Review: ‘The Raven Boys’, Maggie Stiefvater

Ye olde disclaimer: this review has no spoilers. Tumblr does though.

To be honest, if I’d come across this novel in the library or a shop, I probably would have ignored it because I judge books by their covers and this one screamed ‘boring YA romance between “quirky” teenage girl and dashing, brooding, teenage male’.

Good thing I found it on Tumblr, then, innit. I was intrigued by edits and posts reblogged by Feistiest, whose account I can’t remember deciding to follow. But I’m glad I did because she’s hilarious and The Raven Boys is absolutely brilliant. I was unsure what to expect just from Tumblr; I assumed it was hella queer and full of socially subversive characters or themes because Tumblr is a good testing ground for whether a novel is full of boring (read: straight, white, brooding) photocopy characters. So when I saw the tagline – ‘if you kiss your true love, he will die’ – I thought ‘Christ, this true love is of course a guy and probably a photocopy of all white straight young adult dude characters’. On the back, I saw that the novel has won a Glamour award for ‘Best Book to Curl Up With’. Had Tumblr been hoodwinked by a toilet paper YA masquerading as a hella queer/socially subversive character-rich YA? Or, holy shit, could the novel be both high  in quality and content and incredibly easy to read?

Yes, yes it could. I don’t read enough YA to know if it’s blowing the doors off the genre (thanks for that, Twilight) but it’s the sort of book I wish I’d known when I was 15 or 16. If I had, I might’ve been a bit more interested in boys and/or world history and/or brilliant storytelling. The plot centres around Blue, a girl whose family is psychic, and a group of guys broadly known as raven boys. They have nothing in common until it turns out that psychics, dead(ish) people, Welsh kings and Blue’s guarantee to kill her true love do in fact have things in common.

TRB

I’m only on the first novel of three at time of writing, and it’s too early to tell if the characters grow or if it gradually increases in queerness. At the moment my money’s on massive character development at the very least, and I hope I’m right… Tumblr edits aren’t always that accurate, you know? Maybe I misread the pretty pictures, and I can’t check until I’ve read the rest of the series. Which, by the time you read this, I may well have done.

Update, at time of publishing: I have finished the series with a fervour normally reserved for MCR. Tumblr was right and I am in love. Please do not look up the book online – there are spoilers everywhere – just reserve it from your library ASAP. Please. Oh and follow Maggie Stiefvater online because she is hilarious and eloquent with that really-good-author style that makes me want to take creative writing classes. She also took the piss out of me so in my head we are friends for life.

Oh, you can support my mission to become a writer of decent YA and various other genres on Patreon here.

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Saving Face: Girls Girls Girls (and everyone else)

The first question I asked last week when I started the Saving Face project was about gender inequality in the skin care industry. Things might be a bit different for children and preteens now, but here is a brief summary of how I understood things in primary school:

Girls wore products and makeup as a rite of passage in our teens even if it pissed off our conservative parents and even if we were much more interested in spending time and money on things we actually gave a shit about. If we didn’t, we were tomboys and/or lesbians. If we wore a lot of visible products when we were young, we were slappers. Boys shouldn’t wear make up because it’s effeminate, so if they did they were gay. They should, however, take pride in their masculinity and buy products to look like a proper dude.

Aside: did anyone else have the playground rumour that boys having a pierced ear on a certain side made them gay?

Thank God for rock ‘n’ roll… and exposure to the Internet. Men can use products. Women don’t have to. The gender binary is actually a spectrum, and cosmetics shouldn’t be gender-specific because a man will not morph into his wife if he borrows her face cream, and a straight woman will not turn gay if she starts using men’s razors (she will, however, save a lot of money. More on that in the next post).

