not the main character - the main subject changes throughout the book) -, his flaws make him more human. You know all of his actions are carefully considered and are done for survival. Nobody I know has ever been in a slow, painful live-or-die situation. Who knows how any of us would act.

However, looking back, I almost feel like the Joad family is like the family in Chainsaw Massacre. Only, a little moe betta, and somehow you become sympathetic to them.

Because the Joad's, and really all the people in the book, aside from the wealthy farm owners, are almost feel like Steinback can't write. I mean, the character stalk like they are idiots. I felt my IQ dropping while I read it, and it made the book hard to get into.

In between the story line chapters, he featured chapters that explained the broader picture of the time and showcased his actual writing ability. And while it was good writing, I have to admit I skipped those sections. Mainly because I wanted to get back to the story (and because I got enough of the broader picture in my American Environmental History class). So really that's a compliment, right? Sometimes, in between all the "fambly"'s and the "I'm a-gonna"'s, Steinbeck would throw in something incredibly profound and my appreciation for him as a writer grew.

I thought it was interesting, though, that even though the Joad family was the center point, Steinback was really rather unbiased in his writing. I mean, I expected to be lectured to about the environment and all. Instead, I was taught economics and what people do to survive.

The characters were all fairly constant in their personalities. It's like they just kept chugging a long. They were predictable, and even though their environment and situation changed, they themselves were largely the same. Some exceptions: the Preacher, who stops preaching religion and starts lecturing against capitalism instead; Tom Joad, who eventually joins him in the cause, though the book ends before we really see any of that; and Rose of Sharon, who throughout the book was a whiny, I-want-to-punch-you-in-your-pregnant-belly, ignorant, selfish little girl - she ends up doing a 180, but who knows if that lasts.

Nobody does. Nobody knows because suddenly the book is over and nothing is resolved. So, fuck you, Steinbeck.

I hope you weren't expect any more from this post because

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ever by Jessa Russo

Hel and I were given a free (yay!) copy of Ever for Jessa Russo’s blog tour. This for the tour date April 13th.

Here is a quick synopsis, from the author:

Seventeen-year-old Ever’s love life has been on hold for the past two years. She’s secretly in love with her best friend Frankie, and he’s completely oblivious.

Of course, it doesn't help that he’s dead, and waking up to his ghost every day has made moving on nearly impossible.

Frustrated and desperate for something real, Ever finds herself falling for her hot new neighbor Toby. His relaxed confidence is irresistible, and not just Ever knows it. But falling for Toby comes with a price that throws Ever’s life into a whirlwind of chaos and drama. More than hearts are on the line, and more than Ever will suffer.

Some girls lose their hearts to love.
Some girls lose their minds.
Ever Van Ruysdael could lose her soul.

Panda: My first instinct is to put this book in perspective. I’m not sure how to start, so I’m going to compare it to something: the book starts off like a quick-paced version of the Twilight series. Think Twilight crammed in to one book. Except minus the vampires and plus the ghosts. However, the love triangle, for this book, goes: Frankie, Ever, and Toby. Frankie is the Edwardian character. Toby is the bad boy like Jacob (from Twilight).

Ghost-Frankie watches over/haunts Ever like…well, like Edward watches over Bella. Toby moves in next door and Ever basically falls in love with him at first sight.  

The book addresses its Twilight-nature on page 22 when Frankie tells Ever he’s not a teenage vampire with “boundary issues.” But this still doesn’t necessarily make up for the fact the paranormal-triangle is so similar. But hey, that’s the genre these days and I’ll only rag on it for a little while.

For me, Ever is too boy crazy and (for someone who cares a lot about her dead boy friend – not boyfriend) too eager to fall for Toby. This made me not like her. As a person/character. I don’t like girls who seem to have no life/no existence other than to obsess over boys. 

At first Frankie seems like an imaginary friend – a character that I wasn’t sure if I should treat as a real character. He doesn’t really say or do anything in the first half.

Toby is apparently about 20 yrs old. Yet we’re supposed to believe he lives with dad. Which makes him seem like a big loser. HOWEVER we have a right to be suspicious of this set up. Toby’s situation is just a cover. But I won’t give the ending away – because this is a pure review. No spoilers!

As I said before, I didn’t know how to think about Frankie. The fact that he doesn't know how Ever feels about him made it all a little hard to believe. It seemed like a forced attempt to make the plot more interesting.

At times, Russo talked too much about what the characters are wearing and that was a little dull. But that’s just personal preference.

Frankie is really manipulative when he discovers Ever is dating Toby. And that means he finally becomes a more-rounded character.

At one point he calls Ever “pathetic” and I started to like him.

In my opinion, Toby was really the pathetic one. He dates his neighbor. Who DOES that? The “boy next door” is just as (what I would call) gross as the “girl next door.” It was too stereotypical. And, in the end, it was supposed to be. Because Toby is more than he seems.

Also, Ever has this friend named Jesse. Jesse’s family/mother problems seemed like an excuse for drama. A sub-plot that could have been cut. I was quite glazed-over when reading about Jesse.

I felt the same when one of Ever’s parents die in a car accident. I wasn’t really sure of the point. Other than to make Ever freer from parental restraints, and thus let the plot have more move-around room.

When Toby breaks up with her, Ever goes on a bender. I didn’t really get WHY Toby would break up with her when he put so much “effort” into gaining her affections. It was all kind of sudden and unwarranted.

