The Great Fracturing has come. Out of the silent blue, the ground shakes, tectonic plates juddering under my feet, violently, savagely, as if they will never know stillness again.
Foundations crumble on all sides, the shuddering land sending fragile homes collapsing in on themselves. Then, a thunderous crack, and the earth splits open. Rifts gash its smooth visage,
savagely ripping its repose apart. Uprooted, displaced from my corner in the realm, I am forced far from all I love, unholy ruptures tearing my world asunder. Helpless, I drift ever further, the blackness of chasms below
yawning inches from my heels. Devouring any semblance of peace daring to linger on, they leave no trace of the illusion, the occasional soul straying too close to the edge mere fuel to their crusade of desolation.
When Squid Game first came out, I initially had no plans to watch it, despite the insane amount of hype it was getting. Every time I scrolled through my Instagram Search, I would see at least three Squid Game related posts, which were usually screen shots from Twitter. Usually, I would just scroll past them to other content, or at the very most, give the post a like if I felt particularly impressed with it. Then, one afternoon, while I was procrastinating some of my assignments, I ended up looking through some articles praising Squid Game and all the achievements it had attained as a brand new pop culture phenomenon. After that, I was finally persuaded to watch the show. After all, it only had 9 episodes. I set aside the rest of my day to do so, and before long, I was hooked. Each time I finished one episode, I had to find out what happened in the next, and I ended up binging the whole first season in one day. When the credits to the season finale rolled, I was still sitting on my chair in disbelief, because this show doesn’t feel like your typical K-drama at all, which one usually associates with light-hearted tones and romantic cliches. Having said that, I’m going to try and condense my feelings about this show into a coherent review, because I have quite a bit to say about this awesome K-drama. (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD INCLUDING CHARACTER DEATH!)
First off, the characters and their characterization. All the characters’ personalities, backgrounds and motives were so diverse. Like I’ve said countless times before, I’m a sucker for great characterization in books, shows and other fictional pieces of media. Gi-Hun was a great protagonist – one whom many can relate to, and it was so sad to see the light in him slowly extinguish over the course of the games. However, it made me really happy to see how he held on tightly to his morals, optimism and kind heart to the end, which is easily one of the bravest, strongest things someone can do in a situation like that. Sang-woo was an interesting, complex side character as well – one whom I couldn’t completely hate despite the shocking, immoral things he did out of self-preservation to advance to the next rounds. (Honestly, that’s how you know when a character is exceptionally well-written – when you find yourself not only understanding them when they take seemingly unethical actions, but also wanting to follow their journey to the end.) I was glad he ended up “redeeming” himself at the end, even though I couldn’t completely forgive him for what he did to Ali (which I’ll talk about later). Sae-Byeok had such an emotional backstory, and despite her seemingly emotionless, cold demeanour, she’s a nuanced character whom many can grow attached to easily. I loved how she warmed up to Ji-yeong (who’ll I’ll mention later) and later Gi-Hun, and I’m glad she found a sense of genuine friendship and rapport with them before she was eliminated. I couldn’t believe she eventually died, because I really thought she was going to make it to the end along with Sang-woo and Gi-Hun. Now, she’ll never get to see her little brother grow up, or see her parents get out of North Korea. Jun-ho was an awesome, badass and capable character, able to go undercover for such a long time and sneak around disguised and undetected. I loved all the scenes with him because they were always tense, with the threat of him being found out running through all of them. My favourite scene with him was probably when he was with the VIP with the tiger mask, because when I was watching that part of the episode, I genuinely could not believe that the showmakers went that far and put something like that in a K-DRAMA. I really hope Jun-ho returns for the next season, because I refuse to believe he was killed off just like that, especially after finding out that his brother, the person whom he came to the island for in the first place, was behind the whole game.
I liked Abdul Ali the moment I saw him save Gi Hun in the first game. He was such a kind, trusting man to the end, which only made me even sadder when Sang-woo tricked him so that the latter could win the game. This hit even harder knowing that Ali really respected and trusted Sang-woo as his elder and friend, and he died knowing that this very person betrayed him. I was devastated when I saw him running around frantically looking for Sang-woo, and when he realized that his bag was full of pebbles, not his marbles. It makes me both sad and angry that this really reflects how in the real world, the kindness and goodwill of people like Ali will be exploited by those who are only looking out for themselves (like Sang-woo). Ali deserved much better, and now, he’ll never get to see his family again. Side note, I love how they cast a non-Korean actor (who isn’t white) in one of the main roles. That’s the first time I’ve seen that in a K-drama. I was also not expecting that twist regarding Il-nam at all, because he seemed like such a pure, friendly old man who had much wisdom and life stories to offer, and whose “death” made me cry hard. Nevertheless, he was a complex, well-written character just like Sang-woo, and I really liked the plot twist regarding his involvement in the Squid Game. Ji-yeong, despite beign a minor character, was still an important, wonderful one, and I loved her tender friendship with Sae-Byeok. In fact, I think the hardest I cried when watching the show was when she said Sae-Byeok should advance to the next game, because she herself had nothing else to live for, and also when she said her parting words to Sae-Byeok before she was shot. That hurt my heart to watch, and in an alternate timeline, I’d like to believe that she and Sae-Byeok travelled to Jeju Island together. Lastly, Mi-nyeo was such a chaotic, humorous character who lived by her own rules, and I was surprised when I saw her progress from the player who was the first to beg to leave the games, to the player who ended up taking the callous Deok-su (who was also another well-written, complex antagonist and character) out with her. Frankly, this show is insanely well-acted almost throughout, with great performances by the main characters, the side characters and even the faceless guards. The only hiccup in the acting quality came from the VIPs, because I feel that they sounded like they were just reading off a script sometimes. Nevertheless, that didn’t dampen the show’s overall acting quality.
