“They wrinkle their noses when I’m holding Charlie’s hand they wrinkle their noses when I’m not.”
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake is a book about so many different things. First and foremost, it’s about a girl, Mara, and her twin brother, Owen. Owen is accused of rape by Mara’s best friend, Hannah. Most of the book is spent with Mara, who doesn’t know what or who to believe. On one hand, she wants to believe that her brother wouldn’t do such a thing. On the other hand, she would never dismiss someone’s serious accusations, especially not her best friend’s. Mara is in charge of a club called Empower. She writes articles about victims and helps to empower others to use their voice. It seems absurd to dismiss Hannah’s claims just because the person she’s accusing is Owen.
I had never read a book like this before, even though stuff like this happens daily around the globe. Rapists are often people we never suspect; they might be a friend, a brother, or a teacher. Girl Made of Stars deals with the aftermath. It explains that cases like these are almost always dropped. It shows the struggle of Hannah trying to get her truth told.
“I’m a distraction, he’ll say. Boys will be boys, he’ll say. If I’m a nice girl, I should know better, he’ll say. Because that’s what he says to any girl who shows a deltoid or has naturally long legs under her skirt or has to wear anything above an AA-cup. And that’s when I’ll breathe fire.”
The book also deals with Mara, and Mara’s past sexual assault. With her past a secret, she finds it hard to side with her brother, even though her family wants her to. Mara fights back and is the social warrior that we all strive to be. In the face of a horrible dilemma, she stands up for her friend when her brother needs her the most. Mara is a girl who will not deny any other person the chance to have their story told.
“This. This is why I never said anything. Because no one ever believes the girl.”
Girl Made of Stars deals with real life scenarios and teaches its readers about things that happen every day. It paints the picture of real high school parties where people get drunk and don’t ask for consent. It is an eye-opening book that I think everyone should read. I think that everyone could benefit and learn something from this book. The characters are real and vivid; each of them has and deals with their own struggles. They mesh incredibly well together and form a story that I am so unbelievably happy to have read.
“What does feel like a girl even mean, anyway?”
Not only does this book deal with rape accusations and brother/sister relationships, it deals with sexuality in an amazing way. Girl Made of Stars is not a coming out story, which I really appreciate. I find that most LGBT books and movies are often about someone coming out (which is great), but I also love having a book where not only one, but two people are out and proud! This addition of having two LGBT characters normalizes the inclusion of LGBT characters and is one of the reasons I gave this book a five-star rating. This is simply a young adult novel with two characters that happen to be LGBT. It’s amazing. It also deals with questioning identities. Charlie (Mara’s ex-girlfriend) struggles with not knowing who they are and there’s even a page or so where they discuss with Mara that they might be nonbinary. I love this book and I highly encourage everyone to read it. If you’re a victim or struggling with your identity or sexuality, I think you could find a lot of peace in this book. I know I did.
“There is no way to really move on. No song or empathetic friend or all the love I have for my brother will ever change that.”
I was however, disappointed with the way the book ended. I wanted Mara to get more closure for her own situation. I didn’t think this was reason enough to knock it of its five-star rating. Everything else is so utterly amazing and realistic that I think it deserves the praise. Mara, Charlie, and Hannah are three very empowering characters and their stories are wonderfully written. Girl Made of Stars is compelling and powerful, and is definitely a book that will stay on my shelf for years to come.
“I swear, people can’t wrap their minds around the concept of a fat girl who doesn’t diet. Is it that hard to believe I might actually like my body?”
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli is the bisexual story I have always wanted to read. Not that I knew it existed until a few weeks ago, or even know that I needed it in my life before then. But now that I’ve read it, it’s like it was something I’ve been missing. If you liked the first book in this series, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, or it’s movie counterpart, Love, Simon, you will love this book. It focuses on Simon’s best friend, Leah Burke, who is confident in her sexuality. She’s bisexual; and from the very beginning we know this to be true. She has only told one person, her mother. Leah spends her senior year struggling with college applications, prom dates, and crushes. Leah has never been kissed, so when a friend of hers asks her to prom, she finds herself feeling obligated to go with him. It’s clear that this isn’t really what she wants. She has her heart set on someone else, even if she doesn’t know it yet.
