The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 1 – 2)

Apparently, I am very late to the ballgame. I didn’t know that Suzanne Collins released a new Hunger Games novel until yesterday. Yesterday! It’s been out for months! It must have gotten lost in the COVID-19 panic for me, but, thankfully, I now know and can remedy the fact that I haven’t yet read A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

But of course I can’t just pick up the book and read it! I want to consume it. I want to overanalyze every little detail until I can’t anymore. In order to do that, I have to do the unthinkable and reread the entire series start to finish. Trust me, this is my process. I mean, how can I possibly compare A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes to Collin’s original series if I only have a faint recollection of them? Even if by faint recollection I do mean I reread them every year, it’s definitely time to reread them again. 

And so that’s what I’m doing, starting today. Of course, I did already rewatch the first movie as soon as I heard the news. I wasn’t really in the mood for reading at that moment so I figured I’d watch the movie. To be honest, it was nowhere near as good as I remember it being. Even without having reread the series in a while, there’s so many little details that they got wrong that bother me. The big one is probably the fact that the way Katniss got her mockingbird badge was all wrong. Why did they do us dirty like that?

Not that it’s not a great movie, It is. It’s just not as great as I remember it being when they first released it. No big deal. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before-and survival, for her, is second nature. Still, if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

DISCLAIMER: My analysis of this book will be chapter by chapter. I will assume you’ve read the entire series in them. There will be MANY spoilers.

Side note: if you haven’t read The Hunger Games yet, don’t continue reading. The rest of this is going to just assume everyone in the whole entire world has already read this amazing book. It is available for free right now if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription (September 10th, 2020). Luckily, I own the book so even if it wasn’t, I’m all set.

Second side note: I’ll probably write about this book a couple of times because I will not finish it today. I’ll probably just go chapter by chapter like I did for Midnight Sun. I like to take certain books slow. I’m also reading another book right now that I have plenty of mixed feelings about – Evil Love by Ella Fields. I don’t know when I’ll manage to fully formulate my thoughts about that book or finish it, but maybe I’ll hit my stride soon with that book. Right now, it’s just not clicking for me. The reviews about it seem mainly positive though so I’m hoping it’ll click somewhere.

Chapter One Thoughts 

I was excited to start rereading The Hunger Games today. I have a bunch of books that give me a little shiver of excitement when I pick them up and this is no exception. I always look forward to revisiting Katniss. Her world is so dangerous and dreadful. It is also beautiful and interesting. It’s hard not to love every page of this book, even as you read about the monstrosities that occur within it. What they all do might be terrifying, but that’s part of the point.

And I always seem to forget how much I enjoy reading Collin’s writing. I love how descriptive she is. Her world-building is just stunning. Everything feels so vivid and real. I also love the fact that she writes in present tense. Where most authors write in past tense, she is almost always in the present moment. It makes me feel like even the author doesn’t know what is about to happen next. Everything is new and surprising, even if you’re reading the book for the hundredth time.

I also personally rather enjoy when authors use normal words that we use for slang. Having the part of the district where Katniss is named the ‘Seam’ is unusual in the regard that we don’t call neighborhoods that today, but it doesn’t feel so unusual as to not be real. Part of that is because ‘seam’ is a word. It’s not some random collection of letters that have no meaning to us. Another example of an author who does this is Scott Westerfield. His series The Uglies are absolutely jam-packed with our normal words being used as slang. It adds such a depth and ease of understanding to books that I don’t understand why more authors don’t use it. Minor details are what makes world building vibrant and interesting instead of boring.

It’s also crazy to think that in such a dangerous and highly controlled universe, people in District 12 dare to break the rules. Suzanne Collins makes the point early on that everyone is at risk of death in this world. From mine explosions to starvation and death penalties, no one is safe. But Katniss dares to venture into the woods to hunt. Others dare to go past the fence to collect apples. Small rebellions that harm no one go mostly unpunished. Having read the book many times prior, I never really noticed how this makes you question the peacekeepers and their aims. How far will they allow District 12 to go before they push back at them? What are their limits? I had never noticed this small degree of foreshadowing. 

Reintroducing myself to Gale is always fun. I look forward to him every time I reread this book. He seems to ground Katniss and make her more real. Every change she undergoes throughout this series seems to be amplified in relation to Gale’s changes. They start off so similar that it’s shocking. They have inside jokes, love for the same people, and the same wants and desires. 

It is always humbling to be reintroduced to the class system that exists in The Hunger Games series. The difference in your class, AKA your degree of wealth, is literally life or death for your children. How much money you have determines how much food you and your family have access to. Nothing is free and there is not enough to go around. The richer you are, the more food you have. Seeing the difference between how Madge lives and how Gale and Katniss live is quite stark. The fact that they have to enter their names more time into the drawing for The Hunger Games just to survive is horrifying, especially considering that their entries are accumulative from the age of thirteen to eighteen. Katniss’s own name is entered into the games twenty times. Gale’s, at eighteen, will have his name entered into the games forty-two times.  Of course, there is only one victor in the Hunger Games and their chances of being the sole survivor are very, very slim. They may have a higher risk of being chosen, but their chances of winning don’t increase. They still come from a poor, starving, weak district. Having to fight because of that is only really a risk for the poor.

And it is absolutely horrible that a nation would do this, kill off the children in each district just to prove a point. As a reader, it’s hard to imagine living in a world like that. Who would sacrifice children just to prove a point? But even in our world many governments do. Nations bomb other nations just to prove the point that they can defend themselves. They kill innocents and label it as protecting themselves. Children do die just for governments to prove their points. The reality of war is horrible. 

In the case of the Hunger Game universe, the point of these children being offered up is that the Capitol will not abide rebellion. Some of your children will suffer and die, but not all of them as long as you obey the laws. They want to show the districts that they are at their mercy. 

