Friday, 20 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | Review! - Jerkbait by Mia Siegert



Jerkbait title image


flowers flourish








Title: Jerkbait
Jerkbait by Mia Siegert book cover
Author: Mia Siegert

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+ (M/M,) Magic Realism* (*ish)


Amazon: UK - USA









A few starting notes:

A bunch of people have recommended this; you've got mental health representation and LGBTQ+ representation, so yeah, I was gonna read it!

For a great review from a queer male reviewer, check out Naz @ Read Diverse Books' review, which was the first review I think I read of this book (and is awesome.) 😄

In the interests of balance and all cards on the table, here's a Goodreads review from someone who really didn't like this book, and had some valid points about the representation.

(This is another one of those reviews where, once I started, I couldn't stop. So if you need the loo, now's the time: go and then come back. Go on. I'll wait.)







Premise:

Robbie and Tristan are twins. They might look identical, but they couldn't be more different.

Robbie is a hockey star in the making, and Tristan, well he lives in Robbie's shadow; he'd prefer to be in musical theatre, but that's not acceptable to his parents.

Then Robbie tried to kill himself. And suddenly nothing's the same any more.

Robbie has been hiding that he's gay, Robbie has been hiding that he's depressed.

Somehow Tristan has to get to know the brother he's drifted apart from, before things go too far.





Best bits:

How do I start? This book is awesome.

It's uber-readable, and, in places, utterly heart-breaking.

The development of the relationship between the twins is fantastically written - slowly, but surely, as Tristan starts to understand things - and understand Robbie - a little better.

And the central message that you have to be you? *hugs book*







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It took me a while to get that Tristan wanting to be in musicals is somehow seen as girly or something...?





*Cue explanation*






Sorry if I sound super-naïve guys, but it's really not seen as a feminine thing here.

All of the sporty boys at my school were involved in the musicals. Because if you've got the talent to be cast, and you want to, why not?

I guess there's a reason they call us The Land of Song.

(And suddenly High School Musical makes a lot more sense...)

So, apparently in other places around the world, your sports fans don't sing hymns in the stands?

And that made me realise that there's places in the world where men can't just sing when they want to. Not even in a male voice choir.

And that made me kind of sad... because that means there's a lot of you out there that can't let your hearts sing whenever you want. 💔

So, with my new-found knowledge of hockey apparently being masculine...

(We play lawn hockey here, it's largely a girl's game... we do have one ice hockey team that I know of, which is a men's team.)

...and musicals apparently being feminine, I could appreciate what the author was trying to say.






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But Cee, if you were confused, why is this in the 'best bits' section?

Well my dearest nerdlets, it's because my confusion fit in so snugly with what Siegert was trying to say - stereotypes are arbitrary. And stupid. 

Do whatever the f**k you want (legally, ofc.)




*end of explanation - feel free to burst into song at this point*










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I also really appreciated the portrayal of the stigma of mental health problems - Robbie's parents don't want anyone to know about his depression in case it harms his career.

Robbie can still play hockey well, but he'd be seen as a liability if the teams knew about his problems.

Mental health problems are not spoken about in sport, and still have to be hidden more often than not in everyday life because people will treat you differently.

Additionally, there's the problem of homophobia within sport, which Siegert shows sublimely in all of it's awful casualness.

At no point, though, does Robbie become just a plot point, just a diagnosis, just an orientation - and all I can say to that is: well done!








Not so great bits:

There's a lot of potentially distressing content in this book guys, so be aware that it has the following:
  • multiple suicide attempts (from the first chapter, various methods)
  • depression
  • homophobia
  • homophobic attacks
  • brief transphobic comments
  • racism
  • truly terrible parenting
  • implied past physical child abuse (punching etc.)
  • catfishing
  • sexting
  • self-harm
  • references to HIV/Aids
  • ableism (mental health stigma)
  • kidnap
  • confinement
  • isolation
  • bullying and cyber-bullying (homophobic and ableist)
  • being outed
  • physical abuse/torture
  • trauma/shock
  • rape/sexual assault
  • a sex offender
  • hypothermia

...ok, I think that's all of it.





flourish divider






There's also references to the sexy times and masturbation, and there might be the odd swear word in there, but if you're ok with all the other stuff, it's not going to bother you.

