Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Reviews shaking you awake: The Off Season, Harmony and Chi

One of the best (teen) books I have read about females in sports also happens to be a realistic book about a C6 spinal cord injury. It is called The Off Season and it feels like reading about growing up, some combo of Linda and I. D.J. is the youngest sibling and only girl on an individual milk farm that does what most do; the mother works as an elementary principal to bring income to keep the farm afloat. All so cows can get milked twice a day, so that D.J., who kicks ass at softball, never gets to finish a labour day game. Why? Because cows don’t milk themselves.

D.J. fought the previous year to play linebacker on the US high school football team (yes, the boys football team). She is over six foot and plays basketball primarily but both her brothers play college football – it is the way to get an education. D.J.’s boyfriend is the Quarterback of the rival towns' team and the one she sacks in the pre-season scrimmage. D.J. is a linebacker due to skill and hard work, not because she is a ‘token’ female. Meanwhile her friend Amber has come out of the closet as lesbian and due to harrassment lives with her lover. Amber and her lover both work instead of high school, saving up money to drive to a place for a new start.

Suddenly, with a shoulder injury that could affect her basketball, and her brother Win getting a bad blow and being hospitalized D.J.’s life changes. She can still be a linebacker, but the shoulder injury will affect her basketball and basketball is the way to a scholarship to college. Meanwhile, Win, who had a spinal injury is now a parapalegic, but just lies there, refusing to speak, and she has to be the strong one, with her mother injured and her father trying ‘organic’ and turkeys to keep the farm afloat. Days doing homework in Win’s room and nights drying his eyes from his quiet crying. She has decisions about her own life to make, about the sport she loves and fought to play which she has to drop if she wants to play the sport (basketball) which could take her all the way. And in the midst of this, she is dumped by her boyfriend for being ‘too tall’. It is the reality of it all that makes this such a great book. There is no magic solution, only hard choices and just gutting onward.

D.J., like her father and brothers has had a hard life, one where being ignored at school hurts but compared with a mother with a bad back, having to take care of the farm, doing the schoolwork, basketball, football, no money, it is just pain. Right now she needs to be there for both of her brothers, the one who is now a C-6 and the one who has to be told, ‘I’ll take care of it, just go back and play college ball, and play well enough to keep your scholarship.’ A hard life, but one that teaches you how to be tough in ways beyond working hard; how to stand up for friends (like lifting a guy making gay slurs off the floor), how to know you will never be ‘beautiful’ but you ARE, and that is what is. DJ lives the hard life that teaches you how to make hard choices, because no one else can.

And for those of us who grew up with a hard life, looking for a book about sports, or disabilities, or being tall and female, and not puff books about sleepovers and angst over getting the right spring dance dress (like WE would be invited to sleepovers, or have that angst when running wind sprints for an hour every day before school – more like trying not to puke). Wearing old shoes to school with no tread because we couldn’t afford others, and our basketball shoes were treated more precious than our church mary-janes (though parents wanted the latter polished a lot more often). Here is a book for the other 20%+ of us. One book versus thousands, but it is a great book. And helps you know you aren’t alone.

For my mental health I have been reading Harmony by Itoh which was written while he had cancer, and edited in the hospital during prolonged treatment. He died from cancer, having only written two books, but said in this book the things that can never be said, have never been said – and it won the two awards of best Novel for the year Japan.
"resource awareness can go fuck itself. My body isn’t here for the admedistration. It is not here for any of you. It’s only here for me. ‘these tits, this ass, they belong to me’”

A book about Tuan and her teen friend Miach Mihie who sees the referring to youth as ‘resources’, to women’s wombs as ‘resources’ as exploitation. The whole society where honest feeling, expressed openly in a way seen as ‘out of control’ has moral meaning as ‘wrong’ or 'socially unacceptable’ is exploitation. She and Tuan plan to show that their body is theirs alone by starving to death. Tuan wakes to find Miach dead and she is now alone is a society where her acts, her reactions, her health are seen not as a part of HER, but as part of her responsibility to society (eat well or burden society, produce children for the next generation, be a good workers, a good resource!). For a child who was sexual exploited before joining a society of conformity, what difference is there between a man with a gun who tells you he owns your vagina and a Minister of Family, or Minister of Health who says the same? A society where displaying raw emotion was punished as even our reactions are ‘owned’ by the collective?

“A vast wasteland of public correctness and people as resources”

Anyone who has been in the medical system, particularly a female, has learned that certain emotions, over emotion, certain displays of intellect are not acceptable and clamped down on. That illness makes you a property within the medical establishment, things like privacy, or confidentiality end when every nurse knows your chart. Comply or be forced to do so….for your own good.

