Tolkien Tag!

I have never really engaged with the book blogging community, because I don’t really consider myself a “blogger”, I just write lame lists whenever the mood strikes me (so usually like, once a year) and reviews like once in a blue moon, and I don’t really have the energy to promote my blog or have any sort of presence other than just sharing my stuff with my friends sometimes. So I haven’t really bothered with any communal stuff. But in the recent weeks I have fallen into the very deep hole that is booktube videos on YouTube, and while I doubt I will ever find the self-esteem or energy to get into vlogging (again, I used to do that very haphazardly in my teens), it has inspired me to maybe try a bit more with my blog in the future. Maybe. We’ll see. I do also have a bookstagram account nowadays, but it’s pretty quiet on that front at the moment as well. I just forget to make content, it is what it is. But rambly preamble aside, let’s get into the meat of the matter!

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It is September and the most important day of the year is approaching, and by that I of course mean September 22nd aka HOBBIT DAY! Aka the birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins and the day I fully give up on anything resembling a life here in this realm and head over to Middle-Earth instead. In understandable words: September 22nd marks the beginning of my rereadathon and movieathon of The Lord of the Rings. This tradition got to a sneaky start in, I think 2016 when my best friend Emma and I decided to binge watch the movies to celebrate her birthday in October. And once we’d watched the movies we both agreed that we weren’t ready to leave Middle-Earth and decided to pick up the book as a way to extend our stay. We had both read the book before, but it had been years since my last time reading it and while I remembered that I loved it, I didn’t actually remember that many details. But upon rereading it my love for the book and its story and world were reignited big time, and ever since then Emma and I have read the book and watched the movies every single autumn. So this year will be my fourth annual rereadathon.

September 22nd isn’t always the date when we start because usually we’ve watched the movies first and scheduling conflicts have been a thing, but this year, as Emma is somewhat unfortunately in Australia, I have decided to pick up the book on Hobbit Day and get reading immediately. AND I CAN’T FREAKING WAIT! Not to be a huge nerd, but I honestly start looking forward to this rereadathon in like, June at the latest. Like I’m not saying I spend 11 months of the year just waiting for when I get to start reading LotR again but I kinda do and also shut up. #noshame But since I’m still three days away from my official kick-off date and I don’t intend to jump the gun, I have decided to stoke the flames of my fire of excitement by writing a little about my relationship with LotR and Tolkien in general through the Tolkien Tag, created by booktuber Andrea Heckler. So NOW let’s really stop with the preamble and get started!

1. How does your Middle Earth story begin?

I became aware of The Lord of the Rings at a pretty young age, my big sister and cousin read it when we were children and they were really hyped about it. Initially I, being the contrary little sister, was really negative about the whole thing without having even read it, just to fight the hype, but I think I gave in and tried to read it pretty early on. However – somewhat understandably as I was a quite small child – I was discouraged by the florid, slow prose and intricate worldbuilding and gave it up. I did get all the way to the middle of The Two Towers sometime in my childhood (I’m terrible with remembering years or ages that far back so sorry about the vagueness), but then got stuck and never picked it up again. It wasn’t until I was about 15 or 16 that I gave it another serious try and that time I LOVED IT and ended up devouring it in just a couple of days.

At that point I had already seen the movies (I was only 8 years old when Fellowship was released, so I never made a serious effort to read the books before seeing the movies) and loved them as well, so I guess the book came along relatively late in my Middle Earth story. But despite that anomaly, I’ve been a resident of Middle Earth from a very young age and continue to be so to this day!

2. What is your favorite Middle Earth book?

The Lord of the Rings, obviously. I’m a mainstream bitch, so sue me. I must also admit that LotR and The Hobbit remain the only Tolkien books I’ve read to this day. This year I think I might give Silmarillion a go if my Tolkien frenzy continues after the reread. But honestly I’m not sure any book, of Tolkien’s or otherwise, could compete with LotR. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that has touched me more deeply and stayed with me so long and become such an intrinsic part of my soul and identity as The Lord of the Rings. It really just is the perfect book, in my mind. Having read it every year for three years in a row now I do sometimes worry it’ll lose its charm and power if I read it too often, but that has yet to happen. I hope it doesn’t this year either! Either way probably a good thing to point out that due to the fact that those two are the only ones I’ve read, this tag will be extremely LotR-centric. Also these days I am also That Nerd in the sense that I don’t really think of LotR as three books since that isn’t how Tolkien intended it, so I don’t really think I can choose between its parts as such. But if I could, the answer would probably be pretty much the same as the next question so READ ON!

3. What is your favorite movie?

I swear I try to settle this debate in my head every single year and I never find the answer! For some reason I always think it’s The Two Towers because the last act of the movie is so badass, but then I watch it and remember it’s actually pretty darn boring for the first two thirds or so… And then I’m torn between Fellowship and Return of the King. Both have a lot going for them, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make a conclusive decision – or if there even is one, but if I absolutely had to choose for some strange reason, under great duress I would say Fellowship of the Ring. Maybe. Ask me again in a few minutes and I’ll have changed my mind! But I really just love the fellowship itself so much! The beginning of the story is just so wonderful and magical and exciting, I love it. Plus the movie itself is just fantastic from a technical standpoint. The sequels totally rule as well, but they do suffer from Hollywood-itis a bit more than the first one. Then again the first one doesn’t have Faramir or Éowyn in them so it has that going against it… Gah, I really don’t know!

(Side note: I only ever watch the extended editions of the LotR trilogy so those are the ones I’m evaluating here. Fellowship is the only one I’ve seen multiple times in its cinema release form since we originally had it on VHS. I’m that many years old. The Hobbit movies I’ve only seen once or twice per movie and if I never have to see any of them again I will die satisfied.)

4. Movies or books?

I’m actually not going to say “books, OBVIOUSLY”, that’s how much fondness I have for the movies (and just to be crystal clear: When I say movies, I mean The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit movies do not exist). My answer is still books, but I don’t roll my eyes at this question at all. Like I said, I saw the movies first, and those were my Lord of the Rings for several years until I was old enough to really appreciate the book for what it is. If I had read the book first and fallen in love with it, I would probably be much harsher on the movies. And don’t get me wrong, when Emma and I watch them it’s like 55% complaining about the foolish changes they made and how they misunderstood some of the characters and relationships (the rest is like 20% crying, 5% laughing at our same dumb injokes every fucking year and 20% going “HOLY SHIT THIS WAS MADE IN 2001 HOW DOES THIS LOOK SO GOOD HOLLYWOOD THESE DAYS COULD NEVER!!!”) and I am painfully aware of the many things they got so very wrong about the books.

So yes, the book is far superior in most senses. But like, it is the original product so it’s probably to be expected that it would tell the story better. However, as an adaptation of such a dense, difficult and deeply beloved book, the movies RULE. I honestly cannot quite believe how lucky we are to have such good movies made of the book. I love the cast so deeply and the love everyone put it into the movies really shines through UNLIKE IN THE HOBBIT TRILOGY WHICH CAN SUCK MY ASS I HATE IT SO MUCH IT CAN BURN IN HELL and I will probably never get tired of watching them. Also best score in all of moviedom.

5. Who are your favorite characters?

How can I even choose?? Don’t do this to me, tag. I could write an essay per character, but I’ll try to contain myself. First of all, Frodo. I think he gets overlooked a lot because for the main character of the story he is quite withdrawn a lot of the time. But oh, how I love him. I’m trying to find the words to explain why I love his character so much but it all sounds so silly and superficial when attached to him. I love that he is not a swashbucking hero or a chosen one type. He’s bookish and intelligent and gentle and resolute and I’m starting to sound like Samwise, aren’t I? I don’t mind at all, because Sam is definitely also my favourite character and I would literally die for him. Quote me on that. He is such a beautiful character and just thinking about him kinda makes me wanna cry so MOVING ON. I love the entire fellowship so freaking much, especially the Hobbits, and also I have to mention Gimli, whose character assassination is definitely among he crimes for which I will never forgive the movies.

Aside from the fellowship I am a devout lover of Faramir and Éowyn, both separately and together. Fun fact: As a child I was a major Éowyn hater because I stanned Arwen so hard and was apparently still under the impression that you can only love one female character, especially if they are seemingly competing for the same man. Plus I was going through an elf phase. But I have since learned the error of my ways and would also gladly lay down my life for Éowyn. They are just the most wonderful characters and their story lines really Hurt Me So Good.

6. What Middle Earth race would you be?

I think some variety of Hobbit because I, too, appreciate the simple things in life and would like to just be a farmer and live in a hole in the ground and have nothing change ever. But honestly Hobbits would probably judge me so hard for being a bookish weirdo, so maybe I wouldn’t fit in super well after all. As a kid I was always the least interested in humans in a fantasy setting because who gives a shit about humans when you have elves, but unfortunately I do think that in the grand scheme of things I would probably just be a human – or I guess Man – in Middle Earth as well. Sigh. I wouldn’t mind living in Rohan, though. ALL THE HORSES.

7. Best actor/character casting match?

Hmm, tough! I don’t actually have many complaints about any of the casting choices in the movies. I mean many of them are very different from the choices I would’ve made, but that’s usually the case with movies anyway. Many of the characters were woefully misunderstood and misrepresented in the films, but that’s usually not the actors’ fault in my opinion. So I don’t really know, hard to pick just one! The four Hobbits in LotR are all great, as are the wizards in particular (I still wish Christopher Lee had been allowed to play Gandalf just for his sake, but he does make a truly fantastic Saruman!) I also really like Sean Bean’s Boromir and David Wenham’s Faramir! They work so well as brothers and really bring out their different characteristics super well! Boromir also happens to be one of the characters I think the movies really successfully developed beyond the source material! I will also deign to acknowledge the existence of the Hobbit movies just long enough to mention how much I love Lee Pace as Thranduil – and in general!

8. What is your favorite place in Middle Earth?

The Shire is really the core of the story in so many ways that I think it is quite naturally my favourite. It’s where it all began and ended, and it was carried along for the whole adventure. I’m making myself emotional just thinking about it! But I also really love Rivendell! And if given the chance to actually go to Middle Earth, I would haul ass to Lothlórien SO FAST you would see a me-shaped hole in the nearest wall. I love forests so much!!!

9. What is your favorite quote from the books or movies?

I HAVE SO MANY. But I will contain myself to just two. The first one being:

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

No points for guessing why that quote has been on my mind a lot these past couple of years… And the second one being:

“I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.”

