I Deleted Social Media for a Week

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Life was simpler when I was younger. No job, no bills, no responsibilities except the minute amount of homework that, let’s be honest, I was excited about. I could play all day, pretending to be any number of characters from movies and books, and that’s all I really had to worry about. Even in high school and college, where the homework amounts were staggering and jobs and bills and responsibilities started to become a never-ending nuisance, things were simpler.

So what happened? I graduated college in 2008, right around the time facebook opened its doors to the masses (rather than just the college kids like it was when I signed up) and twitter became a thing. And phones got smarter.

Sure, there was myspace and livejournal and all that when I was in high school, and facebook in college, and we all carefully curated our Top 8 friends and our AIM away messages, but there was still a level of disconnect we don’t have today.

Now, there are 15 different social media apps for each part of your life you want to share, and they’ve taken over our free (and not so free) time.

As a high school teacher, I see the dangers and perils of social media on a daily basis, and realized that while I’m older and no longer subject to much of the same levels of cyberbullying these kids go through, I’m on social media entirely too much.

So I’m going to conduct an experiment: for one entire week, I’m going to stay off social media.

I want to see what happens when I don’t have mindless scrolling at my fingertips when I’m bored. Currently, my phone is a constant distraction whenever I’m trying to be productive in my creative endeavors. At work it’s not really a problem since I’m a teacher and free time is a luxury, but on the evenings and weekends, my phone battery dies faster than you can say YouTube.

For the record, these are the social media networks I regularly use (so will not be using during my experiment): YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. 

This will be going from Sunday, May 7 – Saturday, May 13 (at midnight, a full 7 days). I will be deleting these apps from my phone for the duration of the experiment.

Let’s see how this goes!

Saturday, May 6 11:37pm

I tweeted a “see you later” and deleted twitter, facebook, instagram, and snapchat apps from my phone so I’m not tempted by the little red numbers (or habit). I wonder if anyone will like/favorite/DM/comment while I’m gone. Will I be sad if they don’t?

Sunday, May 7 9:39am – Day 1

I woke up this morning, grabbed my phone, checked my email, and then felt lost. Normally this is when I catch up on all I missed overnight… but now? So I got out of bed, made breakfast, and checked goodreads ratings on all the books I bought at the library sale yesterday (Goodreads doesn’t count as social media!). Semi-productive already. Now… to read?

4:15pm

I finished one book (The Master and Margarita – FINALLY) and started another (The Upside of Unrequited) and am starting to do that thing at chapter breaks where I pull my phone out looking for a distraction. Which makes no sense because I’m thoroughly enjoying this book. But no distractions await me, and I open the book for a new chapter.

11:22pm

Day one: done. Also, I finished The Upside of Unrequited, but that may have also been because it was a fast read and I had a decent chunk of time to devote to it. Also, no social media distractions… I wonder what else I can accomplish this week. I do sort of feel disconnected, though. Like, I want to share my thoughts about this book and see all the Disney posts on Instagram and check twitter and get rid of the Google Plus (YouTube) notification on my email. But I can’t.

Monday, May 8 9:30am – Day 2

It’s only been a day and already I feel so much freer without being tied down to the various social media feeds. What am I really missing? Drivel. I did feel a bit weird this morning as I drank my coffee – usually the time I scroll through all my feeds – but I just opened my phone and didn’t know what to do with it. So I listened to my audiobook instead. So far, no social media equals more productivity. I want to keep this in mind when I’m back in a week.

9:45pm

I told my students about my experiment and convinced another to try it. Another told me she tagged me in something but I told her I can’t check it until Sunday. That might be the hardest part – the communication barrier. Social media is how we connect now, it’s how businesses and artists get followers, create connections. So much of the world is online. But what if I don’t want to be? (To an extent, at least – I feel like it’s impossible now to avoid the internet totally, especially for creative types because it is such an easy/cheap way to distribute your work.) But do I really need a twitter/insta/facebook/snap? No. Do I enjoy them? Sometimes. Do I feel the effects of not having them? Yes.

Tuesday, May 9 2:48pm – Day 3

It’s starting to get annoying now, mostly because

  1. I’m bored, and
  2. I created a poll for online lit mag titles and I can’t crowdsource, so I have to do it the old-fashioned way, which gets fewer responses.