What then the different between death and the governments, groups, businesses all trying to control and manipulate our will and consciousness? The Utopia we are offered is Harmony, a life without consciousness where we buy, we exercise, we live all according to expectations. It would be Harmony, it would be Utopia, there just would not be an ‘I’.

“It is over life, thoughout its unfolding, that power establishs its dominion; death is power’s limit, the moment that escapes it; death becomes the most secret aspect of existence, the most private’--Michael Foucault.

The first question that plagued me when I became disabled was ‘but what worth will I be to society? Why do I deserve to live, to be supported?’ – this book attacks the idea that had so wrapped itself into me that even in sickness I was trying to be a good ‘resource.’ It is a book that transcends genre, and I will probably take it with me to the hospital. Far better than those watching and ordering I follow Kubler Ross’s stages like a timetable; trying to tell me how I am ‘supposed’ to feel, and what five simple steps billions of deaths will all take (it is a theory, that’s all, one which works for SOME people).

Hard lives, hard deaths. It takes courage to write about them.

And now for something complete different.

I’ve referred to Chi’s Sweet Home before, but seriously, if you have a kitten, and you like cats, then you will like Chi’s Sweet home. It was a TV series with about 100 five minute episodes. Each book manages to put the entire season in one full colour manga book. The viewpoint is of Chi, and while sometimes sad when Chi remembers her mom, and goes looking for her, it is often the impulse fun of kitten. But also sometimes tainted with some ‘grrrr’ toward the guy who took her to the vet (and had the thermometer up THERE). If you get the books before the release date (August 24th for the 2nd book) you get the book for $9.41 which is less than we paid at Comic-con, 33% off and all. (oh, the links here produce no revenue, this is an ad free zone, I just put them there so you can get the best price easily if you decide you want it). The best review for the book is for you to experience it, so here is a ‘episode’ from season 1, when Chi finds the OFFICE with so much to play with, like computer keyboards (I have received many emails with extra letter from people who have had kittens walk across the keyboard during the email).

Everyone who has read these books recommends them. So grab a copy for almost $5 off when you can (that’s almost 55% of Chi’s next book paid for!).

I just want to finish saying a bit about how glad I was to see The Off Season after reading literally over a dozen books from Girl in the Arena to Forest of Hands and Teeth where the female just hangs about waiting for the alpha male to help her, and marry her (add zombies, gladiator, no food, a cone around teens with new mind powers or some other odd future). The young adult fiction for teen girls IS Margaret Atwood’s the Handmaids Tale only without any irony. Why do only men patrol the fence? Why can’t the main character make up her own mind without a guy to lead? Why in the future is there gladiator combat but the women’s league is discounted? Well, that’s just how it is, so learn to look good, be nice and wait for some guy to marry you. If you think I am joking, looking at the HUGE bestselling series The Mockingjay Trilogy, where our heroine Katniss learns that while she has to KILL the other 24 participants. But wait, nice girls don’t DO that. So instead she get a REALLY good stylist and makes a HUGE impression with her dress. And ends up being NICE and friends with two others, and somehow is the survivor without killing anyone (except this nasty girl who was attacking her while she was laying flowers on the grave she made of a child – geez, is this high school, or a battle arena?). The Second book, Catching Fire, has her sucked back in with double the participants (now she has to kill 48 people), except of course she has her super stylist make her have FAB hair and an amazing costume so the TV audience love her and ends up…killing no one….again (I know, a fight to the death against 72 people and she WINS, by having good MAKEUP!!!). It is so popular that there is a home game, so you can play the Hunger Games Strategy Game – you can wear the t-shirt, get the key-chain. Why make hard choices when you can learn to turn that smile and social pressure to be nice into a formula which makes 70 people kill each other and you survive (if only life was like that – IT IS NOT!)?

The new teen books this week included one of a future post disaster (which all the teen books are about), where it is an island of women, who protect against the enemy: MEN. Okay, kind of boring old story that. But wait, our teenage watchers and hunters find an old ruin. I love ruins. And in this one they find things which turn their world upside down. Ready???? They find high heel shoes, and make-up and fashion magazines. Then return to the main village and start to question why they have to do what they do. Yes, the high heel shoes and make up empowers them away from being able to take care of themselves. The book even includes ‘talking points’ for classes. Can you see why after that a REAL life when you have to get up and milk cows even when it is freezing and you might, golly, chip a nail is such a relief! To see a growing woman who actually WANTS something and is willing to fight for it, and that isn’t fighting to be noticed by some guy she will hope will marry her.

I don’t wear nail polish, because between falling down, manual transfers, manual chairs and the rest of disability life, it requires someone professional to put it on, and lasts a few days. Nail polish is nice, it is pretty but I don’t need it to live. Good goth earrings are another story altogether however!