Regarding the show’ themes, I really liked the blatant, overarching criticism of capitalism that ran throughout it, and how the show portrayed this broken system of inequality as one where the underdogs (a.k.a those from the low-class or middle-class) have to fight both amongst themselves and against enforcers of the system to earn enough money to support themselves. Meanwhile, as the unluckiest of the underdogs suffer severe deprivation and do anything to make ends meet, the ultra-rich can revel in their material luxuries, and control these underdogs who can do little to bring them down. Come to think of it, Squid Game kind of reminds me of Parasite, another amazing, Academy Award-winning show that got lots of mainstream attention outside South Korean and Asia as well due to its awesome execution and criticism of capitalism, poverty, and classism. Additionally, I liked how Il-nam and In-ho (a.k.a. the Front Man / Jun-ho’s brother) set up the game to test whether humanity had any goodness left in it. Obviously, the way they conducted the game was unethical beyond all reason, but it was still an amazing way to display the varied reactions of humanity when they are trapped in a life-or-death situation with others. Some formed real friendships, camaraderie and alliances, while others joined “gangs” for protection. Some tried to help others, while others sacrificed their peers in their own desperate bids to survive.
A few other things I liked about the show were the numerous moral dilemmas and the many grey areas seen in both the characters’ personalities, and the decisions they made as they fought to stay alive. The organ-harvesting conspiracy was pretty interesting as well, and I feel like it could been explored in a more in-depth way. The show itself was also really cinematic – like the settings, cinematography (especially the intense, climatic fight between Gi-Hun and Sang-woo), and the creative execution of the childrens’ games that were imbued with macabre twists. Plus, since the show is so high-stakes and doesn’t pull any punches, its emotional impact is astounding, and one particular episode genuinely made me cry till my eyes were puffy. Additionally, although the show started off slow and can be slightly sedate at some points, its overall action, drama and many of its other aspects more than make up for these momentary lapses in its pacing.
Overall, I give Squid Game’s first season a 4.7 / 5, because it definitely exceeded my expectations in the best ways possible. Despite my initial indifference towards it, I truly think that it deserves all the hype and the attention it’s getting outside South Korea. As an Asian, it makes me incredibly proud and happy to see a piece of Asian media being so well-received and popular amongst mainstream and Western media. This show is one of those shows that can make you forget you’re watching a show and not some real, concrete story with twists and turns, riveting action, thrilling narratives and compelling characters. In short, Squid Game Season 1 was an addictive, captivating ride from start to finish, and I can’t wait for Season 2.
October has arrived, and all its ghosts with it. September has shaken off its dead leaves, fading into nature’s ceaseless cycle. The chill enduring heightens, a gnawing residence permeating the air.
Amongst amber and merigold hues painting the foliage in autumnal tones, creatures slumber in hidden hollows. Others beat their wings, taking to warm southern skies to escape the depths of winter once again.
Yet while the land of the living goes about its daily business as days shorten and nights cool, the world beneath grows restless, for now, the season of spirits has come to our humble realm.
Dragging their hellish burdens interwoven with multitudinous sins, they crawl to the surface, searching for memories – once their anchors to the mortal plane, now dark wisps of souls departed.
Incorporeal forms gliding over the land, festive ornaments sway softly in the breezes trailing at their heels, little plastic pumpkins and bats moving in tune to a spectral presence. Tangled in each others’ embrace,
life and death do nothing to stop them. They watch these phantoms mourn, grieving the fractured tethers that bound them to flesh and bone, unearthly tenor bleeding into the quiet of our sublunary dwellings.
When I heard that Xiran Jay Zhao, one of my favourite YouTubers with a flair for pop culture and Chinese history was also an author who would be publishing her own books soon, I had to go and check her upcoming works out. Right away, the premise of her debut novel Iron Widow caught my eye, because it promised to blend aspects of Pacific Rim with feminism and Chinese history. It sounded awesome, so I waited for months for its release, and read through the whole book in one day.
