Review: Empress of the World

This review and others by me can also be read on my Goodreads. 🙂

I liked this book a lot!! Empress of the World was an easy YA read that reminded me of what it was like being 16 and infatuated with a girl. The love the narrator and protagonist, Nic, and felt for her trying desperately to always make sense of things with words: her identity, her feelings for her friends, even trying to “figure out” other people. The way Ryan writes Nic’s conflict with labeling her bisexuality and addressing others trying to make that decision for her. The way that Nic thinks through her attraction to other girls her age while also honoring the crushes on boys she’s had felt very authentic, as well as her roping in the difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’ feelings. Dealing with her heartbreak, the gender dynamics of that, as well as the way that Nic experiences discrimination or even annoying and sometimes hurtful microaggressions from her friends, all felt appropriate. The characterization of Nic’s friend group was thorough at the beginning, but tapered off just a bit as the book focused on Nic and Battle’s relationship. Empress of the World is a sweet book on summer friendships and romances as a nervous teenager, too smart for your own good sometimes. 5/5

Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo

Strange Weather in Tokyo read similarly to the way a cup of coffee or tea acts to keep you company rather than to drink up right away. It is a leisurely read following a slow-paced and simple romance between a now-adult student and her older ex-teacher. The main characters are both reserved and unhurried in almost every interaction as their plot-less time together passes. If you prefer a passionate love story, this book may not be your favorite, but Tsukiko and Sensei’s progression of companionship aligns with who both characters seem to be at heart. While I wasn’t completely invested in them, by the end of this read I was still touched by their story. 3 stars

Reflections on moving on

Are transition periods supposed to feel so long?

The summer of 2018 I experienced two life-changing events: I travelled out of the country for the first time ever when I studied abroad in Seoul and a relationship I thought would be forever ended not so gracefully. It is approaching 2 years since these events took place and as I’m preparing for the next stage of my life, I can’t help but think of what has passed to bring me to this next step.

This autumn, public health permitting, I’ll be moving from the east coast to Seattle, WA for grad school to earn my Master’s in Social Work. The process of building my resume, applying for the program, waiting to hear back (honestly the most stressful part), and now accepting admission and figuring out all the financial logistics have been during my gap year from school after completing undergrad. Sometimes it feels more like I have been sitting, frozen in misunderstanding, for more like 5 years than 2. More than anything, this time of transition has made me realize how much of life is a chain of events- how one thing truly affects the next in ways we could never have thought they would. In Korea, I met Sam, one of my most dear friends now. We met halfway through the summer term but spent almost every day together since we met. After we returned to our respective American coasts, I managed to visit him in Seattle. Not only did his friendship during one of the worst heartbreaks of my life continuously comfort me in a way that was, with no exaggeration, a lifeline for me (even with only a couple visits a year and living in different time zones!) but I would never have considered going to graduate school on the west coast had I not met and connected with him. As much as I still struggle with the breakup I experienced, I also would never have strayed so far if that had not happened.

It’s funny how things change. Boarding my flight for Asia was terrifying. It felt like I was leaving my life behind. Returning, I felt like my life had decided to actually leave me behind, instead. So now, I’m going. I was in no rush to run away before, but now all I want to do is be somewhere new. With all the change that summer brought, my mental health fluctuated. I missed the first week of my senior year in order to seek treatment. I had relied heavily on my alma mater therapist and medication and self-harm. I stabilized enough to be able to function without those things. I threw myself into work. I isolated. I reached out again. I made new connections. I lost some more. I recovered some lost. All within what, to me, has been a time of transition.

I don’t know yet how things will change once I move, but I do know things will change. I am open to not only moving on, but moving forward and a change of scenery and the opportunity to find a new community are things that I owe to consequence, nevertheless. I don’t know if its fate but I am still working to make life not just livable, but joyful again.

How do you cope with change? Have you made changes or been affected by any major changes recently that have left you confused? Grateful? Angry?

Netflix’s Elite and ‘Deviant’ Sexualities

This post contains spoilers for the 2018 Netflix drama Elite.

The Netflix series Elite follows a group of Spanish private high school students, some on scholarship, most rich kids with powerful parents. There’s partying, there’s sex, there’s murder. Think Riverdale except good. I’m not too interested in reviewing the series as whole, but I do want to talk about a few of the relationships the show features which are really what held my interest for 3 whole seasons. There’s representation of different sexualities and relationship styles, definitely, but the show didn’t escape a lot of the tired tropes and stereotypes about queer relationships that are everywhere.