I also forgot how quickly this book gets into the real action. While the world-building is vibrant and fully descriptive, it doesn’t take a long time. I didn’t remember how fast each page goes by. Primrose, Katniss’s sister, being drawn as the female tribute for The Hunger Games happens insanely fast. By the end of the first chapter, you know what the rest of the story will look like to some degree. Not so pretty. Not so nice. More violent. You know someone is going to struggle to survive. You just might not be sure who. It is an amazing cliffhanger for the very beginning of the book.

Chapter Two Thoughts

Have you ever had a moment where you can’t remember how to breathe? I’ve had quite a few and I remember none of them fondly. Being so afraid and upset that you can’t physically breathe is overwhelming. It’s horrifying. Katniss’s reaction to the event of her sister being drawn is understandable and upsetting. 

Yet, even understanding that feeling, I don’t know if I would ever be strong enough to get past it and volunteer myself as tribute. I would want to. I love my siblings more than anything. But I don’t know if I would be physically able to do so quickly enough. The fact that Katniss can get past that emotion quickly enough to volunteer herself is a testimony to her strength. I think it’s the very first scene where every reader was really blown away by Katniss. She was the girl strong enough to volunteer to die in return for her sister’s life. That’s something.

It’s also just a well-written scene. Suzanne Collins captures everyone’s hearts so quickly in The Hunger Games that I’m afraid we all forgot to congratulate her for it. It is just so well done. The one thing that everyone can agree on while reading this book is that Katniss deserves better than a world who would do this to her. Katniss is a hero. 

However, I’m not sure if I agree with Katniss that having the audience see her tears would make her weak. The Hunger Games is part colosseum part reality TV show. Her tears would make her status as a volunteer all the more dramatic for the audience. It might have won her sponsors to let them fall. She would become real to them and they might want to help her survive. 

In contrast with Effie Trinket’s response to Katniss volunteering, however, I’m not one hundred percent sure my take on things is the correct one. She assumes that Katniss volunteered to win herself glory, not to save her sister. Maybe all of the people in the Capitol are as naive. Or as shallow. 

When Peeta is volunteered as tribute, I have always thought it was interesting that Katniss compares him to prey: “,,,his blue eyes show the alarm I’ve seen so often in prey.” Even though her disdain for the games are obvious, she does begin to see her opposition as opposition. Peeta is already becoming prey to her in a manner of speaking. That feels like a very real and humane response, to be honest. Who wants to see their competitor, who could very well kill them or be killed by them, as a person? I wouldn’t want to.

As I’ve said before, it’s the little details that add depth to a story. That’s the case with the above and that’s also the case with Katniss’s background story. Her mother’s depression provides a reason for Katniss’s exemplary strength. It also explains her strong attachment and protectiveness of her sister, Prim. Of course she volunteered to save Prim. She’s been acting like her mother since her own mother vacated the position. 

But at the same time, Peeta’s mother’s cruelty also adds depth to his own character. It is obvious now, looking back at this story, that the author wanted you to get attached to both characters. Katniss is amazing, but Peeta is not without value himself. They are both tributes and both deserved better than that. Everyone does.

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (Ch. 27-28)

After that last chapter, I considered adding Midnight Sun to my DNF. I honestly don’t even really think that it deserves to be finished. The entire book is next to worthless to me if the author makes it abundantly clear she doesn’t even care if readers enjoy this book. I want to promote authors who care about their readers, not ones who milk them like a cash cow. 

But I guess I’m hopeful still. I remember moments where I genuinely enjoyed this book. Maybe I can justify her complete lack of effort as boredom on her behalf. Maybe she just genuinely hates battle scenes. It’s a bit of a stretch for me that she’s fine with writing endlessly about how perfect Bella is, but won’t write about the death of an insanely powerful threat… But maybe that’s the case. She just doesn’t care for violence. I don’t know for sure.

I do know that we, as readers, deserved better. And I’m particularly let down on behalf of her loyal fanbase. How can she continuously let them down when it comes to the scenes that they scream for? It is horrible that they begged for action the entire Breaking Dawn book and then she turned around and wrote another book that completely misses the point. 

What is the point of a vampire without a little bit violence?

Especially in a romance novel. I’ve always thought the allure of supernatural men in romance novels is that (1) we can excuse their violence as them not being human so (2) we can all find it super attractive. Without the element of violence, what is the appeal of someone like Edward? It can’t be his broody and depressive nature. That’s just not good enough for me.

And I’m not sure the fact that he makes Bella feel special is really good enough for me either. Although I am starting to think that that is the key to why the Twilight series is wildly successful. It’s not the writing. It’s not really the characters. It’s the fact that a completely average girl is viewed as a goddess by a hot, rich vampire. She becomes his entire world. And she’s exactly like everyone else, no matter how much Meyer emphasizes that she’s not (a problem in itself in my opinion, but we won’t get into that again.) Maybe people like this book because it makes them feel like they too could be special in the eyes of another person. Their completely normal traits can cause someone to fall in love with them. If someone can love someone as boring as Bella, they can love us too. 

However, it’s not necessarily an incentive for perfect love just to think the other person is special. Love is independent of a healthy relationship. They may intertwine, but they’re not necessarily directly in proportion to each other. So, in the context of their relationship, I still don’t get the appeal. Edward is toxic. His patterns of behavior are unhealthy. His personality sucks. I’d rather be alone than have someone like him think I’m great. Obviously the things he does to great people are horrible. He’s a stalker.

You might have to risk a lot for love, but it has to be worth it in my opinion. He’s not.

And it’s a bit disappointing.

But writing about isn’t always.

So here I am.

And am I happy about it? To be honest, no, not really. I’d love to be the type of person who can have a dramatic “I hate this series, I’ll never read it again,” moment, but I’m not. I probably will read it again. I might even read Midnight Sun again. It sucks. The writing sucks. The climax sucked. A lot about it just isn’t good. 

But for some reason I’ll still enjoy reading it. It’s like the worst type of guilty pleasure because even I don’t understand why I like it. I spend more time complaining about this series than complimenting it. Maybe it’s the little bit of nostalgia I feel to return to these characters I knew when I was younger or maybe it’s some type of deal with the devil Meyer made to make people addicted to her poorly written books. I’m not sure which is more likely at this point. The one thing I do know is I’m mad about it. 