Personally, I think what the book did pretty well was the worldbuilding. The story blends several modern day aspects (such as the characters’ manner of talking, and the highly advanced technology) with more traditional aspects of Chinese culture fairly well, even though the intersections between the modern and historical aspects would occasionally surprise me. Additionally, the action, despite being relatively grandiose (since much of it revolves around large-scale battles reminiscent of those from Pacific Rim) are easy to follow.
However, regarding the characterisation of the book’s main characters, as well as the romance between them, I feel like both these aspects of the story could have been fleshed out more, as they came off as very surface-level in the book. I did like how Zetian had bound feet, and came across as a fierce, assertive woman, with realistic character flaws of her own. Yizhi and Shimin were interesting characters as well, especially Shimin, whom I have a huge soft spot for because of his personality and backstory. Despite that, I feel like the story could have been so much better if it was a little more character-driven, and offered us much more insight into its main characters, as well as their surprising romance. The pacing of the story also comes off as slightly inconsistent to me, because even though the story started off in a really riveting manner, it kind of got a little draggy after the halfway mark, to the point where I wasn’t really invested in the story in spite of the climatic battle near the end of the book. Nevertheless, I did like the story, and its dramatic cliffhanger has got me waiting for the next novel to tie things up. With that, I give Iron Widow a 3.6 / 5.
NOTE: By the way, if you want to find out more about Xiran Jay Zhao, I strongly suggest checking their YouTube channel out. They have a really funny YouTuber origin story, because after the release of Mulan (2020), they essentially created a whole YouTube channel to rant about the movie’s awful storytelling and cultural inaccuracy, speaking from their perspective and knowledge as a Chinese person. With everyone taking to social media to express their dissatisfaction with Mulan (2020), Xiran’s video blew up significantly. After that, they devoted their channel to discussing and analysing Chinese cultural details and inaccuracies in popular shows and movies, as well as some lessons in Chinese history. Although their videos can be lengthy, Xiran has a huge penchant for storytelling, and can make their discussions on the subjects they talk about entertaining, enriching and worthwhile. Being Chinese myself, I really enjoy watching their videos, as I love learning more about my culture from them.
A couple months ago, I tried to read All The Bright Places which is written by Niven as well. However, as beautiful and as touching as the book is, I couldn’t get through the whole thing after finding out how it ended, because I have personal issues with the subject matter that the book covers. As a result, I ended up only reading chunks of the story. So recently, I decided to try out Holding Up The Universe, and found that I enjoyed it a lot.
I’ve said this many times, but I’ll say it again – if a book has strong characterisation all around, it’ll be an enjoyable read regardless of the plot. That being said, I really liked both Jack and Libby as main characters, especially since Holding Up The Universe is pretty much a character-driven book. Throughout the story, we were treated to intimate close-ups of their struggles – Jack with his face-blindness and Libby with her weight – and how they learned how to deal with their insecurities over the course of the story despite bullying and teasing from their immature or sadistic peers. They were both relatable and have their own unique voice, as well as fulfilling, poignant arcs and backgrounds of their own. (Side note: I also found it pretty interesting and painfully realistic that Libby wasn’t accepted into the Damsels despite her trying her best. Despite that, she still managed to succeed in other ways in her life, which was really uplifting to read.) Additionally, I loved watching Jack and Libby’s relationship develop from a tense, reluctant connection to a strong, devoted bond as they gradually built each other up and fell in love. I also liked how they eventually found out how their pasts were semi-intertwined as well, because I was worried that Jack would never tell Libby about how he had always been rooting for her. The other characters in the book were also well-rounded and helped flesh out the story, instead of just being side characters placed in the book for the mere purpose of moving the narrative along.
Overall, I really enjoyed this character-driven book, and I must say that it really wasn’t like anything that I was expecting when I read its synopsis on GoodReads. I was expecting Jack and Libby to be mopey, bitter teens who would be hard to sympathise with. Instead, I ended up reading a compelling story where I quickly found myself rooting for the protagonists. With that, I give this book a 4.3 / 5.
I’ve always loved fantasy books about the folk – particularly the Fae. So when I heard of this duology that revolved around the goblin folk, I was intrigued.
Regarding the individual books, I really liked Wintersong, because the chemistry between the Goblin King and Liesl was my favourite part of the duology. The two of them had such an enthralling dynamic, and I looked forward to every scene they were in together to see their tumultuous, passionate relationship unfurl. The plot seemed a little formulaic, but well-executed enough to keep me hooked till the end. However, I felt like Shadowsong was a huge let-down, because after the beautiful, ardent love story we were treated to in Wintersong, Shadowsong ended up being a huge chunk of filler plot with much less real magic and romance for readers like me to enjoy. I was hoping to see more action, drama and character development for Liesl, but instead, it felt like the plot only really picked up near the end of the novel.
