Review of “Ninth City Burning”


Valentine’s day is the darkest day in human history—the day when the alien invaders  attacked. No one knows who they are or where they came from, but when they came to Earth, half its cities was destroyed in a matter of minutes, and the only ones to survive were revenni and fontani, two types of people who could exert some sort of control over thelemity, the unique material that Romeo used to commit mass murder.

Five hundred years later and the war is still raging. There are settlements producing supplies for the armies. There are cities training our soldiers. Then, there’s the front line, hidden behind so many veils and portals, that time’s dilation has made the front’s war pass in only a few years, where in reality for those back home, decades and centuries have passed. For a long time, this delicate balance was held. It seemed like we were holding the front, even moving it back, except, strategies are about to shift, and Valentine is about to bring the war home.

Introducing the characters Torro, Jax, Naomi, Rae, and Kizabel.

Torro, a young man within Settlement 225, who lives in disbelief of the war.

Jax, a young fontaini in training, trying to find the courage to defend Ninth City.

Naomi, a nomad surviving outside of the colonies in the face of dangerous raiders.

Rae, doing anything within her power to to protect her younger sister, Naomi.

And Kizabel, a scientist trying to invent better weapons before Valentine can outpace them in the war altogether.

Together the five of them will try to save the Earth before it’s too late.


I liked it. It’s not one easily remembered, but it’s easily recalled with a reminder. This is a story that I read not so much for the action but for the story that evolved over the course over the novel. While reading, I felt similar to a man called Torro, perhaps a minor character when considering he was a man from the colonies that didn’t have any powers like the rest of them. But, I think it was the ultimate perspective since it allowed me as the reader to learn of the war at the same time as he was. But here I am gushing about the book, and you haven’t even gotten a chance to see what I’m going on about!

Review Rubric - Sheet1 (2)-1


What I like about the writing style is how much thought has gone into creating this world. There’s a whole vocabulary created to support this new element added to the mixture with Earth—thelemity, and I love being able to explore how it works with the characters. Check out the passage below for an example. ActionReactionReflection.

If I can see Charles in my mijmere, it means I’m in trouble. Charles will be in his own mijmere, walking along his road, but he’s here, too, because his mijmere is bashing up against mine. That’s how fontani fight one another: by crashing their mijmeri against each other until one of them breaks. Charles says it’s like a wrestling match between different realities. Whoever wins gets to control the whole world. My mijmere must be weakening, or else Charles wouldn’t be able to just hang around like that. (295)

Looking above, you can see the delicate balance of action-reaction-reflection, or ARR. Not always necessarily in that order, but I love how everything’s equally balanced, and found with the same paragraph. Another thing I like is the varying sentence lengths. The writing style was definitely a plus for this book. I’m going to sit with a 5.


Using the excerpt above, you can see one of the primary driving forces of this book, the slow release of explanation as to how this story works. Specifically, the paragraph from above explains how fontani fight, how Jax will protect his city, and yet it’s on page 295, about 55% through the novel. The whole book continues in this manner. You learn there’s a war, but from Torro’s perspective, we don’t know if it’s true or not. From Jax’s perspective, we learn there’s a war, and we know it to be true, but he’s hoping he’ll never see it come home. And from Naomi and Rae’s perspective, we learn what it takes to willfully join the war: To defend those you love. Our knowledge of the war evolves over the course of this novel, and it’s what drove me to continue as each character learns about another facet of it. It’s probably the only thing that can argue why war is necessary.


There are so many characters in this book! Well, not in the world-building sort of sense, rather, the number of perspectives we’re left watching behind. There’s Jax, Naomi, Rae, Kizabel, Torro, Vinneas, and Imway. And what was important about having so many is that 1) it gives me perspective in each way the war affects all the different communities on Earth, especially since it has evolved since the war and 2) it shows me all the people who played a hand in successfully driving back Valentine in order to buy the Earth more time before defeat. Because this novel isn’t about winning, it’s about the survival in a war against an alien race that no one knows anything about, lest of all how to predict them.

If the reverse had been true, and this novel was written from a single perspective, I would’ve never learned about Earth as it was now; I would’ve never learned about all who play a hand in winning the war; I would’ve never learned about the massive inequalities that the cities have established in order to build/support an army that can barely hold back the onslaught of Romeo and his Valentines.

That being said, even though Black completely rounded all all the personalities in his novel, I wonder if they all had their background developed as well as they should. For instance, even though Naomi and Rae are well fleshed out, being relatives whose  journey took them from the start outside the colonies, to being brought within the settlement, to being transported to the Ninth City, and to finally being used in battle, other characters we don’t know so much about. Like Jax. Besides being a fontani in the Ninth City training, who is he? Who was his family? What is his background? I don’t know much, and the little given away in the beginning, it doesn’t tell me anything.


There’s probably a million science fiction books about an alien invasion. I can even name multiple movies off the top of my head: Independence Day, War of the Worlds (which started out as a book), and then I can name multiple books: Ender’s Game, The 5th Wave, The Host… So I feel like I can say with some confidence that this is a well-established motif. So what makes this one stand out?

I’m not sure. It’s not about a war won, like with Independence Day, and it’s not about a war lost, like with The Host. We’re thrown in the midst of a battle like with The 5th Wave, and even at the end of the novel, it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight. So again, what makes this one special?

I can say the multiple perspectives. I can say the powers that come from thelemity. But other than that, the motifs appear similar. There’s wars in space. There’s the use of portals and time dilation. There’s the invention of weapons in order to put themselves ahead. Besides the unique multiple perspectives, it seems like another drop in the water, although the unique portrayal of fontani and a new element deserves some applause.


Black, Patrick. Ninth City Burning. New York, NY: ACE, 2016. Print.

Review of “Planet Alt-Sete-Nine” by BJ Neblett


Meet Jake. A young programmer working at Technopoly, his team is close to releasing the world’s first AI video game, which is set to generate new lands, quests, and creatures, until Jake begins having second thoughts. His girlfriend Haylee is showing signs of extreme addiction. She’s reluctant to sleep, doesn’t show up for work, and is beginning to show signs of memory loss. Her doctor promises its Game Transfer Phenomena, a new psychological disorder that has only just begun to be explored, but it’s more complicated than that. Haylee’s personality is changing; she’s saying words that Jake can’t begin to understand. All because she’s getting close to finding the Magical Land of Galloway.


When I first started reading Planet Alt-Sete-Nine by BJ Neblett, I was sure I had this book’s plot pegged at the start—Jake is struggling with Haylee’s insanity. But then holes began to appear in the plot. Mentions of a magical land, a land called Galloway, and I was forced to keep reading because there’s hints at gaps that I’m missing. And, although I have mixed feelings about Jake, wondering what type of person he is to allow this video game to proceed closer and closer to release knowing the kind of effect it had on their single play-tester Haylee, I can tell you right now, there’s more at stake than just Haylee’s sanity. And, if you stick it out, you won’t begin to see the end of its complexity. Book_Rubric



This book is very action-oriented, pulling you from one scene to the next, constantly propelled with the motion, and even though I didn’t choose one of those scenes to show below, I wanted to highlight another strength below. Action, reaction and reflection.

On the back side of the end leaf was a hand-drawn map. It was obviously not originally part of the book, having been sketched in at a later date. Above it, in a calligrapher’s script no longer in use was the inscription: The Magical Kingdom of Galloway.

Caliey’s heart pounded. Although crudely drawn and badly faded, the map clearly depicted an island situated in the middle of a large sea. A barely perceptible line led across a flat plane and through a dense forest. It terminated at a hidden beach surround by mountains. 

