It can easily be agreed upon that being a teenager and experiencing adolescence can be an extremely difficult time in one’s life. I personally, went through stages that I try to block out and pretend didn’t exist now that I am finishing college. What is even more difficult to fathom is thea teenager being exposed to trauma that will completely change their lives and not always for the better. His Favorites by Kate Walbert is a coming of age novel that guides the readers through an adolescent experience that is hard to swallow and at times, hard to read.
The novel almost immediately starts out with the main character, Jo, being responsible for her best friend’s death at a very young age. This was ultimately so shocking to read, especially at the beginning of the book however it really began to spark some questions for me. It was hard to imagine my early teenage self, experiencing something as serious and detrimental as being the cause of the end of someone else’s life. Not only does Jo witness the death of her bestfriend, following that event she is forced to immediately be shipped off to a boarding school and watch her parents marriage fall apart, all while she is trying to find herself. Even more gut wrenching, she begins to be sexually abused by Master. This book is so hard to relate to first and foremost because the kind of trauma Jo has experienced just as a teenager is far worse than many will experience in their entire lifetime.
In reading this book, I found that I really loved and respected Jo’s character. Though I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in a life such as this one, I found her character to be strong. The situation was made so much worse for her as it seemed that no one was available to truly listen or even believe her story yet she persisted and continued living her life through until several years later, she was able to put her story out into the world for people to listen to. I can gain nothing more from this knowledge than to know what a remarkable human being she must be to have the skills and capacity to deal with such horrors the best she was able at such a young age as well as carry it into the rest of her life. Though it is heartening to see someone become such an inspiration through times of hardship and strife, this really leaves us to think about the issues people all around us have buried beneath the surface and how there truly is no one out there that should have to experience things such as this.
Most people, to some extent, have experienced some form of trauma. Trauma can exist in the world as something so small, yet still have the ability to mess with someone mind’s, or it can be a huge event that can forever change a person and instill a fear inside of them. In Terese Mailhot’s Heart Berries, the readers are introduced to what I would consider, a type of trauma that is ultimate and forever scaring.
Terese was someone that I could relate to in many ways which made this book so much more fascinating for me. It is hard to relate to everything that she had particularly gone through because this story is at times extremely intense, but It was clear to see that probably the largest root of the issues that carried into her adult life were her parents. It is hard to think that parents are able to have such a terrible impact on people as they are supposed to be the first people we have in this world to learn from and help us grow, yet it seems that traumatic experiences stem from a family lifestyle many times. Growing up, I predominately relied on my Mom and my Step-Dad as my biological father was never truly around; at least not in the way my sister and I needed and deserved. I can honestly say that my experience was so little in comparison to Terese’s however, it really dawned on me how easy it is for something so little to have this kind of traumatic impact on a person. Your family and home life at such an early age is able to be the deciding factor on how the rest of your life turns out as well as your mental well-being which is completely mind blowing.
It is truly enlightening to find a character that I was able to relate to despite the darkness of the content. It is so important in this day in age that we are all able to come together and stories like hers are able to be shared because without them, how else can we continue growing?
Since the beginning of time, there have always been people that have been discriminated against for their ethnicity and background. Being a white female, I have never once experienced the feeling of being scared, uncomfortable or judged In the area I live in. With this circumstance, it can be hard to understand what it must feel like to feel like an outsider or unwanted in the country you live in. I really enjoyed reading some of the perspectives in Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire and it gave me insight to a struggle that so many people have to endure every single day.
Even in the very first page of the book, the readers are subjected to Isma’s experience at the airport. She was interrogated for hours in the British airport based solely off of her physical appearance. While this part of the story wasn’t anything I haven’t heard of before, it was truly heartbreaking that while reading this passage it felt as if Isma’s character was nonchalant about this circumstance and not completely outraged. Though it was frustrating to her character, it was clear that this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened to her and that really stuck with me because I truly cannot imagine all of the people in the world that have experienced and felt the same thing.
While reading about the kind of experiences the characters of this book had gone through, I quickly learned that Aneeka became my favorite. Despite the struggles they have all been through regarding their race and religion, Aneeka showed a strong personality that was ready to fight society back. Her actions were driven solely by what she believed what was right and wrong as well as the deep love she inhabited for her brother. I was completely shocked at her calm but powerful movement of taking her brothers body into public as well as overwhelmed by the statement it made. Character’s such as Aneeka are ones that anyone can learn from, and she completely changed my perspective on the subject, opening my eyes a little more towards what other people go through.
As a child, I grew up in a very religious household. I attended services 2-3 times a week easily, church camps most summers, and even participated in after school activities through youth group. I thought life would take me through this path until the day I died. Though I still consider myself a believer in God, my views were forever changed in my teen years. I was not a popular kid, I did not make friends easily and some even would say I was pretty “nerdy”. I sought out to have true friends and family-like relationships within my church to fill the void that I could not fill in school. This was until, at a very young age, I realized how hypocritical the people were around me. I was taught that you were to love every person in the way that God loves you but that’s not what I experienced. I was singled out, made fun of and treated as an outcast in church as much as I was at school. The church that I had been attending for most of my life was able to treat me as if I didn’t belong and that really stung. I slowly began to stop attending services until it suddenly turned into years of not going. Thinking about my experience in the church has left me questioning my faith more than I ever expected I would.
With that being said, I definitely was able to relate to Will’s character in The Incendiaries. One of the things that really stood out to me was how Will talked about how he used to be with his faith, being one hundred and ten percent committed, and how it was a huge part of his being up until he prayed his last prayer for God to show him some type of sign that he is real and from then on, his belief burned down into nothing. I was able to understand the complete flip his life took in religious views as I too, have dealt with the same experience.