Now you must excuse me while I GO CRY MY EYES OUT.

Anyway, this has been a long and rambly tag and I apologise! But this tag did fulfill its purpose in that I am now even more excited to get reading on Sunday! Wish me luck on the emotional rollercoaster I am about to get on and see you on the other side!

N. K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season

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I’ve worn my geek identity as a badge of honour for quite a while and had someone asked, I would’ve cited science fiction and fantasy as some of my favourite genres. However, I would’ve had very little evidence to back up that statement. Aside from being a devout lover of The Lord of the Rings and having an almost built-in fondness for other such childhood classics as the Harry Potter and Narnia series, for many years of my adolescence and early adulthood I didn’t really read all that much speculative fiction. Or if I did, it was through a YA filter, as for many years YA dystopias were my primary connection to the scifi genre. Which is fine, YA dystopias rule… occasionally. And while the legitimacy and merit of YA fiction is the hill I will gladly die on, I am also willing to admit that it has somewhat deteriorated my ability and motivation to focus on longer and more complicated books. And regardless of the YA factor, I have always been a slightly impatient reader, which means that getting immersed in complicated fantasy or science fiction worlds with unfamiliar cultures and vocabulary has historically caused me to put off reading some heavier works of speculative fiction.

It hasn’t been by design, but this year has seen a significant increase in my speculative fiction consumption thanks to a fantastic gateway drug – novellas! Thanks to the terrific ebook collections provided by my library, this year I have gained access to such great works as Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series, which have helped fuel my love for genre fiction without the pressure of having to wade through hundreds upon hundreds of pages of complex worldbuilding – as wondrous as that can be. It also helps that some of the longer works of speculative fiction I have braved this year – most notably An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – have been PHENOMENAL.

The final step in my indoctrination was N. K. Jemisin’s collection of short stories called How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, which I picked up on my trip to Stockholm in February. I hadn’t read Jemisin before, but I had heard great things, and the short story collection seemed like a good place to start. I am about halfway through, because taking in so many new settings and worlds one after the other in a short period of time is quite exhausting, but what I’ve read so far managed to convince me of Jemisin’s brilliance, which led me to pick up The Fifth Season from the library when I happened upon it in the returns shelf. Which brings us, finally, to the book itself. (God, my introductory rambles are getting worse than those in recipe blogs!)

I am, as always, terrible at synopses, and describing the plot of The Fifth Season accurately without spoilers is challenging, but here is a brief and spoiler-free sketch of the plot and setting. The Fifth Season is a post-apocalyptic story – or rather a post-various-apocalypses story. In fact, it begins with the world ending – yet again. It is the story of the continent of Stillness, periodically wrecked by catastrophic changes in the climate, referred to as the Fifth Season. It is the story of orogenes, people with the ability to manipulate and draw energy from the ground, for example cause or quell earthquakes. It is also a story about oppression. The Fifth Season follows three narrative threads through three different points of view: Essun, a woman on the hunt for his husband who murdered their son for being an orogene; Syenite, a talented and ambitious orogene sent on a brutal mission; and Damaya, a child given away by her family to be trained and shaped into a useful cog in the society’s machine. It’s also a story about many more things but I’ll leave those for you to discover should you be so inclined. The less you know the more fun you’ll have, I promise.

I began The Fifth Season in a mindset of utmost determination, which turned out to be somewhat necessary. The book was due to be returned to the library in a week and I was loath to return it unread or unfinished, so I started with the resolve to power through it in time no matter what. Perhaps not the mindset most conducive to a pleasurable reading experience, but in this case it worked in my favour. It was that determination and my rock-solid (pun intended?) faith in Jemisin’s abilities as a storyteller that got me through the first hundred-and-some pages, which otherwise may have proven fatal to my motivation. Not because the story was bad – the opening was very strong and I was invested from the beginning – but exactly because of my difficulties with immersion in the face of complex worldbuilding. I admit I felt lost on more than a few occasions in the first, say, third of the book, and it took the conscious resolve to be okay with a little confusion and not knowing exactly what was going on to carry me through it. I feel like that is the best testament to just how much I like Jemisin’s works, though. I never lost my faith in her ability to weave the various plot threads into a satisfying whole, and my faith was well rewarded. The timeline in particular caused some head scratching early on – so much so that I turned to Google and almost ruined the fun by looking up a synopsis – but I eventually resigned myself to just going with the flow and waiting for it to start making sense, and when it did start making sense I was SO GLAD I powered through.

N. K. Jemisin is a masterful writer. Lately I have grown very tired of the trend in TV shows in particular that seems to have replaced plot with plot twists and that prioritises shock value over character development. It’s boring and it underestimates the viewer. So it was a breath of fresh air to read a story where the twists were genuinely surprising – to me, at least, but I could just be that dumb! – but when they occurred my reaction was first “WHAT!” but then “OF COURSE!” (out loud, with gestures, naturally) because suddenly everything made sense and it was this twisted satisfaction to have been so wrong but to finally have a piece of the puzzle fall into place. What’s even more amazing is that Jemisin pulled this off way more than once. Being fooled has never felt so good.

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Me, having for one second thought I was ahead of the curve and knew what Jemisin would do next.

Jemisin has this amazing ability to make me feel simultaneously smart for noticing the little hints she sometimes drops, and yet a complete fool for not seeing the big picture before she deigns to reveal it to me. For me, at least, that made this a very fun reading experience in the end. You start to wonder how she could possibly manage to bring these very separate plot lines together in any sort of satisfactory way, and then she does and you see it could never have been any other way. Sheer brilliance.

While the initial effort of acclimating to a very strange world with a heap of unfamiliar terminology and cultural concepts was a bit of a struggle, once I found my footing in the story’s universe, Jemisin’s worldbuilding became an architectural marvel to behold. She is excellent at giving you just the right amount of information at just the right time to keep things interesting and make you question your assumptions about the world and its characters. And when the subtle hints of science fiction start seeping into the fantasy world, it’s like of course, this makes perfect sense!

I think I’ll stop before a vein of excitement bursts in my head and I start spilling spoilers left and right. But I’ll say one more thing: Jemisin actually managed to make me enjoy second person narration! And that is possibly the highest praise of someone’s writing I could possibly give.

Tl;dr: GO READ THE FIFTH SEASON. OR ANYTHING BY N. K. JEMISIN, REALLY. And join me in the excitement pit while I wait for my copy of The Obelisk Gate to arrive!

The Great YA Recommendation Post

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I have often found myself in a position where friends have asked for YA lit recommendations, knowing that I’m a something of a YA aficionado and I definitely try to keep tabs on as much of the queer YA lit that’s out there as possible. But usually whenever I try to write recommendation lists they end up somewhat unwieldy because there are so many books that could work for different tastes. So I figured I’d try to do something a bit more comprehensive, once and for all, so that I have something to refer people to when the time for recommendations comes around again. So here we are!

This list is focused mostly on books published in the past 5-ish years, and I’m leaving out some like super ubiquitous global favourites along the lines of, say, John Green (whom I love, btw!). Also you will notice some contemporary fan favourites missing, especially from the LGBT category (mainly anything written by Becky Albertalli, ahem…) and the reason for that should be pretty self-explanatory. If it’s not on this list, I probably didn’t like it all that much. If you want to see a list of ALL THE THINGS I’ve read and what I think of them, feel free to browse my LGBT and Young Adult tags on Goodreads!

As for my notes on these books, I’m terrible at plot summaries so for the most part I won’t even try. All the book titles will link to their Goodreads pages, which will give you the blurb and plenty of other reviews to help form an opinion if you’d like. I will provide very brief notes on the tone and themes of the book, as well as brief you on the kinds of LGBT representation present in the story, for example. On some occasions I will also give some further details on my opinions on the book, which are sometimes very complicated… Many of these books have been featured in my Top 10 lists in the past few years so you can check those out as well for more thoughts and slightly better blurbs.

I will also include trigger warnings as best I can without spoiling too much and based on my memories and experiences (which may be flawed, I read some of these a while back). So be warned, my trigger warnings may be lacking. If you want a more expansive list of TWs for any given book, hit me up! The books are vaguely categorised into LGBT and others, but many of the “others” also feature LGBT themes and minor characters because, well, I’m me. Within these categories, the books are alphabetised for clarity’s sake.

Also I’m sorry to say that – as I just realised myself – this list doesn’t include any books with trans representation. I have read a few such YA books, but most of them have been written by cis authors and (for that or other reasons) didn’t make the cut to my favourite books. I am definitely on the lookout for more YA (and otherwise) novels with trans and non-binary central characters so I am absolutely open for recommendations! I have several in my to-read list already, but so far they have been pretty hard to come by.

Side note to my friends here in Turku: All (or most, since the ebook collections fluctuate) of these books are available in the Turku City library, either as a physical copy or an ebook. Go wild!