On the plus side, I did like the characters in the duology, with the exception of Constanze, Liesel’s cantankerous and narcissistic grandmother. Even though she believed in the goblins and their magic right from the start, she was just so unlikable that I would feel annoyed every time she showed up. Fortunately, I think that she might be the only really unlikeable character in the duology. Josef, François and Käthe were all nice supporting characters, albeit slightly underdeveloped (even despite the plot twist regarding Josef’s heritage). Liesl was also a good female protagonist, and I liked how she gradually learned to love herself. However, my favourite character is definitely the Goblin King – especially because of the way he was portrayed in the first book. He was so bewitching and confident in his own charisma, yet you could tell that he cared for Liesl deeply, to the point where he was willing to let her go so that she wouldn’t wither away in the Underground (the goblin kingdom), despite the fact that he might never see her again. Even though he barely appeared in Shadowsong, he still remained an alluring, enigmatic character, and I enjoyed pretty much every scene that he was in.
Overall, I give this duology a 3.5 / 5. I feel like if Shadowsong was better written, I would have given it a higher rating. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of folk fantasy, you should check this duology (especially Wintersong) out.
TRIGGER WARNING: Underage teacher / student relationship, grooming, victim blaming, internalized victim blaming, mentions of rape and abuse
Disclaimer: This review covers several dark topics which are mentioned in the trigger warning above. While I enjoyed this novel very much, I do not condone grooming or underage relationships of any sort. If you are a victim of abuse, don’t be afraid to get help and / or speak up about your experience. (End Disclaimer)
When I was checking the reviews for this book, I noticed that people were referring it to “a modern day Lolita for Gen Z” (paraphrased). While My Dark Vanessa is narrated solely from the titular Vanessa’s perspective and not her abuser’s, I’m pretty sure the reason critics are comparing this book to Nabokov’s masterpiece is because it cleverly, almost seductively manipulates you into thinking that what Vanessa and her abuser had was real, despite the fact that their relationship was both illegal and immoral in every way.
One reason why I found myself so enthralled by this book in spite of its controversial subject matter was because of Russell’s beautiful writing. My Dark Vanessa oscillates between two timelines – the first being the past, charting how fifteen-year old Vanessa met her forty-two year old abuser, Jacob Strane, her Literature teacher, when she started high school at her new boarding school. The second timeline is set in the present, in which Strane has been accused of sexual assault by five other women who were minors at the time, and shows Vanessa, who still keeps in touch with Strane, trying to deal with this news. Despite these alternating timelines, the prose consistently flows like a river, and the story remains engaging and easy to follow throughout.
Additionally, the candid, alluring manner in which Vanessa narrates her story somehow manages to both veil and highlight the insidious nature of her relationship with Strane. Although she constantly tries to convince herself that the relationship is one where she is in control (which is what Strane wanted her to believe), us readers are gradually exposed to more and more iniquitous aspects of their relationship. Moreover, as the story progresses, we begin to see Strane for the abuser that he is. Not only does he imply that Vanessa is responsible for seducing him and attracting other men to her as well, but he also dismisses the other girls who accused him of abuse as deluded individuals blowing real-life occurrences out of proportion. Frankly, the further I got into the story, the less sympathy I felt for Strane. I don’t care what he thinks of himself or what he thinks he is – he’s an abuser. There are rarely grey areas when it comes to abuse, and I could tell that this book was trying to demonstrate that, even though Vanessa herself repeatedly asserts that she isn’t a victim – that she wasn’t raped or abused, that she consented, that her age was just a number. Despite that, it’s clear to us readers that Vanessa’s trauma from her relationship with Strane still persists in subtle ways in her life – like her impression of her college professor, Henry, the detached way in which she views abuse victims, and the older men whom she pursues. And that’s one of the main reasons as to why I found My Dark Vanessa to be such a good read – its unreliable narrator makes for a tantalizing story about an illicit relationship, a guilty protagonist, and a dubious abuser.
Personally, I think the reason Vanessa gravitated to Strane so swiftly was because she came from a pretty emotionally distant family, and she also had little to no friends, which definitely contributed to her to craving affection, validation and emotional intimacy with others. Strane gave her all of these – first subtly, then liberally. As such, their romantic and sexual relationship that they started up behind close doors was heavily fuelled by the emotional rapport Vanessa constantly sought from Strane, whom she viewed as older and wiser. In response, he returned her emotional dependence on him with seemingly romantic gestures and compliments, and often implied that she was mature for her age – which should have been a red flag from the start for Vanessa. But, like Wanda from BoJack Horseman (an awesome Netflix show) once said, “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” And that pretty much sums up Vanessa’s love for Strane perfectly.
The only major flaw that I found this book to have was its ending, which seemed kind of anticlimatic. (MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD) On one hand, I wish Russell didn’t kill Strane off before he received justice – I feel like it would have been interesting to see him go on trial in court, and have Taylor and his other accusers testify against him, and see Vanessa’s reactions to the whole situation. (MAJOR SPOILER END) On the other hand, though, I found this ending to be strangely realistic in the sense that some victims of “hidden” crimes such as abuse and grooming may never get solid justice, and end up having to simply carry on with their lives. So I can give this book’s ending a pass.
Overall, this story is a magnetic and provocative read with Lolita-esque undertones, and turned out to be one of those books that made me forget I was reading a fictional story until I started typing up its review. With that, I give My Dark Vanessa a 4.5 / 5.