Examining her find, Cailey could hear servants beginning to stir and rush about the palace. It wouldn’t be long before the first call for last meal was sounded. (174)

Even if you can’t see it in this scene, this book was filled with maximum action, which left little room for reaction and reflection. Because of the lack of reaction and reflection, it created a gap in relations between the reader and character. But this weakness was combated by the Neblett’s strength in imagery, showing an overwhelming amount of details in every scene and paragraphs, creating such a dense image, it wasn’t hard to picture the book in the mind. Details in imagery are shown in italics above.


How well do we know our narrators? Let’s pick one to examine—Haylee.

Now Haylee is pretty important to the story since the plot revolves around her, but I feel like I never really got to know her, maybe because she went crazy before I could fully attach to the character. To me, it feels like there were three types of Haylee’s in this story: a pre-game version, a during-game, and post-game. But I never really felt for any of them, maybe because I never really knew the pre-game version. Maybe because I never got to see into her thoughts, except from Jake’s eyes which probably only helped distant her from me. But, let me show you what I mean.

Pre-game Haylee 

“Like I said, Haylee has always been a bit obsessive about her playing. It’s almost as if she believes she is an actual part of the game, one of the characters. But she always works through it, eventually moving on to another game.” (37)

Okay, the big thing to take away from here is that Haylee likes video games. But notice, we’re referencing her in the third perspective because this is Jake talking about her.

Concern turned to worry as he patiently listened to the angry school principal on the other end of his phone. “Of course, sir…yes, she’s sick, I think it may be a virus or something. As a matter of fact, I’m taking Haylee to the doctor this evening. Yes, probably at least the rest of the week.” (25)

Now, I know this excerpt shows Haylee during-game, but I wanted to focus on the hints at Haylee’s pre-game life. I want to highlight the fact that Haylee’s boss is revealed: a school principal. This means she works at some kind of school, but we have no idea whether that’s high school, middle school, or elementary. Out of everything I know about her, this is basically it. Jake talks about her being an orphan, and how they met at Purdue, but there are extreme limits to what I know about Haylee’s past. We don’t even know what she likes or dislikes beyond that of gaming.

During-game Haylee 

Well, I was finally able to get Haylee calmed down and we talked. She understood, she knew me, and that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. But she recalled very little about how we met. And she remembered nothing about her life before college. Her memory was fuzzy about her teaching as well. The more we talked, the more anxious and frightened she became. I left for a moment to get her some water. When I returned, she was back playing the game. It seemed to calm her, so I didn’t interfere. The next day I received a call at work from Haylee’s principal. That was when I learned she hadn’t been at school for two days. It’s when I decided to contact your office. When I returned home, I found Haylee still playing. Except for recognizing me and knowing details about the game, she had lost all of her memory. (40)

I really struggle with this. Not because it shows Haylee as the crazy person she’s turned out to be, because we see this throughout almost the entire book. What bothers me about this excerpt is the fact that we see Jake and Haylee’s relationship doomed from the start. A lot of book, especially YA, are prized for these love triangles they create, but in this book, there’s no one on Team Haylee even before Jake’s high school best-friend and work-partner Barbara gets introduced. I was team Barb before Haylee’s relationship even ended.

Post-game Haylee 

Jake glanced at the TV. On the screen, three orange suns shined down from a crystal blue-green sky. Poised at the center of a lush, green and gold forest Jake didn’t recognize, stood a beautiful stately castle. Below were the words: Castle Venatus located in the land of Galloway, home to Princess Haylee, beloved royal ruler of Alt-Sete-Nine. / “Home,” Jake said with a sad, determined smile. “Haylee’s gone home.” (233)

Well, I’m glad she had her happy ending. Sleeping beauty has woken, and the kingdom is saved. But, I’m sorry to say that’s all I know about you princess.

Because I know so little about the main character, the character this whole story is about, I’m going to have to give this rating a 1. I know some superficial details are revealed throughout the story. But, because I never really got a chance to get to know her outside of this crazy-person persona, I never really connected with her. All I know of her is that she’s the 1-dimensional sleeping beauty looking to wake in the magical land of Galloway.

Go team Barb!


“…Now that your soul is mortal, you no longer will be pushed with purpose, unconsciously driven toward your destiny. If you do nothing, you will continue to live. But if you place the medallion around the princess’ neck and awaken her, then there are no guarantees. The decision is yours alone to make. You are the only one who can awaken the princess and the only one who can restore the Land of Galloway.” (228)

Okay. Does that remind anyone else of Sleeping Beauty? I’m getting a strong sense of deja vu here. What’s disappointing here is I took French for four years and I still can’t spell that word. God I suck at French. 

Even though this plot point has been used over and over again, with its combination of  motifs like video games, AI, amnesia, and discovery of self, I think this has created a highly original novel. The video game and AI motifs are quite popular right now, but I don’t believe I’ve seen a cross-over with them and the Sleeping Beauty story, which makes for a highly entertaining plot. Because of its originality, I’ll have to give it a 4. But as always, let me know if you’ve heard of something like this before. I’d like to know.


This book was easy to peg from the start for its theme: Discovery of self. It quite literally spelled it out within one of the scenes with Jake, Haylee, and her doctor.

Perhaps Haylee is somehow searching for herself; searching for the identity she never possessed as an orphan not knowing her parents or her own personal history. (41)

Haylee travels through the book looking for some explanation of her past, and this discovery of self is what propelled the book. Because the details are so thin and sparse,  your curiosity drives you forward faster and faster until you make it to the end. Looking below, you can see some of the propelling quotes.

“No, I couldn’t find her,” she said sadly. “I couldn’t find her.” / “Find who?” (26)

“Unfortunately, I really don’t know very much about Haylee’s past.” (33)

He shook his head and then shrugged, indicating his confusion. Jake knew that there was no Magical Land of Galloway programmed into Planet Alt-Sete-Nine. (87)

There’s not much given away here besides that Haylee is looking for a who and then a what. And, it’s not clear of what that is until we read of Cailey’s mission. In the end, I would’ve preferred to see more from Haylee’s perspective, especially since this book revolves around her. But, it still provides an adequate driving force.


Neblett, BJ. Planet Alt-Sete-Nine. Mesa, AZ: Brighton Publishing LLC, 2018. Print.

Review of “A Plague of Giants” by Hearne

When I initially started reading this book, I have to admit, I wasn’t interested. The sheer amount of names, and the learning curve on this fantasy world created a steep price before investing in the plot. I put down this book multiple times before I was drawn in enough to continue, but once I was there (around page 40ish), I couldn’t put the book down. There were some spots that made me laugh, some that made me cry, and I looked forward to hearing every character’s story. So, if you’re willing to put in the time, this story is every bit as amazing as The Iron Druid Chronicles, Hearne’s previous series.

Welcome to the six nations of Teldwen. Each living in a compliant coexistence with the other, it isn’t until they’re faced with invasion that tensions are stretched. Look at the East who are overwhelmed by Bone Giants. Look at the West who are compromised by Hathrim. Who will make it through to the end?

In my earlier post, I included a re-formatted map, in order to make it easier for the reader to follow along because I found the hardest thing to understand was the multitude of places, names, and kennings with their multiple levels of powers. That one was spoiler free. I’ve included another one here, but this one includes MAJOR SPOILERS, to help cement some previous understanding.

Plague of Giants_spoilers

And again…since WordPress has limits. I’ve included a hyperlink to Imgur with a full-size image to make it easier to read and reference.

But, since our goal isn’t solely understanding, let’s go ahead and look at our rubric to review this book.



