Even When You Lie to Me: A Book Review

We did a lot of reading this weekend. Our Pacific Northwest weather  was very persistent with rain, wind, and just damp. Luckily there is an endless supply of great books at out local library and it’s only a 5 min drive away!

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Even my son Leif spent his time with a book. Eh hem, upside down Baby Bear.

 

I decided to read Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott. Even When You Lie to Me is Alcott’s break through YA novel and I was very impressed with her prose and description about an improper love story between a student and her high school English teacher. Here is the synopsis:

Charlie, a senior, isn’t looking forward to her last year of high school. Another year of living in the shadow of her best friend, Lila. Another year of hiding behind the covers of her favorite novels. Another year of navigating her tense relationship with her perfectionist mom.
 
But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he’s the only one who gets her.
 
She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.
 
In this stunning debut, Jessica Alcott explores relationships—and their boundaries—in a way that is both searingly honest and sympathetic.

Charlie is a sympathetic character, if you have ever felt like an outsider (and who hasn’t?) you will relate to her socially awkward struggles. Alcott has fun incorporating classic love stories into Mr. Drummond’s lesson plans: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Using these tragic love stories for Mr. Drummond’s lesson plans, Alcott sets the stage and tone of her novel. Charlie’s English teacher Mr. Drummond has all of the makings of a modern Heathcliff, he has a tragic past, he is mysterious, and he seems so close and yet out of reach for 17 year old Charlie. Alcott does a wonderful job of vilifying him to the point of being disgusted with him and then pulls him back into a some-what sympathetic character through Charlie’s eyes. Alcott played with the idea of age through Charlie and Mr. Drummond by making Charlie seem much older than 17 and making Mr. Drummond  as emotionally immature as a teenager.

 

I have heard of too many women who had teachers that were vulgar in their actions or speech. So as an adult reading this story, I wanted to protect Charlie from beginning to end. While reading Alcott’s novel I saw some of my high school teachers in Mr.Drummond. I had the cool young teacher that everyone loved and adored. There were also times when he crossed the line and became too involved with student’s personal lives (never romantically though). I also had a teacher that was a flat out perv. There were rumors that every year this corrupt teacher would pick out senior girls who he planned to sleep with after graduation. I saw first-hand accounts of him touching students inappropriately and saying obscene insults to his female students. So, which teacher was Mr.Drummond? The caring teacher who got too personal or the total perv? I think he was a little bit of both.

  As an adult reader I applaud Charlie’s feminist friend Asha who is wise beyond her years. She disapproves of the inappropriate behavior of Mr. Drummond, but still doesn’t totally hate the guy. She can’t help but smile at his jokes and succumb to his charm like the rest of her peers, but she is also wary of him. I think Alcott wants her readers to see Mr. Drummond through Asha’s eyes. She wants the reader to know that romancing his student is completely wrong, but she doesn’t let you forget that charm and charisma can easily sway high school students (and adults).

At one point Charlie asks “What is the sublime?” and Mr. Drummond responds, “The idea of something being simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.” Alcott took an ugly subject and with her thorough and thought provoking prose she turns it into a work of art. Alcott examined the subjects of body image, feminism, power, and sexuality through the intricate charters she created.

This novel was a quick read, but try to savor the text. Examine the way the book makes you feel and give it the thought it deserves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Even When You Lie to Me.

♥R♥

The Maturation of Creative Writing

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I try to forgive my writing; if I had to put an age on my creative writing skills I would say it is still in the high school phase. Yes, I myself made it through high school and graduated from college, I even spent 3 years in the technical writing world, but my creative writing skidded to a halt after high school.

Also, I desperately need an editor, like yesterday.

I don’t have the patience of a mature writer. I quickly come up with a new writing topic, spend maybe two hours on it and throw it out there on my blog. Similar to a high school boy going to 3rd base for the first time, he has the passion, but shall we say no finesse? Finesse, patience, and skill take time to learn. I have to make many grammar, description, and wrong word choices before I craft that perfect sentence (I have yet to craft THE perfect sentence.). I will hopefully look back on these old posts and cringe at my lack of composure. Resembling the way I look back on my high school days and cringe at my ardent and wistful claims of undying love for the boys with all of the passion and non of the patience. I will be able to see the growth from where I decided to take my creative voice and start speaking of the intangible: pain, fear, and joy.

I don’t know when my creative writing will go from over enthusiastic high school kid to mature professional. Maybe that leap can’t be measured in a single occurrence, but I look forward to blushing and cringing at these early attempts.

♥R♥

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Throw back to Graduation from Western Washington University 2010

The Lazy Writer: Reading is My Crutch

Since I made my declaration of “I’m going to Write a Novel!” on FB, people ask me all of the time, “How is your novel progressing?”. To which I reply, “No comment…hahaha” or “Writers block is a bitch you know?” as I shuffle my feet and avoid eye contact.