I would personally have preferred it if we centred more on Robbie than Tristan. Tristan's point-of-view (POV) sometimes feels like Robbie is side-lined when he shouldn't be.

That said, I understand the challenges and limitations that would come from Robbie's POV, and totally get why Siegert chose to use Tristan's view instead.

This way, the graphic stuff largely happened off-screen (off-page, whatever) and this book is therefore more likely to find it's way into the hands of the young people who need it most









rainbow fingerprint









But personally... I feel like Robbie's experiences are the important part here, and Tristan's viewpoint sometimes felt alienating from a depression perspective, simply because he doesn't understand.

The main problem I had with this book in terms of the mental health representation - which is largely awesome - was that at one point, in the heat of the moment, Tristan calls Robbie a 'coward.'

And that felt like someone'd slapped me in the face. I think I actually flinched.

In context, I can totally understand why Tristan would say it - he was scared as all hell of losing his brother. But he should have apologised or felt regret or something because... ouch.






hockey stick, puck, and helmet






I should also point out that much of the bad stuff in this book happens to our main gay character, Robbie, including *spoiler alert* [rape, sexual assault and kidnap by an online catfish; attempted suicide; being outed] *end spoilers.*

On a slightly lighter note - what the hell is going on with Tristan's ribs?!

Everyone seems to aim at them - and it's like, there are other places you can injure!?!

Just food for thought.






Verdict:

I had a few niggling issues, true.

Overall though? This book is so important guys.

I recommend it, but cautiously; there's some people and situations where this book might do more harm than good.

But in the right setting, to the right person, it can certainly do more good than harm.












flowers flourish








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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | The Writer Diaries - The Challenges of Writing With Depression and Anxiety

(This post discusses mental illness, depression, anxiety, and brief references to suicidal thoughts.)


There's this myth that having a mental illness somehow makes you a better writer.

The tortured artist, able to bring forth the most beautiful art from their pain.





That myth is complete b*lls**t.

If anyone with a mental health problem is creating beautiful art or writing, it is in spite of not because of their illness.

For the love of whatever higher force you believe in, do not demean the efforts of artists and writers by saying that it's 'only' because they have mental health problems that they can do these things.






woman typing on typewriter






Because it's damned hard.

It can be hard enough to do the day-to-day things with mental health problems. Writing? Can be a constant f**king marathon.






Like a lot of people, I've always wanted to write.

Maybe 'wanted' is the wrong word - I've always written, because it's just a part of who I am. Call it a character trait if you like.





Now, I'm sure a fair amount of you will be familiar with the insecurities and worries of being a writer.

There's something about writing that is intensely personal, and you're putting it on display. Who wouldn't be worried?






typewriter







When you have depression and anxiety though, all those insecurities are magnified.

There are challenges to writing, to wanting to be 'a writer' when you have these conditions.






Here are a few them:

(This is just my own experiences and opinions guys. Everyone experiences mental health problems differently. Also, self-care guys - if you have to stop reading for your own mental health, you freaking do it!)




1. Feeling you're not good enough.

I'm sure most people have thought this at some point when looking back at their own writing. I think it almost every time I read something I've written.

Worse, sometimes this can lead to a thought spiral: this isn't good enough and it's what I've always wanted to do, I can't do anything right, why do I bother...?

Sometimes it gets darker than that, but I don't want to bring you all down.





one yellow umberella amongst several grey umberellas







2. What if...?

When you have anxiety problems, 'what if...?' is a dangerous trap to fall down. It can keep you stagnant just because you're too terrified of either success or failure.

Yes, I have anxiety issues around success, as well as failure.

  • If people actually like what I write, what if I can't replicate that a second time?

  • What if I have to go to events and lit festivals? That would mean travelling, meeting new people, speaking about my own writing, ending up in the right place at the right time... all things that give me massive anxiety issues.