So, you want a new mind, you say? One where darkness doesn’t swirl like a constant fog within? One where shadows from the past don’t stain the meagre light of the present? Well, do you really need a new one?
Let us examine yours. Oh dear. Well, I see why you came to us now. Look at this sepulchre, this domesticated chaos! A warzone at times, a soundless void at others.
You are a captive in your own head. That simply won’t do! This requires the most elaborate of procedures. First, a surgical evisceration. A neat cut round your skull, and we’ll remove the top like a lid.
Look at that pink mass. Next, we’ll take a metal spoon, dig the edge into squishy tissue and eat it all up, just like gelato ice cream. How cold, how delicious!
We’ll polish off your unwanted conscience, scrape the sides of your cranium and lick the spoon clean. We guarantee that no trace will be left, only a hollow chamber for your perfect new brain.
You won’t regret choosing us, we promise! We offer unrivalled deals and the chance to be a brand-new you. Say goodbye to debilitating gloom, depression, dejection and woe. You won’t even miss those phantoms
when you purchase our services. How could you? Your mind is full of cobwebs, and we’ve got a magnificent house for you. Now take the keys from our hands, and leave your old self behind for evermore.
TRIGGER WARNING: Indirect mention of sexual assault
When it comes to reading books that cover dark topics, you really don’t have to relate to these topics on a personal level to feel for the fictional characters who have gone through these experiences. That is what The Mirror Season does – it takes these dark topics and condenses them into a modern day story inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen.
Throughout the book, I could feel the connection between Graciela (our narrator) and Lock (the guy who was subjected to the same trauma as her at the same party by the same group of schoolmates). They had such a precious, irreplaceable relationship – one that started off based on their shared trauma and how Graciela wanted to keep watching out for Lock (which was incredibly selfless and brave of her), and ended up with them learning to how to trust each other, and eventually finding solace with one another. McLemore also did a great job with making you truly despise Graciela and Lock’s assaulters (whom I will not name here out of disgust), and I truly hope they ended up getting sufficient justice for what they did to Graciela and Lock.
One thing I wish was explored more in the book, however, was the magical realism running through the story, especially the idea of the “mirrored glass”. I’m not actually sure if the mirrored glass was actually a physical aspect of magical realism, or if it was just a metaphor for Graciela’s and Lock’s trauma. To me, I feel like the mirrored glass in their eyes represented their past trauma warping the way they see the world. Moreover, I really liked what Lock was doing with the trees and plants he uprooted, and how the little forest he planted eventually turned into a forest of sharp mirrored glass that defended him and Graciela from their assaulters. That was a beautiful scene to read, in which the two of them fully reclaimed their power, and finally got the courage to report their experiences to the authorities. It was a really uplifting and hopeful way to end a book like this, and I hope it encourages those who have gone through similar situations to do the same. The only thing that I didn’t really like about this book was the fact that it seems underdeveloped, and slightly rushed at times. Despite those weak points, the beautiful writing and character development make up for those aspects of the book. With that, I give this story a 3 / 5.
I initially didn’t want to read this book because I tend to be slightly sensitive to issues surrounding death and nihilism. But when I started reading the first few chapters, the writing style and characterisation seemed so intriguing, I ended up giving it a try – which later proved to be completely worth it. (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Regarding the characters, the characterisation in this book is really well-done overall, and I found myself getting attached to all the different characters (including the minor ones who only appear once or twice throughtout the story) really easily, which is always a high point for someone like me who adores good characterisation in a story. Mateo and Rufus were so different – Mateo is shy and introverted, while Rufus was bolder and more outspoken. Despite that, their chemistry felt so organic and palpable, and I loved every moment of their interactions as they set out to make their last days alive as memorable as possible. I also loved the Plutos (Rufus’ best friends Malcolm, Tagoe and Aimee), and I’m so glad that Rufus got to hug them and tell them how much he loved them before he died. Lidia (Mateo’s best friend who also happens to be a young mother) was a great character as well, and I was so relieved that Mateo chose to say goodbye to her properly, instead of just leaving her like he initially planned to. I also found the minor characters (whose fates were intertwined with those of the main characters’) to be pretty interesting as well, because the chapters revolving around them allowed us to explore more of the world, as well as the intriguing concept of the Death-Cast (the service that tells individuals they will die in 24 hours).
As for the book’s themes, if I wanted to get a little philosophical about life and death, this book reminded me that most of us (myself included) aren’t scared of death itself. In reality, I think we’re scared of leaving the things and the people we love behind, and never being able to try or finish the things that we wanted to. And that is exactly what They Both Die at the End is all about – exploring how life would be like if you knew you were going to die very soon, and then worrying that you were not able to live your life to the fullest.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to know exactly when I died, for two reasons. One, I’m insecure and anxious enough about my future, and the thought of knowing that I would leave this earth in less than 24 hours would just make me feel immensely regretful about all the things that I never got to try or see through. (Plus, I feel like seeing my loved ones’ reactions to my impending death would be a really painful experience.) Two, I like to think that I myself have a huge part to play in deciding my own fate, and the concept of someone else knowing when I’ll die just clashes with my own perceived control over my destiny. Nevertheless, I did find the notion of the Death-Cast really interesting, and even though this book is already amazing on its own, I think it would have been cooler if Adam Silvera had decided to do something bigger with the concept.