I have a pretty extensive outline (which I am quite happy with) and tons of notes and ideas, but when it comes to the writing, well I don’t have  much. The few pages I do have I am not happy with and honestly it has thrown some water on my fiery passion of writing. I think damp is a good way to describe how I feel about my novel. I got caught up in the storm of a great idea and I was running full tilt and splashing in the puddles, but now the thrill has worn off and I am just wet and cold. To distract myself I read a lot.

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I have always been a voracious reader and a half ass/part-time “writer”. I read everything I can get my hands on. Lately, I have been on a huge Tudor/English court kick. Phillipa Gregory and Sandra Gulland are two authors who I highly recommend if you like the genre. I took a break from Henry the eighth and all of his dramatic descendants to read the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. You have to love the sexy, sassy Sookie and all of her supernatural eye candy. But I have to wonder, is all of this fun reading just a delightful distraction?

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Are voracious readers all just lazy writers? Are we the crash and burn wannabe authors who just couldn’t hack it in the literary race? My story is the one novel I can’t buy off of the bookshelf until I write it.

Time to put on my rain boots and word sludge.

The Stupid Girl

Disclaimer to all readers: Please don’t read this article as me casting my emotional rod into the internet ocean for compliments. This narcissistic issue starts and ends with me.

“I am stupid.” I say this to myself often throughout the day. I whisper it to myself in the bathroom at work after I ask an obvious question to my co-workers. Every day when I leave the office, I think to myself, “I am the weakest link on my team.” Hell, I would vote myself off in most team situations. I inhale the word idiot and exhale in a rush of anxiety when someone asks me for directions within the town I reside. How do I explain that I can’t remember street names that I drive on daily? When people talk about North, South, East, and West they may as well be speaking a foreign language. My family has had to deal with more directional hysterics from me than anyone should have to in a lifetime. I thank God daily for their patience.

I think my stupidity complex started in elementary school when my class began learning multiplication. My teacher created a pyramid to chart the basic 0-12 multiplication table. Well let me tell you I was no Pharaoh of THAT pyramid. My peers started to progress, but I always stayed at the bottom. I think I got through the 2’s (2×2 =4, 2×3=6, etc.) and just stopped. For months I sat in shame at the bottom of that pyramid while I watched other children receive treats for their success. It was not the rewards that I coveted, my parents were generous people, I didn’t want for much growing up. I wanted to be equal with my peers, but I was always behind.

I hated sitting in class where the whispered words “You’re stupid.” echoed throughout my mind and bounced around the walls. School was my mirror, where I had to face the part of myself I desperately loathed. In high school I graduated with a 2.0 GPA, a courtesy from teachers who desperately wanted to see me succeed. Even living through the trauma of K-12, I decided to attend community college. The decision was due to my best friend applying. I thought, “I guess college is the thing to do”.

After my first quarter at community college which felt like a flash back to the nightmare of K-12 (Pre-reqs are the worst!) I began to look forward to class. I found a passion for learning aside from the anxiety of everyone finding out just how stupid I really was. I devoured the content of each class. I knew that my work was weak so I made up for it in participation. I volunteered my ass off. If the teacher asked a question, I was the first to answer. Extra credit, I was all over it. My GPA went from a 2.0 in high school to a 3.7 upon graduation from Western Washington University.

My time at WWU was a chaotic, wonderful, crazy time in my life. I was working two jobs and completely immersed in my English literature degree. I was finding my way and learning who the “adult Rachel” was. I had my setbacks as well though. For example, I remember being in a study group for a 400 level English class. I was with two very intelligent classmates (the Sheldon and Leonard of the English world) and I told them I felt bad because I wasn’t helping much with the assignment, they were just flat out faster than me. But in good humor they joked that I provided the tea and the study space at my apartment. I cried that night, all of my old anxieties and worries rushing back at me. The echo of “I’m stupid, I’m stupid, I’m stupid” was an earthquake inside my dark bedroom.  The next morning the emotional disaster that was my ego followed me onto the bus. I went to class with a residual “Stupid“.

Time reveals the magic of our past, hidden behind the black curtain of the present.

All of my life I had teachers and parents who believed in me. They were showing me their faith in a variety of ways. My 3rd grade teacher had me read one of my stories out loud to three other classes. My math teacher Mr. Sessions gave me extra assignments so I could graduate from high school. Upon graduation day he gave me a dream catcher that he made himself. My Dad paid for my first two years of college out-of-pocket, with only a 2.0 GPA from high school backing up my scholarly reputation. My Mom and step father let me live at home for four years after high school. They spent hours every week helping me with homework. None of those people would have gone to such effort if they did not see any potential in me. I will never forget how I almost fell to the floor when one of my classmates introduced me to his reading group as one of the most insightful, intelligent people in our class. That compliment was a cast for my broken confidence that was beaten down by yours truly.

I can look back now and appreciate my academic achievements; I can attribute graduating to not floating by on participation and extra credit. I looked like an idiot (often) and I survived. I hope sometime in the future I will look at this time in my life and realize that: I was good at my job. My novel was decent. I should listen to my husband when he patiently tells me that I am, in fact, an intelligent woman. Maybe one day I will realize that I am not the only driver in a constant state of lost. Tomorrow I will look in the mirror and tell myself, “You are not the stupid girl.”