YA with prominent LGBT themes

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)
    • A contemporary gay classic in its own right. A very beautiful, soft and quiet story about finding one’s identity and navigating feelings, friendships and family. One of those books where not much happens but much is felt. I really truly love this book. Sáenz’s follow-up The Inexplicable Logic of My Life was also pretty good but not as great (or as gay, which may or may not have something to do with it, shh) as this. Guess Ari and Dante set my expectations too high.
  • Autoboyography (Christina Lauren)
    • A really sweet gay romance set in a Mormon community. Will give you feels.
    • TW: religious homophobia.
  • The Dangerous Art of Blending In (Angelo Surmelis)
    • This is definitely not an easy read. It features a fairly adorable m/m romance, but the cuteness is often shaded by the intense familial abuse the main character suffers at the hands of his mother, and that made it a pretty intense read. Now I personally love being sad, so I actually quite enjoyed the intensity, but it’s definitely not for everyone. So if you want to give it a try, just know what you’re getting yourself into!
    • TW: explicit depictions of parental abuse and homophobia.
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay (Adib Khorram)
    • A very beautifully written story about a biracial boy’s first time visiting his grandparents in Iran. Primarily a story about culture, identity and family, pretty light on romance. (Honestly the LGBT rep in this is veeeery subtle and the romance aspect is in itself contestable, but I read this as an LGBT book so I feel it deserves to be on this list. Not all LGBT stories must be love stories). Anyway it’s pretty cute. Also does an excellent job grappling with depression and themes of mental illness and their treatment.
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)
    • An EXTREMELY sweet and fluffy adventure novel with all your favourite fanfic tropes and more! Features a terribly cute gay/bi romance, some excellent disability and mental illness representation and the best, snarkiest asexual lady in the YA scene. (For more of her, see also the sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy)
    • TW: some era-typical homophobia, but not super much, some depiction of abuse.
  • Girl Made of Stars (Ashley Herring Blake)
    • This book was heavyyyyyy. But so so so so good. Hearing anything described as “of the #metoo era” makes me vomit in my mouth a little, but… uh… well. If you gotta read any novel from the freaking #metoo era then it might as well be this one, because this book is EXCELLENT. I owe my entire life to Ashley Herring Blake for writing such beautifully touching stories about tough subject, her works are next level. This book is not an easy or a comfortable read, but it’s worth the pain.
    • TW: rape and sexual assault (these are the central themes of the novel so if these are your triggers, proceed with caution or maybe not at all)
  • Girl Mans Up (M-E Girard)
    • This was an interesting read. It’s the first and only novel about a butch lesbian I’ve ever read, which makes it a worthwhile book in itself. The story was not perfect, and there were some elements of misogyny that were very hard to swallow and made this a somewhat unpleasant read at times. Full disclosure, I only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads so it’s not one of my favourites, but it features a butch lesbian in a happy relationship so if you’re interested in that, this might be for you.
    • TW: some pretty hostile misogyny as well as intricate shades of homophobia.
  • How to Make a Wish (Ashley Herring Blake)
    • Like I said, I love me some Ashley Herring Blake, and this book was extremely lovely. A lesbian love story about two girls struggling with different kinds of traumatic family situations and helping each other through hard times, love that. This is a pretty sad book, but as stated above, I’m a sucker for sadness so sign me up!
  • It’s Not Like It’s a Secret (Misa Sugiura)
    • Another complicated reading experience (this is a common theme with me and lesbian YA books). This book had a lot of good things, as it featured an interracial f/f-relationship between an Japanese-American girl and a Latina, which is a racial dynamic I have NEVER seen explored in fiction, let alone in a f/f romance story. There is a lot to like in this book, but there were some misunderstanding plot things that kinda turned me against it, so my reading experience was somewhat conflicted. But my bff had a more positive experience with it and she’s also a good authority on LGBT fiction so who knows, this could be your thing as well!
  • Juliet Takes a Breath (Gabby Rivera)
    • I’m not sure if this book is technically YA (Goodreads says so?), but it’s a queer feminist masterpiece so I’m taking every chance I get to recommend it! Very keen observations on feminist community and academia, lesbian identity and its intersections with race. Absolutely delightful!
  • Release (Patrick Ness)
    • Another story about a gay teenager coming out in a strictly religious family community somewhat based on Ness’ own experiences. A very intense story interlaced with something of a paranormal/fantasy mystery (which was my least favourite part of it, but definitely not a deal-breaker!)
    • TW: religious homophobia.
  • Summer of Salt (Katrina Leno)
    • Another lesbian fave! This adventure of magical realism is a fantastical detective story, as well as the story of growing up and family secrets and new crushes and twin sisters and I really liked it! It’s not super long, due to which all the mysteries were pretty easy to deduce very early on and the f/f-relationship kinda takes a backseat to the other stuff, so there was definitely room for improvement, but it was still pretty great.
    • [THIS TRIGGER WARNING IS A MAJOR SPOILER, HIGHLIGHT TO READ] TW: sexual assault, rape 
  • They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera)
    • Read the title and be warned. Silvera is a good go-to guy for stories about sad gays and this is no exception. An interesting dystopian setting and a bittersweet whirlwind romance between two boys. For more Silvera sadness, see also History is All You Left Me.
  • Two Boys Kissing (David Levithan)
    • An oldie but a goodie! My favourite Levithan book, and considering is wide catalogue of LGBT novels that’s saying something. The story is not super extraordinary in and of itself, but the setting is imaginative and the use of spirits of dead gay people as omniscient narrators is absolutely genius! Well worth checking out.
  • We Are the Ants (Shaun David Hutchinson)
    • A truly unique scifi story about the end of the world, dead ex-boyfriends, finding new love and hope. Hutchinson loves bizarre apocalypse stories and his other books also hit very interesting notes, but this is undoubtedly my favourite!
    • TW: suicide (happened before events of the book), depression.
  • You Asked for Perfect (Laura Silverman)
    • This book grapples with themes of academic stress and the pressure of trying to get to an Ivy League college better than pretty much any book I’ve read. That aspect made it a pretty stressful read because I sympathised with the main character a little too much, but it was pretty great regardless. Also a wealth of representation (A Jewish bi dude and his Arabic Muslim love interest plus his Korean lesbian best friend? Sign me the fuck up!), which was done really well in my opinion, too. I realise that listing it all out like that makes it seem a little tokenistic, but it didn’t feel like that to me when I was reading it. It just felt like life, which was pretty great.

Other YA greats (although many of these feature LGBT themes too because I’m me and I like me some gay shit)

  • All American Boys (Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely)
    • This book, coauthored by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, is about race and police brutality and it’s about as joyful a read as that portends. But I really like it! Reynolds wrote the POV of a black boy (Rashad, who is attacked by a police officer) and Kiely wrote the POV of a white boy (Quinn, who witnesses the attack and knows the officer who did it), and the dual perspective really works in this book’s favour, both narrative-wise and on a more meta level. But definitely not like in a “we’re both equally wrong and to blame” kind of way, nah nah nah. I know there are a looooot of books out there about race and the tensions between POC communities and the police at the moment, but this is among the best I’ve read in the genre. Very nuanced take on a very sensitive issue.
  • Bird (Crystal Chan)
    • This is apparently categorised as a Middle Grade book, so at the very youngest edge of Young Adult. So much so that it was shelved in the children’s section of my library, which made it very hard to find… But honestly I think this story has a lot to give to an older reader as well. It’s about family and death and loneliness and childhood and parenthood and I CRIED LIKE A BABY when I read it. A very touching, beautifully told story.
  • Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)
    • I don’t read a whole lot of fantasy these days (save my annual reread of The Lord of the Rings, which is probably the reason why I don’t bother with much else…), especially newer releases. It just seems like it’s hard to come by something original these days. And while Children of Blood and Bone was a fairly traditional fantastical journey, the unique setting and superb worldbuilding made it a fascinating, immersive read, despite the slightly archetypal characters. Also I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance subplot in this book, remains to be seen where the sequels will take it… Still, definitely a worthwhile read for fantasy geeks!
  • Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)
    • I’ve written extensively about my feelings regarding this book in the past, but safe to say that despite my initial qualms about reading a book about fanfiction and fan culture, this book remains one of my favourite YA reads (although according to some standards I guess it’s New Adult? Do I care? Nah.) and one I keep returning to time and again. It’s veeeeery fluffy. But ain’t nothing wrong with fluffy. I just really love the characters and I identify with the main character Cath a whole lot. Rainbow Rowell is disturbingly good at plucking at my heartstrings, and in my opinion this is her masterpiece. Eleanor & Park is very good and Carry On had its moments, but this is undoubtedly my favourite and thus earns my recommendation!
  • Far From the Tree (Robin Benway)
    • I. Freaking. Love. This. Book!!! It tells the story of three biological siblings who were separated as children, and how they rebuild and reevaluate their respective family situations and their relationships with each other and it’s so beautiful and makes me cry loads. But like in a good way. I love the three main characters so much and all of their stories handled with a lot of grace and nuance and ugh, just so good. Highly recommended.
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
    • Alright, alright, everyone already knows about this one. But seriously if you haven’t read it yet, JUST DO IT! Yet another story about race and police brutality, but also about community and identity and grief and finding your own voice. Just SO GOOD. Thomas is one of the best YA authors out there, no question, and her follow-up, On the Come Up is also definitely worth a read.
  • I’ll Give You the Sun (Jandy Nelson)
    • More sibling stories! Love me some complex sibling dynamics, aw yeah. This was kind of a strange book, but I liked it a lot. Narrated by two twins, one from the present and one from the past, it’s kind of a frustrating, heartbreaking tale of family and connections and trust lost and repaired, and all sorts of central life themes, but… I don’t know, there’s something very tricky about this book that makes it hard to describe but very interesting to read. I recommend giving it a go.
  • Naondel (Maria Turtschaninoff)
    • A rare Finnish book on this list. It wasn’t originally written in Finnish (although that’s the version I read) though and has been translated to English so we’re good! This is actually a prequel to the first book in the series, Maresi, but where Maresi was maybe for a slightly younger audience, this prequel is slightly darker in tone. It’s a pretty heavy story about the many wives of a tyrannical ruler and how the different women join forces to help each other escape their imprisonment. Such a good book! I think this can be read independently from Maresi and its direct sequel, which is why I chose to list this instead of them. But don’t get me wrong, all three of them rule. If you’re looking for some truly badass feminist YA fantasy, you can’t go wrong with this series.
    • TW: A whole lot of rape and sexual violence. Takes place  in a fantastical harem setting, basically, and you can probably guess what that entails. Not graphic and doesn’t go into details, but very intense all the same.
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Patrick Ness)
    • I just freaking love Patrick Ness! This book takes place in a town where supernatural occurrences – among the teen population at least – are entirely ordinary, and it follows a group of friends with no special powers as they try to navigate their way through the last weeks of high school (in hopes that no otherwordly battle will blow up their school before graduation) as well as trying not to get tangled in the much bigger end-of-the-world battle against evil raging on in the background. I really love the premise and the characters. The only part I wasn’t into was the romance subplot, but it wasn’t bad enough to ruin my enjoyment by any means.
  • The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock)
    • This book is criminally underappreciated. Taking place in 1970’s Alaska, the book tells the intertwining stories of four teenagers trying to deal with life in their town full of secrets and troubles. I won’t go into too much detail about the plot(s), but as a person who LOVES intertwining plotlines with several POV characters, this book was right up my alley. It was sad, sweet, intense, exciting and all in all just a very emotional read for me.
  • The Sun is Also a Star (Nicola Yoon)
    • This in some ways a pretty generic boy-meets-girl YA romance novel, but something about the narration style and the very limited time frame of the story made it a very captivating and enjoyable read. I found the characters quite endearing and their life situations (as well as the background themes of race and culture and the tensions they can cause in a person’s life) were quite gripping, honestly. This isn’t necessarily the most revolutionary YA novel out there, but it’s sweet and enjoyable all the same!
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carol Rifka Brunt)
    • One of my all-time favourite books. The writing is beautiful, as is the story, which deals with family and death and secrets and love, as the main character June discovers many buried family secrets when his beloved uncle dies and she meets a man who turns out to have been his partner. Also it’s a story about sisterhood because of course it is. I cannot sufficiently describe how much I love this book (or the plot for that matter, apparently…), but it really is a wonderful read. I gave a slightly more expansive review in my Top 10 Books I Read in 2015 list if you’re curious. Also prepare to cry.
  • A Very Large Expanse of the Sea (Tahereh Mafi)
    • I know I start pretty much every summary with this disclaimer but… this was a pretty tough read! This book tells the story of a muslim teenager and it’s set in the US in 2002 so you do the math… This is a pretty visceral portrayal of what it’s like to be a muslim girl in post-9/11 America and what will happen if you happen to fall for a popular white boy. It’s not pretty. The story is actually pretty bleak for a YA romance, but I felt like it was saying something many people need to hear, and therefore I heartily recommend giving it a go.
    • TW: very intense islamophobia

 

Well, I guess that’s it for now. I intend to keep adding to this list as I read more books, so feel free to pop back to check for updates every once in a while if you want more reading recs from me! There are so many promising books on my to-read list, but I’m something of an erratic reader so it can take me a while to get to certain books, even ones I’m excited about. Also you can check my to-read tag on Goodreads for hints about what I’ve got on my radar. No guarantees for quality, though, obviously.

