Friday, September 26, 2014

CF Post Link Up: The Maze Runner

I hate hype, usually because I just can't get behind the thing that everybody else is so jazzed about, and this book was a really great example of why. 

Let's make one thing clear from the outset: a lot of people like this book. Like, enough to make it into a movie with some of the brightest and shiniest young things on the scene in starring roles. A lot of people think this book is thrilling, adventurous, and dystopian enough to rival The Hunger Games. I am not one of those people. I am not one of those people at all. 

The Maze Runner, written by James Dashner, follows the story of a young boy named Thomas, who wakes up in a strange place with no memory of who he is, except for his name, and the vague familiar feeling that he has been in this place before. "This place" turns out to be an idyllic scope of green at the middle of a winding and unsolvable maze, home to terrifying creatures... and an all-knowing entity pulling the strings. Will he and his new compatriots ever escape?

Alright, let me just explain why I didn't like it too much, before everyone gets all upset with me: some of the most particular sources of pain for me, when trying to get through the novel, was the pacing (which, when something is lauded as the "Next Best Thing" in YA, better be wound tighter than the strings on a violin). Instead, I found it to be tedious. It was dystopian, which obviously involves a bit of world-building to make a complete picture, but where the novel tried to avoid info-dumping, it did so in an obtuse and deliberately confusing way, where even moments that were built to give clarity instead just emphasized the rest of the bare-bones plot structure. It didn't feel like there was some big conspiracy waiting to be unraveled, it seemed more like Dashner sent in a book proposal to his publisher, only to realize he didn't have a full story yet, and tried to string things together as he went along.

Also, I'm down for any kind of maze or labyrinth you can throw at me; it makes for some interesting mythology - when you're getting Greek about it - Harry Potter had one, and I'm always down for David Bowie in high-waisted leggings. However, The Maze Runner makes an interesting concept dull by making a maze, sure, but not making it worth traveling.

Even the only things that really peaked my interest in the duration of the book - the weird telepathy some of the Gladers shared, the mysterious Changing - weren't fully fleshed out or explained, which is probably why they're being scrapped for the big-screen adaptation (sorry to you fans so pumped for the movie, but that's not the only discrepancy).

Still, just because I thought it was a bad book doesn't necessarily mean it was bad fashion. Here's a look inspired by the Grievers, the treacherous monsters that roam the Maze during the night, and whose stinging needles embedded in their furry, twisting bodies will cause death to the Gladers they come in contact with. (Great fashion inspiration, I know, but it's Fall, and I need a lot of black and fur in my wardrobe right now...)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Still Alice (and a Little Bit About Philanthropy)

I am a proud member of Sigma Kappa Sorority here at the University of Washington, and like every other sorority I know of, we spend a good portion of our time and effort during the course of the scholastic year dedicated to pursuing philanthropic projects in our free time. Therefore, when I found a book that would allow me to get a more in-depth look at the disease we raise money all year to fight, I jumped at the chance to pick up a copy. The fact that it was a best-selling novel written by someone lauded by the organization we donate to, was just yet another reason to read Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.

The novel follows the story of professor and cognitive psychologist Alice Howland, as she tackles the terrifying diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Slowly losing her connections to language, her memories, her family, and to reality, Alice must cope with her new form of life by relying on those around her in ways she never anticipated.

Alzheimer's is by no means a rare disease: more than 5 million Americans are currently living with some stage of it, and 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. However, it's not necessarily an easy cause to get people motivated for, especially young college women, who might not have any direct connection to it. I don't know how many times I've heard someone say, "think about The Notebook," when trying to get people to think more in-depth about the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's, but I knew there had to be a narrative that tackled the topic more completely than Nicholas Sparks.

That's why I was so excited to find Genova and Still Alice, which was not only produced from a very scientific viewpoint, and is a best-seller, but also is fully endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association as "Recommended Reading." 

