Sunday, August 16, 2015

Only Ever Yours

Title: Only Ever Yours
Author: Louise O'Neill
Genre: YA, Dystopia

Publisher: Quercus
Publishing Date: July 3rd 2014
Kindle Edition: 400 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.

But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. ..
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known. . .

“I want to hide, fold into the shadows and become invisible so no-one can look at me any more.”

What does it mean to be everything a man could ever want? This is a question frieda has asked herself her entire life. In a futuristic society where women can no longer have female babies, women must be created in labs. And really, if you're going to make a woman in a lab you might as well make a few improvements right? These genetically engineered women (called "eves") are taught, from the age of four, how to be pleasing to men. No beautiful girl is beautiful enough and weight to height ratios are carefully monitored. Girls are pitted against one another in ranking competitions and the pecking order is completely determined by looks.

At the end of each eve's "schooling," the top tier girls will be chosen to be the wives of different members of society. The next tier of girls will become concubines and learn how to be glorified sex slaves for society. Those left behind will remain in the school to teach the next group of eves while a few will end up "below" (a mysterious underground area we hear rumors about). This is a world where every hair must be in place and every food decision is closely criticized. "Don't be academic" is an insult and independent thinking is a foreign concept.

This is one of those books some people will hate. It is long. Not so much as in number of pages, but rather it feels long. It is bleak. I'm talking A Handmaid's Tale or 1984 bleak. For me the repetitive nature of the book allowed me to empathize with frieda in a way that her character didn't easily allow. She is unlikable. She's petty and shallow and exactly what she should be based on her life. Friendship is a complicated concept when your every move is scrutinized and everyone is your competition to a better life. I think what affected me more than frieda's unlikability though, was the way I could relate deeply to her pettiness. I've envied my friends. I've craved acceptance from people who I've also loathed. And I understand the deep shame surrounding those things. It hurts to be jealous of the people you love and frieda is trying the best she can to deal with emotions she has been told shouldn't even exist.

Another hard thing about this book is the way the ending leaves us in despair. frieda is not the YA dystopian hero who will change the system. She is a broken girl who is desperately trying to find a place to belong. As things get bad you'll find yourself wondering how they can get any worse, and then they will. It's heartbreaking and gut wrenching and everything I look for in a book. O'Neill has managed to write a YA book worthy of dystopia genre. It is complex and unapologetic and I wish I could have read it when I was a teen.

I've read a few reviews questioning how this book has feminist themes due to the inherently shallow nature of the story, but I think that's an overly simplistic view of the story. What O'Neill does is question the denial of autonomy to women and what that could look like. This book is incredibly feminist. It is just subtle and allows the reader to do the thinking without hitting us over the head with it. It is very well done.


I loved it. I read it in one sitting and I felt like my whole body was tingly all over by the time I finished. This book burned a hole right through me and I've never read anything that so perfectly captured the sorrow of growing up and the pain of comparing yourself to the people you love the most. I cried. I laughed. Instant favorite.

Rating: 10. One of the best books I've ever read.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Summertime Fun

I don't use my DSLR nearly as often as I should, so imagine my surprise when I found these photos on my memory card. Apparently Holden has been using my camera to take pictures of his friends. I couldn't even get mad when I saw the photographs though.


There's something about these photos that just scream childhood summers to me for some reason. Someone is getting their own camera for Christmas.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Orzo Salad with Spicy Buttermilk Dressing

I was shocked to realize I had never posted this recipe before. It is one of those perfect dishes to take to a BBQ and it is always a hit. Plus it is super simple and fairly inexpensive to make. Win. Win.


This is one of those salads that gets better the longer it sits. In order to avoid the orzo soaking up all of the dressing though I usually reserve half to toss the salad with right before serving. Sometimes I add black olives or grilled shrimp to the salad as well.

Would I make this again? It's a summer staple in our house.


1 cup uncooked orzo
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed and drained
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 green onions, sliced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained $
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice $
2 tablespoons light sour cream $
2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise $
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 peeled avocado, cut into 8 wedges $
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


1. Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and rinse; drain well. Place orzo, corn, and next 3 ingredients (through beans) in a large bowl; toss.

2. Combine buttermilk, 2 tablespoons cilantro, and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle over orzo mixture; toss. Top with avocado; garnish with remaining cilantro and parsley.

Source: Cooking Light

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Crushing Nature of Hope

Distance is a strange thing. It makes you question things. It makes you doubt. You'll find yourself wondering about things you never considered before and you'll shock yourself at how ugly your thoughts can turn. At how quickly you can see the worst in everything. How cruel you can be.