I’ve restarted my feedly as well, in an effort to curb the planning block boredom. Does that count as social media? It’s articles – mostly from online lit mags – so it’s educational, right?

9:25pm

After work I went to Happy Hour with teacher friends for teacher appreciation week (appreciating ourselves) and at one point, the other three were all on their phones, scrolling through social media (for memes based on AP Exams, because teachers), and so as the only person not on social media (or an AP teacher, for that matter), I definitely experienced the non-social side of social media. I was left out because I wasn’t on my phone, yet we’re all leaving ourselves out by being on our phones rather than interacting with the world around us. Ironic.

On another note, my sister-in-law asked me for a picture of us from Prom, and even though I was pretty sure one existed on facebook, I couldn’t get to it, so I had to physically find all my old photos and dig through them to find one.

On a side note: How weird is it that when we share pictures now we just shove our phones in people’s faces? And then there’s no control – what’s stopping them from scrolling through your other pictures? With physical photos, they only get the stack you give them. Invasion of privacy is the new normal. Oh, and I downloaded two new games to my phone just to have something to do to kill small amounts of time. Distractions, distractions. Hard to get rid of them all.

Wed, May 10 9:32pm – Day 4

I almost went on facebook today by accident. I was on my computer, procrastinating writing (as one does) and opened a new tab. I was just about to type the ‘f’ when I realized autopilot had taken over, and I closed the tab.

I’ve been good, but now it’s starting to get annoying. It’s not that I miss it, per say, I just liked having the option to scroll. Though I guess that’s the problem – the option becomes the norm becomes the auto-action and we get sucked in.

I guess I Just wonder if I’ve missed anything. I know – rationally – that I haven’t. That nothing on social media is important. But it’s also how people communicate, and what if someone tried to message me? (Well, I guess if they really needed me, if it were really important, they’d find a way.) And how often do I get messages anyway? Not very. I fear that part of me expects other to have missed my presence, that I’ll come back to all sorts of messages and notifications… when, in reality, I probably won’t have any. And I’m kind of worried how I’ll feel when that happens. It would seem I’m much more in the clutches of social media than I thought.

Thurs, May 11 9:36pm – Day 5

The only time no social media really affected me today was when I wanted to check facebook to see if was my friend’s birthday (it was). I didn’t want to tell her happy birthday if it wasn’t and don’t have that info anywhere else (because that’s what facebook is for), so I had a student look for me. Yep, I sunk that low. I guess that in itself is a lesson: don’t depend on social media for courtesy and manners. That kind of thing should be kept in a safer location – what happens if the account had been deleted, or facebook was hacked and everything gone? No more birthday reminders. Old school might be the best way to go.

Fri, May 12 11:28pm – Day 6

Only one more day. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Part of me says “thank goodness,” while the other part knows how quickly I’ll probably sink back in. But I’ve been so productive this week without it, and the whole thing has been positive and freeing, so I hope I remember that.

Sat, May 13 11:03pm – Day 7

Last day! Last hour! I think today was the day I checked my phone the most, since Sunday, before realizing I had nothing to do on it. Probably because it’s the weekend and my days aren’t filled with school distractions. But, I’m going to preemptively say (because I’m going to watch a movie and go to bed), I MADE IT!

Sun, May 14 – What I missed

Facebook: 20 notifications, 0 directly for me
Instagram: 1 comment, 5 followers, 14? Likes
Twitter: 4 messages (some with missed threads), 27? Notifications (some of these from a group tag)
Youtube: 6 comments (no new video posted)
I didn’t reinstall Snapchat.

So did I miss anything super exciting or pressing? No.

I responded to maybe three of the tweets I was went, and that’s it. And honestly, I scrolled through them all for about 15 seconds before I realized I just didn’t care, and closed my phone.

Social media is great for communicating – it’s an easy way to get in contact with people on an informal level (or like, with students – two of my notifications came from them), but mindlessly, endlessly scrolling is a waste of time. There’s nothing important there, and it’s all FOMO, basically. If I quit scrolling, I may miss something important/genius/hilarious/etc, but nine times out of ten, there’s nothing there, or it wasn’t all that profound/important/funny anyway.