Especially because my convictions about this series are so strong. I feel like they completely normalize unhealthy patterns of behavior. They romanticize abusive relationships as well as horrible things like suicide. They make death seem appealing. They make young girls think that men like Edward are romantic. They condition people to seek out similar attitudes in their own relationships instead of seeing things like stalking and telling someone who they’re allowed to go see as gigantic red flags. A lot of readers wouldn’t even notice that this behavior is horrible unless it was pointed out to them, especially during the original Twilight books. They might even find them romantic. That’s how deeply effective this type of conditioning is.

Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: stalking someone isn’t romantic. Sneaking into their bedroom to watch them sleep isn’t romantic. Controlling what they do? Not romantic. None of Edward’s behavior is romantic. 

I don’t personally ever find anything Edward does to be romantic, but the fact that I can find these books easy to read if I just don’t look too hard at them is a bad sign for how toxic literature impacts us all. It makes horrible behavior seem normal. I am fully aware that these books push an unhealthy agenda. And yet I still read them and like them. How messed up is that?

And how messed up is the fact that, as a teenage girl, I was recommended to read this by an adult? Did no one ever notice how horrible these books are? Or did they just not care? It feels like girls were encouraged to read books like this so they could fall in love with toxic, overly controlling men. Instead of being taught to be wary, they were taught to rush into unhealthy relationships headfirst. As long as the man could justify doing these things as protecting their loved one, they were a hero and not an abuser. 

Gag me with a spoon.

But of course I’m going off on another long-winded tangent. Toxic masculinity will kill us all if we’re not careful, but that’s not the entire point of this blog post. I’m supposed to be trying to read some of the actual book. 

Back to the chapter.

SPOILER ALERTS

I find it odd to watch Emmett ponder over the impossibility of Edward’s strength. Emmett knew he would never have the strength to start drinking someone’s blood and then just stop like Edward did. I wonder if he fully realizes that he has strengths entirely independent of Edwards. He is more open and honest than Edward, for one. To me, he comes across as more intensely loyal than Edward. He doesn’t ever seem to consider abandoning his family. He fiercely loves them. He allows new people into his heart without any fuss. He is not at all judgmental like Edward is. He is not condescending. 

More than that, Emmett is capable of loving someone completely without infringing on who they are and their own autonomy. He never asks Rosalie to be someone she isn’t. He never tries to control her behavior or her actions. He is not a creepy stalker. He is, instead, a healthy partner. 

I also wonder what would have happened had Jasper just revealed himself to the tracker from the get-go. Instead of hiding himself, maybe he should have just made it clear that he was a man of war during their very first interaction with the other vampires. Maybe then James wouldn’t have risked threatening the Cullens. Jasper can come across as deadly just because of the sheer number of vampire-related scars he is covered with. If he uses his talent to amplify that during their original meeting, he would have looked like the deadliest vampire alive. He might even be the deadliest vampire alive. 

I would love to see him in a fight with Alice or Edward. I don’t know if even their advanced detection skills would allow them to defeat him.

Watching how Alice solved the problem of Bella’s accident was interesting enough, but kind of added insult to injury. Why would we go into such detail about this, but ignore almost the entire battle scene? We got to hear about Alice interacting with the hotel receptionist in detail for pages on end, not entirely to my despair. Yet, we heard so little about Emmett and Jasper literally ripping a vampire into pieces and setting him on fire. It’s pure agony for me. Stephanie Meyer’s endless boredom with violence causes real damage to her series time and time again. Maybe she should hire a ghostwriter for her next book.

I wonder why she didn’t for this book when she put so little effort into adding anything new to the series. It’s all starting to come across as an afterthought to me. But perhaps I’m being a little too critical now that I know the extent to which I’ll be disappointed by Midnight Sun. I did originally enjoy that chapter about chasing James, for example.

But I didn’t realize throughout the original books the extent to which smell really would help a vampire doctor. Edward could tell that the blood in Bella was not her own. It smelled completely differently to him than her own. It would continue to do so, to some degree, for many weeks.  If he can pick up those small differences for the next few weeks, what can Carlisle’s trained nose really pick up? I’ve heard before about sniffer dogs that can detect sickness in a human far before any other medical devices can. I wonder if Carlisle often does the same and how he prevents that talent from becoming suspicious. Such an advantage would undoubtedly aid him in being a skilled doctor, but it would be extremely odd for him to have such early detections of human ailments. 

I also found it interesting that Renee’s mind is the exact opposite of Charlie’s. It makes sense, considering how different their personalities are, but I didn’t really think that Renee would be just as unique as Charlie. Her mind is extremely loud, unable to be ignored by even humans. While they may not be able to hear her thoughts like Edward can, they can’t seem to ignore what she wants. When Edward tried to imagine Renee as a vampire, he pictured a woman who would constantly be projecting her thoughts at the people around her. Her thoughts would be inescapable. Even now, as a human, her thoughts impact the way Edward feels about the people around him. It also helps her get what she wants. That’s very interesting.

It was also unusual that Renee’s blood was overly sweet compared to the average human. Bella’s parents seemed almost as unique as her. Renee had her overly impactful thoughts and sickeningly sweet blood. Charlie had thoughts that were more hidden from Edward than any other humans except for Bella. Why did Edward never mention any of this to Bella? It feels like pertinent information he should have shared with her. It might have made her feel like less of a freak.

Plus, it’s just pretty interesting stuff to know. Now she may never find out at all until long after her parent’s deaths.

Watching Bella interact with the tracker through Edward’s mind was also very interesting. Her calmness and patience came across as jarring in such a violently-minded scene. No wonder James was so thrown off by her behavior. It is very oddly placed. 

However, it made sense in the original book so I suppose it makes sense now.

But Edward never should have been given that tape to watch. I don’t understand why Alice didn’t just destroy it when she realized she would never be able to convince him not to watch it. So much of this is probably why he evolved into a completely toxic, overly controlling partner. Bella could barely move without his permission. The entire video was designed to traumatize and infuriate him, and it worked. 