Top 10 Books I Read in 2018

Happy new year (…in February. Oops.) I try to get these lists out of the way in January, but I’ve been very busy with avoiding my thesis so pardon my lateness. One might also question the point of having a review blog if the only thing you post is year-end top 10 lists, but whatever. I like making lists and apparently suck at writing full reviews so here we are again. I’ll try to be better this year? Maybe. We’ll see!

In 2018 I made my personal reading record (of new books in documented history, at least) with 65 books, a marked improvement from last year’s 52. Now of course quantity is not everything, but I’m really pleased that I managed to read so much more this year. A significant factor in this is that I discovered my city library’s ebook collection and started reading more on my iPad and even – gasp! – on my phone, something I would never have even considered not that long ago. But reading is reading so the ends justify the means or whatever. Another significant factor is the aforementioned thesis avoiding… But on that note, I actually read WAY more than what I listed on Goodreads because I did so much thesis research, but I don’t count that unless I read the entire book, which I rarely have time to do.

Most of what I read was Young Adult, as per usual, which my list definitely reflects. Actually I think I may have focused a bit too disproportionately on YA, but more on that later. I also had a pretty heavy emphasis on LGBT themed books, which is also unsurprising, but something I’m pleased about anyway. I’m also pleased about how much easier it is to find queer books these days! Progress! But anyway, more on my stats and such after the list.

And now let’s get on with it! (Also fyi most of these mini reviews don’t really contain summaries, because I’m terrible at writing them. Sorry!)

1. Far From the Tree (Robin Benway)

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While I maintain that these lists are not in any specific order of preference, it has become customary to start out with my undeniable favourite and who am I to break a pattern! Far From the Tree is AMAZING. In addition to being just beautifully written and supremely lovely, I think it’s a great testament to the potential of YA to tackle tough subjects gently, with such intelligence and grace and I feel like people do not often give the genre enough credit for this. Long story short, read this book in one sitting, ugly cried into my pillow and reread it multiple times.

Far From the Tree tells the story of three biological siblings who were separated as children, and how they rebuild and reevaluate their respective family situations and their relationships with each other. I’m terrible at summaries so I’ll leave it at that, but this book is BEAUTIFUL. Some of you might know that I’m weak for sibling and family centred stories, so I guess it’s little wonder this was right up my alley. This is a complex, multifaceted story about identity, family and love, and I highly recommend it to absolutely anyone in search of a beautiful, heartbreaking yet hopeful story. Or just a good cry, this book is great for that purpose as well.

 

2. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)

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This was the first novel I read this year right at the start of January and boy, what a kick-off! I. Love. This. Book. My wonderful best friend Emma got me this book for Christmas and I spent the first half of January 4th reading this in one go, and the rest screaming at all my friends about how amazing it is. And luckily every one of my friends who reads it seems to agree!

The best way I can describe this book is that reading it feels like reading really good fanfiction. Like you know the REALLY good kind? With like lots of unresolved sexual tension and fluff and feelings and aahhhhh!!! To me this felt a lot like that. A lot of books tend to make me cry, but getting me to squee and flail and fangirl aggressively is something that novels that aren’t fanfic rarely accomplish. So kudos for that!

All in all this book is incredibly cute, but also exciting and touching and funny. The plot can get kinda silly at times and it has some flaws, but all in all it was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences of the year. Also this book had some of the best disability representation I’ve ever seen in YA. And representation in general, to be honest, it was a proper feast in that regard. Oh, also worth mentioning that there was a sequel published in 2018, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy,  that I also read and enjoyed, but it didn’t get me in the feels quite as much as this one. But consider it an honourable mention, I guess!

 

3. So You Want to Talk About Race (Ijeoma Oluo)

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Time for a non-fiction double feature! (I’m not sure why I’m always insistent on lumping non-fiction books together in my year-end lists but oh well. If it ain’t broke…) I honestly don’t have much to say about this book, other than it is truly excellent and so, so necessary. This book should be required reading for anyone (but especially us white people) navigating the world and social media in times like the ones we currently live in.

This book can be helpful in both providing tools to defend your views when arguing with racists (as I’m sure we all find ourselves doing every once in a while…), but also in shining a light on the inevitable shortcomings and pitfalls I and many others, as well-meaning white people, are bound to stumble into occasionally. All in all it’s just an excellent read, both informative and emotionally captivating, not to mention beautifully written. Honestly just give it a read. Trust me, you need it.

4. Can We All Be Feminists? (edited by June Eric-Udorie)

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My other non-fiction favourite of the year is this incredible essay collection edited by June Eric-Udorie (who is only 20 years old and that fact is in no way giving me a massive inferiority complex, no ma’am!) which I picked up fresh off the new releases shelf of Gay’s The Word when visiting London in October. Like So You Want to Talk About Race, this essay collection feels very timely and necessary, and I highly recommend it to (white) people who are interested in making their feminism more intersectional and understanding why not everyone is effortlessly comfortable adopting the label “feminist”. (By the way by recommending these books to white people specifically I am not suggesting that these were written for white people, but as a white person I feel confident saying that other white people could definitely benefit from the experience.)

I used to be one of those “oh, everyone who believes in gender equality is a feminist” and “we should all be feminists” lobbyists until not too long ago, but having gained a slightly better understanding of intersectionality, I now understand that it’s not always quite so simple. This book was not necessarily a comfortable or an easy read, but what it definitely was was enlightening, educational and, at times, truly mindblowing. Of course not every essay was equally strong and with all essays being built around the same central question (see title), there was bound to be some repetition. But all in all that didn’t lessen the impact this book had on me, and I really truly recommend this collection for any and all feminists and maybe-feminists and questioning feminists out there.

 

5. Circe (Madeline Miller)

9781408890080 One of the best things to happen to me this past year was getting to join the ranks of my friends’ entirely wonderful book club, affectionately called the “shitty fantasy book club”. Lately we have diverged from the theme of shitty fantasy, however, and read all sorts of books (of varying quality), and in the summer we tackled Greek mythology and I was reunited with Madeline Miller.

A few years back Miller’s previous Greek myth retelling, The Song of Achilles, wreaked havoc in my friend group by making everyone cry over gay Greek boys. I loved Achilles as well, but it wasn’t quite the emotional soul destroyer for me that it was for many of my friends, not sure why that is. I should definitely give it a reread at some point, but I digress. I was still excited to read more Miller, because while I’m not necessarily huge on historical/mythological fiction in general, Miller is a fantastic storyteller and I had no doubt that she would deliver with Circe as well.

And boy, did she ever! Circe tells the story of, well, Circe, a goddess and a sorceress and, well, the original witch more or less. It’s also a story of identity and strength and loneliness and growing as a person and recognising your own power. Circe is not the most fast-paced book out there, but I actually really enjoyed the slowness and the thoughtful, introspective nature of the narration. Miller weaves together many different myths and makes them her own in a way that is at the same time awe-inspiring and very easily accessible even to people with only marginal knowledge of the mythology. Reading this book lead to a lot of googling about “wait, woah, that myth is connected to Circe as well?” and that was very fun. Also one of the characters was literally called Perse which means ass in Finnish and that was EXTREMELY fun because I am five years old.

 

6. All American Boys (Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely)

81ftdvcaetlTime for a “YA books about heavy political topics” duology! First up is All American Boys, which is one of the fairly many YA books dealing with themes of racism and police brutality. This one is of slightly older stock, having been published in 2015, but it still felt very timely (obviously, as if things have changed much in this regard the past three years…) and I really enjoyed how this book dealt with the subject matter.

This book was coauthored by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Reynolds writing the POV of a black boy (Rashad, who is attacked by a police officer) and Kiely writing the POV of a white boy (Quinn, who witnesses the attack and knows the officer who did it). I felt that this approach was definitely a strength and I really enjoyed the dual perspective. It allowed the authors to address various different aspects of the story and delve deeper into its themes, but didn’t water it down by coming to some bullshit “I guess we’re all equally wrong and to blame” conclusion, which it easily could have done. In my opinion it also dodged the most obvious white saviour traps this kind of story could easily trip over, but as stated earlier, I am white, so my views on this topic are bound to be biased.

Either way, I really, really loved this book, and if you’re looking for a nuanced take on themes of racism and police brutality, I recommend giving this one a go. This could also be a great vehicle for introducing younger readers to these troubling but all too timely concepts.

 

7. Girl Made of Stars (Ashley Herring Blake)

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TW: sexual assault, rape

YA book on a tough political topic the second! This book has much in common with All American Boys and I loved it just as much. This book tells the story of Mara, whose world falls apart when his twin brother Owen is accused of raping her friend Hannah. With themes of sexual assault and harassment dominating the news cycle pretty much all year, I understand if it’s not something you want to bring into your fictional reading as well, but honestly this book was worth the pain.