On the other hand, I felt that Pheobe’s character was completely wild when it comes to religious views. Pheobe spent her childhood being a daughter that did what was expected of her; playing the piano. She seemed like she had a moderately laid-back childhood aside from the expectations her mother had on her musical skills, up until she caused a car accident that resulted in her mother’s death. After the losses of both her mother and piano, it’s understandable that Pheobe would have a huge void in her life that she needed to fill and that she sought out religion to fill it. I was able to relate to her character in this sense because it brought back the memories of my childhood self, trying to find a place to fit in and true friends through religion. What really threw me through a loop was the fact that Pheobe did not just seek religion to fill this void but she became obsessed with it, while Will was able to see what was really happening within the cult.
Though both characters were vastly different in religious views, it is easy to understand why Kwon chose to write them this way. Being able to relate to both characters made the read much more interesting as I was able to see different perspectives on religion and compare them to my own and in turn, know that when I think about religion in the way that I do, I am not alone.
No matter the day in age, people growing up within areas enveloped in poverty seem to be living the same stories. Closed in living spaces, questionable streets, and teenagers itching to make it out into the world; somewhere other than where they are currently living.
In the House on Mango Street, Esperanza is one of the many people trying to move through this way of life as best as she can while yearning to escape Mango street. As the book moves through characters, we see that Esperanza is not the only one who wishes to overcome living in this area. Reading this book, I was able to understand what growing up in conditions such as these ones may have entailed, let alone how it could be so hard to leave and move on from a life like that.
Growing up in a white family and predominately upper-class areas, I was completely shielded by what living in an area of poverty may have been like and assumed that people who were living in situations such as Mango Street were just not trying hard enough to build a life for themselves. However, as I have grown I have realized that is not the case. It seems that when many people have grown in poverty stricken areas, it is almost as if they are permanently stuck. Towards the end of the story, an old woman tells Esperanza, “When you leave, you must remember always to come back” (Cisneros 105). This passage stands for those that are in fact, stuck. There are few people who are able to make it “out” of this lifestyle once born into it, and the old women believe that Esperanza is one of those people. Because of this, the book is highlighting the importance of dependency. There are ways to make it out of a rather dark situation and this can definitely include a boost from someone else.
Adolescence is tough part in every person’s life. Trying to figure out who you are or who you want to become can be one of the most difficult factors of growing up. Though just about everyone can agree with this, many of us experienced completely different things during this stage of life. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson gives a complex story of a girl finding her way through poverty in the city.
One of the most important dynamics of this story is August’s mother. August had memories of her mother going crazy in a sense, and leaving in the night with her father and younger brother. The children are to never see their own mother again and their father rarely speaks of her, if at all. From the point of leaving their mother forward, it is clear to see that August sees her mother in everything she does. When August notices Sylvia, Gigi and Angela, she is completely enticed and awestruck by these girls. One of the things that first came to my mind was that August was looking for another way to encompass the female figure she needed in her life when her mother became absent. In a way, the girl’s friendship was different than most adolescent friendships as it became centered around taking care of each other and attempting to be a support system. At this point in a teenager’s life, this would be something that would be looked for within a mother. Not only is August leaning on her friendships to cover up the gaping hole left in her life from not having a present mother, she also seemed to cling onto Sister Loretta, grasping for some sort of female figure to help her navigate through growing up in a city like Brooklyn.
At the beginning of the time that Sister Loretta is in the children’s lives, August follows her and tries to take part in relying on faith rather than parental figures. As she is searching for herself, this only lasts for a short amount of time. As August jumps between friendships, faith and her father to keep her afloat, it becomes clear to see that August’s mother is the underlying cause of her distress and is ultimately the thing that enables August to drown in her adolescent memories.
In reading the book Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, I was instantly brought back into thinking about what it is like to be a woman in today’s society. We are told what we can wear, who we need to impress, how we need to act and what we can and cannot do with our bodies. Though living in my own personal world, I have yet to experience this to a full extent, I am completely aware that this happens every day and has been happening since the beginning of time.
All of the women portrayed in this book are experiencing a struggle of what the world expects them to do as women, mothers, and individuals. Roberta is one of the characters that seems to have a stigma that really hits home. Her main goal being one that sets out to have a child on her own is something that has been frowned upon and still continues to be looked down on. Through generations, the expectation has been that for a woman to have a family, she has to be with a man. In all reality, there are countless women who are out in the world without a partner who have only dreamed of having children or a family but are unable to have a “true” family without a man from the eyes of society. Roberta is a shining example of those women and brings a voice to the table that speak for a number of people.
On the exact opposite side of the spectrum there is Mattie’s character who is pregnant yet does not want to keep the baby. Ultimately, this should not seem as a problem considering it is Mattie’s body and choice of whether she would like to birth a baby or not however, this character brings light to the situation that has been rising for years and will for years to come. Both characters are struggling through a reality that is extremely controversial yet are used to bring a voice to the hundreds of women who are or have been in the same shoes as them.
In Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, we are drawn to a similar parallel between the characters. Much of this book is very clearly associated with skin color and identity however these two play a huge part in being a woman. Boy is fighting a battle with identity as her character develops into that of a “wicked” stepmother towards her stepdaughter, Snow. Though much of this identity crisis in this book have to do with skin color, this ties into the idea that both of these books are an example of the parts of being a woman that are rarely discussed. Being a woman comes with the assumption that society gets to indulge in having an opinion about how we live our lives.