But it worked after James was already dead. Edward had no recourse for handling this trauma and rage. He couldn’t go and kill James himself and I doubt there’s a vampire psychologist waiting in the shadows to provide him with the therapy he needs. So, instead, he directed these huge emotions towards himself and Bella. Their relationship suffers as a result. For a vampire that already believed he was the worst creature to walk the earth, this could be the unhealthiest moment in his life. It is almost definitely the most unhealthy moment in this series.

Alice should have just destroyed the tape.

And, then, I was hopeful again. Maybe Edward shouldn’t have watched this tape, but I definitely wanted to. Perhaps this was the moment where Meyer would detail the fight scene. But of course not. Vampires move too fast for videos to really capture them. Of course we would miss the entire thing. Another let-down. 

The next section absolutely crushed any progress these past few chapters made, at least in my opinion. The section where Edward begins to pray is extremely off putting. It has an odd mix of strong Christian beliefs and the overwhelming sense that Edward believes he is his own God: “It made no sense for immortals to have a god; we had taken ourselves out of any god’s power. We created our lives, and the only power strong enough to take them away again was another like us. Earthquakes couldn’t crush us, floods couldn’t drown us, fires were too slow to catch us. Sulfur and brimstone were irrelevant. We were the gods of our own alternate universe. Inside the mortal world but over it, never slaves to its laws, only our own.” 

The hubris kills me.

It also comes across as a section from a completely different book. Normally Edward is melodramatic, but this is to a whole new extent. It is aggravatingly dramatic and almost disturbing to read. I can’t explain the concrete reason why I hate it so much, but I do. It is just so out of place. Perhaps it is some type of psychotic break. He might have finally lost his mind. 

This is probably also the moment where he really commits to leaving Bella behind. He prays to “her” God for the strength to leave her. This came across as utterly ridiculous to me. I know he had some type of breakthrough while she was in the hospital recovering that caused him to leave in New Moon, but I really couldn’t imagine the scene where he makes that decision would be like this. If the next book is just about his mental breakdown, and it sounds like this passage, it will be the first book in the series I absolutely do not finish. 

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Is it read-worth? Let’s get real here: the reason why 90% of people read stories like Young Goodman Brown are because a class they are taking them requires them too. The writing itself is fine, but it can be hard to understand from a modern perspective. I enjoyed the piece, but don’t necessarily recommend it to others. However, you can find it here if you wish to read it. It’s completely free.

I mostly wanted to make a post about this short story because I found a very short essay I wrote that might help people better understand the story. Or at least pretend to. Not that I’m saying it’s a bad piece of writing, it’s very good, but most people don’t really enjoy reading stories like this.

SPOILER ALERT: My Young Goodman Brown Essay

Faith is the young wife of Goodman Brown. They’ve been married for only a short period of time, but he relies on her heavily as a symbol of all things good and pure. In the story, her faith in God strengthens his own. If she, his lovely wife, is not faithful, how can Goodman expect to be? However, she does not seem to feel the same way about Goodman. At the very beginning of the book, she questions what he is going to go do in the middle of the night. Why does he need to leave her? While he may love her as a symbol of all that is good, Faith does not entirely trust her husband and mentions that she also has questionable thoughts when she is left alone, particularly at night. While she may try to resist temptation and sinful behavior, and he believes she is the image of good faith and godly behavior, she isn’t entirely free of human weaknesses. She questions, she wants, and she struggles with the same challenges we all face. In the book, Faith may be used a symbol for Goodman’s own faith, but, as a character, she’s just another person. 

In the short story, Young Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown seems to lose the naive view he had of the people around him. In the beginning, Goodman assumes that all people are inherently good. He does not question his deacon, his governor, and he holds his wife, Faith, in extremely high esteem. They all are good God-fearing members of the community. However, when he leaves his house to meet with an old man in the woods, he loses all innocence he once had. The old man, who represents the devil throughout the story, tells him of how he regularly drinks with highly esteemed members of the church, advises the governor, and how he played a role in Goodman’s own family’s decisions. Goodman then finds that most of his community, who he labels witches and evil-doers, meet with this devil regularly. He even sees his own wife being tempted by the devil’s promises. As a result, when he finds himself waking up in the middle of the woods, his view of the world is irrevocably changed. Goodman does not trust the people around him. He doesn’t even love his wife anymore, fearing her to be doing the work of the devil. He has lost all innocence and, in a manner of speaking, has lost his connection with God by blocking out the love, blessings, and behavior of the people around him. While most people do lose a portion of their innocence at one time, Goodman shows what happens when you lose all innocence and all faith. 

Faith is perhaps the most important symbol throughout Young Goodman Brown. She represents Goodman’s faith in god – his goodness, purity, and ability to connect with others. When Goodman sees her being tempted by the devil, he loses all hope and emotionally disconnects from the church, his community, and his wife. If she is unable to be godly at all times, he has no hope for himself. 

What happened to Goodman Brown was both a dream and a reality. I believe the actual events that occurred were a dream that resulted from his fear of being in the woods, his actions being questioned by his wife, and his own budding sense of distrust. However, the lasting effect is the reality that matters. He wasted the rest of life distrusting the people around him, he lost all love for his wife, and he failed to connect with any of his children in a meaningful way. It does not matter if those events occurred as much as it matters that Goodman believes that they did. He wasted his life by believing that the people around him had given in to evil.

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Two

Is it read-worth? Absolutely. The characters in this section of the overall story are so completely relatable. You can almost imagine yourself living their lives and being faced with the same decisions. What would you do if your religious beliefs told you not to do something that would save your life? What if everyone hated you for it?