And it was painful, I won’t deny that. The central dilemma of whether to believe your beloved brother whom you have known literally all your life or your dear friend whom you trust and know to be truthful is incredibly hard-hitting – and realistic, unfortunately. Many of us have had to grapple with the realities of a celebrity we admire turning out to be less great than we had pictured, and that readjustment can be incredibly hard to do, not to mention when the person accused is someone close to you, even family. So yes, this book was an intense read and obviously a GIANT trigger warning for sexual assault and rape is called for. But even if it was a tough read – or precisely because it was – this book was one of the best reading experiences of the year to me. It cost me almost a whole night’s sleep because I couldn’t put it down once I’d started, and had to spend a while bawling after I finished, but it was so worth it. I highly recommend giving this one a go, if you can.

 

8. Autoboyography (Christina Lauren)

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Back to the slightly softer side of things! With some more YA, who could’ve guessed it! This was definitely on the fluffier side of YA romances I read this past year, and I looooved it. It wasn’t all fluff either, with the story focusing on two boys falling in love in a largely Mormon community and the struggles they face both individually and together in regards to identity, community and sexuality. But oh boy was it also cute as heck! I reread the last few chapters of this book SO MANY TIMES just to relive the feels and swoon while clutching my heart over and over again.

Much like The Gentleman’s Guide, this was also fanficcy in a good way, but I’m starting to think that’s just because I have read so much m/m fanfiction so I just associate all feels-inducing gay stories with that… Hmm. Regardless, a very lovely read and if you’re looking for quality gay YA, this is a good book to turn to!

 

9. Nousu & Tuho (Liv Strömquist)

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And now for something completely different! These last few entries are a pretty big divergence from the rest of the list and probably won’t mean much to non-Finnish/Swedish readers. But whatever, it’s my list!

Liv Strömquist is a Swedish comic artist and she makes some of the most amazing comic essays on various societal themes and power structures, such as love, capitalism and class, and just a wide range of political topics. I read two books from her this year, but this one, called Rise and Fall was my favourite. Her approach is hilarious and her style is delightful, and reading her comics made me simultaneously very happy and very angry at the world, which is a pretty good balance at the end of the day. Some of the political jabs went a little over my head because I’m not all that familiar with the Swedish political scene, but most of it was universal enough for me to appreciate without the cultural insight. But then again I am Finnish, so I did probably understand a bit more than someone further outside the Nordic cultural landscape might.

Anyway, as one of those nasty lefty feminists I acknowledge that I am very much part of the choir she is preaching to, but honestly I wish more people from the political right would give her works a read, it might give them a thing or two to think about. Or not. What do I care.

 

10. Vihan ja inhon internet (Emmi Nieminen & Johanna Vehkoo)

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Slightly in the same vein as the previous one, here’s some more political non-fiction in comic form! Or not comic, per se, but some sort of graphic non-fiction study on the online harassment culture that has become a national problem in Finland and all over the world in the recent years. Basically this book, whose title roughly translates as The Internet of Hate and Loathing, examines the culture of online harassment, trolling, doxxing and threats especially women have to deal with when daring to express an opinion online, particularly when that opinion has to do with opposing racism.

The book approaches the topic from several angles, consisting of stories from people who have at some point become targets of organised hate campaigns online, studies and hard data about this harassment, and stories from people who have been at the other side of the screen, partaking in these campaigns and writing hateful comments about others. The stories were accompanied by beautiful comic illustrations, and while the massive size of this book made it a little difficult to read, it was worth it to see the art in full size.

Much like Strömquist’s comics, this book falls squarely in the category of “informative, engaging and depressing as hell”. This book was an incredibly interesting read, but it also made me really sad and anxious because how is this shit allowed to happen, what is going on, why do people do this?!?!?! and so forth. But despite the exhaustion this book brought on, I’m very glad I read it and I’m exceedingly glad that it exists. It is a cautionary tale of the dark, terrible sides of the internet, but also a survival guide and a motivational speech for us to keep going despite the hate and harassment.

 

Phew, made it to the end! Now it’s time for everyone’s favourite part: Random statistics and reading resolutions that I will most likely entirely fail to commit to! Wooo!

In my last year-end review I mentioned that my goals were to read more Finnish literature and read more books by authors of colour. Sad to say pretty much failed when it comes to the first goal. Out of the 65 books I read in 2018 only 13 were in Finnish, and only six of those were actually originally written in Finnish. And those books were as follows: two poetry books, one collection of comic strips, one non-fiction about the internet (see list above) and two kids’ books from the 80s. Oh dear. I did actually read two more books by a Finnish author, but they were originally written in Swedish, soooo… Not exactly a stellar record. I admit that I have some difficulty with taking up books that are in Finnish, and I’m not sure why exactly that is. It is definitely something I wish to look into and try to correct in the future. So… more Finnish literature in 2019?? We’ll see.

I did much better with my second goal, happy to report! Whereas in 2017 only 17% of the books I read were written by people of colour, in 2018 I did much better with 29% of the books being by authors of colour, and nearly 22% being by women of colour! I’m actually quite pleased with that, even though in the grand scheme of things less than 30% is still pretty dismal. But it’s a significant improvement and a path on which I intend to continue. If you’re wondering why I insist on pointing out these percentages and why they matter to me, well, long story short, diversity and intersectionality are core values for me and I see no reason why I shouldn’t try to implement them in my reading as well. Maybe I will write a more lengthy post about the topic later, but for now let’s just say that I read to experience new worlds and perspectives and if all those worlds and perspectives are white (and/or male) then that is just depressingly limiting. Also 83% of the books I read were written by women so that’s pretty neat! But that stat has been well above the 50% line for a while.

Oh, I also pledged to hate read less and I have definitely managed to do that! Only one one star book on Goodreads last year that I read with the full knowledge that it would be crap, and I got that out of the way in January. Well done, me!

In 2019 my goals are to improve on that Finnish literature thing and continue with my diversity challenge, but I would like to implement some additional challenges, those being reading more books by authors (of colour) from outside the US (and books set in other places) and reading more books that aren’t YA. The first point raised has to do with the fact that even with the better percentage of POC authors, most of those authors are from the United States. So while there is greater diversity in general among the authors whose works I’ve read, a lot of those voices are still coming from an American perspective and the stories tend to be set in the US as well. So upping the diversity stakes by trying to include more stories from outside the West as well. Secondly, I feel like I have slightly pigeonholed myself when it comes to genre, because I read so much YA. As much as I love YA and maintain that it is often overlooked and underestimated for no reason, there are often limits to the stories that are being told in YA, and – as much as I loathe to admit it – I may have grown out of many of those stories. I will certainly not stop reading YA and feel no shame about my enthusiasm for it, but I want to get to the habit of reading other kinds of stories and different kinds of books in general as well.

So there we go! Sorry about this monster of a blog post and about it being so late, but whatever, got it done eventually! I hope and intend to blog more this year, but I always do, don’t I… Eh, we’ll see! Happy 2019!

Top 10 Books I Read in 2017

Well here we are again! Can’t say it’s been a very active year as far as blogging goes (no surprises there), but when it comes to reading, it could certainly have been worse! I finished 52 books, which is less than I managed in 2016 and 2015, but still beat my reading challenge of 50 books so all good!

According to my Goodreads stats I read mostly YA novels (also no surprises there), LGBT literature and non-fiction. Exceptionally though almost none of the non-fiction was for university, so that was an interesting change! Quality wise I read quite broadly, from some epic guilty pleasure crapfests (looking at you, Alex & Eliza) to some amazing new finds and old favourites. This year I had no trouble picking 10 amazing books from the crop so let’s get rolling with it! Sorry about the very delayed 2017 recap, but I still have some 15 minutes of January left so COULD BE WORSE! Let’s go!

 

1. The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

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No shame in swimming with the current and admitting that this book is indeed every bit as good as everyone says it is! I was excited to read this book ever since I heard about it, not even the overwhelming hype couldn’t throw me off. So as soon as this book hit the library, I was ON IT! And I really really enjoyed it! This was a hard-hitting story about injustice, courage and being different and in the dire political atmosphere of 2017 this book felt particularly timely and important. This book is a stellar example of the important role of YA literature and how it can be every bit as impressive and powerful as so called “adult fiction”.

As most of you who keep your ear to the ground when it comes to YA fiction probably know, the book tells the story of 16-year-old Starr, who witnesses a cop kill her friend when they are out driving, and has to deal with the aftermath both within the black community she lives in as well as in her mostly white school. It is obviously a timely topic, but beyond that it was also beautifully written and just a completely gripping story from start to finish. I loved the main character so much and living that story with her really did shake me. All in all I loved it immensely and if you’ve been resisting reading this book, JUST GIVE IN AND DO IT. It’s honestly that good.

 

2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Becky Chambers)

51i4ymo2buxl-_sx323_bo1204203200_Although I proudly consider myself a geek and Doctor Who was my favourite show (and eventually favourite show to hate) for several years, scifi has never really been my number one genre. I guess the closest I have come lately is the various dystopias I consume, but even those are usually pretty light on the science, so to speak. This past year, however, as I forayed into the worlds of Star Trek, Firefly and the likes on Netflix, actual scifi also started to sneak into my bookshelf. And it was this gem of a space adventure that really sealed the deal for me.

I read this book to sate my post-Firefly yearning for fun character driven spaceship adventures, and this book filled the Serenity-shaped hole in my heart as promised! It took me a while to get into the novel’s universe with all the planets and aliens and gadgetry, but once I was in, it immediately felt like home. The characters and their cultures were fascinating, and the explorations of gender and sexuality were definitely the icing on the cake for me. This is what science fiction needs to embrace! In space, no one cares if you’re queer! I also wish to note that I read and enjoyed the novel’s sequel A Closed and Common Orbit, but this one was my favourite of the two. So while I’m not sure I’ll be becoming a scifi literature connoisseur any time soon, Becky Chambers has certainly earned a place in my heart and bookshelf, and I anxiously await the third part of this series!

 

3. They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera)

35216509Time for an LGBT YA double feature. Honestly it’s most of what I read… And you ought to be impressed I only have two up here, seems like YA novels on queer themes are most of what I read… Not that I mind. Gimme more! And add to that a dystopian setting? YAAASSS.

This book is so good I almost forgive it for stealing the premise for a novel I’ve been working on for ages and doing it much better than I ever could. Almost. But honestly I loved this book.

The title is somewhat foreboding, and while I won’t spoil you whether or not is cashes in its promise, it’s a pretty good indicator of the tone of the novel. This is not a particularly cheerful tale indeed. But it’s still somehow the sweetest, most bittersweet and enjoyable romance novels I’ve read all year. But what can I say, I’m a lesbian, I’m wired to thrive on tragedy.