I seem to ricochet between feeling too much and feeling nothing at all. I haven't quite decided which is worse.

When I reach the point where I've had enough, when I am ready to throw in the towel and find some way to get control of my emotions, I've found it's helpful to think about who I want to be as a person. I may be a work in progress but I know that I still want to be the type of person who loves. Who loves with everything they have. The type who is always willing to try again. To be open to forgiveness.

I want to face the loses in my life with the grace of a woman and not the grief of a child.

I hope to be able to look back one day and know I always tried. Tried to love. Tried to listen. Tried to live as fully as I could. I want to be able to stand tall and know that I embraced the moments that scared me the most and that I was willing to cast off old plans and worn out dreams when the shells no longer fit.

I don't want to be the type of person who uses love as a weapon. As a sad excuse to try and control the people around me.

When I think about these things, I can suddenly think clearly again.

So I'm not gonna question and wonder and turn my thoughts inside out. At least not today. I will be strong and confident and remind myself that we all love in our own ways. I can't worry about the way you love. I can only worry about myself.

And that will have to be enough.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Power of Ugly

For one of my finals I am writing a series of blog posts. Each one will focus on a different reading or topic from the class.

When I was reading the Mia Mingus piece, Moving Toward the Ugly, it struck a cord in me. The pressure to be beautiful has always been a heavy weight. All of my life I felt too pale, too large, and too...wrong. My teeth were crooked, my nose was crooked, and I was covered in freckles. To make it worse I was too loud. Always too confident in my opinions and unwilling to “behave.” I was often the “smart” one, but never the “pretty” one.

I struggled for a long time with my relationship with my body. Of course I could never admit I was so self conscious. Somehow admitting I longed to be seen as beautiful was wrong. It was a weakness that the “smart” part of me rejected. What would my relationship with myself and those around me look like if I had embraced that struggle like a badge of honor? If I looked at the struggle to be beautiful as a tough outer layer that's made me stronger, more magnificent.
...We must shift from a politic of desirability and beauty to a politic of ugly and magnificence. That moves us closer to bodies and movements that disrupt, dismantle, disturb. Bodies and movements ready to throw down and create a different way for all of us, not just some of us.

The magnificence of a body that shakes, spills out, takes up space, needs help, moseys, slinks, limps, drools, rocks, curls over on itself. The magnificence of a body that doesn’t get to choose when to go to the bathroom, let alone which bathroom to use. A body that doesn’t get to choose what to wear in the morning, what hairstyle to sport, how they’re going to move or stand, or what time they’re going to bed. The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human. The magnificence of bodies that are understanding gender in far more complex ways than I could explain in an hour. Moving beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly. Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled. Seeing its power and magic, seeing the reasons it has been feared. Seeing it for what it is: some of our greatest strength.

Because we all do it. We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty. Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot. What would it mean if we were ugly? What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s? How do we take the sting out of “ugly?” What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel? What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us. What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it? What if we let go of being beautiful, stopped chasing “pretty,” stopped sucking in and shrinking and spending enormous amounts of money and time on things that don’t make us magnificent?

Where is the Ugly in you? What is it trying to teach you?
Over the years something interesting started to happen though. I began to feel like beauty was something I could claim for myself. I rejected the idea that my fat body was unlovable. That my crooked nose was a flaw. I decided I didn't care about beauty at all. That I would be powerful and bold and unapologetic.

And the strangest thing happened.

People started to see me as beautiful. Suddenly I was desirable. And now that I'm beautiful, maybe I don't want to give it all up. It's taken me a long time to get here and I wonder at how easily Mingus asks me to walk away from it all. The world has told me my fat body is ugly and yet it also celebrates my curves. Am I doing my fat sisters a disservice by rejecting the desirability of my body? Am I somehow reinforcing the idea that my body is inherently ugly?
If you leave with anything today, leave with this: you are magnificent. There is magnificence in our ugliness. There is power in it, far greater than beauty can ever wield. Work to not be afraid of the Ugly—in each other or ourselves. Work to learn from it, to value it. Know that every time we turn away from ugliness, we turn away from ourselves. And always remember this: I would rather you be magnificent, than beautiful, any day of the week. I would rather you be ugly—magnificently ugly.
I try to remember that if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then it isn't something I own. It's something that has been given to me. Something that was long denied and can be taken back at any moment. My beauty is not my own. It is something I merely wear temporarily. So maybe the problem is not with how the world sees me. It's how I see myself.

I don't need the world to see me as ugly. I just need to know that I will not be destroyed by the word “ugly.” That even if the world does see me as ugly, I am still powerful and strong and beautiful.