How does this book read? It’s very action-oriented, showing how everyone is moving and sliding from place to place. Even looking at the paragraph below, we can see how much action there is compared to reaction and reflection. This leads to the book having imagery and action sequences since the reader can see each battle that people fight.

People streamed out of the tunnel as we marched in, bundles held under their arms and slung on their backs, some pulling carts or riding horse-drawn wagons. Worried evacuees from the tunnel warrens, wondering where they should go. And some of them—quite a few of them—were Brynts who must be refugees, running in advance of the army. It was their bleak, hopeless faces that drove home to me the urgency of our mission. How horrific it must be to be forced out of your home with nothing but the clothes on your back. If we failed—more specifically, if I failed—to hold this army back, then everyone in Baseld and perhaps beyond would wear the same bleak expressions. (434)

Unfortunately, as seen above, it doesn’t have the strongest reaction, which doesn’t elicit a strong connection within the reader. This can weaken a connection with the characters, but, Hearne’s writing style makes up for it in others ways, such as by using a strong voice through very specific word choices—one of his strengths as you can see below.

Cousins I have not seen for seasons but close to my roots, and in their eyes I will see if I have grown straight and true on my own—I am only five years senior to Pen, after all. Perhaps the Black Jaguars and the Blue Moths will not be so eager to disparage the White Gossamers when they are outnumbered. Perhaps if the Canopy is well served by my watch, the White Gossamers will climb again. I would dearly love to be the sprout of that new growth. (115)

Looking at some of the highlighted words above, you can see the word choice has changed to reflect a character within the Fornish region, specifically a benman, or tree speaker. Hearne could’ve used a description of time like “weeks” or “years” but instead he chose “seasons,” since this can help reflect the plant kenning of the Canopy. Because of this, the voices of his characters stand more apart from each other than his ordinary writing.

Because of his strength with word choice, but given his limits in reactions, I’m going to label Hearne’s word choice as a 4.


One of the strengths of this book is the multitude of unique perspectives, 11 to be exact, all written from first person. While these six nations of Teldwen are being invaded by Bone Giants, the reader can see the effects of the war on warriors, citizens, politicians, etc. It lends a rounded experience to this traumatic event. But, one of the weaknesses that comes with having so many characters is the lack in time to develop them.

Let’s consider Abhi for an example. What does he like? I don’t know—men? What does he dislike? Killing animals. What is his strength? He is a plaguebringer, and recently came into some strong powers in seeing, calling, and commanding animals. More a physical strength than a psychological one. What is his weakness? He doesn’t appear to have one? From every situation I’ve seen him in, he’s won every confrontation, which is remarkable considering he’s a boy of 17, who hasn’t see much beyond his family and their old profession of hunting. What is his goal? To earn the recognition of the Beast Caller’s as a true clave.

I struggle giving the characters a 5 because even though each has a persona has strong defining qualities, most of these character don’t seem as deep as other books as I’ve read, lacking qualities about themselves that make themselves stand out. The character above is perhaps one of the strongest within the novel, and although well-rounded, and even then, I don’t see him facing internal conflict. This sounds harsh considering he lost his family, but he has never had to ask himself ‘which should I do?’  He didn’t even seem to be in mourning for that long, or looked down on his powers, which he seemed to assume were only as a result that he had nothing to lose. Because this character didn’t seem to face any internal struggles, I can’t call him a person. He seems more of the 2D simplicity of an always-a-winner superhero.

Because of these weaknesses, I’m going to give the books’ perspectives a 3. I will argue the character connections are strengthened by each character’s voices, written by specific word choices as seen above. But to me, this seems more like a superficial cover up to the lack of details. Each character seems to be driven by a singular detail or event, and to me it doesn’t feel as heart-warming if there isn’t to be a decision to be made with it.


This plot isn’t necessarily original, even if all the names certainly are. When I first started reading this book, the first thing it reminded me was the TV series Avatar: The First Airbender. There, we see four nations, divided by four powers: earth, fire, water, and air; this seems eerily similar to the six Teldwen nations, divided by six kennings with the exception of a few additional powers. This is also similar to the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, where people are divided amongst the 10 different types of luxin. And again, this is similar to Maria V. Snyder’s Study series.

In each of these plots, we see nations invaded by one another, so I’d like to argue the plot for Hearne’s current series isn’t necessarily original. The originality of this series actually stems from the perspective. This story isn’t a single perspective, or even multiple point-of-views. This book is story inception. Since this book is told from the Raelech bard’s impressions as he’s gathered multiple people’s experiences from journals, it’s revealed how the past has occurred, while we get glimpses of the present.

Because of the unique writing style, I will give this book’s originality a 3 instead of a 2.


I feel like there’s no strong theme to this book, and I’m sure someone is sitting there behind their computer muttering ‘every story has a theme.’ Well, then, if I were to guess, the theme must be about balance, just like it was in Avatar. I can smell a hint of it when reading the book because a few times it’s mentioned, within the different nations battling the others. Even when you hear the nations speak, they look down on each other.

Desperation can drive anyone to madness. Or maybe it wasn’t mad; if he planned to cut down our trees and return south, the potential income from such a timber raid might be significant enough to finance the building of a new city. Panic seized me at the thought. We didn’t have any thornhands up here in the north since the Hathrim timber pirates typically attacked our southern shores, so who could stop him? (73)

If the Hathrim are smart, they will hire Kaurian blowbags to funnel the ash into the Rift. Cyclones, I mean: that’s the proper term, and I should use it. (111)

The Fifth Kenning was meant to be burned by the First, and once we dealt with them, the Nentians would be routed just as before, and Baghra Khek would be secure. (578)

In my youth, before I became a Hearthfire, I used to be a timber pirate until I rose to captain my own ship and then take over Harthrad from my sire. We had to deal with thornhands as a matter of course when we raided the Fornish coast, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed thwarting them. They are freakish creatures who become instruments of death at the sacrifice of their own lives. (584)

Notice the phrases underlined, all derogatory of other kennings. What I found most interesting from this is that much of the disdain seems to originate from Nel, the benman, and Gorin, the Hathrim. I didn’t notice it as much elsewhere, but why would these two kennings experience the most contempt? Other contempt originates between the lines of Brynlon thinking Raelech sent a spy, and so on. But this much room for disparity leaves room for peace and balance…perhaps a theme to develop later?

This can also leave room for union. The book hints at it with quotes like the following.

In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. (285)

[The Zanata Sedam] only said the Seventh Kenning was greater than the others, or beyond them, or a blessing past the power of speech. (369)

The book mentioned this could be the driving force of the Eculans, an almost militant justification for why it’s okay to invade and kill, especially those of men, women, and children. But, as also slyly mentioned, this could be referring to the six nations, the six kennings, which only through their union could either find the seventh, or unite to take down the Bone Giants.

But even with these hints at peace, balance, and union, because the main conflict with the Bone Giants hasn’t ended, it’s hard to see the conclusion and arc. This leaves the main drive to result from the reader’s natural curiosity surrounding the missing information in the story, with hints placed like “Rift” or “Seventh Kenning.”

In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. Only when there is one shall the Rift be healed and unknown return to the world. Then those who were unknown and unknown will thrive, and the selfish and unknown will perish. (287)

Which is again me just saying, I don’t know. I can blame the entirety lack of a theme on the fact I don’t know the ending. I can blame it on the lingering question of was this written for a theme or entertainment? I’ve always struggled with this question, especially when it comes to terms with a series. Does the length of a series result from the story? Or your wallet? Could be mildly negative of me. But, it could also be realistic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Hearne, Kevin. A Plague of Giants. New York, NY: Del Ray, 2017. Print.

Review of “The Rift” by Allan

I did not like this book. And I’m saying this because it took me two tries to read it.