“It has to be easier for people with penises. Does this person get you hard? Yes? Done. I used to think boners literally pointed in the direction of the person you’re attracted to, like a compass.”
This book keeps you laughing on every page. Leah’s hilarious narration makes real life situations more interesting. I always found myself relating to her inner-monologue. She says what we’re all thinking. She calls people out when they deserve it and is the modern-day hero we’ve been looking for. She’s also human, she has flaws. She easily lets her feelings get the best of her. The story begins with Leah’s disinterest in a girl that used to be her friend. A girl upon who she develops a crush. A straight girl. When things don’t turn out the way she wants them to, she gets angry and defensive. The teenage angst is so relatable (we’ve all been there). It’s easy to get angry when someone doesn’t (or is incapable of) liking you back. But, this book isn’t just about Leah and her crush. It’s about all relationships. Leah struggles to come to terms with her mother’s relationship and we get to see more of Simon and Bram together, who are just as cute as they were in the first book.
“…That’s why bi girls exist, Garrett. For your masturbatory fantasies.”
Leah and the Offbeat, while focusing mainly on Leah’s sexuality, isn’t only about that. It’s about so much more. Leah is so much more than just a bisexual. She’s funny, smart and has a huge attitude. I loved watching her grow as a person throughout the book.
I’m a sucker for a good romance so I was dying to know how everything would unfold. I couldn’t put it down. There were some slow parts of the novel; but there weren’t any scenes where I was bored. Everything that was in the book was important. Nothing was there just to fill up the pages. It’s well written and the story flows nicely together.
“You’re not fat. You look amazing. Because fat is the opposite of amazing. Got it.”
This is the most honest high school story I have ever read. I always felt like I was witnessing real conversations, like I was hearing them in passing in the high school hallway. Everything about this book is very authentic. It was easy to get lost in the story. Leah, especially, is very real. She reacts like any moody teenage girl would and I could easily picture her being a real person. She is three-dimensional and much more than just her sexuality. Leah is a character I have definitely fallen in love with.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Leah on the Offbeat. From the first page, I knew it would be a good read. It started off with a bang and held my interest the entire time. I would definitely recommend this book.
In their newest book, all this can be yours, from University of Hell Press, Isobel O’Hare tackles sexual assailants by using their own words against them.
While sexual assault is nothing new, the movements that thrusted into the spotlight in 2017 felt fresh, invigorated … liberated, even. #MeToo (co-opted from its creator Tarana Burke) came storming out the gate as many strong people came forward to say, “Time’s up!” to the men who had assaulted them and effectively tried to ruin their careers.
A survivor of sexual assault, queen and gender non-binary femme poet and essayist Isobel O’Hare (pronouns they/them/their) felt a rage-fire burning inside their stomach, and took to the page to begin their catharsis to quell the feelings that the movement churned inside of them. O’Hare (who was a generally known name in the literary community even before their erasure poetry took on the likes of Weinstein, Spacey, Takei, Piven and many other sexual assailants) couldn’t have anticipated what would happen the day they took some print-outs of the statements released by these men after allegations arose against them and began to Sharpie them into what they really were.
Erasure poetry, for those unfamiliar, is a form of found poetry in which a writer blacks or whites out words from an original text in order to create a new text. In this case, O’Hare was erasing just enough to show what these “apologies” actually were—bullshit excuses. And before long, people in the lit community began to notice, sharing them across social media until the actual media got their hands on O’Hare’s work—publicizing it high and low. In the published collection of these erasure poems, all this can be yours, O’Hare admits that they weren’t sure what to make of the attention, and that they didn’t always love it. Still, what O’Hare had done was speaking to people. So much so, in fact, that they were extended an offer to collect the poems into a book by University of Hell Press, set to be released next month.