Overall, Silvera’s simple but engaging and evocative writing style will really draw you into this touching book and its’ main characters journeys during their final hours on Earth as they tie up loose ends in their own live, try new things out, and find solace in each other by filling their last day with good memories of love, fun and warmth. With great pacing, characterisation and a heart-wrenching ending, They Both Die at the End is a deceptively simple read that makes for a pensive, emotional story – 4.2 / 5
Little windows to cherished memories reside in my archive and camera roll, each unique glimpse into the past carrying with it a special essence, coveted keepsakes of bygone times neatly preserved within unmoving shots or condensed snippets of happenings.
In these hoarded reserves, no rage, sadness or remorse lie in wait to ambush me. Instead, mementos of moments evocative, sentimental and wistful flash to the forefront of my mind as I scroll through these priceless gems
capturing segments of fleeting joy that haunt me with bittersweet hiraeth, tender reminders that though my mind remains enslaved to the unabating clutches of the tick of the second hand, these irreplaceable relics of fun and firsts shall never hollow to echoes of nostalgia.
NOTE: When I was writing this poem, Snapshotlandby Sylvia Kantaris suddenly came to mind.
The ones I wish I could tuck away into fortified corners of my head to reminisce about and pine for in both quiet calm and chaos stay etched on the sand lightly. No matter how hard I press, flimsy stick digging into the shore, they stay evanescent as the tides that eventually breach my sketches, effortlessly eroding precious imprints.
The ones I long to swiftly forget and discard like a band-aid ripped off a scabbed over wound remain carved into stone against my fruitless wishes. Deaf to my ceaseless pleas, inscriptions chiselled on cold blocks glare at me from every corner of my mind, taunting me with indisputable facts and emotions unfading like scars.
When I heard that Season 2 of my favourite Netflix show would be released in July, I was ecstatic. It seemed like only yesterday that I binge-watched all 10 episodes of Never Have I Ever Season 1 (which I did a review for) and was left eagerly waiting for more. So when the 10 episodes of the new season finally dropped, I binge-watched them just like last year. And when I was done, I once again felt empty and craving the next season. Since this is a very character-driven show, in this review, I’ll be talking about what I enjoyed about the different characters and their arcs in this season.
I think that Devi has matured a lot in the season – she’s less antagonistic, and better at conveying her thoughts and feelings in a clearer, more responsible way. Although she did make big mistakes in the season – like two-timing Ben and Paxton, and accidentally spreading that rumour about Aneesa, she managed to resolve those issues in a sensible way – by taking intiative this time in comparison to the perevious season, where Ben played a major role in helping Devi make up with Fabiola and Eleanor. I loved her developing relationship with Paxton as well – who, by the way, we saw a lot more of in this season. I feel that she was also able to bond with Nailini more in this season, which was great as well. Devi’s whole character is pretty much a prime example of how to write flawed characters in media.
I adored Paxton’s character development in this season. In Season 1, the writers did a good job of establishing Paxton as someone who is more than just his body and physical attributes. In Season 2, we can see that this has clearly affected Paxton’s self-esteem in a way, as he worries that no one will be able to see him as anything more than just a hot, fit guy. I was so proud of him for striving to work hard at school and pull up his academic results (even if it took him getting hit by a car in order to do so, and proceeding to take advantage of his fallout with Devi by coercing her into doing his work for him initially). I particularly loved him in episodes 3 , 9 and 10 of this season, with episode 3 being narrated by Gigi Hadid herself. Also, I really did not ship Paxton and Devi at all after last season, but after this season, I love their relationship so much, and I’m honestly conflicted over who I want Devi to end up with in the long-term.
I feel like Ben’s character was kind of neglected in this season in favour of Paxton. I wanted to see more of him making new friends as well as bonding with his parents a little more, but I think the show wanted to focus more on Paxton and Devi’s growing relationship. Although Ben did have his moments in Season 2, he just came off as the heartbroken lover to me. I’m not so sure I completely ship him with Aneesa at the moment, but if they do end up becoming a solid couple in the long term, I’ll be happy for them. But I’m not so sure if that will actually happen, because on the conversation he had with Eleanor in the season finale after he saw Devi and Paxton dancing together, as well as the conflicted, jealous look he had on his face after that. I love this love triangle so much.
Fabiola and Eve still have a lovely relationship, and it was so nice to see them remain a healthy, solid couple throughout the season, with Fabiola eventually saying “I love you” to Eve during their romantic dance in the season finale. Also, I lked how Fabiola is still trying to explore her sexuality, and eventually affirms that her interests don’t have to be completely dictated by her sexuality.
Eleanor had an interesting arc this season. First, she was swept off her feet by the entitled, rude ex-Disney actor Malcolm and ended up getting into a toxic, unhealthy relationship with him to the point where she almost lost Fabiola and Devi as friends as Malcolm slowly manipulated her. (Side note: I’m really glad that this show chose to explore this lesser-portrayed side of unhealthy relationships in media, in which the toxic dynamic takes place via a narcisstic, manipulative partner, rather than showing the couple arguing all the time, or one partner explicitly emotionally or physically abusing the other.) Then, right after she acknowledged that love wasn’t the same as being starstruck, Trent invited her to dance, hinting the potential start of something between them. I wonder if the writers will choose to make Trent and Eleanor a couple, because I think they could end up having a really quirky but supportive relationship.
Nalini was still her snarky self – only this season, we got to see more of her, like when she visited her parents and Mohan’s mother (Devi’s paternal grandmother) in India, and ended up bringing her mother-in-law back to stay with her and Devi in the USA. (By the way, Devi’s grandmother is a really fun addition to the show, being both a warm and sassy character who looks out for both Devi and Nalini.) We also got to explore Nalini’s relationship with Devi more, as she took steps to healing their relationship and communicating more healthily with her daughter. I really liked the scene where Nalini gently persuaded Aneesa’s mother to not withdraw Aneesa from school, as well as a tender scene where she showed Devi some home videos that she and Mohan took while Nalini was still pregnant with Devi. (I teared up at that part.) I was also pretty invested in Nalini’s relationship with Dr. Jackson – but it was so short-lived. Maybe we might get to see more of them in the next season, assuming she and Devi are able to further resolve their emotional issues.
Kamala’s development was amazing this season, and I couldn’t help but cheer for her when she finally stood up to her snobby superior. That was once hell of a feminist moment, and it just felt so good to see Kamala, a woman of colour in a competitive, male-dominated field refuse to be passively overshadowed anymore, and speak up for herself in spite of her usually polite, gentle demeanour. Plus, I wonder how her relationship with Prashant is going to end up. Will she stay with him, or choose her own path when it comes to her romantic life? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Aneesa is such a great addition to the show, and I love her spritely personality. I hope we get to explore her character more in Season 3, as well as her friendship with Devi (whom Devi managed to heal in the nick of time, thankfully). It’s great to see another Indian girl who’s Devi’s age get added into the show and have her own background and character arc. Also, if Ben somehow does get back with Devi in the future, I hope the writers can craft this in a way where Aneesa doesn’t become heartbroken or start resenting Devi.
I honestly still think Trent is kind of immature and obnoxious, but he’s definitely not malicious or mean, and I think he’s got a pretty warm heart underneath. I hope he warms up to the idea of Devi and Paxton in the next season, since he seemed to be in disbelief when he saw them at the dance. Also, if he and Eleanor got together and became a legitimately good couple, I would be so amazed, because when he asked her to dance in the season finale, I just thought to myself, “This is an actual crack ship come to life.”
Dr. Chris Jackson
Common Dr. Jackson is such a lovely guy, and I feel that his and Nalini’s relationship kind of parallels Ben and Devi’s in the sense that both of them started out as enemies, but as they grew to know each other better, they ended up falling for each other. I loved how Nailini initially disliked him because she felt that he outranked her, but after interacting with him more, she eventually grew to like his charm and warm demeanour. I hope we get to see more of him in the next season.
Mr. Lyle Shapiro
I love Mr. Shapiro – and honestly, I can see how enthusiastic he is about teaching, especially when Paxton stated that he wanted to do the extra-credit project, and he was like “You’re making a difference, Lyle,” to himself. And also, when Paxton invited his grandfather to speak, he got all emotional and teary. That is the mark of someone who’s incredibly passionate about his job.
Dr. Jamie Ryan
Dr. Ryan is still as awesome as she was last season, and I could see how proud she was when Devi began to open up to her more. She’s such a nurturing, down-to-earth person who always gives Devi solid advice, and seems a lot warmer and more approachable in comparison to other therapists I’ve seen in media.
This show probably has one of the best love triangles that I’ve ever seen on TV, with both boys being good for the girl in their own unique ways, and having their own individual personalities and arcs that the audience can get behind. As such, this love triangle leaves you torn between Ben and Paxton, and wondering who Devi will eventually end up with for good, especially since the season ended with her getting together with Paxton, while it was implied that Ben still had feelings for her.
Some other things that I would like to see resolved in the next season would be Kamala and Prashant’s relationship. Prashant is an incredibly sweet guy, but I think it was implied that Mr. Kulkarni, Devi’s English teacher, has feelings for Kamala as well. Plus, the season ended with Kamala leaving the gathering with Prashant and his parents to join the teachers’ celebration at Devi’s school after Mr. Kulkarni invited her. Maybe she feels too confined in her straight-laced relationship with Prashant, and that’s why she left? After all, just because someone like Prashant treats you well, it doesn’t mean that they’re the one for you. Also, regarding the relationship with Nailini and Dr. Jackson, I wonder if they’ll end up getting back together (even though they broke up). I think it would pretty cool if the next season showed Dr. Jackson being like a father-figure to Devi.
In conclusion, Never Have I Ever Season 2 did not disappoint me after over a year of waiting for it. Plus, as benfitzgeraldpincus says on Tumblr, this show “manages to tackle racism, sexism, double standards…, toxic masculinity, lgbtqia+ stereotypes, performative/white activism all while still maintaining its teenage love triangle dramedy feel”. Once again, I can’t wait for the next season of this well-rounded show, and with that, I give Season 2 of Never Have I Ever a 4.8 / 5.
Titles in this series: Holes, Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake, Small Steps
Although the Holes series is marketed as children’s literature, I think it’s one of those series that everyone should read, especially Holes. The entire series just seems so ahead of its time, and is definitely a gem in the realm of modern literature. In this review, I’ll cover the three books separately and write their individual reviews in chronological order according to their position in the Holes timeline.
Let’s start with the main book in the series, Holes. Frankly, I don’t have enough praise for this book. I read it when I was younger (in my early teens) and didn’t really understand the depth or significance of the novel. Reading it now, however, I can see how Sachar managed to tackle issues such as abuse of authority, racism and illiteracy in a children’s book nonetheless. I think if I were to sit down and dissect the significance of the plotlines and symbols scattered throughout the book, I could turn this review into a PhD thesis.
Moreover, despite the theme of magical realism running throughout the story, something about it just feels so real and grounded in reality. The plot is incredibly original and refreshing, and it’s amazing to see how Sachar skilfully weaves the timelines and the storylines of the different characters (from both history and the present) together so that they eventually intersect and their fates end up intertwining. Everything is tied together so well, which allows the story to progress in a really satisfying manner. Additionally, both the main characters and side characters, whether they be good guys or antagonists, are also amazingly well-written, and it’s really fun to find yourself rooting for the good guys (especially the boys at Camp Green Lake) and getting attached to them. My favourite storyline has to be the one about Kissin’ Kate Barlow (a schoolteacher turned outlaw from over a century ago) and Sam, an African-American onion seller who became Kate’s lover. That whole storyline was incredible. Not to mention that the Disney movie adaptation is amazing as well, and did a stellar job in bringing the book to life. If anything, the movie was even better than the book, because of how lively and real the acting felt. With that, I give both the book and movie adaptation of Holes a rare 5 / 5.
Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake
This book is basically Stanley’s handbook / journal about tips to surviving the camp as well as some interesting details about characters and events that happened at the camp. I really liked it because it gave us an even deeper insight into Stanley’s feelings, the friendship that the boys shared and how they bonded during those gruelling days of toil and injustice. If you couldn’t get enough of Holes, you should definitely check this little companion piece out – 4.8 / 5
Although Small Steps may not have been as grandiose or as high-stakes as Holes, it felt more realistic than Holes. All of a sudden, we have been transported away from the almost-magical realm of Holes in the distant, hot desert and back to reality in a more civilized world. In Small Steps, we follow Armpit’s coming-of-age story as he adjusts to life after Camp Green Lake, trying to live a relatively stable life by balancing his time between school and his job. We also see this story go more in-depth into issues concerning racism against black people such as police brutality, as seen from how the security personnel were way too rough with Armpit when they caught him with counterfeit tickets, (even though he had been trying to cooperate with them) and even jumping to the conclusion that he had drugged Ginny (Armpit’s younger neighbour who has cerebral palsy) when she started having an anxiety-induced seizure.
Speaking of Ginny, one aspect of the story that I liked was Armpit’s bond with her. Their friendship was so pure, as seen from how close Armpit was to her and how he always understood and respected her. I’m sure he saw her as the little sister whom he never had. I was also quite impressed by how Sachar fleshed out Kaira’s (a teen pop star) character. Even though everyone thinks that she is a spoilt, prissy idol, she’s the total opposite, as seen from how she actually invited Armpit and Ginny to watch her concert from backstage after the fiasco before said concert started, and willingly befriended them afterwards. I could tell she’s pretty insecure about her public perception, and wishes more people saw her as a three-dimensional person. I really liked her arc as well, and I was also quite surprised by how realistic Kaira and Armpit’s relationship turned out.
Overall, Small Steps reads more like a Bildungsroman than Holes does, and I found the ending of this book to be very satisfying, as we got to see Armpit’s development into a mature guy with solid, long-term goals. With that, I give the final book in the Holes series a 3.6 / 5.
I think what makes this series so fun to read is its worldbuilding. The worldbuilding of this series (especially Holes) felt so real, regardless of whether or not the book contained magical realism or not. If you’re looking for a light, digestable and enjoyable read, you should definitely give this series (or at the very least, the first book) a try, and watch the movie as well, because it’s totally worth it.