Switching from Part One to Part Two of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful was a complete and total tone shift. Unlike Part One, where everything comes across as familial and almost innocent, Part Two starts off a little bit sexy. To be perfectly honest, the transition was a little bit jarring for me. Again, I wasn’t expecting this to be a collection of short stories. I was expecting a novel. The back of the book didn’t set me up for an easy comprehension of what was happening. I was confused as to the change in writing style and, during my first read-through, kept wondering where Julia and Evan were. That was my fault, though, for not looking into this book before buying, but it was a bit difficult to understand as a reader.

I’ll save you the trouble: STRONGER, FASTER, AND MORE BEAUTIFUL IS A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES.

And very well written ones at that. Once I got past the original confusion, I loved this second part of the collection. I especially enjoyed the way it is written. It starts off at the moment before a big event and then keeps going back in time to explain the background story. The main character, Milla, keeps warning you that you’re going to hate her for what happens. Spoiler alert: I didn’t, but I can see how many people would. 

Plus, it was really nice to have a completely normal girl as the main character in a book. It is especially nice in comparison to Midnight Sun where the emphasis is always on how different Bella is than other girls. I’ve been reading that lately and I don’t particularly enjoy books that spit out “not like other girls” rhetoric. I like reading about normal girls. I like the fact that Milla would normally blend into the crowd. I like imagining regular people in extraordinary circumstances. It feels more real to me than anything else.  It feels more like I could be her.

I really do recommend reading this collection so far. It’s extremely interesting and the writing is just phenomenal. Even with the tone shifts, I have enjoyed both parts I’ve read so far. And once you have read it, read the rest of my review below so we can talk about it!

SPOILER ALERT

Like I was saying, I really enjoyed Milla as a character. She seemed so completely normal. There she was, in a coffee shop, watching a book who hasn’t noticed her yet. It seemed to me like she had a crush. She is just a completely average, normal girl who’s a little bit nerdy and a little bit smart and a little bit pretty, but mostly just blends into the crowd. She could be anyone. I felt like I could relate to her. 

When she mentions her mesh line at first, I mostly just glazed right over it. I didn’t understand what that meant, but it couldn’t be that important? It was mentioned so casually I hardly noticed it the first time through. But then it ends up that it matters quite a bit. 

Milla had been in a horrific car accident a while back. She almost died, but, due to modern science, it was possible to replace her more damaged parts, such as her heart and eye, with new parts that were 50% artificially grown and 50% “her.” A mesh line is almost like a regulatory device between the “not so real” parts of Milla and the parts that are 100% herself. It’s a wonderful, life-saving technological innovation, but it comes out later in this part of the collection that not everyone agrees with the procedure. Some hate them. People like Reverand Tadd, the religious figure from the first part, believe that procedures go against God’s plan. The people who have them done are cursed to hell. 

It comes out that the boy Milla was staring at in the opening passage was Gabriel, someone she had been on a date with the night before. When she arrived at school that morning, Milla was barraged by her fellow students. Her friend, Lily, asked her “Did you really Milla? You hardly even know him.” Boys point and make gestures. Everyone seems in on a secret that the reader is not yet privy to. And I love the suspense. 

Strangely enough, it’s mentioned at this time that Milla is unable to blush, the second clue towards her current state. She says that “in her current configuration” it is almost impossible to do so. She also cannot cry. Her emotions seem to be locked down because of the mesh line. 

One kid, a person who was supposed to be her friend, mimics a robot vagina crushing a penis. It is a crude and disturbing thing to imagine, but these little details make the story much more realistic. Teenagers can be incredibly cruel, especially in regards to female sexuality. People in general can be extremely cruel to those they deem other than themselves. I really enjoyed the fact that, even with these clues, I didn’t really understand completely what was happening. The reason Milla was being mercilessly mocked had not come out yet. What the heck is a robot vagina?

I also liked reading about Gabriel and Milla’s date. It was easy to imagine myself in Milla’s shoes. Her crush on Gabriel seemed cute and understandable, almost like a long-distance crush that girls often have in middle and high school. He was cute and likable, but always seemed unreachable to her before her procedure. She couldn’t quite have him. Other girls liked him too. It was even rumored that he had girlfriends at other schools. He had never seemed to notice Milla. It all felt very approachable and honest. 

But the infusion of science fiction, Milla’s procedure, is what actually seemed to make Gabriel notice her and I liked that as well. It seemed to add a little bit to the power of such an intense medical procedure. Unbeknownst to him, the reason why she seemed more attractive and noticeable after returning to the hospital was that her eyes had been damaged in the car accident. Everyone at school thought only her legs and jaw were damaged. But she had actually lost one of her eyes and, because of that, the doctor performing the operations replaced both so that they would look like a matching set. It had the bonus of making her face more symmetrical and slightly improving her looks. It may have been a shallow reason for Gabriel to notice her, but that felt completely lifelike for the actions of a teenage boy. We’re all a little bit shallow sometimes.

It was also interesting that this section of the short story collection included such a large amount of religious background in it. Milla herself was named after St. Ludmilla of Bohemia who brought Christianity to her people. It is odd to think that Milla herself could have been the first student to bring those procedures to her school. Somewhat ironic maybe. During their date, Gabriel and Milla listened to the sermons of Reverend Tadd, warning of the spiritual danger of these medical procedures. He warned people that they would be doomed to hell if they approved of these procedures let alone had them. Fake livers and hearts and eyes were against Jesus. Just Milla being able to breathe violated his religious beliefs.

Milla and Gabriel had a theological debate regarding these issues, drawing away from their kissing. It came to Milla’s attention that Gabriel’s grandmother had extremely strong views against the procedure. She believed people with mesh lines were demons and that it was against God’s plans to save lives in this manner. Gabriel seemed unwilling or incapable of disagreeing with her views which seemed to wound Milla. Gabriel’s grandmother openly hated people who have had it done.

This felt very real in a plethora of ways. First is the fact that religious beliefs do stop scientific exploration and discovery from taking place. Stem cell research in particular has been partially prevented, especially in the US, due to people’s religious beliefs. Even though the results of this research could save a million lives, and improve the lives of many more, many people believe that it’s against God’s plan to delve into it too deeply. We cannot play God in this manner. I don’t necessarily agree with this perspective, personally. I think we should use every tool at our disposal to save and improve lives. I’m not super religious, but I can’t imagine a God who would give us such wonderful tools just to ignore them. I do understand that any type of stem cell research, or this procedure as discussed, comes with its own risks though. What is our limit? Do we have one? 