But, I want to figure out why this book was so bad. Why I disliked it so much. I mean, this read like a textbook, and it had the same effect on me. I kept falling asleep while reading it, which is saying something. I kept trying to snack to keep me awake—it’s a bad habit.

So let’s break this geode open. Except that’s a shitty metaphor because geode implies something pretty. So, let’s make it a shitty geode. Heh. 


Still using the same rubric as before.


I’m going to argue that this is one of the better parts of the book. While the perspective yields a weak drive, leading to an uncompelling story, the style of writing feels fully developed. There is good sentence variation, which can be seen below, and some nicely written scenes, an example of which is below.

At one time, Selena would have bumped her in the ribs again and whispered: “Alien.” Alien-spotting was a game they used to play all the time, back when Julie was fourteen and Selena was twelve and they were both obsessed with The X-Files. Anyone they happened to see who was wearing odd clothes or acting strangely, they would raise their eyebrows knowingly then race around the corner and collapse into giggles. Selena remembered sometimes laughing so hard there were tears in her eyes. She didn’t believe these people were aliens, not really, but a part of her felt excited by the possibility that they could be. What she enjoyed mostly was the closeness with Julie… (9)

This is a good scene because it fully follows the ARR schematic. We have an action in red, a reaction in green, and a reflection in blue, completing the arc of the scene. The only thing lacking within this book’s writing style is that not every scene is like this. Although most of the book follows this, which is nice since it alters its style between flashbacks, the present, books, articles, etc, some parts do have a textbook feel which are more of a download of information, desperate to strive for the science fiction genre than a genuine narrative. For that reason, I’m giving its style a 4.


This book is so convoluted in perspective that I didn’t know who was telling the story half the time. It would flip back and forth between Selena and Julie, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but it kicked me out of the story every time. Looking back, you can have a clue from the chapter numbering system restarting at 1, but otherwise, you would have to read through the chapter and pick up on clues, and when you’re so focused on whose story you’re reading, how can you pay attention to what you’re reading?

I will say that I did appreciate Julie’s perspective. The dual perspective allowed the novel to build upon the characters, the theme, and this added overall to the novel, as seen in the quote below.

For a while, I was frightened to go outside unless Cally was with me. I was afraid people would see me and realise, that they would point and yell in uearthly voices, like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, unmasking me as an alien, running though the streets in droves as they hunted me down. (162)

I loved how Julie pretended that people were aliens, and also became one herself when she was transported to this other planet. And, it’s a good show of irony. But, unfortunately, this novel also loved to interrupt itself. It interrupted itself by switching perspectives disjointedly between Selena and Julie, and it also did so by littering the story with big blocks of text solely to build the science fiction world of Tristane and Dea. And, these were so dry. So boring. They were the ports that slowed me down and made me want to fall asleep. So because these interruptions led to a weak connection, I’m going to have to give a 2.5. It did have tons of details to build the character, but I loss the connection by its disjointed story-telling methods.


This story follows Selena coping how to move on from her sister Julie’s kidnapping, even though parts of the story starts earlier than that. But, even though this book contains loss, it’s not strictly about Selena’s grief over it; it’s about the fact that Selena and her family don’t know what happened to her sister, how they’re all scared of the unknown. And, I argue this because of the way the book ends, how it specifically concludes.

The more time passed, [Margery] Rouane maintains, the more the agony surrounding Julie’s disappearance evolved from a fear of what might have happened into the simple terror of not knowing. “It became a constant background noise, a wound that could never heal. (396)

Multiple motifs follow this fear of the unknown, and the book points to only one solution: belief and faith. But, we’ll examine each of these with short evidence for each.


In the beginning, when the two sisters are younger, the two of them are obsessed with aliens, constantly pointing out outsiders, using quirks as justifications for why these people are extraterrestrials. What’s ironic is that even as Julie does this, it isn’t until she’s removed to another planet that she herself begins to identify herself as an alien, using the justification that no one understands or believes her about Earth or Manchester.

When you’re a kid you live so much in your own world you barely think of adults as having lives, even. When I realised that Mum lived mostly behind a screen – a screen of efficiency and reasonableness designed to hide every trace of her real personality – it was like playing the alien game all over again.

Who was the alien, though? Her, or me? (166)

We see the alien motif again when Julie, in her past, learned something about her mother that didn’t coincide with previous memories of her, so Julie found herself in a place that she didn’t understand her. And of course, at any point in time when the girls don’t understand someone, we find ourselves back to the motif of aliens.

Parasitic Creefs

One of the stories that fascinates Julie from her time on Tristane, the other planet, is a story from an aeronautics technician named Linus Quinn. The story is this man went with his two friends, a naturalist and the naturalist’s wife, to a small planet named Dea, but when he returned from his journey, his two friends were dead. Of course, he claims this is due to a deadly parasitic isopod named creef, but there is no proof. That doesn’t stop the fear though.

[Noah] thinks something went wrong on Dea, something the praesidium doesn’t want anyone to know about. That’s why they stopped the transports, as a kind of quarantine. Then they shut down the radio station as well, so no one would find out. I’m not saying I think he’s right,” [Cally] said. “But I read some of those messages. They were awful, Julie. Those people knew they’d been abandoned. They were saying goodbye, mostly.” (181)

Here, we see the reaction of the fear of the unknown. Because the government doesn’t know who killed people on Quinn’s mission, all travel and transmissions to the planet were shutdown. What I think is even creepier is that through the last portions of the novel, we see Julie as she forgets more and more, a common symptom of being contaminated with creef, only, we never learn if she is or isn’t infected. Talk about the fear of the unknown and unresolved.

Missing Persons

For much of the novel, we see articles, movies, stories that Selena has read about missing persons. Where her father has coped with Julie’s disappearance by tracking down any and all information related to Julie, Selena copes by finding all information about any disappearance ever, perhaps thinking if she can understand other people’s stories that maybe she can understand her own sister’s.

Selena wondered how she would feel if Julie were to disappear from her life again, as suddenly as she’d returned. She felt surprised at how painful it was, the idea. Something about the empty park, the rain, the sense that you could live your life and die and still know nothing about anything.

What if knowing only made things worse? Perhaps it was better to remain in the dark about what had happened. There was an argument for not pursuing it, for ignoring the fork in the road, and moving on. (87)

We can see clearly where Selena had a choice. She could’ve left herself in the dark and not ask Julie about her disappearance, but obviously that didn’t happen because otherwise the book would be a whole lot shorter. Selena made the choice to ask because of the fear of this pain she mentioned, because she couldn’t stand not to know otherwise.

Black Holes

I love how this whole novel is space-themed, and how all the motifs circle around this. Even though black holes weren’t central to this novel, because they were so regularly mentioned, I believed they were integral to the theme.

I was about seven when it started, I think – I was terrified of black holes. I’d seen part of a science programme on TV – Horizon probably, or The World About Us – describing how nothing could ever escape a black hole, not even light. There was an animated diagram, showing what might happen if a planet were to get sucked into a black hole’s even horizon, and a map of our galaxy showing where astronomers believed black holes might be located. Gaping empty spaces, patches of nothing, the lairs of monsters. (133)

We can see that Julie’s fear started early, and over the course of the novel it develops, leading to Julie to compare multiple events to that of black holes: like the white van (from her ride with the serial killer), in which we don’t learn until the end what happened and the creef, in which we don’t know if they truly exist and kill. We see it from her teacher’s perspectives, who reinforces why black holes are so terrifying.

‘Julie was terrified of black holes. She told me they gave her nightmares. When I asked her why, she said that blackholes proved there were a lot of things we didn’t know about the universe, and that most of them were terrifying.’ (285)


So in the face of this fear, what does this novel suggest as a cure? Belief.