I’m less inclined to buy into early-2000s school gate ignorance now, but my biggest issue with cosmetics has lasted for years, and I’m not sure if it’s a gender equality issue or just me. Remember when Ellen and Isobel gave me a makeover? It was a lot of fun, but I resented hints that I should always straighten my hair, or wear make up more regularly. The way compliments about how I look get phrased always seems to be “you look great with that make up/hairstyle/clothes on, you should wear it all the time!” Wait, so I don’t already look great? I’m way too stubborn to cave into those implications (especially when it’s from friends and family who are paying me compliments that I might just be incapable of receiving) but pressure from friends and family can have a detrimental effect. Maybe it’s not just me, because someone’s even made a video about it:

This post was nearly done, but then I went on the ‘natural hair’ Tumblr tag and found this (along with some brilliant examples of afro hair):

BLACK shesgotsomuchsoul.tumblr.com

It made me sad, because it’s true. We are all taught to be dissatisfied with what we have so we’ll pay to change it. Women seem to be targeted more, and at risk of sounding like a disenchanted radical, I reckon it harks back to that pesky opinion that men are naturally perfect and women naturally inferior. But it’s evolved into a race inequality issue, because the companies selling products need to make us all feel as though there is something wrong with our natural aesthetic, so we’ll be willing to pay for something new. We’re made to want what everyone else has while despising what we have.

The funniest part is, we can dye our hair or wear a product to express ourselves, to tell a story, to make us feel more confident. If you’ve got acne that you dislike or hair somewhere that makes you shy or insecure, you can buy concealer or get hair removal. But what they don’t tell us is that you should do it because you want to look good for you. Not for a boyfriend who wants you to shave your bikini line, not because an advert has implied you’ve got the wrong hair type or skin colour, not because friends of family have hinted they prefer one ‘look’ over another. The writers over at Rookie are doing an amazing job of explaining and demonstrating that cosmetics are a brilliant way to help you be yourself, but that attitude seems pretty limited to the Internet.

I feel like I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered. Why aren’t all women of all races, or backgrounds, or hair types or whatever, telling the media and social opinion to go fuck itself and concentrating on complimenting each other’s natural look?  Am I overreacting to people’s compliments when I do my hair differently? Are men targeted by the cosmetic industries as much as women? I can only speak from experience as a cisgender girl (told you I read up on the spectrum!). I kind of feel like companies use consumers’ ignorance (and maybe indifference, actually) to sell products we don’t need, and it’s fueling social inequality.

A Quick Question About Racism

This time in a week, my office won’t be my bedroom but will be my balcony, or a local restaurant, or… my bedroom (I’m staying in a studio flat and would put money on having exactly the same set-up as I do now, except with a closer bathroom). I was going to write a post just gloating about that, but then I went on Tumblr…

I’ve been treating the site gingerly since Uncle Rick posted about Blood of Olympus spoilers, so I glanced down the page as edgy as Hermione when she realised the Basilisk was in the pipes and saw this:

Racism on Tumblr

It might have been just me and a couple of inspirational billboard writers who thought this, but I was aware from a pretty young age that racism is learnt. One is not born as racist any more than one is born believing in God or born thinking Saturday night TV is occasionally contrived. When we first spill out into the world, we have no concept of anything. Then we are taught things that the people raising us think. We learn theism or racism or TV opinions as we grow, either by believing other people or thinking about things then coming to our own conclusions. Then we say what we think to our sprogs or students or blog readers.

That’s probably how most ideals have survived. You know, Mr Caveman Sr. realised that fire is useful but hurts if touched, and he taught Mr Caveman Jr., who taught Miss Cavewoman. Over the street, Mr and Mrs Cave were learning the same thing and told Baby Cave Kid as well.

Haha, baby cavepeople. (Alternatively, as Jacki pointed out, Ms or Mrs or even Miss Cavewoman may have discovered fire. I bet it was Village Idiot Caveperson who twigged that it hurt. Unfortunately – or luckily for this analogy – we may never know.)

My point is, lots of us are taught racism. I was. Most of us are taught sexism as well (hey, I wrote about this last week!). My parents were raised disliking Germans because their parents sat through the Blitz. Back when slavery and colonialism was a thing, most white people were raised to consider all non-white people to be inferior. Most non-white people were then raised to think that all white people were racists, and back then they were almost definitely right.

But it’s 2014, snowflakes. We’ve all been raised in part by racist, sexist, homophobic people – and we’ve also been taught by intelligent people that racism, sexism and homophobia (plus all the other -isms) is fucking stupid. Some of us have weighed up the evidence and concluded, independently, that racism, sexism and homophobia (plus all the other -isms) is fucking stupid.

So is the above Tumblr post actually just as racist, narrow-minded and indifferently ignorant towards white people as some white people are towards non-white people? Does anyone else get really upset by any mention of new book spoilers? Should I just stop using social media completely if it continues to find new ways to piss me off?