It also felt real because it seemed like this hatred towards people who have the procedure done was extremely similar in nature to racism or sexism. People hate other people just for one arbitrary reason. Many wouldn’t give Milla the chance to explain, or care. As she states, “How do I tell people that I’m so grateful to be alive, when I know they’ll never be able to look at me with anything but pity or, or, or judgement from here on out?” It’s such a powerful line and it struck me with how true it is. Because of her procedure, Milla will be judged the rest of her life. She cannot save herself from it.

Gabriel’s reaction to that seemed so kind and caring at first as well. He came across as so sympathetic and understanding. At least, until they had sex. And then I hated him.

He told her that, because she had robotic parts and had undergone such an invasive procedure, that it wasn’t like them having sex should be a big moment for her. She had already lost her virginity to either a doctor or a surgical device. Not to him. She was already damaged goods, based on the way he described it. I hate that. First off, women aren’t defined by their virginity. I understand that, as students of a Christian school, they might put a lot of weight on it, but it just comes across sexist and gross. The fact that her undermined her feelings immediately after having sex with her was degrading and cruel. It also shows how deeply rooted the prejudice against people with this procedure is in their society. She is less valuable, as a woman, because she has a mesh line. Yuck. 

And she begs him, afterwards, not to tell anyone about her procedure. He promises. And then he proceeds to tell everyone.

It is so startlingly real and cruel. Teenage boys do this to girls all the time. They brag about their hookups and act like the girl is a slut. It’s hypocritical and disgusting. But Gabriel’s actions are especially disgusting because of how he adds insult to injury with his descriptions of the sex. He tells his friends that she begged him to have sex with her, that she wanted to finally lose her human virginity. He tells fellow students that Milla is trying to convince herself that she’s a real girl, but based on how the sex felt? She’s anything but. 

It’s revolting. 

And I think it’s very honest and telling. It’s extremely relatable for how social interactions work today. People will always be cruel. 

But people will always be kind too. I really liked Mr. Kinross, the headmaster, as a character. He is introduced when he asks to speak with Milla after her interaction with Gabriel in the lunchyard. He tries to soften the blow of her peers’ words and comes across as such a genuinely kind person. He reminded me a lot of the teachers I’ve had throughout my school years. They care. Plus, I completely agreed with his line, “Something ugly is happening in our world… If God gave us minds, should we not embrace the fruits of those minds? Surely it is a mercy and a beautiful calling, to minister to the injured and the ill? … And yet, I see families with an entirely different view. They have taken it upon themselves to decide what God allows – which is surely exactly what they accuse doctors of doing.” It is a powerful statement and I can only imagine that his words would stick to Milla as she grows up. She’ll remember this small kindness and these impactful words Mr. Kinross spoke to her will resonate with her as she grows older. During her worst moments, she might even remember that her life is a miracle and not a curse. Even with the cold-heartedness others will show her, it is a miracle that she is still alive. 

It’s just a really wonderful scene. 

However, I feel like I could have done without the ending of this section. I kind of wanted this part of the overall connection to stay true to how people feel about those who have undergone the procedure. When Milla pushes Gabriel in front of a bus and he has to undergo a similar procedure himself, he apologizes to Milla and admits the reason why he told everyone about their sex and her mesh line. He didn’t want his grandmother to find out and he felt like she would know immediately. If he played it off like he was coerced into it instead, maybe it would lessen the blow of her disapproval. Maybe others wouldn’t ridicule him for it. 

But I didn’t need this addition. I didn’t need the hypocrisy of people’s beliefs to be beaten into me here. I understand that most people will take the chance to live or to save the lives of their families when given it. I really would have liked it if the author remained true to the core of this story: the hate and prejudices survivors will face. That felt more honest to me for this part of the overall story. Hypocrisy could be saved for other sections. 

However, I didn’t hate it. I just wish it was a little bit different overall. It was still excellent writing and I still understood the point of this storyline. It was definitely worth the read. 

Now, after I’ve already read this entire section of the story, I do find myself thinking about the fact that so much of the religious importance of virginity was ignored in exchange for the religious beliefs surrounding the procedure Milla faced. Not once did any of the students really ridicule her sexuality or call attention to that sin. They might have been shocked that she had sex with Gabriel after one date, but it didn’t feel like the normal amount of vicirol towards young women who have sex face. I wonder if the importance of virginity has decreased in comparison to the existence of such a technologically advanced procedure. Do they not care about the sin of premarital sex anymore? Does the religious community only care about this medical procedure? Even Gabriel, who was so embarrassed and ashamed to have sex with someone with a mesh line, didn’t seem to be embarrassed by his grandmother knowing he’s had sex. Are they weighing sins in their favor? I’m just curious and I wonder if future chapters will address the changing priorities of the religious community. 

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer: First Thoughts (Ch. 1-2.5)

First of all, disclaimer: I haven’t finished the book yet. I’m about two to three chapters in and I think I’m going to end up writing about the book as I go and then doing a final review at the very end. But so far? Not super impressed.

Like I’ve said previously, I don’t hate the original Twilight series. I enjoy reading them sometimes. I do, however, find a lot of the story-line and interactions offensive. I think Edward’s relationship with Bella is abusive. I think Meyer misses the mark on many scenes. I think she misses the opportunity to discuss real world problems that teens may have to face as they grow up.

For example, that scary scene where Bella is almost assaulted by a group of men? That was a great opportunity to discuss the horrible reality of sexual assault in this world and how to move past such an event, even if it is just overcoming a situation in which something almost happens. Instead, it’s just used as a device to bring Bella and Edward closer. Meyers glosses right over any type of recovery process. I could vent about that all day long. What a missed chance to bring some light to a bad situation. She could have used it to give survivors of assault a glimmer of hope. But she didn’t.