One of my undergrad final papers was on the Evil TV Bisexual trope which presents us with untrustworthy, shady, morally ambiguous, and usually deeply confused characters who are shown as bisexual. We are presented with these characters and where I am initially excited to see someone who apparently loves like me, it’s rare the character will say the word “bisexual” or “pansexual”. The best we can get is often “I don’t do labels” or another character insisting that “but you’re really -” usually gay with male characters and usually straight for characters who are women. Sometimes there are characters who are just ‘behaviorally bisexual’ but never address the changing gender of sex partners, or if they do, it is cause of much internal stress. Basically, when we get bi characters they aren’t proud of their sexuality.

Early on in Elite, rich couple Carla and Polo notice that Christian, a class clown and new student not from their socioeconomic class (he’s poor but he knows how to have fun), is obviously interested in Carla. Beginning as a game to spice up their own sex life, Carla begins hooking up with Christian while keeping Polo in the loop of everything they do together. Eventually, Christian finds out that the secret is not really a secret and all 3 begin hooking up as a trio. Although Carla enjoys shocking her parents with a rebellious, semi-public confession of the tryst at one point, its understood that Christian is not particularly interested in Polo romantically or sexually outside of the fun of their taboo threesomes.

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Christian, Carla, and Polo

In season 3, Polo is in a (unfulfilling) relationship with Cayetana, largely due to the two of them being social outcasts and Cayetana latching onto the long-term benefits that dating someone like Polo (wealthy + alone) can have for her. As she continues trying to maintain relevancy in Polo’s life as his girlfriend, the couple end up bonding with Valerio, another student who had been ostracized by their peers. This season, things are different in terms of actual mutual romance and Polo’s (kind of) confirmed bisexuality. To start with, Polo convinces lifelong friend, Ander, out as gay, into mutually masturbating. Ander talks about how their friendship with another character was different before he came out and “before you [Polo] were bi”. “Bi?” Polo asks, as if he never considered his sexual exploits with other guys to alter his presumed heterosexuality. He nods and shrugs though, seeming to accept the observation.

Back to the throuple that is Polo, Cayetana, and Valerio: it is much more obvious that the 3 high school seniors are actually invested in their relationship with each other. Valerio expresses sadness to the couple, stating that he feels there is no word for his addition. Polo and Cayetana both comfort him, assuring him that they both care about him and that their grouping is about more than sex. The three even invite him and begin plotting going to university together abroad, free to pursue their romantic triad with less boundaries. The 3 are caught hooking up in Polo’s family pool by his two mothers, and Polo seriously and level-headily defends the relationship, even comparing their intolerance to the homophobia his mothers might’ve faced. This does not go over well with his mothers.

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Valerio, Cayetana, and Polo

While it was nice seeing a polyamorous relationship explored and enjoyed on Elite season three, especially after the teasing of such a dynamic with Christian the first season, its important to note the way that the participants are characterized throughout the show. If you’ve never seen the show and don’t want major spoilers, stop reading now. To start, while Polo still ends up being an endearing character who elicits sympathy, he is a blueprint Evil Bisexual trope. He is, at least until Ander tells him, confused about his bisexuality. Oh, and he’s a murderer. The cause of much of his own inner moral turmoil until the end of season 3, it is known to the audience for 2 whole seasons that Polo accidentally kills and then hides the truth about his lifelong friend Guzman’s younger sister. It doesn’t get more evil than covering up a murder. Cayetana’s character arc exposes her to be a manipulative liar, concerned only with social climbing and hiding the truth about her economic class. Valerio, the missing piece that Cayetana says is just what the relationship needs to be revitalized? A drug-dealer who was in love with and making out with his half-sister. Yeah, incest. Considering all this, its hard to really see the relationship as a win for an example of healthy polyamory or progress in representing queer love.

Another pitfall follows siblings Nadia and Omar. Nadia attends the private school on a scholarship, navigating being a good Muslim daughter, exploring love, and pursuing her academic goals. In season 3, Nadia discovers her new boyfriend, respected by her father for being a good Muslim, but showing Nadia that she can lie to protect her family and live her life the way she wants to, is not who she thinks he is. His charm is exposed as a front when he cheats on Nadia with her gay brother, Omar, causing him in turn to cheat on his boyfriend Ander after discovering upsetting medical news. Omar not only never confesses the truth to Ander, who finds out and feels to blame for the infidelity, but also never truly apologizes for hurting his sister. Instead he shucks blame entirely and Nadia forgives him without him ever really taking accountability for not only cheating on his sick boyfriend but also for being a shitty brother. Again, having a secondary character (Nadia’s boyfriend) portrayed as a down-low gay (Black Muslim) man who hurts people without shame and Omar also being shown as being deceitful and sexually shameful when he disregards his family- are queer people being shown as human beings capable of human mistakes or is it being communicated that we are always hiding some inherent deviance?