Well, I know the answer to one of those questions at least!

Five-ish Ways to Celebrate Five Years of Blogging: MCR Poster & Magazine Giveaway

Despite the plethora of wonderful ideas you all had for how I could celebrate Indifferent Ignorance turning five, I have come up with my own celebration. It’s called Five-ish Ways to Celebrate Five Years of Blogging and is coming to an Internet-connected device near you between now and November!

I say five-ish things because I’m not completely sure if a couple of them will come to fruition or when, so check back regularly to see which number we’re on.

The first thing is on Tumblr now, because I thought it would be funny if my first blog celebration was held on my scrubbly little non-blog (I don’t get out much). Plus I need to post it before I go to Greece. It hurts my heart to part with MCR possessions, but it turns out that a couple of the magazines were spares anyway, and those posters deserve to be put up somewhere, hence the giveaway.

The next four or so things will be revealed in good time, ie when I’ve put them together. Right, I’m off to drink some coffee and celebrate entering my last year of teenage-dom. I’m kind of bummed that I’ve only got a year to change the lyrics of Teenagers to “we” instead of “they”, and only a year to use “I’m a teenager” as an excuse for being rude to people, but so far 19 is looking peaceful and productive.

Probably because I’ve done little but write copy for zoos and look at MCR merch.

Explaining the Internet Slowdown (and protesting so you might not be able to read it)

It’s not that often that a lot of the people who use the Internet agree on something, but it looks like the US government has given us all a common enemy (again. Didn’t this happen with SOPA and Prop 8?!). I don’t have a huge understanding of the technical aspects of it, but essentially the US Federal Communications Commission has proposed laws that mean Internet providers can charge money for websites to access their subscribers. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay would get slower Internet connections than those who could. It’s kind of like private healthcare versus the NHS; companies who can afford to pay for top healthcare plans (or Internet) would get seen to quickly and in top-notch conditions (quick page loading), and the rest of us would be put into an 18-month waiting list and spend a week in A&E (the buffer symbol for minutes or hours at a time).

A&E is slow at the moment, but imagine if NHS hospitals were purposely given rubbish equipment compared to private ones? People on the NHS would stay ill or get worse while private patients would be sorted in a jiffy. Now I think about it, that analogy is quite similar to the debacle of non-free-at-point-of-use-healthcare countries… like America. Now’s not the time.

To show what these new conditions would be like, lots of sites – including Tumblr, Etsy, Twitter and Automattic, which powers WP and therefore here – have enforced a slow Internet day, today. Pages, videos and music streams are loading at the speed at which they would load everyday if telecoms companies started charging for access. Many sites affected probably could pay for the quick connection, especially if they increased adverts – but users are likely to be put off by the ads and anyway, what about little online businesses who pay for their own connection? What about people who want to stream videos from sites who haven’t paid for quick access?

The buffer symbol. All the goddamn time.

What can we do to prevent this shit happening at all: head to this website, which is petitioning Congress to stop the proposal from becoming law. If you’re using a site that’s campaigning for ‘net neutrality’, as they call it, you can have a look to see that they’re doing in protest.

Most big Internet companies are a bit corrupt. Most people on the Internet are tossers. But none of us wants to put up with slow service, regardless of the sites we use or the people we abuse while on them.

PS (sort of) Since Etsy is protesting too, I’ve put a discount on my Etsy shop. I was going to anyway to celebrate Blood of Olympus coming out in October, and today seemed a good time to start it. Enter UNCLERICK2014 at the checkout for 30% off, although maybe wait until the protest’s over for a good long browse.

Quick Art Update

I usually just post these things in Twitter and/or Tumblr posts but they’ve all cropped up in the last couple of days so I thought I may as well do a proper post… Ahem.

I got an email earlier that most of my Etsy shop’s listings are expiring really soon, so if you’ve ever fancied any of what’s there head on over ASAP. Plus I am going on holiday for ten days on Friday so any physical orders after the 11th July won’t be shipped until the 23rd at the earliest, by which time most of those items will have gone. So get on it!

Society6 is having one of its free-shipping-on-most-items days if you follow this link and this link only. It’s weird and they don’t tell you how long the offer lasts, presumably to whip you up into a frenzy. It’s until the 13th according to that very link.