Nonetheless, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Even though I could. For paragraphs. I’m here to talk about Midnight Sun and what I think a few chapters in. And, to be honest, to its detriment it’s entirely what I expected so far. Having grown used to Edward’s constant self description as a monster, I wasn’t surprised by the intro. I was expecting an internal monologue of self-hate, admissions of guilt, and constant self questioning. Am I a monster? Is high school purgatory? Is this the punishment for my sins? Please give me a break. It’s just an unnecessarily large amount of dramatics for the beginning of a book. And there’s no comedic relief from it, which would have been well received on my end of things.

I equally disliked Edward’s interactions with Tanya during the beginning of the second chapter. They felt dishonest. How could Edward spend one hundred years as a teenage boy and never feel attracted to another person? Why has he never wanted a romantic relationship prior to Bella? I get that he is the type of person who is more attracted to personality than appearances, but it felt ridiculous that he had never encountered a personality that made him consider a romantic relationship. It’s been decades.

Maybe his refusal to date could be explained by how self-involved he is and that he just never notices anyone outside of his own cycle of self pity, but that feels a little bit shallow. There isn’t much depth to it. I don’t want the main character’s only personality trait in any book to be that he hates himself and loves a girl. His refusal to date anyone, for me, just really cements that that’s all there really is to Edward. Giving him even one ex romantic interest would have helped make him more well-rounded as a character. The one rebuffed would-be lover just isn’t the same.

Plus, sometimes it bothers me that Edward’s a vampire who believes he’s predestined to go to hell and he never really runs with that. Instead, he wastes time trying to prevent himself from sinning in other ways. What’s the point? He’s already damned. It feels like Meyers is trying to cater to a very specific audience that does not believe in premarital sex, but is doing it in the most illogical way. Edward believes he is evil. If he believes that premarital sex is evil, wouldn’t he have tried it at least once? At least in conjunction with the belief that he’s a horrible monster? He loves having ammo to hate on himself with.

Beyond that, I also wasn’t expecting certain scenes to be more annoying than I found them in the original Twilight series. One stands out in particular so far: the scene where Bella and Edward are having their first semi-polite conversation. I can’t entirely explain why, but it drove me nuts that she seemed so weirded out by Edward calling her Bella. She had been enrolled at that school more than a couple days at that point. With such a small school, it wouldn’t be unusual for people you haven’t talked to to learn small new details about your preferences. I went to a small school. You learned new things about people you barely knew all the time. That’s high school.

Plus, it’s perfectly explainable on his side as something that isn’t weird to know. It isn’t mind reading. It isn’t suspicious. He had simply heard more people talking about their interactions with ‘Bella Swan’ instead of their interactions with ‘Isabella Swan.’ She had already corrected half the school probably. It just seems like such a random thing to put a character on edge. In the real world, it’s unlikely she would have actually noticed.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be this annoyed with the book so far. I was annoyed at certain aspects of the overall series before, but not the actual chapter-to-chapter events and conversations taking place. The internal dialogue wasn’t so grating in the original book either. I kind of just breezed through the entire series. Perhaps it’s because I’ve already finished the original series that these first few chapters seem so much more aggravating. I don’t know if I’ll get to the point where I actually enjoy reading Midnight Sun. Right now, I’m more curious than anything else. I guess I’ll find out soon.

All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

Is it read-worth? I actually just wrote a review about this in my ‘3 Most Recently Read Books’ post and, as I stated there, I have mixed feelings about this book. I find the central concept behind the book wildly interesting. But, when it segways into a story of rebellion against a corrupt society, it drops the ball. I wanted a piece that explored the main character Speth Jime’s journey, not a rebellion piece that reminds me too much of a thousand other books.

However, I did want to do a separate post about this book in particular because this morning I remembered that I tried to define the economic value of each word we spoke. I didn’t succeed in assigning one, but I did ask many of the questions that this book answered for me. I literally theorized about the concept behind this book and, while in part my topic of choice was a cop out because I didn’t really like studying economics, I did enjoy thinking about a world that could assign a dollar value to each word. Perhaps that’s why I’m more interested in the first half of All Rights Reserved than its more predictable second half.

Back of the Book Summary

When every word has a price, her silence could spark a revolution.In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent rather than pay to speak, and her defiant and unexpected silence threatens to unravel the very fabric of society.

In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent rather than pay to speak, and her defiant and unexpected silence threatens to unravel the very fabric of society.

Speth Jime is anxious to deliver her Last Day speech and celebrate her transition into adulthood. The moment she turns fifteen, Speth must pay for every word she speaks and even every gesture of affection. She’s been raised to know the consequences of falling into debt, and can’t begin to imagine the pain of having her eyes shocked for speaking words that she’s unable to afford.

But when Speth’s friend Beecher commits suicide rather than work off his family’s crippling debt, Speth can’t express her shock and dismay without breaking her Last Day contract and sending her family into Collection. Backed into a corner, Speth finds a loophole: rather than read her speech, she closes her mouth and vows never to speak again.

Speth’s unexpected defiance of tradition sparks a media frenzy, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps, and threatens to destroy her, her family and the entire city around them.

‘Sorry’ is a flat ten dollars and a legal admission of guilt.

Every nod and every scream is $0.99 per second.

My Take On It

Oh, the beginning. I had such high hopes. It began with a Terms of Service agreement that made me extremely excited to read the rest of the book. I felt enveloped in this world Katsoulis was building from the get-go. I was literally reading off that the words I was reading were at my own risk and that I would not infringe on the copyrights of each individual word included in the book. It was excellent. That feeling of envelopment for the most part continued throughout the book.

I also particularly enjoyed the contents section where the cost of each chapter title was listed.

The beginning itself was promising. I enjoyed getting to know Speth and her family. I felt sorrow at the loss of her parents and anger at the way they were living. The more I found out about their social system, the more this book interested me.