Lisa Genova is - incredibly impressively - a neuroscientist, herself, which lends a very interesting veracity to the account (she got her PhD from Harvard!). Something that struck me, in the book, as having been done especially well, was that it lends an interesting perspective to the medical-hospital relationship with patients, as well as explores potential treatments and early detection for the disease without making commitment to the saving properties of these practices. Her attention to the reality of diseases is also notable in her other works, including Left Neglected (about a woman affected by hemispatial neglect following a traumatic head injury) and Love Anthony (about two women and their relationship with a boy named Anthony, who is Autistic), so you know that Genova is not only passionate about the sources of inspiration for her writing, but about portraying them correctly.

I feel like that's one of the reasons why Still Alice is not literature, in the typical sense: it's very dedicated to the disease itself, more than the story around the disease. But at the same time, the fact that it is impeccably well-written from a scientific standpoint makes it more than fiction, by sort of factoring in the affliction itself as a main character, building the story not just around Alice, but Alzheimer's, too. Does that make sense? This is definitely the second time in a row that I'm going to compare a book to The Bell Jar in a review, but the ways that Genova intertwines the narrative of Alice with a first-person experience at the hands of the reader draws you into her reality so completely, makes the disease easily understandable, even for someone who hasn't had a lot of exposure to it.

Obviously, the book is very sad. I've already said it is impressively realistic, and being that in our current reality, the cure for Alzheimer's disease does not exist, Alice is not prescribed a happy ending. However, the novel still ends - if not happily - then hopefully... and that's something that I did appreciate, just because it so mirrors the objective that our philanthropy is searching for. Alzheimer's can't be overcome, it can't be cured, but there are enough people willing to counter it with increased awareness and support that change must be just around the corner. 

And I do mean business when I say "awareness"... that's the reason my sorority sisters came out in full force at 9:30 in the morning this past Saturday for the "Walk to End ALZ" at South Lake Union. It's what Seth Rogen was striving for when he spoke in front of Congress earlier this year.

It's what I'm hoping happens as Still Alice's movie adaptation gains viewership (no for sure release date yet, from what I can see, but with Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and *spirit animal* Kirsten Stewart all part of the production, you can bet it will be headed to theaters near you soon!). And if it's already generating Oscars buzz, then you know it's going to be great.

Still Alice and Lisa Genova gave me more hope, for giving more people a chance to relate to a dangerous and destructive affliction they might not empathize with, but at least now they can understand. Together we can #EndALZ! 

To learn more about the fight to end Alzheimer's, head to Alz.Org

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story

Earlier this summer, I was discussing the novelistic treatment of depression in YA novels with my two younger sisters, after comments from my friend Brandon about a certain book had me ruminating on whether just the mere presence this serious issue in popular novels was enough to prompt healthy discourse in the community. Those discussions were offset by my enjoyment of this book, which I believe makes a very positive stand for the treatment of the disease. Here's why...

It's Kind of a Funny Story is a contemporary young adult novel written by Ned Vizzini, about a boy named Craig, who, prompted by his increasing inability to eat or sleep, and consideration of a suicide attempt, decides to check himself into a hospital. Whereas he originally envisioned his bright future to consist of a linear path from right school to right college to right job, he finds himself mixing with new friends from all walks of life in his new surroundings, who ultimately help him confront the anxieties that landed him in the hospital in the first place, and construct a healthier life for himself.

To be honest, the narrative arc reminds me a bit of that of The Bell Jar - aka, one of my favorite books in the whole world - but it lacked that transportive nature of Plath's that made that book so special. However, it's not meant to get you into the mindset of a depressed person; it's a little more abstract in its approach, choosing instead to have the reader work through offhand comments or unfinished details to find the meaning behind some of what the main character is doing.

That isn't to say that some of the ways he describes depression aren't as true as Plath's. There were aspects of Craig's narration that directly correlated to real symptoms of the disease, just like The Bell Jar. Which makes a lot of sense, considering that Vizzini's writing, like Plath's, comes from direct experience: the novel is inspired and based around the events and people that he experienced during his own stint in a mental ward of a hospital, and the author himself ultimately committed suicide December 19th, 2013.

