Dead Welsh kings and then some: “The Dream Theives”

The second instalment in New York Times bestselling author, Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle quartet — a four-part, supernatural YA series, that takes place predominantly in your typical small Virginian town of Henrietta. “The Dream Thieves” carries on from where the previous novel “The Raven Boys” dramatically concluded, with the revelation that one of the characters, Ronan Lynch can remove things from his dreams. But whereas “The Raven Boys” acted as more of a story of origin, following a young girl called Blue, as she enters the mysterious world of the Raven Boys — a cruel nickname given to the boys who attend the town’s local private boys school, Agloinby Academy — “The Dream Thieves” centres more on Ronan Lynch, a boy still scared by the death of his charismatic but absent father, whilst dealing with an unpredictable new reality, full of magic and danger that he and his friends: Gansey, Adam, Noah and Blue now inhabit.

Attempting to pander to the largest, and possibly the most stereotypical of YA audiences, the blurb of “The Dream Thieves” presents the novel as being your everyday teen romance. Stating that ‘Blue didn’t mean to fall in love with The Raven Boys […] the more her life entwines with theirs, the more dangerous it becomes.’ Although all of this is true, it barely scrapes the surface. “The Dream Thieves” is more than just about an angst-stricken teenage girl, incapable of dealing with her emotions. In fact, Blue’s story about how kissing her true love will result in his death — the catalyst of the first novel, takes a back seat to Ronan’s story, which brings to light issues that many young people and adults are forced to deal with: grief, destructive behaviour, drug abuse and sexuality, in an honest and yet sensitive way; through clever character development and a clear, if sometimes complicated storyline that introduces a new character, Joseph Kavinsky to the Raven boys world. Kavinsky acts as a parallel to Ronan, showing the reader what he could become. He has the same self-destructive behaviour and the same arrogant but self-loathing attitude. But unlike Ronan, Kavinsky comes to a tragic end as he lacks the support network that Ronan has.

One thing that I found particularly interesting was the way Stiefvater expertly uses a play on words to reveal details about her characters. For example, through her poetic and sometimes unexpected style, Stiefvater perfectly captures the dynamic of the Lynch family in the prologue. In particular, Ronan’s feelings towards his deceased father. Stiefvater does this by describing Ronan and his two brothers as ‘copies of their father.’ ‘although each flattered a different side of Nail’ but it’s the way she describes these sides that I loved: using phrases such as ‘Declan had a way of taking a room and shaking its hand’ and describing Ronan as ‘molten eyes and a smile made for war,’ that struck me as an absorbing way of characterising Niall Lynch (the father) and his sons connection to him. Declan inherited his father’s politician-like charm and Ronan inherited his anger, his passion and that part of him that is hard to control.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for an action-packed adventure or an epic love story, then “The Dream Thieves” is not for you. Already a fan of Stiefvater’s previous work, when I first came across this book I was disappointed as it wasn’t any of these things. But when I found myself returning to it a year later, it was exactly what I needed. All the central characters, even some of the not so central ones, like a Hitman dressed all in grey, who moves to Henrietta with a primary goal of unveiling the Lynch family’s darkest secrets, struggle with their identity. As someone who as a young teenager struggled with mine, this book told me that this was okay and that you don’t have to know who you are when society tells you you have to, because the rest of your life is there for you to discover that.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

We deserve better

For many young people, and not so young people — who exist in this country that over 60 million of us self-identifying humans call home, the 21st century has brought with it a variety of shiny new inventions; most of which manage to incorporate screens into their model. Whether it’s small screens, large screens, modern screens or vintage screens, many of us just love seeing the world through a dark window that smarter people construct for us. But lately, as I’ve grown up, not just in height and width but also in knowledge and awareness of a world larger than my own — and what as a fellow human being, I have the right to demand of it — a single question has been running through my mind: where the hell am I?

Don’t get me wrong, I love – or at the very least like — this country, and I love television and cinema; but every year that goes past, leaving in its wake an abundance of token TV shows and underdeveloped token characters, as a way of appeasing those of us asking for more inclusion — I love them a little less. Because this limited representation on our screens, of people who look like me and my sisters, and all our minority friends, goes much deeper than minority actors being denied the scale of opportunity that their white counterparts are afforded. It also shows a total lack of respect and understanding (on the part of TV and movie executives) of the fact that we too exist, we’ve always existed, and we want our stories and our experiences to be recognised. From what I’ve observed in Britain, this may perhaps be due to the insistence of executives that the only TV shows and movies the British people want to see are period ones. As a lover of history, I do want to see period shows and movies, but I also want to see other things as well. For example, currently, one of my favourite TV shows is Humans; which tells the story of a group of ‘synthetic’ robots that have gained consciousness. One thing that stood out to me was the diversity of the main cast, which must have resonated with people as the show was not only well received by critics but also by viewers: proving that it can be done; people can create well-written TV shows, led in part by people who aren’t white. Additionally, a year or so ago, a TV show on the BBC, called Undercover, was bought to my attention. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the central characters were a middle-class black family, dealing with the unravelling of a father’s secrets and a human rights court case in America — about racism within the prison system and the morals and ethics of death penalty.

However, although I believe the British TV industry is heading (slowly) in the right direction, the film industry is, unfortunately, lagging far behind. It seems determined to follow the same tired formula of period movie after period movie, or as has been the case in the last few years; awful comedies based on sitcoms that should have stayed on TV and oh yes! another Guy Ritchie geezer film. Tropes that the British people do not want, or need to see again.