You know that moment in almost every horror movie you’ll ever see, when the main character comes dashing out of the woods, or the haunted house, or the cellar or wherever, gibbering some insane story about a monster or a psycho or a secret passage leading straight into hell? There are all kinds of variations on that scene, but the one thing that’s always the same is that the person who gets told the story never believes it. (137)

When Selena read all those different missing person stories, she didn’t know what to believe, and throughout the novel, when Julie returned, she was faced with the choice of whether or not this person who called herself Julie was telling the truth. But, it wasn’t until she accepted this was her sister, that her sister’s story was true that she began to feel better.

Her mother in return began to feel better when she believed that Julie had died, that the police had found her body within the woods by the lake. It is only when you have no belief that you suffer in the manner as Ray, when death finally overtakes you because he couldn’t face any belief on what happened to Julie.


So, I believe this novel does have a theme, but does that make it deserving of a 5? The answer is no. Everything about this theme seems to influence me, make me want to say I like it. Obviously, there was a lot of thought that has been put into it. There are multiple metaphors that strike a comparison for why a fear of the unknown is so scary, and I like the theme itself, especially since this is such a strong fear for myself—it explains why I’m scared of deep water and the dark—but my rating depends on the story’s compulsion. And, I’m sorry to say that was weak. This novel dragged, very much, and it lacked much conflict and tension that is contained in stronger books, so I’ll have to give its theme a much lower rating. I believe it deserves a 2 because the novel can be interesting and compelling, but this broken up by pieces of the novel that try so hard to build details and worlds, almost to force it to by a science fiction piece. It was trying too hard.


What originally drew me to this book? I would have to say the plot originally. I do see a lot of books that put characters on other planets, so I will have to say, there is probably more than one where a character disappeared to one, wisped through some unseen portal. I know this exists because this was one plotline within the TV series The Agents of Shield. So that motif is unoriginal. Whether someone is or isn’t an alien isn’t original either. Neither are parasites since this was done in Aliens. And whether or not someone is crazy isn’t new—look at Legion. Putting this all together with a missing person narrative? I would say that’s probably somewhat uncommon, which is why I believe it’s a 3. But again, this is highly limited by my knowledge of similar plot points and motifs.


Allan, Nina. The Rift. London, England: Titan Books, 2017. Print.


Motifs’ Locations

  1. Aliens (9, 16, 73, 95, 135, 162, 166, 180, 284)
  2. Parasitic Creefs (176, 181, 201, 220!)
  3. Missing persons  (56, 59, 87, 129, 256, 279)
  4. Memories (13, 30, 72, 75, 79, 112, 119, 179, 227, 229)
  5. Crazy, insane, mentally ill (313, 318, 319, 320, 325, 328, 373)
  6. Belief (16, 18!–38, 56, 59, 64, 75, 87, 91, 123, 126, 132, 136, 220, 223, 266, 273, 316, 317, 410)
  7. Choices (53, 169, 253, 277)
  8. Black holes (134, 174, 224, 285)
  9. Lesbian (191, 216, 235, 302)

Character List

Julie Rouane Queer sister that goes missing

Selena Rouane Protagonist whose sister goes missing when she’s younger

Margery Rouane Mother of Julie and Selena, who divorces after Julie’s disappearance; medical practice manager

Ray Rouane Father of Julie and Selena, who turns obsessive after Julie’s disappearance

Stephen Dent Man who used to teach English in Japan and fell in love with Hiromi, but moved back to the US to care for Koi until they were killed, and he committed suicide; Selena feels guilty for never revealing his suicidal tendencies (324)

Cally saved Julie on Tristane

Noah Cally’s brother

Allison Gifford Part-time teacher at Priestley College, who noticed Julie as a lonely, shy, perhaps bullied student (281)

Lucy Khalil Indian, straight friend of Julie’s for two years, who wanted to grow up and be a doctor (301)

Steven Jimson serial killer and possible murderer of Julie

Johnny Selena’s boyfriend who invited her to move to Kuala Lumpur with him (321)

Lisa previous lover of Julie’s after she returns to Earth

Nadine Akoujan metallurgist in London who specializes in identifying space metal

Review “The Seas” by S. Hunt

How do you measure the value in a book?

Is it by style? Theme? Originality? Or perspective? There are so many different aspects to measure a book, and I’m sure everyone has their own criteria, which is why there’s no concrete rule of thumb on how to measure a bestseller. But, I’d like to work and create my own, using a teacher’s favorite tool: a rubric!

Okay. This may hurt some feelings. A lot of teachers feel attached to the four scale rubric; I don’t. And, I feel like I have to do 5-scale because this is usually supported by the 5-star rating system that multiple companies use to rate their products, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Goodreads.

This may take some time…


Okay. So this is pass 1 for the rubric. It hasn’t been edited, and it may change over time, but this seems like a good start from which to examine the latest book I finished: The Seas by Samantha Hunt. And of course I’ll support my decisions with proof from the book.


I feel that The Seas deserves a 5 because much of the book is written with highly selective word choice and sentence variation. Readers can see her extremely particular word choice throughout the book since she continuously uses the mermaid metaphor to develop physical and emotional imagery for the protagonist’s actions and reactions. An example of this can be seen below.

“Jude?” I turn and ask, but before I can get any response the water rushes in like a couple of police officers with their blue lights flashing, with their guns drawn. The water rushes in like a couple of police officers would rush in to surround the smashed-up car of some drunk people who are evading the law. The water is like two officers, one on either side of the car both with guns drawn and pointed at me. (171-172)

Here, we can see Hunt’s careful word choice. She has selected each word so that it 1) reveals the imagery of the action sequence of this scene and 2) co-develops a reaction through the use of the ocean as a metaphor. Although we see the action of officers collecting the protagonist to arrest, we feel the reaction of the protagonist as she feels herself drowning in the sense that she’s lost control. Because Hunt is doing so much within so few of lines, I believe this is a strong scene deserving of a high score, and because most of the book is mirrored in this example of style, I believe it earns a 5.


For me to rate this, I want to first consider what we know about the character, which is a lot. I know the protagonist’s whole family: how her mother was raised on a deaf island; how her father left eleven years ago, losing himself to the ocean—not sure whether because he’s actually a mermaid or committing suicide; and how her grandfather is obsessed with typesetting and font. I know the protagonist’s history on the island, how she’s always felt alienated and picked on. I know how she wants Jude to return her love. I also know she believes herself to be a mermaid, and so likes to participate in mermaid-like behaviors, like soaking in her bathtub or pretending to breathe water. We see this with details within scenes like,

I was thirsty. It was just floating there. And anyway, that word is mine. (22)

I sometimes sit underneath our small boardwalk. It’s out of the weather, away from anyone who might recognize me, close to the ocean. There I feel as though I am among people, while in actuality I am still alone. (25)

There is a window over my tub and when I was younger, I’d lie down in the tub instead of my bed. My mother would wake me and make me move back to my bed but finally she gave up and let me sleep there. I liked it in the tub because from the window I could see stars and the ocean and sometimes, if it was calm, I could see the stars in the ocean. (31)

We also see throughout the novel her obsession with the word blue. She loves words with multiple definitions, and I wonder if blue is to signify something else. But, I’ll look into that later. What I believe is that because this character has been overwhelmingly developed, shown so many details about her life, that the perspective requires a 5.


Going a little bit out of order here…but, I have to be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of the theme, or even the book now that I’ve finished it. I thought I knew where it was going, and then I didn’t, and where it ended left me feeling very confused. But, I swear this has something to do with the theme.