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Omar and Ander

To end on a positive note, one thing I do for sure think Elite did well was the growth and progression of Nadia and Lu’s friendship by the end of season 3. Beginning as enemies in a love triangle, Lucretia and Nadia end up bonding and forging a genuine found family with each other that truly made me happy. Elite definitely did them right in allowing the girls to outgrow not only the Mean Girl attitude of pining for the same boy, but you also see them genuinely protect each other, respect each other, and feel for each others’ emotional wounds. A genuine and natural illustration of girls supporting girls. I love to see it.

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Nadia and Lu

Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

love in time of cholera

This review contains spoilers!

2 stars
I chose to read Love in the Time of Cholera in the time of my own romanceless historical pandemic, hoping the love story would ignite something in me. After reading the synopsis and following the novel’s initial introduction of his character, I did not think I would care for Florentino Ariza and his love (re)proclamation at all. A lifetime allegiance of fidelity along with taking 600+ lovers? A confession of love while Fermina Daza’s late husband was not even cold yet in his grave? I was not buying it. However, my opinion shifted as I followed Florentino’s life after his graceless rejection. His passion was definite. Fermina Daza was written rather coldly in terms of her own attitude towards love, even when she was apparently her most in love. I felt her late husband to be the most honest of the three, or at least the most believable lover. I felt sad for Florentino’s life of pining after a woman who would not really see him.

The writing was lyrical. I learned new vocabulary with this read, as well as how to stop reading when chapter structure was not so easy. To say the least, I did not enjoy the casual and, in my opinion unnecessary, pedophilic relationship between elderly Florentino and his teenage ward. To be honest, it soured my fairly positive regard for his character at the end and ruined much if not all of the magic his dedication towards love weaved throughout the story.

Hello, dear friend.

My last post was almost 2 years ago now. My hiatus was unplanned, as I feel they often are. Many things have happened but I have rediscovered healing through writing and I hope to use my words to come back to you and come back to myself. I hope you are still with me. If not, that’s okay, too. If you’re new: hello. I will try my very best to be vulnerable and to be here. That’s what its all about.

Movies that kicked my heart’s ass

I have been somewhat keeping tack of the films I’ve been watching that have left me feeling particularly tender and reflective. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there was some profound message in each of them; sometimes you just see things at just the right time in your life and it triggers an emotional response you might have not seen coming. Sometimes movies are just really good at making you cry (and also make it hard to recognize your puffy face in the mirror.) All of my picks so far are pretty recent, but I also have an extensive, almost never-ending “to watch” list, so don’t write me off yet if nothing. Here’s my list so far:

1. Moonlight (2016)

You the only man that’s ever touched me. You’re the only one. I haven’t really touched anyone since.

Winning 3 Academy Awards at the 2017 Oscars, including Best Picture (suck it, La La Land), Moonlight follows Chiron through 3 influential stages of his life as a child (his identity as Little), a teenager (here going by his name, Chiron), and a young man (his persona as Black). He grapples with his attraction and then love for another man, his best friend Kevin, growing up with a elusive, drug-addicted mother, being bullied, finding family and mentorship with his neighborhood drug kingpin, and more. This movie was really beautiful not only in the acting performed by all three of the Chiron characters, but also in how just pretty of a movie it was visually. When Vi and I saw it in theatres, there was only one other couple present, and the controlled emotion of the film + accompanying soundtrack really brought a story that isn’t often allowed to be told to life. Moonlight deserved every reward it’s received, and seeing a gay, black boy’s story told with such raw authenticity was truly rewarding to be able to experience.

2. The Handmaiden (2016)

My savior who came to ruin my life. My Tamako, my Sook-hee.

Do you love a good lesbian, gothic, Korean psychological thriller? Who doesn’t! The Handmaiden (not to be confused with The Handmaid’s Tale) is a film based on the book Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but changes the setting to create an exciting story of twists and aching. In Japanese-occupied Korea, an orphan pickpocket Sook-hee teams up with a con-man to get close to and steal the inheritance of a Japanese heiress. This is a film you don’t want to blink watching. Love, sex, mystery, deception, revenge- everything that makes an engaging thriller PLUS LESBIANS!!! Which, of course, makes this thrill-seeking bisexual all but foam at the mouth. I promise you’ll be hanging off the edge of your seat, rooting for the heroines by the end of this one.