Like I mentioned in the introduction to this post, this book made me think about the many ways depression is portrayed and treated within the scope of Young Adult novels. It's important to discuss, especially due to its growing association with teenagers in the real world as much as the written one; however, the ways that the disease is treated in, say, Thirteen Reasons Why, or The Program, are not necessarily realistic nor helpful.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, was the book Brandon brought up, which he said depicted depression unrealistically. Actually, I think his exact words were (about the character of the novel who commits suicide, and then leaves tapes for a young man to listen to, explaining her reasoning for the violent end), "She doesn't talk like a depressed person would talk." After conferring with both of my younger sisters, both of whom have read the novel as well, they said that they thought the novel was interesting, but had to agree: the character who is supposedly depressed doesn't express any of the actual symptoms of depression... just anger. Still, that doesn't mean that it might not bring about conversations about the events that led to her death instead, including sexual assault and the way that is handled in schools.

The Program, by Suzanne Young, however, takes a much more potentially damaging approach than simply ascribing the disease a different set of accompanying emotions or motivations, but instead, casting depression as a worldwide epidemic specifically targeting young people, leading to attempts by the government to wipe out the disease through forced amnesia on its sufferers. Instead of displaying depression as a very real problem, it twists it into a contrived science-fiction super-disease, one that not only makes you vulnerable, but makes you a pawn to others... not just weak, but something to be taken advantage of.

All three of the YA novels discussed have very similar ratings on Goodreads. Yet again, the argument may be made that just because some novels may not reflect something organically or true to life, doesn't mean they harm the growth of dialogue for that serious issue with teens.

I'm one of those people who believe that entertainment is always better backed up by fact. Enjoying a novel involves appreciating a sense of suspended belief... an illusion that is shattered when you confront something you know isn't true. For those who might be experiencing depression, and who find these kinds of narratives within works detailing depression, it not only suspends that belief, but may instead cause confusion with both them and their peers about what exactly it is they are experiencing.

Thirteen Reasons Why and The Program, as well as similar works like them -  because Lord knows there are more than three books tackling this topic - don't give either an acceptable description of depression, nor able ways to seek treatment. 

However, there are those that are doing it well, as well: if anything, when they are done, such as in It's Kind of a Funny Story, from a particular person's point of view when they deliberately seek help, it can promote a healthier discussion of the disease and it's options of treatment from a very rational standpoint.

Ultimately, while I think the topic of depression holds an incredibly important place in novels written for the teenage mindset, I also think there's a lot more care that needs to be taken in representing the disease not only more honestly and accurately, but with more options open to those under its oppression.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Savannah's Side: Sorority Recruitment

In which I, Savannah, tell you a little bit about the personal doings of some of the aspects of my life that don't get as much airtime on the blog! 

Hello, everyone! Long time, no... write.

I've been meaning to update for a while now, but unfortunately, my schedule is keeping me pretty preoccupied... I'm currently in the thick of Panhellenic Formal Fall Recruitment at the University of Washington, during which I will be spending my time directing women undergoing the process, and counseling them on how to make the most of it, as a Recruitment Counselor!

Basically, in simplified terms, Formal Fall Recruitment (commonly termed "Rush," though we like to stay away from that word nowadays because of potentially stressful connotation) is the period during which women have the opportunity to get to know the 17 sororities on the UW campus, before school has officially started. It takes about a week, with women visiting and getting to know every chapter, and slowly whittling down their choices of the places they'd like to continue visiting, until they have selected their final three choices during Preference Round. After that, the sororities extend bids to the women they'd like to invite to be a part of their chapter!

(At least, that is the ideal situation. There's a lot more to go into involved in the "mutual selection process," with each sorority narrowing down the women they'd like to extend invitations to at the same time the women are making those distinctions for themselves, but at its most fundamental level, that's how Recruitment works!)

Confusing, I know. My job during all of this frantic business, is to tackle just that: confusion, on the part of the women who will potentially be the new members of the chapters they're visiting (hence their title, "Potential New Members," or "PNMs"). Also, homesickness, stress, disappointment, etc. Basically, as a Recruitment Counselor, I'm... counseling them through Recruitment. 