I’m currently taking story commissions on DeviantART (all the info is on the right hand side below the advert). Once again, when I’m away I will technically be on holiday so if you request anything then you won’t get a response for a few days.

I hate doing what are effectively sales pitch blogs but at least this way it’s one lone social media post, as opposed to eighty over the course of a day… plus this trails on nicely to what I really want to talk about, which is HOLIDAY READING.

You know the drill. I take more books than I can carry, I read most of them, set up blogs talking about them and always include one novel that is totally depressing and/or gross. The first year I did it I took Trainspotting, which I haven’t read since; last year was We Need to Talk About Kevin which I then chose to study for my A Level and never want to read again… the further I explored it, the more effed up it became. I think this year will be Goodnight Mister Tom, which I have never previously read because I saw the TV adaptation about ten years ago, got so distressed I cried and have refused to open the book ever since.

But I’ll probably take this fortnight’s Private Eye and The Son of Neptune so it’s okay! There will be laughs all round! I will also take a book of codewords because since I stopped going to school my vocabulary has been on the downturn, which is bad for everybody. If I’m not careful I’ll only be able to speak in dog chatter… “Don Don, why are you barking? No one cares. Shhh. Hello Fred. You look very handsome. Go away that was my flapjack. Snuggles time.”

I love snuggles time. Speaking of which.

From goldenstories.tumblr.com
From goldenstories.tumblr.com

The Eleven O’Clock News: Eurovision Explained

So, The Economist analysed Eurovision, which makes it news (as if this wasn’t already).

Actually I just searched for more news and it turns out this is the best I can find… That’s Chloe’s Tumblr, by the way, please leave a message saying hi. The thing is, on Monday everyone will pretend that Eurovision doesn’t exist – except the country that wins, which has 365 days to find a room suitable for 8000 cans of hairspray, 10000 drunk dudes and some flags – so I’ve run out of things to say, so here is a handy guide for everybody who doesn’t understand Eurovision.

Eurovision Explained 

  • Established 1956 (yep, it’s almost as old as the EU. I wonder which is more effective at uniting Europe and making UKIP uncomfortable?)
  • It’s basically the Olympics meets a montage of every musical you’ve ever heard meets queer pride meets The X Factor
  • “Nil points” means “no points” which is what the UK tends to get because the UK is like Loki but with worse hair (fun for a bit but nobody wants to play with us for long based on historical events and distinct lack of overall idealogical cohesion)
  • For one half of the competition Europeans express feelings that are either “YEAHHH THIS COUNTRY THAT I’VE NEVER HEARD OF HAS THE BEST SENSE OF HUMOUR/COSTUMES/LEVEL OF SCHIZOPHRENIC DANCING AYYY I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!” or “Well I don’t think that’s appropriate what is society coming to?” For the other half we go “YEAHHH WE GOT POINTS FROM A COUNTRY WE ONCE WENT TO WAR WITH!!! WAIT THAT COUNTRY WE WERE ONCE ALLIED WITH GAVE US FEWER POINTS THAN WE DESERVE! WE VOTED FOR THEM, DAMNIT!”
  • There is an unspoken agreement that Eurovision is the one global forum in which the USA cannot dominate; both because it is geographically forbidden and even if it wasn’t, no one would put up with its hard power shitick. Eurovision is all about the sparkles and faintly embarrassing music, not who is ‘the best’

If you have any other questions, just look on social media tomorrow evening.

Moving Image Appreciation Post #6

All we need is YouTube, ladies and gents. That’s it. Ever.

The Chainsmokers – #SELFIE PARODY (by The Midnight Beast)

If I ever get bored by The Midnight Beast, please quietly remind me of this video. Is it a parody of another song? I usually can’t tell (and I think I’m in these guys’ demographic, haha)…

Dumb Ways to Die

Maxim showed me this and I think it might have been a big deal a couple of years ago? 

Woa. Plot twist. I have a feeling that this is like Canvas Bags in that I will hum it whenever I’m near a train.

Axis of Awesome – What Would Jesus Do?

This one counts as Religious Studies revision.

Last but not least…

10 Chick Flick cliches you will NOT see in He’s Just Not That Into You

Watching this is now on my “shit to do in summer” list. Someone on Tumblr noted that at no point do any of the guys pretend to be women, the realisation of which makes watching the whole thing a second time twice as joyous.