3. Amorous (2014) (Previously titled Hide & Seek)

amorous

Amorous is a film that I found by accident, not knowing much about the plot or premise. And honestly, it had a bit of a slow build up before I became too invested in the characters. A quick internet search showed me that this movie is pretty low profile and also on the mediocre side when it comes to critic reviews. SO why is it included on this list, you ask? Great question! In general, I don’t judge a movie based on its professional reviews- I’ve loved some TERRIBLE movies and not been too keen to some high-rated major motion pictures as well (I’m looking at you, The Shape of Water). In Amorous, 4 friends, 2 couples, retreat to an isolated house to leave behind societal constructs surrounding their relationships, in hopes of finding community and warmth in each other. Bluntly, the 4 have scheduled partner swaps each night, between hanging out as a group. That means each of the 4 (2 men and 2 women) spends intimate time with each single other person. It might be the polyamorous bisexual in me, but the dreamy, open sexual intimacy between the friends was so admirable to me, I just couldn’t keep from following along.

4. Before I Disappear (2014)

Dear Vista,

I have stumbled upon a part of me that wants to see the sun rise tomorrow. A part of me that has been buried deep inside for so many years.

Before I continue, know that this movie had heavy suggestion of suicidal and self-harming tendencies. It was raw, it was tough to watch sometimes, but as someone who has and still sometimes struggles with depression and not always wanting to see the sun rise, it was also really relatable and even darkly funny at times. Before I Disappear hit so close to home, in fact, that I had to pause it a few times and come back to watching it after emotionally grounding myself. The movie follows self-medicating Richie, who writes letters to his missing girlfriend Vista. During a suicide attempt, Richie gets a call from his sister, asking him to watch her daughter Sophia while she handles a problem. The rest of the movie follows Richie and Sophia as they adventure through a night in the city, with the two finding solace the longer they spend time together. I like this movie because it doesn’t shy away from the reality of sadness and hopelessness, but it also has a realistically uplifting message of  redemption.

5. Train to Busan (2016)

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Seok-Woo gazes lovingly at his daughter Soo-An.

Okay, I didn’t think a zombie movie would make me cry as hard as this movie has all 5 times I’ve watched it so far. Another deserving award-winner, Train to Busan shows the expanse of a father’s love for his daughter amidst a fast-paced race to safety. Although you get introduced to the supporting characters fairly quickly, you become so emotionally invested in their fight and the sacrifices they face on the journey towards towards the city of Busan. I’ve pushed for most everyone I spend more than a few hours with at a time to watch this movie; I love it so much. I can’t help but be amazed also at the acting of all the zombies in this film- the snarls, the body contortions, the make up is all amazing. This is no average monster flick. Plus, the leading man Gong Yoo? A gorgeous, gorgeous man.

6. Holding the Man (2015)

You are a hole in my life – a black hole.
Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly.

Holding the Man is another happy accident, that I found while housesitting for a professor this past winter. An Australian film based on a memoir of the same name, this heart wrenching true story follows the relationship of Timothy and John in the 80s, from high school sweethearts to dedicated lovers as young men. Break-ups, homophobia, HIV, and overall fear trouble Tim and John through their relationship, but their love holds binds them to each other through to the bitter end. Could you watch the love of your life fall apart right in front of your eyes? The chemistry between the two leads is not only electric, its tender in a way that chokes you up long after the credits roll.

7. Wind River (2017)

It is here, in the cradle of all I hold dear, I guard every memory of you.

Wind River was recommend to me by my friend Selena a while ago, but she warned me it would emotionally destroy me so I kept putting off watching it until recently, when I could give it the attention it deserved. The film is a murder mystery that takes place on Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, written in reference to the thousands of indigenous women who are sexually assaulted, missing, and murdered all across North America. As an indigenous women, I know that our stories are rarely told and this one was brutal. While I appreciated and enjoyed the attention of a film so focused on finding some sort of justice for Native women and commenting on injustices of reservation life, there was still a lot about this movie that picked at me. The two white leads (although Jeremy Renner exemplified a good ally to his character’s indigenous children’s family) were given a romantic sublimity that I feel was unnecessary and distracted from the point, Native boys were shown as primarily criminals, and sexual assault against the Native victim in the film was explicit in a way that echoed the pain-porn that black and brown folks are often the main subjects for. It does feel a bit like this was more a film for white people to feel sad over, but it still struck my heart in a way that feels like the heavy hand of intergenerational trauma.

Those are some of the recent movies that have been keeping me up at night. Have you seen any of them and had similar emotional responses? What are some of your favorite movies to watch when you’re in the mood to feel?