Let me look at some common motifs within the book first.

  1. Her father “left,” or died—it depends what you think.
  2. She experiences unrequited love with her older friend, Jude.
  3. Her grandfather’s obsessed with words, including their sources and definitions.
  4. Her family’s experience with alcoholism.
  5. Jude’s post-traumatic stress disorder from the Iraq war.
  6. The protagonist’s belief she’s a mermaid.
  7. How she feels ostracized and alienated.
  8. Her blindness, or difficulty in seeing.

Well, now that I’ve had time to outline and contemplate, I believe I’ve figured it out, so now, let me show you her story. It’s beautiful. SPOILERS!!

This is a story of grief. Back when the narrator was eight, her father left home, his footsteps following from the edge of the beach to the sea, to where most of the town imagined he drowned since he was never seen of again.

My father was a dark, slender, and quiet man…He drank a lot—so did my grandparents…When my father disappeared I blamed his disappearance on his drinking. I was only eight at the time. Since then I have changed my mind. (59)

The original story is that her father must’ve committed suicide, possibly due to his drinking, but because of the overwhelming sadness and harshness of this reality, the characters within the book prefer to choose a different one, with each character experiencing their own version of reality in order to give them some sense of happiness.

People often suggest that it would be better if we knew for certain whether or not my father is dead. That, to me, seems cruel, as if they want me to abandon all hope. (32)

But to abandon all hope means to accept his death, and the narrator cannot accept this and neither can her family. Looking at her mother, we can see no one wants to accept this. Instead mom believes he’s walked out, and so she stands watch for his return.

My mother is still in love with him even though he’s been gone eleven years. She says, “Nothing has changed between your father and me. I just don’t see him as often.” As though he moved to Tallahassee or somewhere else way down south. (61)

A few old houses in town have widow’s walks—the small square rooms or flat platforms built into a roof so that women left behind by fishermen husbands could look out to see if their men’s ships were ever going to come in. We don’t have a widow’s walk, so my mother sometimes just sits on the roof with binoculars around her neck. She acts as if she’s just looking at the ocean, the birds, or the waves but I know she is looking for my father. (110)

But again, this is only one version of the story: her mother’s, which the narrator is not interested in. Instead, she chooses changes her story so that her father has returned to the ocean since her and her father are mermaids. This is belief stems from a story that her father used to tell her when she was young, back when he was alive.

He meant we were from the ocean. “You’re a mermaid,” he told me at the breakfast table. “Don’t forget it.” A corner of toast scraped the roof of my mouth when he said it. The cut it made helped me to remember. So I don’t think he’s dead. I think he is in the sea swimming and that is kinder than imagining his boots filling up with water, and then his lungs. (32)

This feels like a momenta of her father. If she believes in herself being a mermaid, she can still retain a memory and a connection with him, even if he’s gone. But, to hold onto this belief from when you were eight to when you’re nineteen for eleven years, this can only look one way to an outsider.

I’d rather be subject to the ocean’s laws than the laws that apply to young girls trying to become women here on dry land…Sadness can be like a political cause, almost, or a religion or a drug habit…I think of the carny girl’s teardrops and I can’t believe that is her purpose…I suspect that she wants her boyfriend to stay in prison for a long time so that every year she can add another drop until they reach below the collar of her shirt and everyone who sees her will say, “My. There’s a sad girl.” (62)

At this point, her grief has driven her crazy in the eyes of the town, so most people have ostracized her, leaving alone and lonely. It is not too long later, when she is twelve, that she finds someone who can be a friend, if only because he reminds her of her father.

There he is, I thought and meant my father, because I had been waiting for him to come back….Then Jude was coming out of the water and I thought, in quantum physics there must be a possibility that all the molecules of my father would find each other again and would walk out of the water looking at least a little bit like him…Tall and dark, he looked like my father. There at that moment, I started loving Jude. (23-24)

But the man is old, much older than her, and the man, Jude, realizes what this will look like in the eyes of the town, in the eyes of morals, court, her parents.

“I feel like your name was on that list. Like you are off limits. Like if I say your name or if I touch you, I’d get court-martialed, found guilty, and executed.” [Said Jude] (107)

And so, he refuses to accept her love. At this point, I wonder why she doesn’t stop loving him, knowing that he will never return her love. How does she keep this love alive from when she was 12 to 19 knowing it’s never returned? She even acknowledges in the book that she will never abandon even given this situation.

In the short time that I waited for Jude, not too long, the dragonfly matured enough to fly away. So I hated it because I knew that would never happen to me. (122)

So why does she stay? Is it because Jude resembles her father so much? Is he her replacement for a father figure? Or, is it because she takes after her father? Does she want to nurse him back to health, like her father’s done for animals and bugs?

He’d sit quietly, stirring a mixture of warm water and sugar to nurse back to health a sickly black fly…These are the parts of [my father] I find impossible to cut myself loose from. They are beautiful qualities. (61)

We see her stick with Jude even after he tells her he doesn’t love her, that he never will, so there is a sense of dedication that isn’t within normal limits, so I do believe that is some additional purpose driving her to stay with him. And, my belief is that she’s trying to fix him. I believe she is trying to nurse Jude back to health, given his post-traumatic stress disorder, by giving him all her love, realizing that if she can’t, the ocean will take him back, just like it did with her father.

He stares like water in a way that lets me know that if I don’t do my job as a mermaid, somebody else will, a bounty hunter from the ocean. (96)

This fits in with the narrator’s mermaid story because  as her mother mention’s mermaids can only kill. This is perhaps speaking in metaphor that the narrator can’t save Jude, that it’s impossible.

“Why would you want to be soulless? It’s a sad story. This Undine.” She holds up the book. “She falls in love with a knight named Huldbrand and Huldbrand loves Undine too, but he also loves her stepsister, Bertalda, a mortal. So Undine’s uncles, he’s a river spirit, is disgraced. He takes Undine back down under the water and tells her she must kill Huldbrand or else he will.” (111)

But the narrator swears she’ll be a different kind of mermaid. She’ll save him, and we follow her attempting to fix him throughout the story until the end, where her and Jude have too much to drink. And, when Jude finally works up the courage to tell her his war story, he finally works up the courage to love her. Unfortunately, except, this pushes Jude off the deep end with him committing suicide at the end, using the same way as her father. A repetition in events. And again, when the narrator doesn’t like this version of Jude’s story, she changes it.

Jude killed himself. The possibility that this might be the truth swoops near my head like a bat at dusk, a bat that soon flies off in the other direction uninterested in me. / Jude’s note. I smile. He really fooled them. (210)

I believe in this note, he explains his suicide, which the police say was by drowning, maybe saying why he couldn’t stay and love her, perhaps using the reasons he had outlined before. But because the narrator didn’t like his story, she changed it.

Words have more than one meaning all the time. Just like Jude’s note. (212)

And we know she changes words all the time, because she mentions other authors doing that before, which is seen earlier within the book.

I am not dead yet, though I feel so bad I might be close. I imagine that even if a sailor lived through the worst storm and spoke to the papers, the sailor might report, “The sea said ‘I get you’ and did not mean ‘get’ as in ‘understand’ like I initially thought.” The newspapers would translate what the sailor had said into, “The first wave snapped the pilothouse in two.” (83)

And so, she changes Jude’s story to that of him melting, since his chest was made of ice, because of her mermaid father not allowing them together, eerily similar to a story her father had told her much earlier in life.