I also noticed that as soon as I turned it all back on and started the scroll, I started judging and comparing myself to others. Well, they got a nice note from a student I didn’t get (except I did, last week, and Instagrammed it too); they commented on that post; they’re celebrating 5 years, etc. It’s all there to put our best lives forward, but at what cost to ourselves and others? Numbers don’t matter and yet we all live so anxiously by them. By tiny digital hearts and thumbs up that mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Social media drives the world rather than talent, ambition, intelligence, creativity. It’s all about your following – it’s how Trump got elected.

And it’s terrifying.

So I’m back, but not like before. And I know how easy it is to slide back in, but I’m going to try my hardest not to. I hope this sticks, because this past week felt good, and I don’t want to get lost again.

7:55pm

Honestly, it’s been 12 hours and I’ve barely scrolled. I just don’t care anymore. The conversations are nice – the FOMO I’d felt wasn’t really about the tweets and instas, it was about the missed opportunities for conversation, through notifications and DMs. Five pictures down my Insta and I was done. I deleted most of my twitter notifications because again, I just don’t care.

And I don’t want them clogging my time, my energy, my optimism, my life.

 

The Love Interest | Review

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The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

There’s a “Nice” guy (Caden) and a “Bad” boy (Dylan), both in competition for the love of a super smart science nerd (Juliet). Sounds like a typical, trope-heavy YA contemporary, right? Well, yes and no.

The trick is that Caden and Dylan (or “Dyl,” as he prefers to be called) are actually enslaved to this secret spy organization that uses Love Interests to extract secrets from important people. The “Nice” and the “Bad” are put against one another in competition for the subject’s love, and the loser is then incinerated.

One problem: the two boys fall for each other instead of their proposed subject. Oh, and the “Nice” actually isn’t so nice after all, or so he keeps telling me.

Sounds cool, right? A YA contemporary that is aware of the typical tropes, then twists them completely? Awesome.

Except not.

I had decently high expectations for this. It was included in the Book of the Month choices for May, and so far everything I’ve gotten from them has been pretty good. Plus, I like tongue-in-cheek, and this screamed that.

What I got was a really cool idea but that’s about it.

In trying to be “cool” and “different” and “hip,” Dietrich forgot how to write (if he ever knew how to in the first place). Or better yet, it felt like Dietrich came up with an idea for a YA novel but had never actually read a YA novel in the first place.

The characters were all flat, I didn’t feel any sort of chemistry between anyone, and oh boy, plot holes galore.

For instance, the Love Interests have these implants in their ears, wired to their brains, that allow them to telepathically communicate with their coach. But that would mean the coach could be listening in ALL THE TIME to their thoughts, but yet, Caden is constantly thinking things he shouldn’t, then realizing it and stopping, and yet… nothing ever happens to him. Empty threats all over the place. And then later, when they take them out, it’s in their foreheads? And is a tracker?

And don’t forget about the time Caden got really mad at his coach for forcing Juliet to trip and hurt herself (yea, I don’t understand either)… and then promptly forgot about it.

And then there’s the dialogue. I was literally groaning while I read it; it was very stilted and didn’t sound like real people, let alone teenagers. Not to mention, in order to avoid conflict, the characters all got along really well, really easily, and when they got mad it was only for like a sentence. Or, characters revealed things about themselves that made absolutely no sense for the sole purpose of a plot twist.

Groan.

The main character, Caden, claims that the “Nice” label he’s been given isn’t really who he is, yet aside from some angry feelings toward his “stepdad,” we never actually see how he’s so different from the character he’s playing.

It might have been better if we’d gotten perspectives from both Caden and Dylan (I refuse to call him “Dyl,” which is the dumbest name I’ve ever had to read 500 times), because reading only Caden’s point of view, I never saw how Dylan was even in the contest with Juliet, and seeing him struggle with his feelings might have been nice. Especially since Caden was so boring. It would’ve been a good Simon/Baz playoff, but instead it was just meh.

And finally, the ending. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the story, and none of it was believable for these characters. Why is the security so lax and the building so small for a major spy organization? Shouldn’t the main baddie have a bunch of underlings and minions? It was just… too easy, and the “shockers” were only in there for “shock,” but even that didn’t work.