Much like O’Hare themself, the book holds nothing back. Opening with a foreword entitled catalyst, Isobel delves directly into what brought them to take on the task of creating this art. They say,
“I was exhausted by the constant revelations of abuse by men in positions of power, and I found myself avoiding social media for weeks at a time because it was too painful to read …”
From there, they tell the story of how the statements they read were riddled with parts to be criticized, and how they simply “grabbed a Sharpie and went to work.” But for better or for worse, that’s exactly what the book doesn’t feel like it ever was—work. That’s not to diminish what was surely an exhausting amount of time an energy that O’Hare surely put into this collection. There’s no doubt that they were exhausted not only physically and mentally, but emotionally, as well. It is to say, however, that O’Hare’s poise and poignant power to embolden the words that matter in these pieces feel somehow natural—as if they knew exactly what they were doing even before they began.
The book is separated into three major sections (apology, apologia, and in conclusion) with apology being broken down into subsections (a question I run from, a culture of demons, I recall differently, and She never said no), each subtitle taken from a separate “apology” letter with poems that are categorically connected to one another. And while each erasure goes without the name of the assailant in question, reading through allows the readers just enough sight of the original text beneath the Sharpie to figure out who the statements came from. O’Hare explained their decision to leave the names out by stating that the men in question are not the overarching problem, but that rape, abuse, and harassment extend far beyond just this handful of assholes by name. In doing so, O’Hare eviscerates the limits of who their poetry can reach—who can relate to it—who can understand. By eliminating the Hollywood elitist titles, O’Hare has created a tome that can be empathized with by all victims of assault—women, men, non-binary, cis, trans, black, white, and everything in between.
In a question I run from, Isobel organizes their poems as if the assailant in question (this entire section composed of varying poems crafted from the same statement by the same man) is not making an argument for himself that better maps out the transgressions that have come to pass. Rather, they landscape the truth of what this man has said—how his obsession with his own phallus has hypnotized him so that he cannot even form a proper method of amends without bringing it up. Each poem, beginning with just the words my dick runs the original narrator in circles with him never making a point. Instead, the poems create a pastiche of illustrations of just how phallocentric and power-obsessed this man is and has always been. More so, in the poem your dick, O’Hare brings about a chilling reminder that this man is a manifestation of all sexual predators simply by saying, “my dick is your dick.”
In a culture of demons, O’Hare spins these “apologies” into something more accurately articulated—flippancy for bad behavior and a lack of accountability on the part of the assailants. O’Hare even shows how laden some statements even are with the desire to be forgiven, simply because the accused doesn’t wish to suffer damage to their career and reputation rather than from actual remorse. I recall differently is similar, but takes the words of these men—usually notes about how they are innocent rather than an attempt at taking responsibility for their actions—and reduces them to the honest male fragility under attack that they really are. It’s the point in the book where anger and rage beget feminism, as readers will see that nothing in the statements are really more than what O’Hare has laid out: femme-shaming. Each poem questions the integrity of the stories told by the women who have come forward simply for no other reason than that the victims are, in fact, women. In a series of consecutive poems, reusing the phrase “these women,” O’Hare lets misogyny take center stage, at last, to prove that what these assailants are is nothing less than male chauvinists using an eons-old culture of shaming women into submission to try to plead their cases.
Things get particularly interesting in She never said no, which I found to be the most chilling part of the entire collection. For it’s here that O’Hare concisely lets the true statements shine: a lack of women declining to have sex, whether from fear, or shock, or drugs, or any other reason. Here, in this very short portion of the book, O’Hare deals with why not saying no does not equal consent.
“We tend to think so much in binaries that we point at victims and ask why they didn’t fight or flee, because we believe those are the only instinctual responses to a threat. There is, in fact, another response that might be more prevalent in cases of sexual assault than in the presence of any other threat: the freeze response.”
The last part of the book, apologia, takes the responses of other notable names to the accusations—one of which was even that of a very influential woman who stated that maybe women should accept some of the blame. And by erasing these statements, O’Hare has highlighted the ignorance and the ability that exist in many to be persuaded to say what may help one keep their social standing, or what one truly and quite stupidly believes to be true.