4. We Are the Ants (Shaun David Hutchinson)

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Depressing gay YA novel the second! This really seems to be my genre, doesn’t it… Well, it’s certainly safe to say this was not a very cheerful reading experience. But a very good story about depression, suicide and… alien abduction? Why yes!

The premise of this book was possibly the most creative one I’ve read all year, adding a magnificent scifi twist to an otherwise pretty familiar YA narrative. It was all sorts of weird and wonderful, and totally heartbreaking. But not hopeless by any stretch, so don’t be afraid to grab this one in fear of it being too dark. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and a wonderful reading experience between these covers!

This is also a book I devoured in one sitting, but that’s because it was only available to me as an ebook and I had to read it on my browser and I figured if I ever closed the book I would never be bothered to open it again, it was SUCH a hassle… Maybe I should invest in a Kindle one of these days…

 

5. Trainwreck (Sady Doyle)

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And now for some non-fiction! I read a lot of non-fiction this year, which is not unusual in itself, but usually some of my non-fiction tally comes from books read for university exams, which was not the case this year. And one of the best ones to cross my path was Trainwreck by Sady Doyle. My sister got it for Christmas in 2016 and recommended I give it a read. My sister is a reliable source of book recommendations and so I was instantly eager to grab this one. I was not disappointed!

Trainwreck is a feminist case study of, well, “trainwrecks”, famous women who crashed and burned and whom we as a society simply love to hate and be horrified by. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Sylvia Plath to Britney Spears, the book gives a wide and incredibly interesting picture of women across history who got chewed up by media and the society at large and begs the question: Why?

I found this book to be extremely thought-provoking, yet without a hint of scandalising and instead a lot of empathy. It was a welcome slap across the face to remind me that there are actual human beings behind the scandals, and more often than not there’s much more to the trainwreck than meets the eye. I highly recommend this book to one and all!

 

6. Ruskeat Tytöt (Koko Hubara)

ruskeat_tytotNon-fiction excellence part two! Also I think this is the first Finnish book to make my top 10 lists, which is kind of remarkable. Truth be told I don’t read much Finnish literature nowadays – a glaring issue which I intend to rectify in 2018 – but I made an eager exception for Koko Hubara.

Hubara is a Finnish journalist, writer and translator whose blog Ruskeat Tytöt (Brown Girls) expanded into a whole online media entity and is providing the nation with some of the sharpest, most relevant journalism and essays in the whole Finnish media scene. In 2017 she also published her first book by the same name, a collection of essays “from brown girls to brown girls”, with topics ranging from hip hop to parenthood and her experiences as a brown girl in Finland.

We’ve been needing a voice like Hubara’s for a long-ass time, and I’m so excited and grateful that she is bringing some much needed change into the literary field, and bringing other brown girls with her. Hubara and her essays are incredibly smart, wonderfully funny and a deeply thought-provoking, and I practically inhaled this essay collection in one sitting. Could not recommend highly enough!

 

7. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)
…and its sequels

9780763676186This book had been on my to read -list for a while, so much so that I had actually checked it out from the library once before and started it, but then just didn’t continue and eventually had to return it. But in July the time was apparently ripe, because I checked it out again, and ended up staying in bed for half the day because I literally could NOT put this book down. After the slow start and peculiar writing style that sunk me last time the ball got rolling, and once it started rolling there was no stopping it! This was such a high energy book that it quite literally left me breathless – and sobbing. This is one of the biggest tearjerkers of the year for me. The only times I stopped reading was when I couldn’t see the page through my tears…

In fact, this book made such an impression on me that I ended up changing the topic of my master’s thesis on the fly and decided to write about this series instead. The thesis itself is still a work in progress, but it’s safe to say The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequels The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men were the novels that had the biggest impact on me this year.

I won’t go too much into the details with the plot because a) that’s literally all I’ve been writing about at uni this past fall and b) this series is now nearly a decade old, so chances are many of the YA fans out there are already well familiar with this series. If you’re not, though, CHECK IT OUT. Patrick Ness is quickly becoming one of my all-time favourite authors, and even though his books may not be for all, if you’re into heartwarming yet high-energy YA fiction with interesting social themes told through amazing fantasy and science fiction elements, do check him out!

 

8. Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)

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Goodness me! New John Green on my shelf, what is this, 2013?! Jokes aside, I was really excited to get to read something new from Green. From late 2012 to well into 2013 John Green’s books and Vlogbrothers were some of the most central cultural influences of my life, and I’m not the least bit ashamed of that! Most of his books are still very dear to me (except maybe An Abundance of Katherines, which we can collectively agree sucks, right?) and I was super excited about this book when it was announced. So much so that I actually pre-ordered a signed copy, which I practically never do. But I had faith that this book would not disappoint me. And it didn’t! What did was Amazon’s shipping, though, took me AGES to actually receive my pre-ordered copy… Oh well.

The first two chapters did not impress me or get me hooked, and for a moment I was a little worried. Had the magic worn off?! I laid it aside for a bit, but once I returned and the story picked up for real, it was the same old John Green spell all over again! Aza is an interesting, multi-dimensional main character and I love how Green used this novel to put into words such mental experiences that often leave people thinking they are entirely alone with their weird, uncontrollable thoughts. I’m very glad this book exists, and in a sense it does feel like Green’s most important novel to date, even though plot-wise it took a while to really start and it was somewhat less exciting that Green’s other stories. Also I’m glad for the approach it takes on romance, although I won’t spoil that plot for you!

All in all it’s not my favourite Green novel ever – Paper Towns still wears that crown, possibly because it was my first one – but it is an excellent book all the same, and whether you’re a fan of Green’s earlier work or not, I highly recommend giving it a go!

9. American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

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I knooooow, I am SO many years late to this party. This book has been on my radar for well over a decade, but even though I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, I have always kind of averted my gaze when confronted with this brick of a novel. But when I heard there was going to be a TV show, I figured the time had finally come and sat down with it. I began in early January and finished in late February, so needless to say this wasn’t exactly a “consumed it in one sitting” kind of a novel, but I got there eventually.

I had heard very mixed reviews before I started, but my experience with this book falls firmly on the positive side. Sure it was incredibly slow-moving and even slightly confusing at times, and there were lots of detours and slightly unnecessary twists and turns. But at no point during this story did I feel like Gaiman had lost the plot, and when all the little insignificant things suddenly became important and the pieces fell into place, the experience was even more satisfying. Perhaps important to note that I read the author’s preferred text version, but since that is the only one I’ve read I have no idea how it compares to the originally published version. Either way, I did enjoy the read even though I hit a bit of a wall somewhere in the middle. I’m glad I didn’t give up, though!

…Still haven’t watched that TV show, though. And possibly never will. AH WELL!

10. Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

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I would be remiss to leave out graphic novels and comics from my list, so let’s end this on a high note, aka Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona. I got into Lumberjanes this year, so when I saw this book at a comic shop in Copenhagen in the summer, I decided to pick it up without any prior knowledge of the book itself. Shapeshifting and evil shenanigans, sounded like fun! And boy was it ever! Unfortunately my book got slightly damaged when we walked to the train station in such strong downpour that the water seeped through my suitcase, but ah well. Did not do anything to water down the reading experience. Eh? EH? Moving on.

This really was a wonderfully funny yet touching story with great characters and lovely art. I’m a huge fan of Stevenson’s style and it was great to see more of it since she doesn’t actually do that much drawing on Lumberjanes. All in all I highly recommend this to fans of excellent humorous and emotional fantasy stories.

 

 

So there we are, my top 10 for 2017! I’m already seven books into 2018 and the experiences range from mindblowingly wonderful to mindnumbingly terrible, so here’s hoping I could kick my butt into gear with this whole book blogging thing and write actual reviews of some of them at some point… Don’t hold your breath though!

Either way, when analysing the books I read the previous year I also like to make some sort of resolutions for the next one, although I’m not a huge stickler when it comes to keeping promises to myself. But it’s good to have some goals I guess. This year one of my larger goals is to read more Finnish literature. In 2017 I only read 8 books in Finnish, two of which were poetry, two translated, two non fiction and only two fiction. And both of the novels sucked. Needless to say I’m pretty out of touch with Finnish literature, and that is not a good thing when it comes to my own writing. The less I read in Finnish, the harder it is for me to write in Finnish, and I’d very much like to get better at that again. So more Finnish (fiction) in 2018, please!

My other resolution (which unfortunately tends to widely contradict the first one) is to read more books by authors of colour. In 2017 less than 20% of the books I read were written by authors of colour, so I’d like to do better this time around. I also intended to promise to hate read less and focus on good or enjoyable literature, but I already broke that out of morbid curiosity.

 

Honourable mentions:

The Sun is Also a Star (Nicola Yoon) First novel I read in 2017 and it was a delightful read that really set the tone for the year. Good YA galore!
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Benjamin Alire Sáenz) Slight disappointment after Aristotle and Dante, but Sáenz is always Sáenz.
Release and A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness) Can’t go wrong with Ness! Love this guy.
Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien) Annual re-read and thus, let’s be real, the best book of every single year.

 

Backwards and in high heels: On women, expectations and excellence

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Today has been a wild ride in the Doctor Who fandom.

To be honest I haven’t even been an active part of the fandom for many years, not since I stopped watching the show at the start of season 8. That was when I realised I was over and done with the show, and that watching it gave me more displeasure than enjoyment. I decided that until there was a new showrunner or some other compelling reason, I would not return.

Well…

It seems that both requirements are about to be met.

I consider myself a geek and tend to surround myself with fellow geeks. However, the geek groups I involve myself are always also feminist ones, I cannot stand to have one without the other. And the reason for this was made abundantly clear today, when I made the mistake of partaking in conversation about the Jodie Whittaker being cast as the Thirteenth Doctor in a non-feminist Facebook group dedicated to the show. I was not prepared for the level of hate, prejudice and frankly offensive language I was to encounter there.

In hindsight, I probably should’ve been; really, it was entirely unsurprising – and depressing. I had always known that there were people who opposed the idea of a female Doctor. But somehow even with that knowledge I did not realise how deep the opposition and – let’s be frank here, the disgust – ran. While my feminist geek friends were weeping of joy for finally being represented as the hero of their favourite show instead of the eternal sidekick, people elsewhere were delivering eulogies to the very same show, prophesying its imminent demise because how could it EVER continue to run, let alone be successful, with a women at the centre! I was saddened by the commonness of this reaction. These people were already shovelling dirt over their favourite show simply because the idea of a female lead was that repulsive to them.