We, as British people can do better, and we deserve better. I am sick and tired of watching a film whilst at the same time, anxiously waiting for that one black/ethnic-minority character to walk onto the screen. Or watching the trailer for the new Christopher Nolan film, Dunkirk; thinking to myself that the British Empire (due to its inability not colonise any country it came into contact with, that had a large population of black or brown people) was a place where the sun never set — at least one person of colour must have fought there. And being filled with horror, but not surprise upon discovering that yes, people of colour did fight alongside their white counterparts, but were left to die on the beaches, instead of being rescued by the British and the French. But mostly, I’m just tired of being ignored. I matter too. I hope and pray that things have changed by the time my 11-year-old sister is old enough to notice and care how (or if) we are represented on our screens.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

Young love and  inevitable heartbreak: “Why we broke up”

“Why We Broke Up”, a Young Adult novel written by Daniele Handler whose previous works include The Series of Unfortunate Events (penned under the Pseudonym Lemony Snicket) and illustrated by Maira Kalman; tells the story of high school junior, Min Green (short for Minerva), and her first experience with love and heartbreak. Told through the style of a series of letters written to the boy she seems to be still in love with — star basketball player — Ed Slaterton. The novel begins with Min packing away all the remaining artefacts from her relationship with Ed; such as some cinema tickets and a Bottle Cap. But instead of ridding her of the memories of her time with him, these objects instead, inspire her to write a series of letters to him.

Something that stood out to me in particular, was Handler’s ability to — in spite of the fact that he is an adult male — capture the mentality and phycology of a teenage girl, who over the duration of the novel we see transform from a bright and confident person, obsessed with old movies and proud of her differences and into a girl who gradually becomes less confident and more self-compromising without even realising it. I felt that in doing this, Handler sent a great message to young girls: showing them that you don’t need to alter yourself to be liked, because Min was liked and appreciated more when she was herself than when she began to change in order to fit the image of what she felt her boyfriend, and the world he inhabited wanted her to be.

Additionally, in spite of the way Ed ends up treating Min, Handler writes his character in a very sympathetic way. He has a complicated home life, where he has to be more responsible than someone his age should be. And yet, due to the way Handler writes him — as a person seen through Min’s bias lens — he is presented to us as a regular American teenager, who like most young people, sometimes acts selfishly and craves the constant approval of others. I also felt that because Min is such a bias and unreliable narrator, she tends to look at the past with a nostalgic and romantic approach, and due to this, we as readers are deprived of the full scope of their relationship and eventual breakup. Perhaps if the story were told from Ed’s or even one of her friend’s points of view, we would see that their breakup was inevitable and the revelation of Ed’s betrayal might not have seemed so shocking and so out of the blue.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

Joyous and diysfunctional: “The last of the Bowmans”

I first discovered “The last of the Bowmans”at my local library, and was initially drawn to the odd and slightly quirky family dynamic that reminded me so much of my own family. Written by J. Paul. Henderson, “The last of the Bowmans” depicts a man called Greg Bowman who, after years of estrangement is forced back into contact with his family, following the untimely death of his mild-mannered father, Lyle Bowman.

I loved the novel from the beginning: the antics of the characters catered perfectly to my sense of humour, from the first page — at Lyle’s funeral — when the priest, running out of things to say, attempts (disarstarously) to drag out his speech, to the hilariously inappropriate rendition of ‘oops I did it again’ that Greg’s niece, Katie Bowman chooses to perform (to the glee of her stage mum-esq mother and the displeasure of everyone else). Additionally, as the novel develops, we discover why it was that Greg decided to move half way across the world to escape his family, and the way it has disintegrated and fallen apart since his departure.

Overall, I felt that “The last of the Bowmans” wasn’t really a book where things happen — it wasn’t action packed or tense — but merely a comedic book about people and the way life can change drastically, if you don’t keep an eye on it. But mostly, it was a book about two brothers: Greg and Billy Bowman, and how, in spite of the fact that they were raised by the same parents in the same home, their lives took two completely different paths.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime

A Tale of Ageless wonder: “How to stop time”

Written by Matt Haig, the same man who gave us one of my favourite semi sci-fi novels, “The Humans”, “How to stop time” is another Semi sci-fi novel (I say semi-sci-fi because the only science that affects the main characters is their biology), that tells the story of Tom Hazard, a man who due to some freak genetic condition, can live much longer than other human beings. So, although he appears to be a typical 40 something-year-old, his age is closer to 400.

Reading the novel, I was struck by the way it uses the main character, Tom; a person who can assess people through the prism of time and history, as a way of observing human beings and humanity. This is done by presenting Tom as someone trying to navigate the modern world, whilst being plagued by flashbacks of a distant past: a time of intolerance, (shown through the tragic death of his mother and his eventual decision to leave his beloved wife and daughter) but also a time of great beauty and culture (with references to Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Tom himself is also a talented pianist, with the piano representing a time when music was an escape from his loneliness. We see glimmers of this intolerance and beauty in Tom’s present life — where he works as a history teacher — with observations of the current political climate, but also with the realisation that an old friend of his has now resurfaced, but unlike before, he no longer has to fear that the discovery of his condition will lead to witch trials and disaster. From this, I felt that the novel was trying to argue that we humans don’t change drastically, but when we do change, it tends to be for the better.

Overall, this novel was a very fast read for me: I finished it in less than two days. I found it to be a very philosophical novel, more about the bigger picture, created by singular moments than the moments themselves. And even though it normally irritates me when authors incorporate historical figures into their novels, I felt that in this case it was done not as a way of trying to make the protagonist seem more important, but as a way of showing how unimportant we as individuals are: Tom has absolutely no influence on the historical figures he encountered through his life. And even though he’s the one still alive, they are the ones whose works have been immortalised in our cultural consciousness.

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Written by, Maureen Tuyishime