When she went silent, I just about lost it in my excitement. An entire book where the main character struggles to communicate? Where her own society refuses to allow her even small gestures? I was hooked. How can you communicate when all your means of communication are stolen from you?

However, the story itself lost me when it left behind the concepts and ideas I adored so much and turned into a trite rebellion story. I’m honestly still a little bit disappointed about it.

The Economic Value of a Word

Because I mentioned it, I figured I’d include a copy of the essay I wrote below:

In your lifetime, you will speak over 860 million words. You will speak the equivalent of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary more than 14 times, speak the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica over 19 times, or, put another way, you speak the equivalent of the King James Bible, Old and New Testament, more than 1,110 times (“How Many Words do we Speak in a Lifetime?”). The number of words that come out of your mouth will be more than the number of miles it takes to circle the sun… by  a factor of nine. Thinking about it in that manner, if each word you speak is worth a mile, you can travel around the sun nine times. Undoubtedly, the words you speak have validity and have value. They are worth something. But what exactly is that worth? Within our current concepts of valuation, which is primarily based off a currency system in our own economy, it’s impossible to put a number to the overall value of each word you communicate to another person. However, if you consider communication systems to be an economic system within itself, that changes the value. Instead of being related to another form of currency, each word spoken (or written) becomes the currency itself. That may seem like a stretch until you realize something simple: communication systems and economic systems aren’t as different as you would initially believe. In fact, they’re very similar.

And they’re actually similar in a plethora of ways. An economic system is considered to be the means by which countries and governments distribute resources, trae goods, provide and receive services, and monitor overall trade systems at large. These systems do all of those things by controlling the five factors of production: labor, capital, entrepreneurs, physical resources, and information resources. Different economic systems, such as planned economies versus market economies, view these resources and responsibilities in different ways and implement their understanding of the concepts in ways that reflect their innermost values, goals, beliefs, and overall interests/well-being (“Economic Systems: Definitions, Types, and Examples”). 

The core concepts behind how people communicate with one another are very similar. For example, akin to bodies in an economic system, individual groups within communication systems direct their actions, or their words, in ways that reflect their own unique beliefs or goals. They succeed in this by meeting the needs of the six pillars of communication. These pillars include purpose, audience, resources, ethics, collaboration, and security (Detlef). By controlling the pillars of communication, individuals control the distribution of their communication resources, primarily information. While economic systems may provide a wider subject of control (the distribution of resources and control over large scale trade systems), the general idea behind both systems is control over the distribution of something with value. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the theories and concepts surrounding our understanding of the systems are both derived from the human mind and human actions.

Irregardless, the similarities can result in a comparison: if money is the currency of the economy, expressed words are the currency of communication. So how do we address setting an economic value to our words within our current system? As said prior, it’s basically impossible to do so. To put an individual value one each word that comes out of an individual’s mouth is an enormous, essentially impossible, task. It would require that whoever defined the value would be able to meet too many specifications including: Does each word have the same value? Do the words communicated by one individual have the same values as the words spoken by another? Does the overall impact of the words affect the economic value of each word? There is no way to set a dollar amount to the inherent value behind each word within our current system. Communication is too situational for that. For example, the same three words, ‘sign here, please,’ could signify the closure of a multimillion dollar deal and, in another situation, could simply be someone signing off on their $4.50 receipt at a coffee shop. Would the three words have a different economic value during the closure or during the signature of the receipt? How would you assign them a rotating value, if so? Once again, in our current system, impossible.

In a new system, however, the value of a word might not be impossible to address if looked at per individual speaker instead of per individual word. In an article written by Rachel Botsman, it is discussed that the country of China plans to launch a Social Credit System in the year 2020 in order to judge the trustworthiness of each of its residents. Daily activities, such as purchases, locations, and hobbies, would be monitored and valued, along with other areas such as who you interact with and what bills you pay. All of these behaviors are rated as either positive or negative and assigned a number, according to government set regulations, and the composite of those numbers would determine the “Citizen Score” of an individual (Botsman). This score aims to impact the job placement, educational opportunities, and overall social and political well-being of an individual by letting others know whether or not the government believes them to be a trustworthy individual. 

While the goal of this system, and the manner by which it judges people, may be different than the general idea of assigning value to a singular word a person says, the manner in which it operates could be a useful way to put economic value to the words we speak. This could be in a simplistic manner such as in monitoring the number of words an individual communicates per day on average versus how much income they are generating, therefore assigning a rough estimate value on their economic gains in comparison to how often they communicate. It would also be more complex, including that system as well as a rating system similar in which others rate an individual’s communication to a degree that corresponds to a dollar amount. The way in which people address one another, distribute information, and relate within groups could change the economic value of their overall communication skill score. Combining that with the consequences of their communication, such as how much money they earn and how much money they convince others to spend, could assign a rough estimate on the average value of any word that comes out their mouth. When implemented on a large scale, an average for the entire country, or world, could be determined.

But that’s all it would probably ever be able to be: an average. The economic value per word would be too difficult to address and, furthermore, it probably isn’t even necessary. Furthermore, a system like this could result in reputation fraud and could severely negatively impact the economy by introducing a new type of currency that could lead to inflation or, worse, anarchy as the current system tries to adjust to fit the creation of a new governmental body within the economy. In any case, the impacts of communication are monumental, with or without a dollar amount assigned. Without it, we wouldn’t even have economic systems to begin with. Perhaps the easiest way to handle this would be to take all the forms of communications, all of the words and expressions that can possibly be communicated, and give them all the entire economic value found within every economy in the world. 

 Works Cited 

Botsman, Rachel. “Big Data Meets Big Brother as China Moves to Rate its Citizens.” Wired, 21 Oct. 2017, 

“Communication.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2018.“Communication.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. We

Detlef, Pete. “Six Pillars of Communication.” 24 Hour Translation, 23 Mar. 2016, 

“Economic Systems: Definition, Types, and Examples.” Study, Header. Accessed 17 Apr. 2018.

“How Many Words Do We Speak in a Lifetime?” ProEdit,  Accessed 17 Apr. 2018.