Basically, I was just really disappointed in this whole thing. It needed major editing and rewriting, and as much as I was rooting for the boylove, I never got the happy squeals I got when I was reading Carry On. Or any other YA contemporary romance.

What a bummer.

 

Homegoing | Review

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is an absolutely beautiful debut novel about life, family, identity, and home.

It follows the story of two branches of the same family in Ghana, from the beginning of the slave trade to present day. One branch stays in Ghana, the other is sold into slavery in America, and slowly these two branches twist and turn and wind up back home.

The chapters alternate between branches, and each chapter is a new perspective, a new generation. You see how the current situation and culture affects that character, that family, as time continues to pass. Times aren’t always easy, and we witness firsthand the slave trade, slave life in the American south, the Fugitive Slave Act, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration. We see the tribal wars of Ghana, “African witchcraft”, and the effect of the White Man on African culture.

And yet we also see love and family, how despite being beaten down, people can rise up again and take control of their lives, despite being told they can’t.

The characters are so well developed, so rich and individual, and the history complex and authentic. It’s a 300-year family saga so complex and heartbreaking, yet inspiring and absolutely beautiful.

Curioddity | Review

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Curioddity by Paul Jenkins

If you were to take Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and blend it with a bit of Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore then throw in the quirkiness of All My Friends are Superheroes, you’d get Curioddity. It’s a fantastically weird novel in all the best ways.

Life is pretty bland for Wil Morgan, and has been since he was 10. He trudges through life (trudging being one of his favorite activities), is haunted by the clock tower that can’t seem to work correctly, and has a daily battle with the teenage barista over his morning coffee. Nothing seems to go right for him. When Mr. Dinsdale of the Curioddity Museum shows up and enlists his help, however, Wil learns to unlook at things to see them truly.

The main theme of Curioddity is “your eyes only see what your mind lets you believe,” which I absolutely love. Only when Wil allows himself to let his imagination take control, to go off the one-way road, does he find himself and happiness again. It’s a great message.

Curioddity is smartly written, with metaphors for today’s society cleverly interwoven. Wil is harassed by a QVC salesman, his too smart Lemon phone, and Pan’s robust statue; and consumerism and laziness means spending more money just to avoid the red tape.

My only complaints were the pacing (I tended to read it in chapter chunks rather than binging it, though it does pick up towards the end) and some of the objects and events were hard to picture purely because of their strangeness.

At times, things felt too easy, but I suppose that was the point. There are even moments when the characters look at one another and address this, so while it was intentional, I would’ve still liked to see a bit more struggle at times.

Paul Jenkins’ history of writing for video games and comic books has helped flesh out his debut novel. It’s well structured, well written, and a fun adventure. Curioddity is very much in the realm of Neil Gaiman: a quirky and inventive magical realism that helps you see the world upside down.

*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher for an honest review*

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child | review

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

First off, let me preface this by saying (for those who don’t know): I LOVE Harry Potter. Like so many others, I grew up reading the books, wanted to be Hermione, went to as many midnight releases as I could (both books and movies), instilled a “Harry Potter week” at the camp I used to work for, and even have a Harry Potter tattoo. Harry Potter is life.

Some people hate the continued content J.K. Rowling has put out since publishing the final book but I eat up every little bit, wanting to devour as much of the Wizarding World as I possibly can. Did I think she made a mistake in some of her history of the wizarding world in America? Yes, absolutely. Do I hate that she said (spoiler) Ron and Hermione shouldn’t have ended up together? 100% (R/H is my OTP and I even named my wedding table after them – they were all named after literary couples, so this isn’t as weird as it initially sounds). BUT, any additional information about her fantastic world is welcome to me.

Despite that, I was hesitant to pick up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I still bought it at midnight (here’s the link to my vlog of that night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESwSguiwfLQ) and read it first thing in the morning, but I was apprehensive going in. Would she break up my OTP? Did I really want to read about Harry’s humdrum life at the Ministry, about him adulting? Was I ready for adult issues from my favorite, golden trio?

11adf1b0-fd14-0133-805a-0e31b36aeb7fHarry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up with the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (a section many fans dislike), with Harry sending off his eldest two children to Hogwarts, and a young Albus is nervous about the sorting.