“In fact,” he told me whispering, leaning forward and tucking his can of beer on the floor beside his armchair, “I traded my rib cage for a chunk of ice instead.” / This explained a lot. From my father I got many recessive genes. Fair eyes, fair skin, and the mermaid part. The surrender places. I did not get a torso of ice, though sometimes it feels that way, as if something solid that once was there melted now and still aches with the vacancy of him when it rains. (59)

This reinforces how the narrator sees Jude as a replacement for her father, and how when we read this story, we’re able to see how the narrator uses stories to cope with grief, love, and death. In summary, this story is of how the narrator uses stories to cope with loving her missing father, and the plot follows how the narrator uses this strategy in action with a figure similar to that of her father. We see this theme specifically in a scene where the author has trouble describing her love for her missing father, which we see in the excerpt below.

“I don’t think you’ll believe what I found,” he says. “A word, can’t pronounce it. We don’t have a word to match it but we should. We should develop it tonight because the word means, “the feelings one retains for someone he once loved.'” (124)

We see these feelings throughout the novel, as the narrator grasps to hold onto the love for her father, by using the story of her being a mermaid, a childhood story that her father used to love to tell her. We see this throughout the novel, perhaps as a worry that she will one day forget what her father looks like, due to quotes like these.

“Daddy,” I say, because I haven’t seen him since I was eight years old…My eyes are getting dry but I’m scared he’ll disappear if I blink. (126)

This story is definitely a sad one. And, I wonder if it is a story not only of love and grief, but of one of sanity. I imagine when she was younger, imagining herself a mermaid was a good coping mechanism for a while, especially when she was younger.

When I was younger I’d go down to the water and each wave would ask in a thug accent, “You want I should take care of those kids? You want I should tell your father?” (72)

But I also wonder if she lost herself along the way.

Can you “breathe” underwater? Are you really a mermaid or does it just feel that way in the awkward body of a “teenage girl”? I breathe water into my lungs. I wait for my test results. (136)

“I don’t want to be the mermaid who kills Jude, Mom.” / “Oh,” she says in a voice that sounds like the voice of a mother whose daughter just broke something, a piece of china or crystal and she is trying not to get made about it. But in this instance, though, the thing that my mother believes is broken is me. (133)

I guess in a way, grief will always break you, but maybe this story asks, what do you do to cope? Because this story pulled me along so intensely, I am definitely giving its theme a 5. It had a strong drive. I loved the story that came out of examining its motifs and plot, and I really feel like this is a story I will want to pass along to those who have lost someone. 


Now here me out. In the beginning, I thought this story was highly original, and I still like to argue that it is, but when looking at my rubric, I believe that because this book  encompasses some motifs that have been used previously, it’s not necessarily perfectly original although the plot certainly is.

One of those previously-used motifs is the time-old mermaid motif. This story has been overused in stories like The Little Mermaid, The Thirteenth Year…just look at Goodreads list of mermaid books. It’s no surprise that people like to hear the story again; just imagining you’re unique in some way is a comfort.

A second common motif is to externalize your grief through some sort of fantasy. I don’t know how much I can find on this, especially since it took me a while to think of it, but I’ve written a short story version of a similar tale. So, I don’t think I can claim this as original in my perspective since technically I’ve heard of it before.

A third is her family’s experience with alcoholism.

I would argue that this story is still unique if for the fact that it balances reality and fantasy, and you don’t see a lot of books that can balance it that artfully.


Hunt, Samantha. The Seas. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2018. Print.


Quotes I haven’t used but that I like: 

blue – 1. having the color of the clear sky or the deep sea 2. melancholy 3. puritanical 4. obscene 5. faithful 6. said of women, especially those with literary inclinations / If one word can mean so many things at the same time then I don’t see why I can’t. (216)

“It’s the ocean. It’s coming up behind us,” I say. I watch as the blue rises up like a tidal wave so quickly that I am certain it will catch up with us soon…I don’t think we can outrun the ocean but I’ll try for your sake.” (171)

And the red bird sings, I’ll be blue because you don’t want my love. (75)

A rogue wave overtakes you

Say something enough times, it loses meaning; read it just as much, and it doesn’t. The words stay just as fresh no matter how many times you go back to re-read that passage, telling yourself it can’t be as good the second time, but it is. And then you must sit to revel in the words and the pictures they create, until the lines wisp through your mind like thoughts on the tip of your tongue, until you promise yourself, once more. But by then, a minute has pass, and you’re cursing yourself for reading so slow. But you can’t help it. The book begs you too, and you cannot deny it that pleasure, for it doesn’t deny you yours.

I’m on page 73, which out of 217 doesn’t sound all that impressive, and yet it does to me. I’ve been reading so slow, not out of necessity but want. And, I never read a book slow, well, unless it bores me—but to do that on purpose? The thought’s never occurred to me. Usually, there’s this drive, this need that propels me to read along faster, until I’m no longer racing but being dragged alongside it; my fingers already plucking the page to turn before I’ve finished reading. And yet this time, I’m hovering, re-reading, telling myself how could this book be so amazing? Because it is.

Let’s look inside The Seas by Samantha Hunt.

When I see him walking with women that I don’t know I feel how I am not a part of this town. I feel as though I were floating in the surf and saw him on dry land with another woman but when I swim to shore I realize too late that I don’t have legs but a big tail and then I am beached and suffocating and the people who live in town are poking me with a stick wondering, “What the hell is she?” I can’t breathe. When I see Jude with women I don’t know I feel like my eyes are suffocating me. What I see is choking me. (45)

Why is this writing so good? What begs to me to relive each scene over and over again like a fond memory? Let me examine this from the Action-Reaction-Reflection (ARR) lens. (Please refer to the passage below for color-coordinated references.) Looking at the part in red, I can tell this is an action because of the subject and verb. We have “I see.” What follows afterward in green is the reaction. I know this from the subject and verb “I feel.” This sounds rather obvious and can seem like an immature way to write, but I believe it’s undervalued. In the following passage, Hunt doesn’t rely on direct descriptions of emotions like ‘my heart was breaking in two’ or “I feel how I am not a part of this town,” but she cultivates them with imagery that directly relates to the miss-identification that the character is experiencing throughout the novel. The amount of choices and relevancy to have created this specific paragraph for one specific emotion is overwhelming. It’s beautiful. And, even though the reactions aren’t blatantly obvious in this novel, because of the overwhelming creativity and careful selection that has been put into this book I think that’s what makes it amazing.

When I see him walking with women that I don’t know I feel how I am not a part of this town. I feel as though I were floating in the surf and saw him on dry land with another woman but when I swim to shore I realize too late that I don’t have legs but a big tail and then I am beached and suffocating and the people who live in town are poking me with a stick wondering, “What the hell is she?” I can’t breathe. When I see Jude with women I don’t know I feel like my eyes are suffocating me. What I see is choking me. (45)

That must leave you wondering, well, where is the reflection? There is none present in the paragraph above, which is funny in my perspective because this is only a half clip of the whole paragraph, and it was all directly related to reaction. There is reflection, which I can show you later but I want you to see what makes this novel so strong. We don’t see a word, a phrase, or sentence being dedicated to one of ARR; we see a whole paragraph, a page, a chapter to each step of it. Emotions are big in this book; they’re what drives it. And because of this; I think that’s what propels this book forward.

A rogue wave would stick out like this: Imagine you are reading a book and have arrived at a certain page, but imagine that when you arrived at that page, instead of being five inches wide it is one hundred and ninety-eight feet wide. So wide that when you turn the page it crushes you, pins you underneath it. You would never make it to page 53. (52)

God #%@$! Do you know how unnerving it was (and still is) to be reading this paragraph, reach the end, see page 53, look up and you’re on page 52, and having this book tell you that you’ll never make it to the next page, even though you know that’s a lie because 1) this isn’t a fortune-telling book and 2) a page is not going to be able to crush you? It’s so unnerving! Which is the exact feeling that Hunt wants to create in order to show the kind of unnerving and unexpectedness that comes with a rogue wave.