  • What if people don't think I'm worthy of the success?


Imagine these sorts of thoughts, spinning through your head faster and faster, as your breath gets shallow and you shake and start to feel dizzy. Anxiety is a b**ch.







3. Writing affects your mood.


I'm pretty good at listening to the warning signs when I'm reading something that is going to send my mood off-kilter.

...It isn't always what you think either - sometimes I can't read happy things because I think I'll never have that, and that has a bad effect.

But with reading, like I said, I've gotten pretty good at matching to my mood. It's part of the reason I read so many different books at once - I can match the book to what I'm feeling.

Writing? Writing is something I get lost in... and I don't always notice when it's affecting my mood.







sad girl







4. My motivation goes to sh**.

I nearly gave up on this post numerous times. If you're reading it, it means I somehow managed to a) finish it, and b) convince myself to actually publish it.

I will start writing something and just... give up.

I won't be able to convince myself to finish it. Why would I? It's never going to be decent enough for people to read anyway... See? That's the sort of sh** my brain throws at me.

And sometimes I'm just too damned tired.







5. I can't concentrate.

Sometimes I actually feel like I just can't think.

Depression makes your thoughts fuzzy and makes concentration difficult. So I will start writing something, and then just... not know what I was doing with it.

Or I'll not be able to get out what I'm thinking onto the page or screen because it just... gets lost somewhere.











So yes, writing is something I've always wanted to do. No, I'm not going to give up... but my writing doesn't come from my illness.

My illness has tried to kill my writing - has tried to kill me - on more than one occasion. Please bear that in mind.









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Monday, 16 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | Review! - Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton



Unspeakable title image




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Title: Unspeakable
Unspeakable book cover
Author: Abbie Rushton

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+ (M/F; F/F)


Amazon: UK - USA





A few starting notes:

If anyone with, or with first-hand experience of, selective mutism or OCD, has reviewed this book, please let me know - I'd love to leave a link to your review.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book.

There were parts of it I truly loved and parts which... I just wasn't comfortable with. There are a lot of problems with this book.

So prepare yourself nerdlets, we're gonna discuss some sh**.

(Seriously, if you need the loo or whatever, go now and come back, because once I've started I'm not stopping.)





Premise:

Megan hasn't spoken in months. Because there are things people don't know - things about the day when everything changed, the day she stopped talking.

But then Jasmine started at school. Beautiful, bright, bubbly, Jasmine... and for the first time in a long while, Megan might just want to talk again.





Best bits:

I loved that Megan's problems aren't simple.

Too often, depictions of mental health problems are put down to textbook examples, and left there.

The truth is that everyone's problems affect them differently, and that sometimes conditions combine to have a joint effect on someone's life.

I also liked Jasmine - I've seen a lot of criticism of her character, but I liked her. Yes, she's pretty idealised. But she's also not perfect.

And, honestly, the hope that there are people like her in the world - people who will accept you as you are - is not a bad thing. If you're a queer teen, and/or a teen with mental health problems, that hope might just be a lifeline.





girl silhouette






I also thought the relationship between Megan and her mother was realistic and beautiful. They struggled a lot with how to relate to each other, but there's an amazing undercurrent of love between them.

And that part of Megan - written in bold, large, italics - which tells her she ruins everything, which she has to push past, push against, push through? Yes. I've been there. And it felt... real.

It's also exceptionally readable - the prose is skilled and involving throughout, and you really do want to know what happens.

There's just a lot of heart to this book, y'know? And that's great.





Not so great bits:

First things first, there's a lot of potentially distressing/difficult to deal with content, here:
  • grief
  • mental health problems
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety
  • implied OCD
  • selective mutism
  • bullying
  • anonymous threats
  • guilt
  • violence
  • arson
  • animal cruelty/violence to animals
  • attempted suicide
  • homophobia
  • ableism
  • poverty
  • physical abuse from a parent
  • implied domestic abuse

There's also some swearing, drink-driving, and underage drinking (which you shouldn't do, in case you were wondering.)