The possibility of Whittaker being a good choice for the role did not even register. There was no consideration of her impressive career or trust in the casting process of the show’s production team. She’s a woman, so it’s a done deal, she will never be any good. I mean, wow!

The conversations in that group led me down a dizzying rabbit hole of misogyny and anti-feminist hate speech to the point where a renegade group was founded for feminist DW fans, and I had to take my contribution back to the feminist groups where the tone was slightly less hateful. But even in the feminist groups I could not find complete peace; despite the celebration, there was a constant undertone of concern present in the conversation. The concern being: “Oh my god, what if this goes poorly?!”

This ties into something I’ve been thinking for quite a while now. I consider myself so lucky to be living in a time where feminism is taking leaps in all fields of media, and people are finally starting to find the courage to take risks with female-fronted projects. (I know, what a gamble! Who would’ve imagined people could ever enjoy seeing women in important roles?!) Us women who identify as feminists obviously rejoice in this progress, but every time some new female-fronted project is announced, I see the same conversation happening. “Oh my god, if this isn’t successful, we will never get anything like this ever again!”

It’s truly incredible. Marvel and DC can churn out one mediocre male-fronted superhero movie after another and make millions with each, and no one will ever question if men should make or star in superhero movies. But should Wonder Woman have failed? Well, what do you expect from a female director and a movie about a woman! A dozen silly blockbusters and nostalgic reboots per summer is to be expected, but one movie about female Ghostbusters? Blasphemy, fire and death! It’s almost as if every single piece of media made by or starring women has to prove something on behalf of their whole gender. Because a female director is never just a director. She’s first and foremost female, and every sidestep or downfall of hers is evidence of the larger failings of every single woman on earth.

Twelve and then some male Doctors are allowed to be individual and flawed, and god forbid only somewhat good. But what I fear, and what every feminist DW fan currently crying over this incredible opportunity and new representation fears, is that whatever Chibnall and Whittaker do with the 13th Doctor will automatically be associated with her gender. The Doctor is morally ambiguous? SHAME! The Doctor is tough and manipulative? Too cruel and unlikable! The Doctor is emotional and gentle? Too feminine and weak! It is the minefield every female character has to tread. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, because you’re a girl, darling! Reading people’s comments expressing their “concern” over whether this is just audience pandering and calculated tokenism, and their “hopes” that this won’t ruin the show, I can’t help but to think what they’re actually hoping is that this show fails.

They don’t want a female Doctor to succeed, because that would mean that women possess the same capability for being multifaceted, interesting, funny and brave as men do. It would require admitting that women, in all their femaleness, are also human. Or in this came Time Lords. It would mean that they would have to admit that all their concerns and defences about how “it just would not work with a woman” are actually bullshit and based on nothing but their real life prejudices that they want to recreate in their fiction. They don’t want women to be heroes, because you have to look up to your heroes. And that, as we all know, won’t do.

What I’m saying is that Jodie Whittaker faces one hell of a Catch-22. She would have to be perfect and then some to earn the respect of the fandom gatekeepers, but they refuse to watch her performance because for the crime of being a woman she’s already lost it. And frankly, I’m tired of this.

I’m tired of women having to achieve perfection with every movie, every role and every attempt at creating media for other women and girls who have been deprived of representation for tens and hundreds of years. I’m tired of women having to do everything men do, only backwards and in high heels, as they say about the great Ginger Rogers, to be considered worthy of the same appreciation and success. Mediocrity is a privilege we do not have, because our job is to be constantly proving misogynists wrong about us. And the catch is, they don’t want to be proven wrong. The whole patriarchy we operate in is built on the assumption that they are right, and they have no interest in shaking that foundation. They want to see us fail so they can point a finger and say “HA! I told you a female Doctor/Ghostbuster/Jedi/[add your sacred geek icon here] was a bad idea! It could never work and don’t you ever dare try again!”

And it works. Is it any wonder few women dare to try, when anything less than perfection is met with swift and merciless execution of not just you but the people who would come after you? I am grateful for all the brave women who dare anyway, and push through the obstacles set in their way all the way to the top. I applaud their courage and persistence, but it should not be that hard.

The people who bitch and moan about Whittaker often try to half-assedly convince me that they don’t ACTUALLY hate women, because DUH, equality has already been reached! But it is events like these that go to show that there is still a long, long way to go. We will have equality when Marvel releases five average movies about female superheroes all starring a different white lady called Christie in a row, and still get billion dollar budgets for their next flick. We will have equality when we can have a female version of all our delightful retro franchises and no one gets bullied off of Twitter for it.

And in 2063, after 12 more white female Doctors in a row we finally get a person of colour or a transgender Doctor, we will… Actually you know what, I’m not holding my breath on that one. Progress still has a long-ass way to go.

But who knows. Maybe Jodie Whittaker will pop by in her TARDIS and take me on a trip to find out. She can show me her TARDIS full of bras, I bet it’ll be a hoot…

Kurjat @ Kaarina-Teatteri 20.3.2016

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[Well here’s a first, that being my first review in Finnish! If I get super bored at one point or another I might consider translating this to English as well, but since it’s about a very local production, I doubt many foreign readers would find this particularly interesting! If you, however, strongly desire to read my review of a small play production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, let me know! Anyway, Finnish readers, carry on!]

Kun viime vuoden puolella kuulin, että Kaarina-Teatterin ohjelmistoon olisi keväällä tulossa Suomen tiettävästi ensimmäinen näytelmäproduktio Victor Hugon klassikkoteoksesta Kurjat, olin lievästi sanottuna hämmästynyt. Pelonsekainen innostus kuvailisi tuntojani kenties paremmin. Jos minut tuntee vähääkään paremmin, ei liene jäänyt salaisuudeksi, että Les Misérables on paitsi yksi lempikirjoistani, myös elämäni muuttanut musikaali ja fanaattisuuteen asti keskeinen osa identiteettiäni. Tästä seikasta kumpusivat sekä pelko että into, sillä uudet versiot omista suosikeista ovat aina jännittävä paikka, ei vähiten silloin kun rakas alkuteos on painoksesta riippuen lähemmäs kahdentuhannen sivun tiiliskivi ja lukuisat epäonnistuneet elokuva-adaptaatiot ovat vielä tuoreessa muistissa. En olisi uskonut isompienkaan ammattiteattereiden uskaltautuvan ihan tuosta vaan tarttumaan haasteeseen, saati sitten naapurikaupungin harrastelijateatterin. Ennakko-odotukseni olivat jokseenkin ristiriitaiset.

Tänään se totuuden hetki sitten koitti kun parhaan ystäväni (ja toisen Les Mis-ekspertin) ja äitini (jonka olen saanut sekä lukemaan kirjan että raahattua katsomaan musikaalia Tampereelle asti) lähdimme urhein mielin tätä kulttuuritapausta todistamaan. Heti alkuun todettakoon, että produktio oli erinomaisen hyvin toteutettu dramaturgiasta ja ohjauksesta lavastukseen ja puvustukseen, eikä harrastelijuudesta ollut tosiaan jälkeäkään. Siispä hatunnosto heti alkuun dramaturgi/ohjaaja Miina-Stiina Saaristo-Vellingille ja koko produktion työryhmälle! Ei ole mikään helppo tehtävä tiivistää Hugon (paikoitelleen hyvinkin jaaritteleva ja aiheesta eksyvä, myönnetään suoraan!) alkuteos reilun kolmen tunnin mittaiseen näytelmään, mutta Saaristo-Vellinki oli tehnyt pääosin äärimmäisen hyviä valintoja sen suhteen, mikä ansaitsi päästä mukaan ja mikä sai jäädä pois. Etenkin ensimmäinen näytös oli erinomainen kokonaisuus joka sisällytti paljon tarinalle tärkeitä kohtauksia, jotka usein jäävät leikkaushuoneen lattialle, ja toisaalta ymmärsi jättää pois sellaiset osiot, jotka eivät olisi välttämättä tässä versiossa toimineet. Lisäksi draaman ja komedian tasapaino oli juuri oikea, niin ettei tarina jäänyt liian ahdistavan synkäksi, mutta ei toisaalta mennyt ihan parodiaksikaan.

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Kuvat: Mika Nurmi Photography

Olin etukäteen ollut hieman huolissani siitä, kykenisinkö heittäytymään mukaan tarinaan sen sijaan että keskittyisin vertailemaan esitystä kaikkiin aiemmin näkemiini produktioihin (ja kuinka paljon suomen kieli särähtäisi korvaan, kun tarinaa on tottunut lukemaan ja kokemaan englanniksi), ja ensimmäiset minuutit menivätkin hieman totutellessa. Valjanin tarinan alkumetrien aikana en vielä oikein päässyt mukaan meininkiin, mutta Fantinen ja Cosetten tarina sai minut kyynelehtimään alta aikayksikön, mikä olisi toki pitänyt arvata. Seuraavan hatunnoston ansaitsevatkin Merita Seppälä ja molemmat pikku-Cosettea esittäneet tytöt, eli Pinja ja Lilja Vellinki. Fantinen rooli on helppo vetää överiksi, etenkin loppua kohti, mutta Seppälän tulkinta oli sydäntäsärkevän aito ja koskettava alusta loppuun. Olin erityisen tyytyväinen, että Fantinen tarina nähtiin tässä versiossa alusta asti, vaikka Tholomyesin hahmon tulkinnasta en niin piitannutkaan. Usein Fantinen kohdalla hypätään suoraan kurjuuteen, mikä jättää varjoon hyvin tärkeän osan hahmon kehitystä. Kun on ensin nähnyt Fantinen onnellisena, on sata kertaa masentavampaa nähdä tämän vajoaminen niin syvään kurjuuteen. (Sympatiani muuten sille vanhemmalle yleisössä, jonka lapsi graafisen prostituutiokohtauksen aikana kysyi uteliaana: “Mitä toi tekee?” Ei ehkä paras mahdollinen hetki seksivalistuksen aloittamiselle!) Samoin Fantinen ja Madame Thénardierin kohtaamisen sisällyttäminen oli erittäin hyvä päätös.