This author is an expert with emotions. Either that, or she took the time to make sure she portrayed it. So you should take the time out of your day to read it.

Hunt, Samantha. The Seas. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2018. Print.

Time to start reacting

Sticking to the Action, Reaction, Reflection theme (ARR), I’d like to reflect on a previous book I read, How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. At first glance, this book seemed very attractive.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary forty-one-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. (Synopsis)

But, I realized retroactively while re-reading the book that it isn’t the most attractive book. It’s not one of those novels that you pick up, promising yourself to only read a few pages, and then a few hours later, you’ve found yourself halfway through it. In fact, I believe it was a book I put down and came back to a few times. It’s doesn’t have a draw or an allure, and I think I know why. Examining it in respect to ARR, I believe it’s strong in reflection but weak in reaction, and I’d like to present a few examples as to why.

I’ll stop looking at her, and wait for her to go away. Which she does. I feel her anger. And I feel guilty. Actually, no, it isn’t just that. There is something else. A kind of homesickness, a longing for something—a feeling— I haven’t known for a very long time. And when she goes and sits down on the other side of the staff room, she doesn’t smile, or look at me, and I feel like something is over before it has a chance to begin. (108)

If you examine this scene, paying close attention to the items marked in red, this is what I’ve highlighted as a reaction. This is what Tom is feeling as a result of the woman leaving the room, and although it isn’t his kind of reactions that I have a problem with, it’s how they’re described. They’re told, not shown. Notice the types of feelings: guilty, homesickness. The reader isn’t shown this, so we have trouble placing ourselves within the mind of the protagonist, which makes it hard for me to want to keep reading. I’m not attached to the story. This style continues throughout the book, with numerous reaction cliches, like with ‘pounding headache’ or the scene below.

I pulled up my sleeve, took a searing piece of iron, curved into a horse-shoe from the flames, and pushed it against the top of my left forearm. I held it there, as my skin hissed and cooked beneath it, and I clenched my jaw and eyes tight, and contained the scream. (41)

Again, I’ve highlighted the reaction, which is very limited, considering the incredible pain that Tom is going through with this burn, and I’ve heard burns are some of the worst pain you can experience. You’d know if you had a sunburn. For something so superficial, they sure can hurt. And, that isn’t a third degree burn, which is what I imagine this in the book would be. I would’ve liked to see more of this pain, maybe we haven’t seen enough which doesn’t give it enough time to develop. Maybe feeling his revulsion as he smells the scent of cooked flesh, causing his stomach to turn and flip and him to gag, would’ve helped. I’ve heard the scent is disgusting on more than one occasion.

And, I’m sorry to say that there isn’t as much reaction as I would’ve hoped for. It’s more barren than not in here. This isn’t the say again that the book wasn’t good. It does have its strengths. Most of the novel is written with actions and reflections. There is a lot of stream-of-consciousness within this book, and I think that’s what keeps this book afloat. If you need more practice with that, this might be a good book to turn to.

Haig, Matt. How to Stop Time. New York, NY: Viking, 2017. Print.

How do you react?

*Stretches* It’s been so long, and I can feel my language muscles shaking off dust from disuse. But, it’s been good. I guess everyone needs a break from everything eventually, and it’s been well used. But now that I’m feeling refreshed, and not so angry at myself for having a to-do list—even if everything on that list are things I want to do, not need to do—I can finally feel productive again. (In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not good at sitting still.)

The first thing I’d like to focus on is reactions. In case you weren’t here earlier, the big thing I like to talk about with writing is “Action, Reaction, and Reflection.” It’s a nice phrase that shows the procedure of stylistic writing, and is also how a human reacts to any given situation, which is why you want to reflect this in your characters as well. And since I’ve focused so much on reflection earlier, this time, I’d like to look more at reactions. 1) Because my latest writing seems to be missing it. 2) It’s quite difficult to duplicate within writing, but I feel like this is one of the stronger pieces that is necessary. If you can write a good reaction, then your reader will feel it as well, helping them identify with your protagonist. (But remember, that’s only 1/3 of the ARR process.) And, to talk about this piece of the puzzle, I’d like to use a book I read earlier this year:

The Art of Starving. 

That’s not to say I’m anorexic although the character in the book sure is. And, that doesn’t count as a spoiler because, come on. The plot’s basically in the title. And, there’s a huge skeleton on the cover. If that doesn’t give you insight into the book, then you probably shouldn’t be starting with adult books. Try children’s fiction instead.

Hunger rumbled in my belly, and I felt like if I reached out hard enough, I could stretch myself taller than any of the trees. Hunger is funny like that. (3)

What emotion is this?

If you said hungry, then you are correct! And if you didn’t, seriously consider my advice—Children’s fiction; you need to practice with picture books before you should be reading the internet. Anyways, yes, this excerpt was a hunger reaction, specifically, the ‘rumbling in the belly’. Other phrases that signify hunger: growling stomach, cramping stomach, a wisp of nausea from an overly empty stomach, your eyes lingering on any picture of food for longer than necessary…Even now you might be looking down at your stomach, or counting backwards to when was the last time you ate because now that I mention it, now might be a good time for a snack. 😉

But, this is a relatively easy emotion and a relatively common one throughout the book. A more difficult one to delve into is instead of a physical reaction, an emotional one.

It hurt, how much I wanted to smash my face against those perfect lips. I wanted it even though I felt pretty sure Tariq did something terrible to my sister. And the wanting got rolled up with the shame and filled me with a sputtering, stupid animal rage. How could it be, that in spite of everything, I still felt lust when I looked at him? Lust, and hate, in equal measure. (6-7)

Now this is actually a balance between reactions like “I wanted to smash my face against [his]” and reflections like “I wanted it even though I felt pretty sure Tariq did something terrible to my sister.” This, as the character has already said, is an evocation of lust. Now, these emotional responses can be harder to picture because different people evoke different types of reactions. For instance, in elementary school, when you like someone, you’re pulling on their hair, tripping them in the courtyard, sending them handwritten notes that have been folded a countless number of times, just so your friends don’t see the name written inside. This is different from when you’re older, and all the sudden, your eyes linger too long on their neck, tracing the way their hair falls over their shoulder. Or, how you imagine running your hand down their arm, following the path of freckles from their elbow to the tip of their index finger.

But, these are just things I think of. What I’d like to do is practice evoking imagery from these specific reactions, physical or emotional, because by strengthening these within your writing, your increasing the emotional response your reader has with your character, increasing their emotional ties and personal identification with them. And, to do this, I’d recommend a daily dose of writing a paragraph tied with a specific emotion, and if you’d deny this prescription, I would recommend something like The Emotion Thesaurus, which lists external, internal, and mental responses for a given emotional reaction. I, myself, am going to be using this to help edit a small piece that I’ve been working on, because I don’t believe my fear-factor has been touched upon quite right.

For example, listed for desire (or lust) within the book, it mentions external responses like damp hands, mirroring the person’s movements, or moving closer to the person themself. It mentions internal responses like being flooded with warmth or fingers tingling with the need to touch and mental responses like a desire to erase all distance or daydreaming about them. (50) I think this could be a huge tool to aid in writing, but again, I really encourage my earlier prescription since practice makes perfect.

Happy Tuesday. Happy writing.

Miller, Sam J. The Art of Starving. New York, NY: Harper Teen, 2017. Print.

Ackerman, Angela & Becca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. Writers Helping Writers, 2012. Print.