I have problems with this book, nerdlets, both in terms of queer representation, and mental health representation.

Let's start with queer rep:

Megan, who is lesbian (although the word is never used, at least not as an identity rather than a slur, she has no attraction to men/boys,) goes on a date with a boy - Luke.

Now, it's entirely true that sometimes questioning lesbian teens go on dates with boys - BUT A NON-LESBIAN WOMAN WRITING THIS JUST FEELS FREAKING AWKWARD.

I don't know Abbie Rushton's orientation, but she mentions her male fiancée in the acknowledgements, so at the time of writing she didn't identify as lesbian.

The whole date felt a) forced and b) a gimmick - 'look! She's not attracted to him! Look at the lesbian!'

She also has Megan kiss Luke and enjoy it - again, if Rushton were lesbian and understood the issues at play here, then fine.






clasped hands





As it is? I don't think she understands enough to be writing these things in. #SorryNotSorry.

That whole plot-point just feels unnecessary and awkward.

Oh, and there's a male character who only exists for the homophobic bullies to pick on. We're not even told if he's actually queer, and we learn nothing about him as a person. #JustNo.

Now for the mental health rep.

This is disappointing, because there is good mental health rep here, but there's also poor mental health rep:

  • Megan's implied OCD is never addressed - we don't know if this is something she had prior to the traumatic event or not, and it just peters out as the story goes on.

  • [Luke's] mental health problems are both skirted over, and scapegoated. Everything's fine because we shoved [him] in a psych ward! The other crazy person did it! Not the 'good' crazy person. *Sighs*

  • Her psychologist acts like a douche. I don't mean just pushes her to explore her problems. I mean he intentionally upsets her. And somehow acting that out of line is ok, and he's some kind of saint in comparison to her 'out of order' response. The message this sends is... troubling.

  • Love cures mental health problems. Ugh. So sick of this. Love is not all you need guys, sorry.

  • Selective mutism is rarely a result of traumatic events*, and certainly the way in which Megan's mutism descends at the event, fully formed, and stays more-or-less stable until Jasmine shows up...? I have a limited knowledge of mutism, but this seems reductive and unrealistic to me. Please correct me if I'm mistaken; like I said, my knowledge of this is limited.

  • Sometimes the impression is given that Megan could speak if she wasn't trying to hide what actually happened. This isn't clear-cut, but is definitely something to keep an eye on. 👀





two girls sat on a bench





*where it is the result of traumatic events, it's usually a symptom of PTSD. PTSD is never mentioned in the book, and if this was the author's intent, then I don't feel it was put over clearly enough.






Verdict:

Do I know how to feel about this book now? Nope.

Look, part of me was just really connected to a queer girl with mental health problems... please don't judge me for that.

And parts of this were good. But the representation fell down on more than one front.

That's fine if everyone's going into this with eyes wide open... but there are so many misconceptions about mental health and being queer out there already, that it could do more harm than good.




Buy Now UKBuy Now USAGoodreads







  





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Sunday, 15 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | Nerd Church - No Shame, No Stigma

Yours truly is currently involved in #DisabilityDiaries2017 - an awesome event which I urge you all to support.

(The lovely Ely @ Tea and Titles came up with the idea of Disability Diaries - a week long event running from 14th-21st Jan 2017, discussing disability, books, and disability in books. 

Ely, myself, Angel @ Angel Reads, Dina @ Dinasoaur, Jolien @ The Fictional Reader, and Lara @ Another Teen Reader are running it.)



Barbie dolls inc. one in a wheelchair





And I think there's a heffalump* in the room that needs addressing: too often, disabled people are made to feel stigma and shame. And f**k that!

*I say heffalump instead of elephant. You can blame the combined forces of my mother and Winnie-the-Pooh.





It's difficult as all hell to even explain to people that you have an illness, disability, or other health condition. AND IT SHOULDN'T BE.