Here’s where things start to veer from the books, however. The Albus in the Deathly Hallows epilogue seems quiet, nervous, but overall a happy and well adjusted kid. The Albus in Cursed Child is not. This eleven year old boy is conflicted, troubled, and living in a heavy shadow of his father.

And so Cursed Child begins.

The story itself is a fun throwback to Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire (sometimes a little too on the nose), and it’s classic Harry Potter adventuring: kids think they know everything and make decisions that affect the entire wizarding world without consulting adults. We get to explore the effects of the decisions Harry and co. made so many years ago, and see how some of our favorite characters have fared post-Voldemort.

2333The hardest part for me, however, was seeing the trio as adults. It’s been nine years since the last Potter book hit the shelves, but we’re catching up with Harry in today’s timeline. When I read the books growing up, I was aging with Harry (I was 10 when the first book came out and 20 when the final one did), but now, Harry is way past me. He’s in a different stage of life than I am, and I found it harder to relate to him. I’ve never been 40, never had kids; I don’t know the struggles of parenting yet.

I also associate these three as teenagers saving a world that’s bigger than them, so to see them in their boring Ministry jobs and home lives, away from Hogwarts and Voldemort and the thrills (and anguish) that came with it, was difficult. I miss the precarious attitudes and adventures of youth.

The other thing that Cursed Child suffers from is the play format, which did it a bit of a disservice because the limits of the story are constrained by the time and scale, and reading it left something to be desired. Novels allow for nuance, slow build up, strong character development, thoughts, emotions, and details, but plays rely on the actors’ performances and set designs. Cursed Child is already a two part play, and I still feel like so much was skipped over or left out. Plays are meant to be performed, and I think this one is no different. On stage, it’s probably magical and a theatrical wonder, but on the page it’s lacking that dynamic layering that performances can give.

On to spoilery thoughts:

I wasn’t a fan of the reveal that Voldemort secretly had a child. I thought it was way too simple and also out of character for He Who Must Not Be Named, a loveless shell of a man who never cared for anyone other than himself. I just didn’t buy it.

tumblr_oawwevXdqo1uhoadvo1_1280Albus’ sorting into Slytherin and friendship with Scorpius made me happy, however. I thought it could’ve been simple for her to put him in Gyffindor and struggle to live up to Harry’s legacy in his own house, but putting him in Slytherin shook things up. It showed not all Slytherins are evil (finally) and allowed him to sort out his own legacy (even if he made some stupid decisions and I just wanted to shake him half the time). Scorpius is my new favorite character, though, and I’m glad Malfoy got to redeem himself.

The time travel element felt cheap to me, but it was a good way to bridge the stories of Harry and Albus together, to bring readers/viewers in, and it also allowed for the idea that every death and detail in the original story is important, that without each of those elements, time would have moved in a very different way. Death, particularly of the innocent, is hard on those around it, and sometimes we can’t get over it, but that might be the reason the war is won.

This meddling with time also just proved how much Ron and Hermione are right for one another, despite Rowling’s later admission. Every time time tried to rip them apart, they always found one another in the end (even if Ron’s character was very much a comic relief and pushed to the side for Harry and Hermione to run the world… he read more like Steve Kloves’ version of Ron rather than Rowlings). As this was one of my biggest concerns going into the book, I’m grateful Rowling kept with the canon, despite her misgivings.

End spoilery thoughts

Overall, it’s Harry Potter. Although I may not have felt that same rush I felt when reading the original seven, I was still giddy and excited to return to the world and characters I love so much. The characters – old and new – were wonderful, and the story was a reminder of why I fell in love in the first place.

Harry Potter has always been about relationships, being true to yourself, and finding a light in the darkness, and Cursed Child is exactly that.

So despite my misgivings, I absolutely loved it and am happy to have another Harry Potter story on my shelf.

Can someone buy me tickets to the stage show (and a ticket to London)? Now I really want to go. 😉

5/5 stars

172 Hours on the Moon | Review

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172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’d heard such raving reviews from some of my friends about it, and I was intrigued by the idea of a thriller set on the moon. What could the premise possibly be? Aliens? Astronauts gone rogue? I was excited to find out.

And then I started reading it.

