Books Books

Girls of Paper and Fire

Like the vast majority of my book purchases, I came across Girls of Paper and Fire in QBD when I was randomly looking through the YA section for anything that might happen to take my fancy. The title and the cover drew me in, then I was sold when I read the blurb. Due to some enthusiasm on my part, as well as understanding, this review does contain a couple of minor spoilers. If you don’t wish to be spoiled, I recommend you read the book first.

Is it just me or is the whole “Royal Male Figure” gets what’s basically a harem a popular genre at the moment? Okay, it might just be me. But then, there’s The Selection series, which has the Prince in what’s essentially a The Bachelor situation, picking from a… well, a selection of pretty girls. Then there was Grace and Fury, a fantastic book that came in one of my OwlCrates (before I had to give it up ;_;) where the ruler, or in this case his heir, had a similar selection from a bunch of girls preened and polished to take on the role, to select three women for his wives/consorts. Then Girls of Paper and Fire… Okay, yeah, sure, it’s no Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Evernight, House of Night, Cirque Du Freak, etc. Vampire craze, but maybe I’m not crazy in seeing a pattern here.

Beyond the blurb, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Girls of Paper and Fire when I first opened it up. Until I read the Author’s Note at the beginning. That Author’s Note made me desperately want to find Natasha Ngan and give her the biggest hug I could (if she wanted one).

I am so thankful for the existence of this book, and that it was apparently in one of the latest OwlCrate editions. (Sad I missed out on it through them, though it’s even more evidence that the OwlCrate people and I have a shared excellent taste!)

Ngan wrote this book because she knows that everyone deserves to have their story told. That’s how a gay Malaysian girl who had to deal with rape and abuse came to have her story told. (I am talking about Lei. I have no idea if Ngan is gay and has had to deal with rape and abuse, though all the more reason to hug her if she has.)

Lei was a wonderful character who I found myself feeling deeply for very quickly. Smart and strong, I found my heart breaking at her situation, even more so when we got to further know Wren, and Wren’s situation.

The world was immersive. I found myself vividly picturing the Moon and Steel caste walking around. From bird demons to wolf demons, and the bull Demon King, I could easily envision them as a part of the world, looking down on mere humans for not having the same abilities as them.

The story was absolutely stunning. I was cheering for Lei as she stood up against oppression every chance she got, and found myself saddened when she was kicked back down by those who are on top. The love story had me cheering (in so many ways. I cannot stress enough how much seeing a gay love story happen without very clear signposting on the book makes me happy.)

The characters were truly wonderful. From Lei, who stood up when she could, to the spoiled Bull King who played with his toys. Of course there’s Wren, strong, determined Wren. But mostly I found myself loving Ngan’s depiction of Aoki, if for no other reason than the truthful depiction of how not everyone who’s abused sees it that way. They can often overlook the bad times and think of the good. That, and her being the youngest of the girls being the one to see the King as kind makes the most sense, as when we’re younger we’re more eager to look for love in the wrong places, and see the tiniest things as signs of something better.

I cannot possibly recommend this book enough. It enraptured me, and as a lover of diversity in YA I want to throw it at as many people as possible to make them read it. That being said, it does deal with some very heavy topics, particularly rape and abuse, and I can understand that not everyone can handle such things. If you are one of those who can handle it, I highly recommend Girls of Paper and Fire, and I hope you find yourself as drawn in to Ngan’s world as I was.

I will most certainly be reading this again at some stage. Likely before the next one comes out. (If there’s not going to be a next one, I will protest quite vigorously!)

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The Best a Man Can Get

I’m hardly the first person on the internet to talk about the Gillette commercial. It seems to be quite a popular topic at the moment, and for good reason. As far as commercials go, it’s quite a weighty one, and it has a message to send the world that stands out far stronger than simply asking people to buy their product.

Now, there’s quite a lot to unpack in this commercial, so I’ll start from the beginning.

Bullying.

The “Me Too” movement.

Sexual harassment

Toxic masculinity.

“Is this the best a man can get?”

The commercial starts with buzz words that are incredibly topical for the world at the moment. These are all big problems that people face in the world today.

I was bullied throughout most of my school life. Halfway through grade 2, I moved schools because I was being bullied. It was stupid stuff. It always is in primary school. All because my last name was McDougall and I was chubby. I remember they called me “Marlee McDonalds.” So creative, I know. That didn’t mean that it didn’t have an effect on me.