Not just on an emotional level, though. I'm also going to be living in the residence halls during the process, with PNMs who are staying on campus instead of commuting, and I'll be working alongside Panhellenic to monitor the sororities to make sure they don't go against the rules of Recruitment in any way, as well. I'm also helping running the computer system into which girls input their selections for each stage of the process, and I'll probably handling other odd jobs, too!

In order to be the best asset to these young women during the process, and present the most neutral and objective sounding board for assisting them in their decisions, I'm currently "disaffiliated" from my sorority; meaning, I won't be able to tell anyone which sorority I belong to, nor will they be able to talk about me, nor will any of my sorority sisters be able to contact me in any way (and vice versa) until I run back to my house on Bid Day (the day the sororities extend their invitations to the new members, and the Greek Community basically erupts into one great big party!).

It might sound a little lonely for me, because I suddenly have to go a week within spitting distance of the people I love, without getting to really acknowledge their existence, but fret not: I get to hang out with the amazing women in my Greek Community who have also made the decision to be Recruitment Counselors! I have two specific partners with whom I will be working most of the week, whom I already have come to know pretty well... Miko and Carley are the Beyonce and Michelle Williams to my Kelly Rowland.

In total, I'm incredibly excited for the opportunity to explore the general awesomeness of my Greek Community from another angle during the Recruitment process, and I'm really looking forward to this upcoming week, and especially Bid Day, on the 12th!

Until then, however, I'll relish my free time... especially because I've prepared for that time by downloading Isla and the Happily Ever After, Girl on a Wire, and Heir of Fire onto my Kindle Paperwhite already! So, be expecting to hear from me later about how my time on the streets of the Greek Community goes... I look forward to being able to write again soon!

Formal Fall Recruitment is a pretty action-packed time for the Greek Community here at UW... even during our downtime, we can still hear sororities practicing their Preference songs and Open House door chants through open windows! However, the rewards I have gained from being a member of my sorority - and the Greek Community in general - have truly shaped the direction I'm taking my life, and I strongly encourage all college-aged women to GO GREEK! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Coming Attractions: September

{A super-styling desktop background perfect for transitioning to fall, from Evelyn Hanson!}

I want to say that August was a doozie, because that's how it honestly felt, because we were running around all of the time... but honestly, August was spent almost entirely on vacation. Between spending a week in Sunriver, Oregon, with my family, to returning once again to the Happiest Place on Earth, for a week, as well, the majority of my time during this past month have been taking it easy with some of the people I love most.

Which means what's coming up next makes me the most spoiled lady in the world, because I love September! 

I'm already in the thick of preparations for Sorority Recruitment up here at the University of Washington, so expect lots of updates from me in the field, and same goes for when school actually starts up again on the 24th, with back-to-school study tips and notebook DIYs. I'm very excited about what this month is going to bring... and I hope you are, too!


{Finding my calm in Sunriver, "Playing Hooky" with Mr. Mouse, Carou-selfie!}

these are a few of my favorite links

1. New school year, new school year resolutions (don't worry, a post will be coming up soon on that same topic)! While I'm still drafting out some of mine, I can certainly take inspiration from A Glitter Affair's "New Semester Resolutions." 

2. And speaking of those resolutions, I've got a pretty big one I'm planning for this year... and I'm feeling pretty inspired by College Prep's "Why You Should Write Your First Book Now"

3. A little bit out of the normal course of topic for the blog, I know, but this piece of slam poetry from Portland-based Brenna Twohy, called "Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them," takes an interesting stance on the porn industry by comparing it to her favorite fan fiction. 

4. I'm still recovering from our recent Disneyland trip - really, really recent... as in, a week ago! - and I think I'm finally starting to acclimate to Washington weather once again. Of course, it's videos like this spectacular '80s rendition of Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah helps. 

5. And yet, I'm still hungering for some of my favorite in-Park snacks. Thankfully, Buzzfeed compiled this list of 21 Disney Parks Recipes You Can Make at Home

quote for the month

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. - Walt Disney, Disney | Simon made this with