The premise of 172 Hours on the Moon boils down to: there’s something dangerous and weird happening on the moon, and NASA has kept silent about it for fifty years, but now it’s back and they need to fix it. To build popularity and hopefully gain support (read: $), they decide to make it a big spectacle: the 50th anniversary of the first Lunar Landing, using models that look like those from Apollo 11. Oh, and did I mention their plan involved sending teenagers to space?

Dumb.

This is where my problems began, and despite my hopes they’d get better, they didn’t.

So NASA, this big giant space organization that has LITERALLY put man on the moon, that employs some of the SMARTEST people on the planet and has a contingency plan for their contingency plan, decides it’s going to hold a lottery and choose three teenagers from around the world to send to space.

That’s right. THREE.

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The application said they needed to be in good health, etc, but there were no tests actually required, no fitness evaluation or mental stress tests. No knowledge of space or science required.

So… you’re telling me that out of the entire world, NASA just happened to RANDOMLY pick three teenagers to go to space and all three of them are perfectly fit to go?

No.

(also, they all speak English, I’m assuming, since they communicate without effort amongst one another despite their different countries of origin?)

If I’d been in charge at NASA, I would’ve put in place some evaluation they had to pass before they could even apply. THEN I would’ve chosen 50 or so candidates who scored the highest (on a range of tests – physical, mental, stress, etc) and maybe even dreamed of becoming astronauts (instead of going because they wanted to get a girl back, ugh), and then made them go through even more tests to whittle it down to the final three. Think The Selection/The Bachelor meets Armageddon.

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But hell, if I were in charge at NASA, I wouldn’t be sending teenagers to space. Or really, I wouldn’t be doing anything from this dumb book.

So they get to the moon. Our three main teenagers aren’t particularly interesting, and the events on the moon sound like The Martian but way less smart and with some weird “thing” killing people. Even the deaths were boring.

Idk. I thought the “thing” (no spoilers) was pretty dumb and if they knew that much about it beforehand, it seems pretty reckless to send people up there without any methods of taking care of it. Maybe let your peeps know there’s something out to get them instead of keeping it a secret? You know, to protect their lives on THE MOON.

Half of what happened on the moon didn’t even make sense, and I just really wanted more development of what could have been a really cool idea.

The scariest part about this was the urban legend one of the characters tells that has nothing to do with the plot. Cool story, bro.

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Anyway. This is more of a ranty ramble than a well structured review and I apologize for that. But this was just dumb and made me dumber for having read it.

2/5 stars for what it could’ve been with a better (or even just adult) writer, and for the fact that I did finish it and was mildly intrigued at times.

The Regional Office is Under Attack! | Review

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The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

The premise of The Regional Office is Under Attack! is very exciting: a secret underground organization of badass warrior women who save the world, is under attack. It’s Die Hard with cyborgs and angsty teenager girls, with Oracles in turtle bathtubs and orange macbooks; what’s not to like? Or so I thought.

It starts out well enough; one of the assassins, Rose, is counting down the minutes until she can give the infiltration signal, before she can descend the mile underground to the Regional Office under stealth, before things go wrong.

But soon enough, the story gets lost in the spiraling backstories of characters I can’t find myself liking and the confusing narration, and it loses that initial spark.

The story follows two main characters: Sarah, the Director’s right hand, who has a mechanical arm and a broken past; and Rose, the newest and youngest recruit, but who is also rash and angry and doesn’t quite fit in.

160418_BOOKS_miller-regional-office.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Alongside them are a handful of other secondary character that are perhaps more important to the plot than the two main protagonists are: Henry, the Recruiter on whom Rose has a crush, and who is perhaps behind this attack; and Mr. Niles, who, along with Oyemi, created the Regional Office and broke Sarah’s life. The men are the ones pulling the strings, despite the womens’ best efforts.

The story is told in sections based on each of the female characters, with chapters flip flopping between the past and present; in between these character sections are dissertation accounts on the Regional Office and it’s history and what could have happened to it. Much of it is speculation, but it does add backstory to the Regional Office and offers an outsider viewpoint on what happened.

Basically, this story is weird. I appreciate the tongue in cheek narrative about heroes and hero plots, but I had a really hard time getting through this. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, and had a hard time getting past the writing style (there’s a lot of “I could have done this, then I would’ve done this, and watch this… except I didn’t do any of it”) and a lot of it is left up to the reader’s interpretation of events.