Alas, the poetry alone is beautiful, but it’s O’Hare imploring that we recognize that their book is just one part of a much larger mosaic that really polishes it. O’Hare knows that they are not the face of this revolution, and they acknowledge that more than once in catalyst. O’Hare—a white, queer, non-binary femme—writes in extraordinary verbiage that they are aware that their experience with sexual assault is different from that of so many other, especially those in the trans community and that of women of color. And in doing so, O’Hare finds a correlation to their own life against this collage of poetry: that they are not entirely represented, either. O’Hare states that being non-binary, they felt a certain distance from the issue. But as the saying goes, “Nevertheless they persisted.” In acknowledging that they are not the voice of the movement, O’Hare has broadened the availability of to so many who haven’t had an outlet for their grief, anger, and disgust before. They write, “I do not claim to be the voice of a movement, and I wouldn’t want to be.” But that’s just the thing: Isobel isn’t the voice—they are, in fact, one of the standing microphones at the edge of the stage that are allowing other survivors to come forth and say, “We aren’t taking this bullshit anymore.” They’re valiantly fighting the good fight, but knowing that they aren’t doing so alone—knowing that there are others, alike and unlike, that have experienced similar tragedy and emotions. And, in doing so, O’Hare has pieced together what may just be one of the most powerful pieces of art our generation will see. Certainly it is one of the most beautiful that will come from this movement; and it is so because Isobel isn’t trying to save the world—they’re creating more seats at the table for a much larger revolution to come.
all this can be yours is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the reading list that accompanies it with pieces by many black, queer, and feminist writers is well worth further investigating. O’Hare is a lone fire on a very cold island where, unfortunately, too many people who have suffered the same tragedy have been forced to exist. However, with their warmth and perseverance, Isobel—like the fire they are—is bringing comfort to those who have gone so long without it.
About Media greenlights The Anthony Project, How to Break My Neck, and Lifelong Learning
(HOUSTON) – About Media (the production company/sister-business of About Magazine) has ordered scripts for three original, scripted series to be streamed exclusively through About. Of the three, one is an original comedy written by About editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, entitled The Anthony Project. The latter two are adaptations of books published by About’s publishing company, About Editions. The first is an adaptation of Jessica L. Walsh’s How to Break My Neck, and the second being an adaptation of Zeke Jarvis’s forthcoming book, Lifelong Learning.
The Anthony Project follows a gay writer who all in one week loses his grandmother to renal failure, finds out his boyfriend is cheating on him with a woman, and must take over a magazine after his boss abandons ship. Set in Houston, the series revolves around a fictional Ramirez and his group of eccentric friends as they navigate their love lives, trite homophobia, depression, substance abuse, and alcoholism. All the while, Ramirez must come to learn that no matter how badly he may want to, he can’t fix everyone’s problems … especially when he has so many of his own to work on. The series was created by Ramirez and is being penned in conjunction with Rebekah Knight and Kimberly Dyan. An open casting call is underway for roles on The Anthony Project, with city-wide auditions taking place Saturday, May 5th, at the Montrose Center in Houston beginning at noon.
How to Break My Neck is an adaptation of Jessica L. Walsh’s collection of poetry of the same name. The series invites us into the life of Jessica “J” Cato, a poet with the ability to see people’s pasts when they are near. However, when J denounces her gift, she finds herself with a sever bout of writer’s block, realizing all the poetry she’s ever written was inspired by the lives of women she’s met and clairvoyantly come to know. But what’s more is the discovery that her poems, when read aloud, have the ability to affect change. The series will be written by Anthony Ramirez & Anthony Project co-writer, Rebekah Knight.
Lifelong Learning is an adaptation of Zeke Jarvis’s forthcoming collection of short stories of the same name. The series exists in a world of strange rules: when a relative dies, you must cook and eat their remains; teenagers of impoverished families may commit suicide on camera to earn extra income for their families; blood sacrifices must be made to appease the Darkness; and when the Overlord says something, it is law. But the question remains: why are the rules in place? And who made them so? Following the lives several strangers as they navigate through the rules of their post-apocalyptic world, Lifelong Learning postulates questions about life, death, Heaven, Hell, God, Satan, and how society can fall into a world where nothing really makes any sense. The series will also be written by Ramirez.
The Anthony Project is slated to premier on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018. Learning and Neck have not yet set premiere dates, but are anticipated for early 2019.