Friday, 26 March 2021

Paperback's Pondering's: Can Characters Be Redeemed?

 CW: this post will discuss racist characters 

I have a dilemma. So, I am currently enrolled in a short fiction writing class. For the whole year, we have had to write three short stories that appear in a cycle, i.e. they are all connected, and then for our final project we have to edit them so that they are polished. Now, my first two pieces were fairly easy to write. I had a teenaged Pakistani girl who was dealing with her white adoptive parent's racist microaggressions. In my third story, I wanted to write from the perspective of the girl's white mother. I wanted to explore the mother's background and why she ended up the way that she is. Now the problem that I have come into, is that I feel as if this final story gives the mother too much of a redemptive arc. And this is not necessarily what I intended. Now I am left with the problem of: can characters be redeemed? 

I understand that this is a loaded topic, so let me break it down. Basically, the white mother is racist. Through the third story I explore her family background and I reveal that her family life was very toxic and that her grandmother who raised her was very much racist as well. Now I had no idea my story was going to take off in this direction, but I ended up having the mother realize her racist behaviour was wrong and she vows to change. But, I was left very unsatisfied with this ending. I thought I gave the mother an unrealistic redemption and I didn't want to shift the focus from all the harm she caused, to: "look, this white woman is better now!" I'm struggling because I understand that racism is a systemic issue and I don't think I explored enough about this mother realizing that racism is ingrained in her identity. 

I'm just having trouble with where to go from here. You know when you feel like you have been writing a story for so long that you're just not sure how to resolve its problems? That's my feeling right now. I need to find some way to resolve my belief that this woman is too evil to be changed, but also the hopeful side that people can change. I'm just not sure if people can be redeemed from their actions, and if they can, how long would that take? Certainly not only in the 15 page limit I have. 

I want to believe that people can change. I think it is a very hopeful idea that some people can show remorse for their actions and strive to do better. I have seen it before. But, I'm just afraid that in my writing of this character, her redemption comes too soon. Or, her redemption doesn't give the characters who were harmed by her actions any justice. I don't want this story to just tie racism up in a little bow and pretend that it doesn't exist. But, I've gone so far and I am in a state of writer's block right now, that I'm just not sure how to resolve it. 

This is partly a rambling mix of my thoughts and partly a plea for help. What would you do? Do you think you can write characters to change, and if so, how long would this change take place? Would a time jump to show her progression help? Or, do you think I should take focused on the characters affected by her racism? Should I just throw the whole story away? Writing can be such a stressful task sometimes. 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 19 March 2021

Every Last Word by: Tamara Ireland Stone

 Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 

Published: June 16, 2015 by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Pages: 358 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: Pure-OCD, intrusive thoughts, delusions, mention of suicide 

Sam is quite popular amongst her friends, but something she would never have the courage to share with them is that she suffers with serious Pure-OCD. Her OCD causes her to have very gruesome intrusive thoughts that she cannot turn off, and she just knows that nobody would understand. That is, until Sam meets Caroline, a quirky girl who introduces Sam to the Poet's Corner. The Poet's Corner is a secret club within Sam's high school where students can gather to share poems, songs, and just feel like they belong. Sam feels welcome in the Poet's Corner, and for once she feels like she could share anything. That is, until she beings to question what is apart of her reality, and whether she can tell Caroline about it. 

This book... damn this book. Have you ever read a book that you could just relate to so much, that it seemed like a letter written to you? That was me with this book. Stone was able to create a world that was so relatable to me, so vivid, that it felt like she was speaking directly to me. And this book was a hard read, certainly the main character Sam goes through some very harsh things. But I felt seen in her character. I felt like I wasn't alone. It was so powerful. 

First off, Stone accurately portrayed what Pure-OCD is like. Accuracy is so important when talking on any issue, and I can say that this book was accurate, at least to my experiences. Everyone's experiences with a mental health issue can be different, so it is always important to read a wide range of reviews on books. That being said, I do think that Stone did her homework on what Pure-OCD is like, and I loved how she dismantled stereotypes associated with OCD. She did powerful work in this story, and it was so needed. 

I loved reading about Sam's relationship with her therapist. Therapy can either be very hard for someone, or it can be a great benefit. But, I personally love reading positive therapist/patient relationships in mental health novels, because I have a great relationship with my therapist. I enjoyed getting to see Sam's progression with her therapist, and I could relate to her struggles with whether or not to share something with her therapist. But, her therapist was understanding and a great representation of a good OCD therapist. 

The Poet's Corner was a great addition to the book as well. I love clubs in books, but oftentimes those clubs actually turn into dark academia, which is not my vibe. But this club was so wholesome as it was just a safe space for students to gather and share their artwork. And I thought that was totally awesome! It made me so happy how Sam felt welcome in the club, and I also appreciated how this club shows how art can be a sort-of therapy for people. 

I was not expecting the ending at all. It came out of the blue for me, but I also appreciated it so much because learning something new about your mental illness can often hit you like a shock. I loved the ending because it revealed that living with a mental illness is not often black and white. And sometimes, you have to go through tough moments and really analyze your mind in order to heal. Sam struggles, but she is also so strong. And I needed to see that. 

This book does deal with some heavy-hitting topics, and the twist can be triggering to some people, so do be careful when reading this. However, if you are struggling with OCD and need to know that you are not alone, then give this book a read. It made me feel so validated. 