I thought the premise was cool, but didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I wanted to.

Why Hanson Still Matters

Hanson Day is May 6. What started as a one-day celebration of the band Hanson in 1997 in Oklahoma, their home state, has become a yearly event celebrated among Hanson fans (fansons). This is why the “mmmboppers” still matter.

  • Like it or not, “mmmbop” is a classic pop song. It has a catchy hook (even if no one knows exactly what the words are) and reminds us of happy 90s pop. Along with the Spice Girls, Hanson helped relieve us of the grunge that was infecting the radio and delivered us catchy, bubblegum we all wanted to chew.Hanson-Disco-1447188684
  • In a time of heavily processed music and musicians who don’t write their own music, Hanson still writes and plays all their own music, and they rely on their instruments and their voices to create catchy songs, not computerized beats and autotune. Their music is a throwback to classic 50s and 60s rock and roll and has only matured as the boys (men) have grown up.

  • They put on a damn good live show. With twenty years of music and six studio albums of backlog – not to mention all their fans-only EPs, independently-released albums pre-fame, and covers – there are PLENTY of songs for them to choose from, and they don’t play the same setlist two nights in a row. This makes the concert-going experience unique for each individual show, and keeps fans coming back. You never know when they’re going to bust out an old song you haven’t heard in 15 years, or a song they’ve never performed live before. It isn’t a Hanson show without “mmmbop,” and when the entire crowd sings along, it’s chilling and magical.

  • They’re still making music. The number one question I get asked when I talk about my love of Hanson is “are they still making music?”. Yes. 2013 saw the release of Anthem, their sixth studio album, and they collaborated with Owl City and Blues Traveler in 2015. They’re currently working on their newest fanclub exclusive album, Loud.

  • They’re doing it all themselves. After their label, Mercury Records, merged with Island Def Jam in 2000 and subsequently didn’t know what to do with this pop band of long-haired brothers, Hanson went solo. They documented their struggles with their label and the making of their third album, Underneath, in the iTunes-released documentary, Strong Enough to Break (now on YouTube). The result was the formation of their own label, 3CG Records, and they’ve been doing it on their own ever since.

  • It’s not all about the music. Starting in 2007, Hanson helped raise awareness for poverty and AIDS in Africa by hosting barefoot walks prior to their concert, where, flanked by fans, the brothers walked a mile through the streets sans shoes and then donated $1 for each person who took the walk with them. The Take the Walk campaign was done in partnership with Toms Shoes.

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  • So often, children who rise to the huge stardom Hanson saw later endure difficulties adjusting to an adult life and are the scrutiny of the media. See: Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Aaron Carter, Justin Bieber, McCauley Culkin. But Hanson made it through alive and relatively unscathed. Sure, there are rumors Zac went to rehab, but nothing’s been confirmed and the boys still retain their wholesome image. Some of that is due to their religious upbringing (no, they’re not mormons), but family has always played a big part in their lives, and Hanson is a family-friendly band both the parents and the kids can bop along to.

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  • They don’t rely on references to drugs, sex, or the f-word to make catchy songs. Hanson lyrics are purposefully vague, complicated, and poetic. They talk about life, love, music, and growing older. Even “mmmbop” was more mature than people give it credit for: it was about learning to hold onto the moments in life, about holding on to the people who matter and letting go of the people and things that don’t matter.

“So hold on to the ones who really care, in the end they’ll be the only ones there/when you’re old and start losing your hair, can you tell me who will still care?”

“This Time Around” is just one of their many songs with thought provoking, powerful lyrics:

  • Their fans are epic, have been there a long time, and they realize and appreciate that. Most fansons were teenagers when they first listened to Hanson – the same age as the boys themselves – and have grown up with the band. Our first loves stay with us, and for many fans, Hanson epitomizes that. They’ve been there from the long blonde hair and higher octaves, to the marriages and children. The band is a place for the fans to come and feel like they’re “home” again, and the boys don’t disappoint. There’s the online fanclub, which comes with exclusive online rights and content as well as early admission to concerts, a yearly “members EP,” and invitations to special concerts and events. In addition, they put on special events each year to interact with the fans – their Back to the Island retreat in Jamaica, Hanson Day festivities, etc – that aren’t just about the music, with more personal events included. There are livestreams (the Christmas specials are a favorite), youtube videos, interactive forums, etc. They know they wouldn’t be who they are without the fans, and they give back.