As a weekend relax (for me, using your brain IS one of the greatest pleasures), here is a music video to the Unusuals (the NY police). The first part is a good and nice police officer being blackmailed by a bad guy from his home town, trying to decide what to do, arrest or do nothing. The second part is about the Murder Shop – where in NY, you can go to this shop and get everything from uniforms to ways to kill whoever you want. The Police decide instead of shutting it down to keep it open. However, SO many people come in, and they arrest them that is it just darn depressing, but even when they try to quit, people are begging them for help in murdering someone else (the depressing irony). Lord Lord Lord!


Neil said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Beth. You have such interesting book reviews, m'dear.
I've finished the books "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played With Fire," and I'm waiting for the third one to be available at the library. They are extremely well written, completely addictive, and I can't decide whether to be angry at the author for dying after delivering three of the planned 10 books, or grateful that I've only got one book to go before I can ge a literary monkey off my back.

The movie *Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is also riveting. A little more violent than I imagined the book (in one's imagination, one doesn't have to add graphic violence), and slightly different from the book (some character deleted and relationships altered for simplicity and brevity), but it's even more gruesome in some ways, and the change in the ending might make a better ending than the one in the book.

There are people who don't read for pleasure - whole professions, in my limited experience, that attract people with no imagination, no interest in literature. I pity those people.

Love and zen hugs,

Aviatrix said...

I thought for a moment you were making up those plots about girls and make-up and high-heeled shoes, they're so bad. I want to kill the gladiator girl myself now.

Lene Andersen said...

The Off Season sounds great - I'll have to look for it on audio.

And yeah. The Mockinbird trilogy. same old story, dressed up in something new and vicious. Still, I brought the first two, 10 or have to read the third one.

cheryl g said...

Thanks for the great reviews! The Off Season sounds like the type of book I was desperate to find as a young adult. Books about girls worrying about meeting the right boy never spoke to me.

I have wanted to read Harmony for a while now. The premise is intriguing. To not submit to socities demands is very empowering. I have always hated the idea that a person has to have some measurable value to society in order to be worth something.

I strongly recommend Chi. It is sweet and funny! If you have ever shared yor life with a kitten you will love the books. If you have never shared your life with a kitten you would love them too. These would be great for kids just learning how to read as well.

SharonMV said...

Thank you for the reviews Beth. Chi kitten looks so cute. I may have to get that one. I went through some of the same worries when I became ill & could not work. And it is that your life, your body is no longer yours when you're part of the medical system. Just one small example - not only do the nurses have access to my medical info, but even the receptionist thiks she should too! When I call to leave a message that I need to talk to the doctor, she wants every detail. If i give a general reason, she wants specifics. I just say "I need to speak to the doctor about my medical problems". It's not for her to decide whether my reasons warrent talking to the doctor, besides, they are none of her business.


wendryn said...

Thank you for the reviews! I'm always looking for new things to read, and you always suggest interesting things.

Raccoon said...

Harmony looks interesting. So does the first one. Chi can be found here:

And yes, it's very cute. Moe. The second episode is why I had to get a cat so fast after my last ones died...

Kate J said...

Any would be better than those awful Twilight books that all the girls seem to be reading.. I had the misfortune to to sit through one of the films (in the course of duty as I work in a cinema) and it was truly dire. I don't mind vampires, you understand, live and let live (or not live) I say, but it seemed to me to be a truly pernicious plot: Ok so the heroine feels she doesn't fit in at school, or in this small town or whatever, but instead of getting a life, meeting friends, becoming a cheerleader or whatever, or even taking drugs and dropping out, she decides to become a vampire? UI sat through this movie with an audience of 90 girlsd and 5 boys. The five boys and I were all rooting for the werewolf! But, maybe I missed the whole point... is someone going to enlighten me? I haven't read the books, but there's a hilarious item on Youtube (sorry I haven't the reference to hand) of a guy reading the story.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I can't get on with either, I know it's supposed to be so great, but just not to my taste, I guess.
Chi sounds seriously cute! A very good friend of mine had a lovely Siamese cat called Chi, quite the most intelligent cat I ever met!
Love & peace

Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

Book reviews are welcome as always, thanks!

I'm still going through the "what can I do to be productive" stage, sadly. S'okay, it's a part of the whole middle-aged journey of "what am I for, what is the meaning of life, etc. etc." just with a disability flavour.

Thanks for the new postcards! Liam and Bob really, really like the 3D ones, and I love my reclining goth girl.

Glad the heat wave has broken, up here in Nanaimo too.

Hugs from all of us!