But at the end I understood why. Toward the end it actually got pretty interesting. It turned into this Bleach (manga/anime, if you didn’t know) soul-collecting thing.

I wished this plot point had been introduced sooner, rather then dragged out through the entire novel. It made everything else make sense. The whole time nothing made sense in a way that was very hard to trudge through.

There wasn’t much plot. Russo only draaaaaagged out this twist final twist. 

In sum: The novel was more like a soap opera in parts with flat characters. Drama for the sake of drama. The best part of said drama, though, was Ariadne – Toby’s b*tchy ex-girlfriend. She should have come in at the beginning. Also, I didn’t really catch on to Toby’s “dad” disliking Ever until around  page 200. If these dynamics had been clearer to begin with then maybe the story itself would have been more interesting. In sum, it took me 200 pages to actually become interested in the story. 

Would have been better if: I would have liked to see Toby and Ever’s relationship-blossoming in a flash – a sped-up version of it. Maybe they could have already been dating when the book started and then we get a quick back-story on how they met. This would have given more time to explain the whole “soul-collectors” bit. 

You never really get the sense that there are RULES dictating what a soul-collector can and cannot do. We’re just supposed to take them as they are. It would have been more interesting to read about THEM than the boy craziness Ever suffers through. The very end is a cliff hanger. It is the first of a trilogy, yes, but that doesn’t mean it couldn't have been a little more satisfying. 

I had to restrain an eye-roll when Ever does a Google search (much the same way Bella has to research Vampires in Twilight) for “Soul-collectors.” I felt like this could have been left out. 

Positive aspects: When Ariadne makes fun of Ever for reading vampire novels I wanted to laugh – but I found all the vampire-talk a bit out of context. We were never dealing with vampires. Only ghosts. Russo tries to make her story intertextual but it falls flat and actually distracts from her main story/points. I wish she had developed her over-all plot. That was her strength.

Ever flip-flops between loving Frankie and Toby to the point that it’s arbitrary. I didn’t really care who she ended up with/chooses. I liked Ariadne more than Ever (ha ha, that's funny to say). And I felt bad for Ariadne after she doesn’t get what she wants, in the way that she wants. Ariadne was a character that brought wicked freshness to the story. 

Final verdict: I would probably recommend this book to pre-teens. Not actual teens (definitely not the New Adult market, even though the characters are 17-20). Especially if they know what Twilight is and are looking for something similar. Even if Toby was a 20-something he still seemed really...immature. Ever might have been 17 but she acted more like a 13 year old. 

Twilight actually had a better love triangle going on, though Russo’s overall concept was more original. And I would rather kids read this book over Twilight.

Hel: Instead of rambling about this book, let me break it down into positive and negative aspects.


1) The over all plot. It's quite original. I haven't read many ghost stories, but none of the ones I have read take on the angle that Ever does. So props to Russo for originality. I really was expecting just another vampire novel.

2) Russo can write smut! Talk about steamy.

3) There was definitely a sense of mystery and wanting to know what was going to happen. I had to finish the book, no matter what, because I just HAD to know what was going on with Toby.

4) They always say "write what you know" and I think Russo has done this. Since she lives in California, she was able to describe the area in detail and made you feel like you were there yourself. I always appreciate that in a novel (as I mentioned in our last review).


1) The characters. They all fell flat. Well, most of them did. Jesse, Frankie, Ever and Toby were walking stereotypes. They were defined by a small handful of characteristics and didn't deviate from them. For example, Frankie is stuck in his rock-a-billy persona so much that even his name matches. Jesse is the perky, popular, boy crazy CONSTANTLY WEARING PINK best friend who only ever manges to say, "Oh, Ever". Nobody says that. Nobody. Ever's parents are probably the worst. They are far too understanding, trusting, kind. They have none of the characteristics of REAL parents.

I did like Ariadne, as well as Gregor. These characters were more interesting and fleshed out.

The character interaction picked up and made everyone seem more interesting around page 200. It was a long time to wait, if you ask me.

2) The pace. The book was about 300 pages long, but only about 75 pages of it were necessary. The rest seemed to be filler. Because without it, we wouldn't have a trilogy, would we? I felt like a lot happened that didn't actually HAPPEN, if that makes sense. For example, we were constantly told "Ever and Toby were out all day doing this and that' but we were only given very few actual action scenes. And by action I mean scenes in which activities other than Ever thinking about the same damn thing (the love triangle) happen. From my point of view, there was no basis for Toby and Ever's relationship went aside from their physical attractions to each other. The same could really be said for Frankie and Ever. Ever claims Frankie is her best friend and she has loved him for all these years, but the only time they ever interact is when Ever has a nightmare or Frankie wants to lecture her. We are given no reasons as to why Ever should like Frankie, what their friendship was really like before his death, or any motivation to root for him. Just like the character interaction, the pace of the novel picked up around 200, and that's when the story became really interesting. As Panda has stated, I wish the previous 200 pages could have been wrapped up a bit more succinctly, and with more excitement other than lip locking.

All in all, I very much agree with Panda that the age demographic that this book targets is not teen, but pre-teen. However, I also don't think that the book is really appropriate for pre-teens, given the steamy content. So it's hard to say who should read this book.

Disclaimer: Helena and Amanda were given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.