  • They’re not afraid to make fun of themselves and branch out. As they get older, they have new interests, and the best example of this is their new beer, mmmhops. It’s a twist on their biggest hit, but it also showcases their tongue-in-cheek attitude about their success and desire to expand.

So grab a bottle of mmmhops and sit back, relax, and listen to Hanson.

A Visit from the Goon Squad | Review

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From the Goon Squad is a depressing, vignette-style collection of interconnected short stories about growing up, reflection, time, and life. It’s beautiful and ugly at the same time, and I loved it.

The reader follows character after character, somehow related to the one previous, during a specific period in their lives. You learn about where a character came from through their friend’s memory of childhood, then view them years later from their ex-wife or child. At times it can be disconcerting and puzzling to figure out how the current perspective relates to the grand scheme, but when it hits, it’s cathartic and fun.

The stories aren’t about anything in particular, just a brief moment in that character’s life and who they were at that moment, but it reflects on memory and trying to recapture moments, nostalgia and the passage of time.

goon-map-UPDATED-May13What I really loved about this book was the format and risks the author took. You see characters from different perspectives, giving them more dynamic characterization and development; most are flawed, with vices and honest moments of clarity and introspection. Even the writing differs based on the characters, which makes it easier to dive into that character’s head and feel what they’re feeling. Interconnected stories that jump through time and characters are some of my favorite stories, and this doesn’t disappoint. I couldn’t wait to figure out who the next perspective would be, to hear their story.

At times A Visit From the Goon Squad can be very depressing. It talks about life, loss, and growing older; watching your life pass by from the sidelines, reflecting on who you were and how the world has changed around you, but you haven’t. Depressing, but also poignant and beautifully poetic.

4/5 stars

Nora and Kettle | Review

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Nora and Kettle (Paper Stars #1) by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

In the post-WWII 1950s America, stereotypes and prejudices against the Japanese were still prevalent. Kettle is a Japanese American boy, raised in the internment camps, who prefers life on the streets to the brutality of life in a Home. Along with his “brother” Kin, Kettle leads and protects a group of lost boys, known as the Kings, in a more “free” life. Nora, on the other hand, lives a privileged life of luxury and money, at least on the outside. Behind the scenes, Nora is physically abused by her father and is the sole protector of her younger sister, who has already been the permanently affected by his abuse.

A historical fiction loosely based on Peter Pan, Nora and Kettle is heartbreaking, beautiful, and rich with character development.

My biggest problem with this book is also one of its strengths: character development. While I loved the extensive look into these characters and their lives, understanding their motivations and who they are individually, it took 200 pages before the characters actually came together and the plot advanced. While this is written in a more “contemporary” style, focused on character and relationships, I would’ve liked to see that struggle of them coming together as more of the focus on the story. Nora on the streets, Kettle struggling with his identity: that’s where the real story lies, not 200 pages of will Nora leave home or not.

15305456The first book in a series, the ending, while cathartic at times, seemed more interested in setting up the next book than finishing the current one. Readers are left with a cliffhanger and a major change in Nora’s life that should’ve been addressed much earlier.

That being said, Nora and Kettle is lyrically written, with beautiful paragraphs of dialogue and description that naturally flow together. It’s very easy to picture and watch the words dance around your head.

Dealing with some very tough topics, Nora and Kettle doesn’t shy away from the brutality of child abuse and racial prejudices, but doesn’t make it the sole characterization of its characters. Nora is abused, and that affects her in very real ways, but she’s also a sister, a dreamer, and someone whose mind hasn’t been shut to new experiences. Kettle is a Japanese American, but even he doesn’t know what that means for him; he doesn’t know what to identify as, and while he keeps his head low to avoid confrontation, he also works hard, refuses to give into those prejudices, and protects those that need it.

Though it takes some time for the title characters to finally come together – for Peter to whisk Wendy away through the window – when they do, it’s magical. They have a natural chemistry, and knowing them as well as we do, it’s exciting to see them together and beginning to fall for one another. It’s fast, but it also feels very slow at the same time.

A big fan of Peter Pan and its many retellings, this was not a disappointment.

3.5 stars