Being bullied is hard. Particularly when you’re young. You don’t know why it’s happening to you, and you have no methods to deal with it. It can be hard to talk about it to other people, be it older kids, parents, or teachers. And when it’s over something as silly as that? There’s not much a teacher can do. “Stop calling each other names.” But there wasn’t much in the way of reinforcement. Not when I went to primary school. Just telling me to ignore the people who called me that.

I don’t remember much bullying happening in my second school. I don’t remember much about that school at all, really, except that I would frequent the library. Already I would retreat into books to escape what felt like an unfair reality. No bullying, perhaps, but I didn’t exactly make any wonderful life long friends that I can remember. I was already isolating myself from other people even that young.

My third school I remember a bit more clearly, and there was more bullying here. It’s never helpful being the new kid at school. It also didn’t help that I was the new kid who frequented the library and made friends with teachers. I did manage to make some good life long friends at this school. Though I can vividly remember one incident where a friend of mine was being bullied because she was my friend. Student council elections were coming up, and one of my friends was going up against one of the “popular” girls (a bully, with her bully friends). The other candidate made sure to point out that she was friends with me, and that therefore the other students shouldn’t vote for her. Of course, this was all on the playground, out of teachers’ earshot.

Although I wasn’t aware of it then, I know now that even in primary school I had anxiety. There was one time when a particularly antagonistic girl was annoying me in class, and I gave up trying to ignore her and confronted her instead. The teacher saw this, and sent the girl to see the principal. When she came back, she told me that the principal wanted to see me after school.

So, dutifully, I sat outside waiting to see the principal after school. I knew that my Mum would be coming to pick me up that day, so at least I didn’t have to worry that I was missing the bus. But as I sat there, wondering why I was in trouble, and how much trouble I was going to be in, I started to panic, and it was quite a while later when another teacher saw me waiting there, crying. She asked me what the problem was, and went in to see the Principal for me, only to come out and tell me that the Principal had never wanted to see me in the first place. Stupid, and petty, I know. Childish, would be the word for it. And when you’re a child, even silly little things like that can have a big impact.

High school didn’t exactly lessen the bullying. I went to the same high school as most of the people from my third primary school. I managed to make a few more good friends there at least, and I managed to find myself slightly more equipped to deal with things by this point. Of course, by this point, I’d been bullied for so long that I just ignored it. There was never anything physical, or anything too bad. It was all still so childish and stupid. What would the teachers care if such and such called me fat?

The “Me Too” movement and sexual harassment can come under the same banner for the most part. I know so many people who have their “Me Too” stories. I even have some of my own. My own may not be as bad as many other people’s, but they’re still there. Some of these stories are big. I have friends who have been raped, or otherwise sexually harassed. Others may seem smaller, people not accepting “no” for an answer so easily. People taking advantage of younger people because they don’t know better. People pushing others into things even though they’re uncertain about it.

I say people here for a reason. Girls aren’t the only ones with “Me Too” stories. Just as boys aren’t the only ones who bully. Though, that’s neither the purpose of the ad, nor my blog.

Toxic masculinity. The best example I can come up with for this are those who are reacting negatively to the commercial. It’s much like the “Boys will be boys.” It’s a mentality that has been drilled into us. A boy pulls on a girls hair because he likes her. A man who is weak is “girlish”. A man can’t get a manicure or a pedicure. Real men don’t cry.

One of the most poignant comments I’ve seen about the commercial is how men are reacting poorly to being told to act in a certain way, when that’s almost all women’s commercials ever do. We’re told we can’t have body hair, or that we can’t be too fat or too thin. If we don’t show off our bodies something’s wrong with us, but if we do we’re whores. That’s just what toxic masculinity is, too though. Men are told how they have to act. They have to stand tall, and be strong. They need to be smarter and stronger than girls. The biggest insult to them is to be called a girl.

Personally, I think the commercial is brilliant. It’s making a stand. It’s stating that Gillette is firmly against bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity. The commercial isn’t demanding that men stop being who they are. All it’s asking is that they understand that the world is progressing forward, and that people (in this case men) aught to do so also. It challenges men to be “The Best a Man Can Get” by breaking the habits that have been formed over so many generations. By standing up for what’s right, and against something you know to be wrong.

Something so many people don’t seem to understand is that the ad isn’t calling men bad. It’s simply stating that these are problems that exist in the world. It’s not saying that all men bully, and rape, and are involved in the spread of toxic masculinity. What it is saying is that Gillette doesn’t support that. It’s saying that standing by when you see something not right, and allowing it to continue, is also wrong.

No, men aren’t the only problem. Nor is it saying that all men are part of the problem. But every small intervention can help.