Muutenkin Thénardierin pariskunta (Kari Rantanen ja Niina Laine) olivat eräitä näytelmän onnistuneimpia hahmotulkintoja. Liian monessa Kurjat-versiossa Thénardierista tehdään koominen hahmo, mikä ei mielestäni tee tälle oikeutta. Tässä versiossa komediapuolen vetovastuu oli nerokkaasti siirretty Mariuksen isoisälle, herra Gillenormandille (Jarmo Kujala), joka hoitikin osuutensa erinomaisesti! Myös Thénardiereilla oli koomiset hetkensä, mutta Rantasen kiero ja hiljaisen uhkaava tulkinta vetosi minuun huomattavasti enemmän kuin yleinen överikomediallinen lähestymistapa.

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Huomaan, että tähän asti mainitsematta ovat jääneet kokonaan tarinan päähenkilöt, eli rangaistusvanki Jean Valjean (Pentti Kallio) ja häntä armotta jahtaava poliisikomisario Javert (Hannu Pajunen). Molemmat tekivät hyvät roolisuoritukset, mutta jäivät välillä pahasti kiinnostavampien sivuhahmojen jalkoihin. Tämä ei kuitenkaan ole pelkästään tämän produktion ongelma, vaan valokeilan pitäminen Valjeanissa ja Javertissa on todistetusti aiheuttanut haasteita muillekin, etenkin tarinan jälkipuoliskolla kun fokus siirtyy enemmän kapinoiviin opiskelijoihin. Sekä Kallion että Pajusen tulkinnat hahmoistaan eivät istuneet täysin omaan käsitykseeni, mutta ei niissä suurempaa vikaakaan ollut, paitsi lievä ylinäytteleminen paikoitellen molempien osalta. Tässä saattaa kuitenkin olla kyse vain henkilökohtaisesta mielipide-erosta, sillä oma visioni molemmista hahmoista on lähinnä hillityn rauhallinen (toki hyvin erilaisilla tavoilla), ja molempien tulkinta meni omalla kohdallani hieman överiksi. Toisessa näytöksessä sekä Valjean että Javert jäivät erityisen pahasti muun tarinan yliajamaksi, etenkin kun kummankin kuolemakohtaukset jätettiin käytännössä pois, ja muutenkin heidän keskenäinen vuorovaikutuksensa jäi minimiin.

Toinen näytös oli kautta linjan hajanaisempi kuin ensimmäinen (tämäkin yleistä kaikissa adaptaatioissa), mutta siinäkin oli paljon hyvää. Marius (Vili Hokkanen) oli erinomaisen hyvä (Mariuksen ja Cosetten kohtaaminen pinkissä valossa, konfetin lentäessä ja Griegin soidessa taustalla? NEROKASTA!), ja oli uskomattoman virkistävää nähdä koko Mariuksen kehityskaari ja perhetausta tuotuna näin keskiöön. Mariusta ei myöskään – luojan kiitos – esitetty vallankumouksen johtajana, vaan hieman poliittisesti ja romanttisesi hämmentyneenä hölmönä nuorena miehenä, jollainen hän kirjassakin pitkälti on. Hänen ja Cosetten (Johanna Suokas) kohtaukset olivat hillittömiä (Cosette oli muutenkin erinomainen!), samoin kaikki kohtaukset muiden vallankumouksellisten kanssa.

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Vallankumouksellisista puheen ollen… Henkilönä, joka lukee säädyttömän paljon fanifiktiota aiheesta, olen usein hyvin tarkka siitä, miten Les Amis de l’ABC eri versioissa kuvataan. Kaarina-Teatterin versiossa keskiöön olivat päässeet Enjolras (Jarno Huhtala), Grantaire (Jarmo Suokas) ja Courfeyrac (Petri Aulin). Valikoima oli hyvä, ja riittävä tämän kokoiseen produktioon, jossa olisi turhaa raahata koko lähes kymmenpäinen kaveriporukka lavalle. Hahmona hieman enemmän taustalle jäävä Courfeyrac pääsi yllättävää kyllä eniten oikeuksiinsa tässä kokoonpanossa, joten pisteet erinomaisesta hahmotulkinnasta! (Uskomattoman suuret fanituspisteet myös roolitusvastaavalle; mikäli saman henkilön roolittaminen Courfeyraciksi ja Tholomyesiksi oli tarkoituksellinen viittaus kirjan rinnastukseen, olet sankarini!) Enjolras oli myös tasaisen hyvä tulkinta nuoresta vallankumousjohtajasta. Grantaire sen sijaan aiheutti minulle pienoisen pettymyksen. Toisaalta olin riemuissani siitä, että Grantairen asema vallankumouksellisten ryhmässä ja suhde Enjolrasiin oli nostettu esiin ja mukaan otettu myös eräs kirjan lempikohtauksistani, jota ei IKINÄ sisällytetä mihinkään. Toisaalta kuitenkin tulkinta meni valtaosin geneeriseksi känniriehumiseksi ja huutamiseksi. mikä jätti minut kovin kylmäksi. Myös lopun täyskäännös motivoituneeksi kapinalliseksi jäi aika irtonaiseksi ja äkkinäiseksi. Ymmärrän, ettei Grantaire ole mikään päähenkilö, ja hänen hahmostaan saatiin kyllä paljon irti, mutta hahmon suurfanina omaa sydäntäni hieman särkee aina kun hahmo tiivistyy pelkkään känniseen meuhkaamiseen.

Toinen lempihahmoni, joka ei päässyt täysiin oikeuksiinsa oli Thénardierin vanhin tytär Éponine (Nelli Hautala). Époninen ihastus Mariukseen jäi hieman hutaistuksi, ja kokonaan pois oli jäänyt lempikohtaukseni – ja Époninen huippuhetki – jossa tämä puolustaa Valjeanin ja Cosetten taloa isänsä rikollisjengiltä. Kaikkea ei voi tietenkään sisällyttää, mutta henkilökohtaisesti Époninen syrjäytys jäi hieman harmittamaan. Myös Époninen traaginen kuolema hoidettiin minusta aika hutaisten, mikä oli sääli, sillä parhaimmillaan se on hyvinkin voimakas kohtaus. Époninen sisaren Azelman (Fiona Syrén) sisällyttäminen oli kuitenkin iloinen yllätys ja tulkinta mainio, ja pikkuveli Gavroche (Leevi Finkman) varasti show’n käytännössä aina ollessaan lavalla! Näytelmän lapsilahjakkuudet olivat kautta linjan erittäin hyviä, ei voi kuin ihailla!

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Muutaman hahmotulkinnan lisäksi paljoa valitettavaa ei siis löydy. Kenties isoimmaksi dramaturgiseksi heikkoudeksi jäi näytelmän loppu, joka tuntui melkoisen kiireiseltä. Javertin kuolemakohtaus oli jätetty kokonaan pois, mikä on hämmästyttävä valinta, sillä mielestäni Javertin viimeiset hetket ovat hyvin tärkeä päätös hänen hahmonkehitykselleen ja oleellinen palanen hänen ja Valjeanin mutkikkaassa suhteessa. Nyt Javertin tarina tuntui jäävän vähän keskeneräiseksi, etenkin kun toisessa näytöksessä hahmo jäi aika pahasti paitsioon. Samoin kävi toisaalta Valjeanillekin, jonka kuolemakohtaus tuli aika puun takaa kesken Mariuksen ja Cosetten häiden, ilman sen suurempia loppuhöpinöitä. Aivan viimeiseksi näimme vain Valjeanin astuvan taivaaseen, ja Cosetten nyyhkyttävän hänen jälkeensä. Sinänsä kaunis lopetus, mutta itseäni se jäi vaivaamaan, sillä vaikka olisi ehkä virheellistä väittää tarinan loppuvan onnellisesti (ottaen huomioon että päähenkilöistä eloon jää ehkä kaksi, “onnellinen” lienee väärä sana), mutta mielestäni tarinan lopun pointti on nimenomaan toivo ja tulevaisuuteen katsominen, joka ruumiillistuu Cosettessa ja Mariuksessa. Kyllähän se tässäkin versiossa toteutui häiden muodossa, ja tavallaan lopetus oli oikeastaan onnellisempi kuin usein, mutta itselleni se jäi hieman väärään tunnelmaan ja lopun toivon kipinä jäi häistä huolimatta saamatta kun Valjean vain otti ja kuoli ilman katartista jäähyväiskohtausta ja anteeksiantoa. Muutenkin aika monta langanpäätä jäi roikkumaan (Thénardierien kohtalo, Javertin kohtalo, Cosetten suhde menneisyyteensä, Mariuksen suhde Thénardieriin…), ja lopun jännittävän syvälliset käänteet vedettiin surutta suoriksi, mutta kuten sanottu, jostain on tingittävä kun yrittää tiivistää useampaa tuhatta sivua tekstiä reilun kolmen tunnin pakettiin.

Tiivistääkseni tämän polveilevan reportaasin hieman lyhyempään muotoon: Kaarina-Teatterin Kurjat on korkeatasoinen ja virkistävä tulkinta klassikkotarinasta, ja se tarjoaa sopivassa määrin uutta ja vanhaa sekä hardcore-fanille että keltanokalle. Kirjan faneille riittää hauskoja viittauksia ja iloisesti yllättäviä hahmoja ja kohtauksia, joita ei usein pääse näkemään, niistä nautin itse aivan erityisesti! Erityismaininta myös loistavasta lavastuksesta ja tilankäytöstä, niiden ansiosta kohtaukset vaihtuivat soljuvasti ja tarinan monitasoisuus konkretisoitui upeasti! Myös ensemble oli pääosin todella vahva (Minna Huhtalan Sisar Simplice oli ihanin!) ja kaikki pelasivat hyvin yhteen.

Kaiken kaikkiaan Saaristo-Vellinki on tehnyt erinomaisen ja omanlaisensa tulkinnan tutusta teoksesta, joka on uskollinen tarinalle ja alkuteokselle jäämättä jumiin musikaaliproduktion tai lukuisten elokuvien tarjoamiin valmiskaavoihin. Ei ole varmastikaan helppoa löytää tuoretta tulokulmaa näin tunnettuun teokseen, mutta tämä produktio todisti että kaikkea ei ole vielä nähty! Pitkän linjan fanille, joka on nähnyt jo kaikenlaista (sekä hyvässä että pahassa), tämä oli virkistävä kokemus ja todistus siitä, että tämä iätön tarina elää edelleen ja voi hyvin! Hyvin tehty!