So, with no shame on my part, here are my (current) disabilities and health conditions:


  • depression and anxiety
  • skin allergies/contact dermatitis
  • suspected dyscalculia
  • episodic migraines with constant associated photosensitivity
  • slight physical birth defect


No shame. No stigma. Health conditions are a part of life.

I hope you can join us on Twitter and on our blogs throughout this week - it's gonna be awesome!







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Saturday, 14 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | Harry Potter and the Representation of Scarring

(Flashing Images Warning: there are some gifs with flashing images in this blogpost which may cause problems for those with photosensitive conditions such as epilepsy or migraines.)



Let's kick off Disability Diaries 2017 with something a little different. Let's talk about scars.

(The lovely Ely @ Tea and Titles came up with the idea of Disability Diaries - a week long event running from 14th-21st Jan 2017, discussing disability, books, and disability in books. 

Ely, myself, Angel @ Angel Reads, Dina @ Dinasoaur, Jolien @ The Fictional Reader, and Lara @ Another Teen Reader are running it.)












Scars. A physical sign of illness and injury. Not a disability, but often an indication of one, and often made into one by the way society treats them.





I have a lot of scars.




My scars are mundane - sorry, but there's no cool story of danger and adventure, neither is there any trauma you can romanticise.

But I'm covered in lines of silver, purple, and pink.

I scar easily - my skin is 'sensitive,' which is another way of saying 'my skin reacts to numerous substances and allergens, because my immune system treats them as a threat.' But that's not as pithy, I agree.

My skin also takes a long time to heal. So a simple scratch from my cat may leave a reddish purpleish line for 6 months or more.





So, with my variety of permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary scars, I notice the way we portray scars, in books and elsewhere.

Guess what? Society and media is cr*p at representation of scars. And for someone with low self-esteem (hello there! 🙋) it can have a really negative affect on how you view yourself.





Shall we take our most well-known scarred hero as an example?

(And I'd like to just point out that, like most people, I love Harry Potter and simply want to use this as an example to discuss scarring. It's really not an attack on anyone's enjoyment of anything.)















What do we know about Harry Potter's famous scar?
  • it's lightning shaped
  • it's the result of a magical curse that rebounded
  • it's on his forehead
  • it gives him magical Spidey-sense to let him know when Voldemort's faffing about
  • it's permanent




And what does that tell us, my nerdlets, about the representation of scarring here?




His scar might be shaped like a lightning bolt, but it's a clean line.

Scars are often jagged, uneven, and/or unsightly.

Rowling falls into the trope of Good Scars vs Evil Scars - good scars, the kind heroes get, are either attractive or barely noticeable.

They are clean lines, as if made by a precision instrument, and healed evenly.

The villains get to have 'scary' jagged or unsightly scars, to show that they're evil inside and out (*sighs*.)













It gives Harry a dramatic backstory.

It's a sign that he's 'the Chosen One' - it's derring-do and noble-suffering bound into one little line on his head.

And, just to be handy, it never dries out and flakes in the winter, forcing him to use non-heroic moisturiser.






Harry's scar is easily hidden.

Harry wears his hair long to hide his scar. While I would defend the right of anyone with a scar to either hide it, or display it, as they choose, why does Rowling choose to hide Harry's scar?

Is it, perhaps, because society sees facial imperfections and scars as something shameful, some sign of corruption? 

By hiding his scar, he can hide his imperfection. Rowling's hero is flawed, but not where anyone can see it.

But guess what? Scars are ok. They are not a corruption, or a flaw of character. They are simply damaged skin.







Harry's scar 'aches.'

OK, I'm about to blow your mind - SCARS DON'T HURT. Yes, yes, magic and all that. But scars have limited pain receptors.

Unless you cut through all the skin layers, they will very rarely actually hurt. The skin around them might ache or hurt, especially if they've dried out and tightened, but the scar itself? Not usually.

Scars are simply the result of collagen healing the skin. Yeah - collagen, that stuff they put in dermal fillers? Very few pain receptors.







And Harry's scar has magical Voldy Spider-sense.