Have you read Every Last Word? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 12 March 2021

Paperback's Pondering's: Sometimes it's Good to Take a Social Media Break

 CW: discussion of morality OCD, intrusive thoughts, compulsively using social media 

Recently, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I use social media. For example, in January, it was Bell Let's Talk Day, an annual initiative in which the Bell Media company donates 5 cents towards mental health charities whenever someone uses the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on social media. However, there have been a lot of recent controversies coming to light about Bell, mainly about how Bell exploits incarcerated Canadians. Still, millions of people shared the hashtag on social media, and I was pressured into doing the same. Even though I didn't want to, I saw the droves of people talking about how the hashtag still does good, and I just felt like I would be a terrible person if I didn't share it. And, this is a common scenario for people with OCD who use social media compulsively. 

I have a tendency to think that if I don't actively post on social media all the time about various issues, that I am a bad person. Now this is definitely my OCD at work. One of my main obsessions is being perceived as racist, homophobic, transphobic, or anything else. I am so petrified of messing up and hurting someone else. This is called morality OCD. My morality OCD has prompted me in the past to stay up much later than I should have, retweeting, sharing, and liking everything related to social justice because I think that if I don't speak out about these issues, then I am a bad person. 

Now, there is great importance in speaking up for what you believe in, and not staying silent while others suffer. However, my problem with social media activism is how often it can trigger folks like me to compulsively post and continue going down rabbit holes of every terrible thing that is happening in the world. And nobody should feel like they have to retweet and like every single thing, because it is simply not healthy to be surrounded by negativity on social media all the time. 

Now, it would be remiss not to mention that marginalized people such as BIPOC folks, LGBTQ+ folks, and disabled folks, sometimes have no choice but to take to social media to talk about harsh issues. The world has made it so these people do not always have safe spaces to gather and share their feelings, and so social media can be a great outlet for inspiring change and being with your community. However, I do think that it is important that we remember to take breaks, to take care of ourselves, and to log off once in a while. 

It is important to remember that social media activism is not the only way to get involved. We can read books, articles, listen to music, and of course volunteer in order to spread awareness. Social media is a fabulous tool, however I have a problem when people are quick to judge others for not speaking out about an issue. We simply do not know what people are going through, and maybe they just can't be on social media right now, or are not in the right headspace to be talking about harsh things. It isn't an excuse, it's just a way for people to take time to heal. 

I have had to take social media breaks in the past. These breaks are integral to my OCD, so that I ensure that I am not compulsively posting and so that I don't let my morality OCD get in the way of me enjoying life. Something that I've been trying to remember, which is also very hard, is that humans are flawed. We are bound to make mistakes. But how we respond to our mistakes, is even more important. 

So, I guess I just want to tell other folks with OCD that it's ok to put the phone down once in a while. It doesn't mean you're a bad person, and it doesn't mean you don't care. It just means you are taking time to heal yourself, so you can come back to your activism stronger than ever. 

How do you feel about social media activism? How do you balance social media? 

For additional reading:

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

SLAY by: Brittney Morris

 Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary 

Published: September 24, 2019 by: Simon and Schuster 

Pages: 323 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

CW: abusive relationship, racism, off-page murder, killing within a video game 

Kiera Johnson is a teen passionate about STEM. When she's at school she's an honours student and math tutor. When she's at home, she is the anonymous developer of SLAY, an online role-playing card game that has players take on the personas of famous Black people throughout history. The game is only available to Black people, and Kiera prides herself in giving Black gamers a safe space where they can be unapologetically Black. But, when a troll infiltrates the game, claiming that SLAY "excludes white people," Kiera and the other players suddenly have their safety threatened. Then, a teen is murdered in a dispute over the game. Suddenly Kiera has to grapple with revealing herself as the creator of the game, putting her safety in jeopardy, or staying silent, while racists continue to take over the game that she loves. 

This novel was a thrilling, nail-biting, tense read! I was so impressed by how the author was able to bring in almost a science-fiction tone to a book that is very much in a real-life setting. Kiera was such a savvy, smart individual, and I loved reading about a Black girl who is in STEM. I could definitely see myself reading more of Brittney Morris' books. 

I loved how Morris was able to create tension in this novel. I wasn't expecting how shocking this book would be, and I certainly wasn't expecting the twists and turns it would take me on. I found myself almost gasping out loud at parts, because Kiera and the other gamers of SLAY go through so much, and I definitely did not see any of the big reveals coming. I thought this was such a thrilling novel but ultimately I was happy with how it ended. 

I also loved how this book uniquely explored the topic of white people taking over Black spaces. White people seem to feel so threatened by Black people having safe spaces to express themselves. White people always feel the need to insert themselves into spaces that they have no right to. This book explores this topic, but in the context of a video game, which was really well-thought out. I enjoyed how the game worked and I loved how it brought in figures from Black history. 

I will say, because I am not a gamer, I was more interested in how the game explored Black history than the game itself. I don't really know much about game theory or STEM, so I can't say that those topics really interested me. However, if you love gaming, you will find these moments even more intriguing. From what I know about gaming I know that a lot of gaming culture can be very racist, so I think gamers could benefit from diverse stories such as these. 

This book does deal with some tough topics. There is murder both in the game and in real-life, so please take care of yourself when reading this. But overall, I loved how this story ended. It was a really unique exploration of racism through the lense of a Black girl in STEM. I would say this is a must-read for gamers. 

Have you read SLAY? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess