Jurassic World: Trying yet again to recapture the magic of Jurassic Park

I’m beginning to think that Jurassic Park was lightning in a bottle.

This weekend, Jurassic World will stomp into theaters like a rampaging T-Rex, the third in a series of heretofore disastrous sequels attempting to recapture the magic of Spielberg’s original dino-masterpiece. But while it comes closer than either of its predecessors to giving me what I wanted in a Jurassic follow-up, it still fell far short of the jaw-dropping wonder of the first film. And after two cringe-worthy sequels and one lukewarm one, I’m starting to wonder if Hollywood should just stop trying.

Lots of Jurassic World winds up feeling like a dull shadow of Jurassic Park, like someone studied the original film, making notes of random plot and character points, and then tweaked them for this movie without considering what purpose they served in the original.

Oil-and-water child siblings shuttled off to spend time with a detached non-parent relative (dressed, inexplicably, all in white) on a remote island filled with dinosaurs? Check.

A rugged, outdoorsy type cautioning the park-runners that they don’t have enough respect for what they’ve created? Check.

A starry-eyed park owner with deep pockets, little sense, and fluffy, sugar-coated idealism? Check.

A dude intent on stealing the dino-technology for his own nefarious and greedy purposes? Check.

A giant, carnivorous dinosaur attacking kids trapped in a vehicle? Check.

A character running from a T-Rex while holding a flare, an oh-crap moment of we’ve-underestimated-the-dinosaurs’-intelligence, a quiet moment with a long-necked herbivore, scientists failing to consider the implications of splicing dinosaur DNA with not-dinosaur DNA, trapped kids being menaced by raptors, an 11th hour out-of-nowhere dino hero moment — check check check check.

And yet, while the Jurassic World filmmakers did not make a bad movie by recycling so much of the original, they really missed the mark on what made it special. Jurassic Park was groundbreaking in its effects, sure, but it was also smart in its storytelling. There were far more forces at work than just Dinos Gone Wild, though that seems to be all the sequels remember.

It had the hubris of man, embodied in John Hammond and Dennis Nedry, trying to force the narrative along according to their will.

It had the pitting of science versus nature, as a paleontologist, a paleobotanist, and a mathematician (chaotician, chaotician) are forced to come face to face with things that, until now, they’ve only been able to study in the abstract.

And underneath it all, chaos. This was the entire point of the Ian Malcolm character — to give voice to the chaos undercutting everything they tried to do. Malcolm was there to point out that no matter how much control humans may think they have, there will always be something they haven’t accounted for, because they can’t. It’s easy to overlook in all the black-leather-Jeff-Goldblum-stuttering-and-swaggering amazingness, but over and over, Malcolm warns the group that the very idea of the park is, in its essence, flawed.

“The kind of control you’re attempting simply is…it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained.”

“The lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here staggers me.”

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Interestingly, it’s Ellie Sattler, not Ian Malcolm, who sums up the main conflict of the first film toward the end, in a conversation with John Hammond. “When we have control,” Hammond begins emphatically, envisioning how next time, he’ll be able to open the park without problems — then Ellie interrupts, “You never had control, that’s the illusion!”

And it was this thread — this smart, scientific approach to chaos, to humans being forced to admit they could do nothing but watch as things spiraled out of control, and how each time the humans desperately grasped at a way to pull things back together, something else went wrong, to the point where they ultimately had no choice but to admit defeat and flee the island – that made the first movie so thrilling to watch.

In a film that is universally praised for its groundbreaking effects, it’s easy to assume that the spectacle is what made it great — and three times now, sequels have tried to capitalize on bigger spectacle — but without that slow crumbling of control; without the gradual realization of the humans that, no, there is no mastering what’s gone wrong here, there is only, at best, surviving it; without that underlying, razor-edged tension of  watching characters struggle for better circumstances while knowing, deep down, that things will only get worse, you’re left only with special effects and screams. Which may be visually cool, but it isn’t interesting.

This is Jurassic World‘s main misstep. All throughout, despite the glossy effects and big-budget action, it feels too controlled. Both the park itself, and the structure of the film surrounding it. Even though you have Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, darkly warning Bryce Dallas Howard that they shouldn’t be cooking up their own dinosaurs, it turns out to be a bad idea not because the dinosaur is a dinosaur, and thus unpredictable, but because the dinosaur is smart. And while yes, the raptors in the first film proved to be smarter than the humans thought, it wasn’t their intelligence that made the first film terrifying; it was the idea that the humans have no idea what they’ll do next.

All throughout Jurassic World, the dinosaurs are predictable and controllable. Yes, their Frankensteinian creation winds up getting loose and chomping up people and other dinosaurs left and right, but they can see where it’s going, they can shuttle park attendees around to keep them (mostly) out of harm’s way, and throughout the film they never doubt that if they can just subdue that one dinosaur, everything will be fine again.

As for the other dinosaurs — the ones whose survival instincts trumped every effort of man to control them in the first movie, and became exaggerated monstrous versions of themselves in the second and third — they remained either docile in their cages, or were let out only to do exactly what humans wanted them to do. Sometimes they get a bit out of line (the scamps), but even then, they were really only a threat to people who didn’t take the effort to truly understand them.

If Ian Malcolm had died in the first movie the way he did in the book, Jurassic World would have him rolling over in his grave.

Chris Pratt’s Raptor Gang, while a cool action sequence, totally undercut the entire point of the first movie, which was that no matter how much humans might think they’ve mastered nature, they haven’t. Instead of being unwieldy instruments of chaos, the Jurassic World dinosaurs are tools: pets and weapons and rides and blunt objects. The humans are caricatures of the characters in the first film, and as such, it was hard to invest in any of them outside the main quartet, who — though they spent much of the movie’s 2-hour run time cowering and running and screaming — never felt like they were in any real peril.

Jurassic World is not without its good points. Unlike the last two sequels, there are no cringe-worthy, eye-rolling moments of pure inanity. There are snippets of humor, mostly courtesy of Chris Pratt, who can’t help but have great comedic timing even with a mostly wooden script. There are some amazing effects, and as far as shot-for-shot beauty goes, this is probably the most visually stunning of the bunch. There are some sweet moments between the two kid brothers, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire goes from being stiff and distant to genuinely root-worthy. And though the movie’s spectacular, dino-violence-filled climax is not necessarily shocking, it is still pretty darn fun to watch.

But while the original Jurassic Park felt like intelligent, taut, truly frightening science fiction, Jurassic World is simply a summer popcorn flick, with dinosaurs. It won’t make you think, it won’t scare you, it probably won’t even get your pulse up, aside from a few jump scares. It won’t give you any great one-liners to quote over and over for the next two decades, or any characters who will stick with you like friends. But it will entertain, and make you smile, and give you ample amounts of gorgeous CGI and thrilling action sequences.

And maybe, if the original is lightning in a bottle, that’s the most we can ask of a sequel.

Here’s my Drive Through Movie Review of Jurassic World that we filmed right after seeing the movie, in which I couldn’t quite pull all my thoughts into coherent words yet, but I did try to imagine what a Goldblum-T-Rex hybrid might look like.

Book to Film: The Five Best (And Worst) Changes in Jurassic Park

Remember a million years ago when I was going to talk about movie adaptations of books and the changes made to the source material and whether or not it worked and it was going to be great — and then I never did it again? I’m sure you were real broken up about that.

But this week, before Jurassic World hits theaters, I wanted to talk about the movie (and book) that started it all, Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park is one of my favorite books of all time. Of. All. Time. It was my gateway into the world of science fiction. I’ve read it so many times my old mass-market paperback is falling apart.

I love the movie too. But it’s totally different. Totally. Different. It’s one of those rare instances where completely altering the plot and characters from the original actually worked to the adaptation’s favor. And today, because I am seeing an advance screening of Jurassic World tonight and can think of little else, I want to talk about some of those differences, for better or for worse.

Top Five Best Changes for the Movie:

5. Gennaro dies on a toilet

No-one’s-favorite-character Donald Gennaro, the “blood-sucking lawyer” who panics and hides from a T-Rex in a rickety bathroom stall, actually makes it all the way through the book. Yes, Ian Malcolm dies and Gennaro lives, because in the book, life is unfair and chaos theory reigns supreme. In the book, Gennaro isn’t even present during the T-Rex attack, and another character (Ed Regis, who is not in the movie) runs off and dies instead. But for the purposes of film, having a T-Rex eat Gennaro by plucking him off a toilet established what the characters were up against in one massive chomp, and we didn’t even have to lose a character we liked to accomplish it.

4. John Hammond is Santa, so of course he lives.

In the book, Hammond is not the kind, gentle, every-grandpa of the movie, but a greedy, manipulative old miser who learns absolutely nothing during the meltdown of the park, blames other people for everything that goes wrong, and in the end gets slowly nibbled to death by compys on a beach. Good riddance, book readers think when he dies.

In the movie, John Hammond is misguided, sure, but we still love him.

“Mr. Hammond,” Grant says at the end, “After careful consideration, I’ve decided not to endorse your park.”

“So have I,” Hammond replies, jaw set as he drives the escape vehicle to the helicopter.

Book!Hammond would never do this. He’d never admit he was wrong. It works in the book — which is about chaos and the hubris of man and the vast power of nature and the resiliency and resourcefulness of humans in desperate circumstances — but in the movie, which is about rampaging dinosaurs, there’s really no need for a human villain.

3. Lex is not entirely insufferable 

In the book, Tim is both the older sibling and the computer nerd. Lex is his younger tomboy sister, and basically does nothing helpful the entire book. In the movie, they made her the older, tech-savvy sibling. She’s the one who gets the Park’s electrical systems back on line toward the end, she distracts a velociraptor from eating her little brother in the kitchen scene, and though Lex is probably not anyone’s favorite character, without her involvement, a few more beloved characters probably would have gotten eaten.

2. T-Rex gets the hero save

The movie is not at all concerned about all the pesky science in the book; it just wants to give us cool dino action. And it delivers. The T-Rex in the book is only ever a gigantic, menacing animal, but the T-Rex in the movie swoops in like Batman at the end to save our main quartet from raptors, and then roars triumphantly as the Jurassic Park banner flutters dramatically to the ground, and oh dear readers, it is glorious.

1. Ian Malcolm lives

“I don’t always get bitten by a T-Rex, but when I do, I sit like this.”

Ian Malcolm’s injuries from the T-Rex bite are far worse in the book than in the movie, and just before the end, he succumbs to them and dies. This is then retconned in the opening pages of The Lost World, in one of the least-believable passages I have ever read in a Crichton novel — and Crichton books are about dinosaurs and aliens and time travel and homicidal gorillas — probably because Jeff Goldblum was popular and Hollywood wanted a sequel starring him. Which was…terrible. But, horrible sequels aside, for the sake of the movie, keeping Malcolm alive was a smart choice. It would’ve been a lot harder for the movie to have the optimistic ending it did if Jeff Goldblum had not been grinning on that helicopter.

Top Five Worst Changes for the Movie:

5. Grant and Ellie never sneak into a velociraptor den with a bunch of nerve-gas grenades

A big subplot from the book which the movie pretty much ignores is Alan Grant’s obsession with understanding how the raptors are reproducing and how far they’ve spread so that they can be sure they eradicate them all. Gennaro wants to blow the whole island up with a bomb, but Grant insists that first they must infiltrate a raptor nest and count eggs so they know how many raptors they’re dealing with. So Grant, Ellie, and Gennaro squeeze their way into an underground raptor den armed with a bunch of nerve-gas grenades, intending to do the count, then kill all the raptors. Before they can, all the raptors run away and they don’t wind up gassing them, but watching our main characters crawl into a nest and hide right under the noses of a den of raptors would have been pretty great.

4. Henry Wu is only a cameo appearance, not a main character

Having one of the park’s chief scientists along for the ride adds a ton of insight into the dinosaurs (in the movie, Grant picks up some of that slack, but a lot of Wu’s contributions are just omitted entirely), and really plays up the science aspect of this science-fiction story. However, keeping him out of harm’s way in the first movie — in the book, Wu is eaten by a raptor toward the end — has left the door open for him to be alive and kicking and still cloning dinosaurs twenty-two years later in Jurassic World.

Huh. Maybe it’s not good that Wu survived, since he apparently learned nothing.

3. Grant never bowls poisoned dinosaur eggs down a deserted hallway

At one point toward the end of the book, the kids and Gennaro get cornered by raptors, and Grant lures them away to the hatchery, where the dinosaur eggs are kept. He then injects the eggs with a lethal poison and rolls them down the hall to the raptors, where they eat them and then drop dead. It sounds dumb when I explain it like this, but in the book it’s extremely tense. Much like the kitchen scene in the movie (which I love and would like to keep — I just also want the egg-bowling scene).

2. Grant and the kids never take a hazardous boat ride down the river

I think we’re learning by now that I really liked a lot of Grant scenes in the book that never made it into the movie. In the book, Grant, Tim, and Lex take a raft down the river (because Jurassic Park has a river) that takes them through the aviary, to the lodge. They are attacked by pterodactyls. They dodge the T-Rex again. They go over a waterfall. Alas, none of this is in the movie. And when we finally do get boats and pterodactyls in Jurassic movies, it’s awful.

Oh well. At least we’ll always have The River Wild.

1. Robert Muldoon dies

Robert Muldoon is the only character who actually deserved to make it through this story. He is knowledgeable about dinosaurs, he respects them, he warns everyone time and time again about how dangerous they are, he understands how they hunt — and in the book, all this knowledge and respect and cunning is rewarded by him making it off the island. And while allowing for his death in the movie gives us one of its best lines, I will always wish that he had then promptly escaped by crawling through a pipe, as he does in the book.

Also, my personal theory is that Jurassic World is the result of Hollywood realizing this, and deciding that not only should Muldoon have lived, but he should have been the main character, and then building a movie around it. No one can convince me that Chris Pratt is not just playing Robert Muldoon 2.0.

I could keep going — there are a million and five changes between the book and the movie — but I think you get my point. Normally part of me cringes when a movie deviates significantly from its source material, but I’m still able to love Jurassic Park for what it is. It’s awe-inspiring and suspenseful, full of adventure and heroism and moments of humor and wonderfulness.

Still, part of me is glad that Jurassic World is not based on a book, so that I won’t have anything in my head to compare it to (then I remember that Jurassic Park 3 was not based on a book and it was terrible, but shhhhhh I’m trying to block that out).

How about you? If you’ve read the book and seen the movie, what were some changes that you liked? Or parts from the book that you wish they’d kept? Or you can just talk about how excited we all are to see Jurassic World and the Chris Pratt Raptor Motorcycle Gang, because let’s be real –

– This is awesome.

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Recently I was approached with the opportunity to interview Celeste Ng, debut author of Everything I Never Told You, for YABC (look for that interview to post next month). I’d actually decided to take a hiatus from reading YA for a little while — I’ve been nitpicking every YA book I’ve read recently, which I think has far more to do with me hitting a saturation point than the books themselves — and was preparing to decline for that reason, but then I read the summary. And I couldn’t say no.

Not because it was a family drama surrounding a dead kid, but because it was a family drama about a Chinese-American father, a white mother, and their mixed-race kids. Which is my family. And while I’ve never been a person that needs to see myself in a story to relate to it, I was curious to see if my experience would be reflected in this book. There simply aren’t that many books out there with Chinese characters, especially books with Chinese characters that are not about being Chinese. So I was intrigued. How would she pull it off? Would she pull it off?

Let’s discuss.

(Also, before we get to my review, I want to mention that after reading this, I don’t believe this book is YA. I assumed it would be, since I was reading it for YABC, but while there are indeed some teen characters, I feel this book is more accurately described as adult literary fiction with crossover appeal.)

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

My Thoughts:

From its very first page, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU utterly captivated me with its poetic, sparse prose and keen emotional insight. Each word feels carefully chosen to immerse the reader in the Lee family’s household, which seems ordinary at first — in spite of the dead girl no one has yet discovered — but as the layers peel back, we learn things are far more complicated.

I was surprised, at first, at the narration of the story. Told in the third-person, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU strolls casually through the thoughts of its five main characters — parents James and Marilyn, and their children, Nath, Lydia, and Hannah — sometimes sticking with one character for nearly an entire chapter, other times jumping from one to another to another all within the confines of a single scene. In addition to that, the narrative also darts back and forth through time, from James’ and Marilyn’s childhoods, college years, and courtship, up through their children’s lives, all the way to and beyond Lydia’s untimely death.  One might think this head-hopping and time-leaping would be disorienting or confusing, but it isn’t. Ng juggles it all masterfully, so that instead of the story rolling out in a neat line, it unfolds like a flower, all at once and in every direction.

The characters themselves were an interesting puzzle. On the one hand, they almost felt less like people and more like concepts or symbols. Though I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a book about racism, or feminism, or parental pressure, or adultery, or sibling rivalry –all those themes are present, and important, but as an undercurrent to the story, not the story itself — there are times when it seemed as though a character was the embodiment of an issue, rather than the embodiment of a person. Normally, this would turn me off. I love a good plot, but I read for character. If the characters don’t feel like real people to me, that doesn’t usually bode well for the book.

However — and this is a huge however — in this particular case, I was all right that the characters felt a little more ambiguous, because the emotion was spot-on. While I’m not sure that James is a person one could ever know, the way he felt growing up as the only Chinese kid in an all-white school rang entirely true. I could feel my hands shake as Marilyn stepped into a physics classroom full of men, feel my stomach clench as Lydia’s grades slipped and tumbled, feel my heart sink as Nath learned how mean children can be. I had to stop reading at one point because I needed to remind myself that the family’s grief was not my own; at another, I put the book down so I could go into my sleeping daughters’ room and hug them and tell them that they were loved, because the pain the parents in the book felt at not being able to tell Lydia those things left me no other choice.

For me, if a book can make me feel emotions that raw and sharp, it trumps absolutely everything else.

I also want to talk a bit about ethnicity, and how the fact that James is Chinese and his children are mixed-race works its way into the story. As the child of a Chinese father and a white mother, I was curious to see how that aspect of the book would be handled. And while the experiences of the Lees (particularly Nath and Lydia) were not and are not my experience — partially because of the 1970s setting of the book, and partially because I was not the only not-white kid growing up — they felt authentic to me, and I could relate to much of how they thought and acted and reacted. It’s hard to put into words the sense of knowing you are different but not feeling different, of forgetting that sometimes people will look at you and see an ethnicity instead of a person. I am fortunate to have only felt this way sporadically throughout my life — for some, as it is for James in the book, I know it is constant — but EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU does an excellent job of conveying how those times felt, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly, as it is in life. Being Chinese — or half-Chinese, or married to a Chinese man — does not define the whole of who the Lees are, but is instead a thread woven through their being, informing every aspect of their lives, whether or not they are conscious of it.

As for the plot — the mysterious circumstances surrounding Lydia’s death, what led to them, and how the family reacts — I found it simple, but never straightforward or boring. As in real life, there are multiple forces at play here, and though the plot itself isn’t complex — a girl dies, and her family tries to make sense of her death — the real story here is in the nuance. It’s impossible, after putting down the book, to cite any one reason or cause for Lydia’s death. It’s a culmination of her whole life, of her parent’s lives, of her siblings’ lives, and all the choices and hurts and slights and misunderstandings and pressures running through each. When we finally reached the night of Lydia’s death in the narrative and everything was explained, it wasn’t the “a-ha!” moment one typically expects in a mystery, but more a quiet, “of course.” For really, this isn’t a mystery about the death of a teenage girl, but a story about a family’s complex relationships with each other. Not a line or an arc, but a web.

Ultimately, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU is a beautifully crafted tale full of honest emotion and raw truth. Though it is quiet, the gorgeous prose and heart-wrenching story kept me riveted from the first page to the last, and will keep my thoughts spinning for some time to come.

What’s up with me

Friends, I’ve been scared of this post for a while. But I think it’s time. Because I think I’m finally in a mental place where I can handle people knowing, and I’m tired of keeping secrets.

If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed I’ve had some weird personal stuff going on lately that I haven’t been talking about. I was going on a trip to Texas, then suddenly I wasn’t going to Texas. I was going on a writing retreat, then I couldn’t go on a writing retreat, and then I could go again. I was posting several times a week about training for a half marathon, then I wasn’t posting about training anymore, and then I was hesitantly back to the gym after a few weeks off. And I posted more than a few times about the amazing generosity of my friends, which maybe isn’t so out of the ordinary. But it all ties together.

Here’s the somewhat short version of a very long story.

Two and a half months ago, I noticed a lump in my breast.

Two months ago, I found out that lump was cancerous.

Five weeks ago, I had surgery to remove the lump.

Three weeks ago, doctors were running tests to determine if chemotherapy would be recommended, and to find out if I had any mutations in my BRCA genes, which would put me at high risk for ovarian cancer and also would mean I’d need to get my children tested.

Two weeks ago, I learned that my cancer is a low risk for recurrence, and that risk is not changed by chemo, which meant I don’t need it. I also learned that my BRCA genes contain no mutations, which means no increased risk for me or my kids. That meant we could go ahead with the next stage of treatment, which was radiation.

One week ago, I started radiation therapy. That’ll go on for six weeks. Every weekday. It doesn’t hurt, yet. I hear it might as time progresses.

After that, I’ll get to do some form of hormonal therapy. We haven’t decided exactly how severe to go with that yet. Whatever we choose will continue for the next five years, at least. Along with regular doctor visits and tests to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.

I’m not going to lie — this whole thing has sucked. A lot. I haven’t wanted to talk about it, because cancer patient is not a label I wanted people to assign to me. Friend, mommy, geek girl, YA writer, blogger, lover of action movies, queso enthusiast, TV aficionado, a cappella nerd, Twitter addict, book cheerleader — these were all aspects of myself that didn’t change with a cancer diagnosis. And throughout this whole crappy ordeal, despite having this One Big Thing constantly looming over my life, I haven’t cared less about any of those things.

I’m still me. I’m just me with cancer.

When I got my diagnosis, I told a small group of close friends and family, because it felt like something I didn’t want the world knowing yet, but I couldn’t keep from those who knew me best. That was the best decision I could have made, because my friends — most of whom I made through writing — have been invaluable as I’ve faced this.

They’ve brought me chocolate and wine and action figures and books and queso and movies. They’ve gotten me out of my house when I needed a distraction (two days after I got my diagnosis, when I knew I had cancer but still didn’t know the severity because Nashville had an ice storm and scheduling meetings with specialists was a nightmare, I went with a friend to see Jupiter Ascending. Which on the one hand is a weird thing to do two days after finding out you have cancer, but on the other hand, is the perfect thing to do. Nothing seems all that dire when you’re watching were-Channing Tatum rollerblade through a bouquet of space explosions. With bees). They’ve sent me gifs that made me snort in public, and they’ve recommended ridiculous shows for me to binge-watch on Netflix.

They’ve also prayed over me. They’ve handed me money to help with my medical bills. They’ve sent me emails and texts that moved me to tears. And they’ve contributed towards or prepared enough meals for my family that we had to borrow an entire upright freezer to store them all.

It’s in our dining room. My house in no way has enough room for an upright freezer.

Every time I look at it, I smile.

And every time I’ve told a friend what I’m going through, what my family is going through, it’s felt like a burden lifted. I always dread the telling, but it’s never been bad.

So now, even though I’m kind of terrified for the world to know about this, I think it’s time. I’m not sure how my brain is going to react to this going from a thing only a few people know to a thing everyone knows. Already, I get overwhelmed sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to respond to a well-meaning email or text — not even to say “I’m not in a good place to deal with this right now, but I appreciate that you’re thinking of me.” Sometimes it’s all just too much.

If you’ve fallen into this category of reaching out only to be met with silence, I apologize. I will probably continue to do this, at times. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. Just know that if I do this to you — if you try to encourage me and I don’t respond — it’s quite literally not you. It’s me. It’s entirely me and my weird, overwhelmed brain that still forgets sometimes that it’s piloting a body that mutinied on itself.

There are two questions I’ve been asked more than anything else over the past two months. They are:

How are you feeling?

and

What do you need?

I’ll try to answer them now. The answers don’t change. Or at least, they haven’t yet.

I feel fine. I still have some lingering soreness from my surgery, but I don’t feel sick at all. I’m not tired. My appetite is good. I’m back to exercising regularly, and while I won’t be setting any personal bests at this half marathon next weekend, I feel good about my ability to complete it.

I’m still reading. I’m still writing. None of my dreams have changed.

I’m told that after a few weeks, radiation will eventually make my skin feel constantly sunburned, and that it will get progressively worse until treatment is finished. I’m told it may make me tired. I have markers all over me for them to be able to line up my treatments — literally sharpie marks dotted all over my torso and covered by clear stickers, that feel like nothing but make me look like a Freemasons map. They make it hard to find anything to wear — the markers go all the way up to my collarbone, and we’re not exactly in turtleneck season — and that can be kind of frustrating and self-conscious-making. If you need me for the next six weeks, I’ll be the girl in the t-shirts. Always t-shirts. For every occasion.

But for now, I feel good. I feel like me, both physically and mentally.

As far as what I need, that’s a trickier question. Thanks to several friends and family members being unbelievably generous, I think that we will be okay financially. We have insurance, and while co-pays and co-insurance still add up to quite a hefty sum, it’s looking like we’ll be able to handle it. And that is a huge, huge blessing. Honestly one of my very first thoughts when my doctor said, “your biopsy came back positive for carcinoma,” wasn’t, “Am I going to die?” or, “What is this going to do to me physically?” — it was, “We can’t afford this.”

But now we can. It’ll be a long road — years — of tests and treatment and doctors visits. But it won’t break us.

We are also good on food. As I mentioned, we have a whole freezer full of meals.

So really, what I need right now is to smile. Encouragement — even if I fail to respond — is always appreciated. Prayer, if you are a person who prays. Laughter. Distraction.

The weekend I got my diagnosis, my friends showered me with these things. A gift card for my favorite local Mexican place. Gift cards for books, digital downloads for movies. Bottles of wine and boxes of chocolates. Countless texts and emails until it felt I was swimming in love.

It was like I was being wooed, but not romantically. Wooed back to myself.

(This is why these people are my best friends. They know me well enough to know exactly what I’d need in a time of crisis.)

And it’s still what I need.

So far, cancer has been scary and uncertain and inconvenient and frustrating and painful. It gets overwhelming at the weirdest times, and I never know when I’m going to shut down and become unable to engage on it in any capacity. But it’s also been strangely eye-opening. I’ve never felt such an outpouring of love before. I already knew, cognitively, that my friends were amazing and loving and generous. But now I know it with every piece of me, deep in my heart and soul.

I don’t expect to blog again about this. I’m not going to become a Person Who Blogs Their Disease. (There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not me.) Even this post is a stretch for me. It’s a little terrifying. Or a lot terrifying. Next time I blog, it will be about something book or writing related. I hope.

But like I said, I have the most amazing support system that a girl could wish for. I have a wonderful husband and family going through this with me. I feel good. I’m at peace with the long road of treatment and testing ahead, and I’m at peace with the decisions we’ve made thus far. I’m ready for this to be a thing others know about me, even those I don’t know very well.

So here you go, Internet. My scary secret. I’m nervous.

Gifs welcome.

Review: WE ALL LOOKED UP by Tommy Wallach

I’ve been sitting on this review for months, ever since I stole borrowed the ARC from a friend who wasn’t quite as enthused about the idea of a quiet YA apocalypse as I was. I don’t know what it is about the human-race-facing-their-imminent-demise premise that I find so fascinating — maybe it’s spending my formative years in the ’90s when every other movie was about one form or another of Armageddon, including one (which I unabashedly love so don’t even attempt to speak ill of it) actually titled Armageddon — but no matter the reason, all I knew is when I read the blurb of We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Now, make no mistake, this book is way less Armageddon and way more Melancholia. There is no rag-tag group of rugged miscreants tasked with saving the world, no last-ditch far-fetched government plan that unites the nations, and definitely no curmudgeonly-but-secretly-heroic mission leader willing to lay it all on the line for the greater good.

Still, if you’d like to read this review imagining Aerosmith playing softly in the background — or actually playing Aerosmith softly in the background — that is fine.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Four high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel.

They always say that high school is the best time of your life.

Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, doesn’t understand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.

Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.

My Thoughts:

I really love a well-executed multiple-point-of-view book, but they’re hard to execute well. I’ve read a lot of multiple POV books by authors I otherwise enjoyed where the attempt to jump from one head to another kind of fell flat. Either one POV resonates more than the other(s), or they all sound kind of the same, or any number of other reasons.

Which is why this book stood out so much.

Even in third person, each of WE ALL LOOKED UP’s four narrators had their own unique voice, and each was a fully developed character, with strengths and flaws and moments of greatness mixed with moments of what-could-you-possibly-have-been-thinking. From Andy’s boneheaded pursuit of Eliza, to Anita’s ill-advised self-emancipation, to Eliza’s frustration over her undeserved reputation and Peter’s struggle between who he’s always been and who he wants to be, they all have honest and daunting uphill battles to fight in the face of their possibly impending doom.

The relationships start shallow, but become interwoven, intricate, and challenging. At the opening of the story, none of the four main characters know each other outside of a peripheral acquaintance, but as the meteor strips away the social boundaries keeping them apart, they come together in interesting and unexpected ways. They all begin the book viewing each other as objects and stereotypes — some more than others, but none are immune — until they don’t. Every one of them starts out as some version of “problematic” — again, some more than others — which, to me, read very true to where a lot of teens (and adults) are, drifting through life not really thinking about how their views and choices affect others until they have to.

I found it fascinating how the end-of-the-world scenario shoved them into those “until they have to” situations, and did it for each of them in different ways. How each faced the reality that they might all be dead in a couple months varied greatly — Do you try to become a better person? Do the thing you’ve always been afraid to do? Throw caution to the wind? — and told me a lot about each character and the lives they’d lived up to that point. By the end of the book, you may not necessarily be rooting for all four characters — some of them make some terrible choices with awful consequences — but I felt I understood them all better, and that they finally understood each other. Which, to me, felt like the point of their winding journeys.

The other aspect of this book I really loved was the glimpse into how society as a whole might handle an impending cataclysm. Since the approach of the meteor takes several months, and since they never know definitively whether its going to hit the earth or not, the world doesn’t instantly descend into chaos. Life goes on as normal — or normal-ish — for a while after the maybe-apocalypse is announced. But the closer the meteor gets, the more things break down. Kids stop attending school, people in unfulfilling jobs stop going to work, prices for basic goods and services skyrocket, rules and laws carry less and less weight until they’re eventually meaningless. The global shift in priorities starts subtle, then grows more and more pronounced throughout the book, until you can’t help but feel the slide. I’m not saying this is necessarily a more or less realistic view of what might happen than in other works of fiction where society bands together to work for the good of all; it’s just different. And for me, it was fascinating and kept the wheels in my brain turning for days after I finished the book.

I can’t speak to the science of the story. Physicists, I don’t know how realistic it is that NASA wouldn’t be able to predict whether or not a giant meteor will or will not hit us until the moment of impact. All I ask of science fiction (and this is extremely light science fiction, and even that categorization may be pushing it) is that it present its case in a way that allows me to buy into its premise for the duration of the book, and doesn’t throw anything at me that is so obviously far-fetched that it pulls me out of the story. And for me, WE ALL LOOKED UP delivered on that front.

Boiled down to its bones, this book is not an apocalypse story, but a character and relationship study under extraordinary circumstances. Its overall tone is quiet and contemplative, but there are definite moments of adrenaline and action and shock. It’s a weird one to peg down, because on one hand it has some definite science fiction aspects, but on the other hand it reads much more like a contemporary. I’d say that if you can swallow the maybe-end-of-the-world premise, and you enjoy well-drawn, far-from-perfect characters in scenarios that keep you thinking long after turning the final page, then you should try WE ALL LOOKED UP.