Granted, this is handy plot-wise, and has the added 'oh, poor Harry!' effect that Rowling was clearly going for.

But what is this saying, really?

That scars are a constant reminder of the bad parts of your life and your past? That physical scars and psychological ones are directly linked?

That scars have to be (as Dumbledore says) 'useful' in order to be present on a hero instead of on a villain?













Scars actually change over time, you know that?

They can change vastly for about 2 years after the injury or other damage to the skin, and can change in appearance after that as your body ages.

You wouldn't think that, given that scars in so many books etc. are either healed completely within a week or two, or permanently in a specific state for the rest of the character's life.



If your character ages, their scar should too.

Stretch marks in particular will silver as you get older (and no, stretch marks aren't just from pregnancies - they also occur in growth spurts, and sometimes around injuries where the skin has had to grow more quickly than normal in order to heal the wound.)

I have a small indented scar above my eye from where I had some face-time with a table aged six (it had staples sticking out of it, and accident-prone Cee over here just had to connect with the stapled portion of the table.)

It looks different all the freaking time. If I'm tired, it really stands out. Some days, it's barely there at all. Skin is stretchy and crinkly - especially on your face.






So, there I am as a kid, reading Harry Potter, and wondering why the hell his scar looks the same all the time? Why doesn't it flake? Why is it aching, but never pulling with skin tightness?

Facial skin moves a lot, and you know those lines you get in your forehead when you're making expressions? They should've made Harry's scar look different all the time.





Ms Rowling chose to give Harry a facial scar, yet doesn't seem to know what that entails.

I would've loved it if he wandered down to Madame Pomfrey every now and then in winter to ask for lotion of some kind.

Or maybe a description of the weird feeling of not-feeling when you move a joint or a muscle (like, in your forehead, for example) with a scar overlapping it?





Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Harry, or against J K Rowling. It just would've been nice if, when writing a kid with a scar, she thought about what that was like.





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Friday, 13 January 2017

Friday Fics Fix! - Luck 'n' Fluff

It's Friday the 13th!!!!



Friday Fics Fix title image





Whether you're superstitious or not, you will, most likely, come across someone today who will blame some misfortune on Friday the 13th.












So let's remove the misery, and have some Johnlock instead! Woo!

(Fangirling notes: Johnlock is John Watson and Sherlock Holmes (from BBC's Sherlock) having a romantical and/or sexual relationship.)






More than that, I have a fic for you about John and Sherlock watching the horror film Friday the 13th, on Friday the 13th!

I'm sure there are meta levels faffing about there somewhere!










See? Luck. On Friday the 13th. We will win dammit! Lol.




So this week's fic is:

The Lucky Unlucky Day by SoftPurpleSherlockian




Enjoy! And kick Friday the 13th's butt!






Friday Fics Fix will be taking a break next week for Disability Diaries, so Fics Fix will be back on 27th Jan.








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Thursday, 12 January 2017

Comics Wrap-Up - Tonight We Are Victorious

Comics Wrap-Up title image



This was another one of those weeks where I only have stuff for the 'Other Stuff' section of these posts. *shrugs* It happens occasionally. I blame Loki.










Other Stuff



If you're not aware of Spideypool (whereby the Internet took Spider-man (the grown-up version) and Deadpool, and decided they were meant to be,) then you won't know that Spideypool shippers are a passionate and unusual bunch.

While the Stucky shippers have the romantic-tragic soul-mates corner covered, Spideypool shippers rely on a steady stream of Deadpool arguing with himself, random cr*p happening every five minutes, upside-down kissing, and d*ck jokes.

And Ryan Reynolds - the king of the Deadpool fandom, and y'know, actually the actor who plays Deadpool - never disappoints. He made out with Andrew Garfield, just to make us happy.





(pay attention to the left-hand corner)





-0-




Over on Women Write About Comics, Holly Rose Swinyard wrote about non-binary representation.







And that is it for this week! Not a lot I know, but Comics Wrap-Up is taking a break next week for Disability Diaries, so there'll be more on 26th Jan.





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