Book Review: Caraval, A Good Distraction

Oh, you guys, I’m so happy to be not sick anymore, or at least not as sick as I have been! I’m way behind in posting my reviews because I’ve been struggling with the flu. It’s been a bad bug: 104° fever, chills, body aches, gut-wrenching cough, headache, extreme exhaustion, etc. On top of that, my youngest was struggling with the croup. You need to get the flu shot so as not to get this bug; my husband got the vaccination and, while he flirted with getting sick for a day or two, ultimately didn’t, even though he was highly exposed to the germ.

Bur First: My Reactions to the Florida Shooting

Honestly though, I’ve also been struggling with a deep sense of worry, fear, and disappointment after the shooting in Florida. Many of the kids who were shot were the same age as my oldest child. As a mother, my first reaction was to want take my kids out of public school altogether. My second was to start looking into what it would take to move our whole family to a more peaceful country. My third was to make a list of things I felt like I could do immediately to lessen the chances of something like this happening in my community. My fourth was to laugh at my list and myself for thinking that I might have any power to do anything to stem the tide of these awful shootings. My fifth was to stop laughing and break down each of the things on my list into action steps I could do each day, because if I don’t do them, I feel like the only way to truly keep my kids and my family safe will be to move to a different country. And maybe hibernate.

My sixth reaction was to write this post, and by so doing, I hope I can spark some kind of conversation that will inspire people beyond just myself to take action so that the number of shootings decreases.  I can’t imagine continuing to live in a world where it’s entirely possible that someone will walk into my children’s school and start shooting. I don’t want to live with that fear, and I can’t imagine any of you do either. But we’ve become a country so divided, so unable to speak civilly with each other, that resolving this doesn’t seem possible. And so, except for the surviving Florida high school students who are marching on their state legislature and later on Congress, the rest of us seem to be throwing our hands up in the air.

We cannot. We must not. For our own safety, and the safety of our children, we should not. But what can be done, you say? If our elected leaders haven’t been able to figure out a solution to the gun control debate, what hope is there? I say there is a lot. Preventing more shootings isn’t just a matter of guns ( I realize that some of you might say it isn’t a matter of guns at all, but humor me for a bit); it’s far more complex than that. I promise I’ll tie a book or two into this.

Brainstorming Some Possible Solutions to Prevent More Shootings

Here’s what I think we need, and what I’m doing to be a part of the solution:

  • more civil dialogue: we are at a crucial part in our development as a society.  We have the “microphone” of social media to our mouths, and, like children, we haven’t matured in our use of it well enough to use it for much more than idle chitchat, hating, shaming, or the occasional fundraising campaign. One of my favorite nonfiction books— Crucial Conversations Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry PattersonJoseph GrennyRon McMillan— makes several really good recommendations, such as: check your motives, agree before you disagree, establish common goals, and establish mutual respect. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone who has a social media account, or for that matter, has a mouth.  I’m trying to teach principles from Crucial Conversations to my kids.
  • less consumption of violence: after the the Florida shooting, I was particularly sensitive to what media my kids consumed on the family screen and desktop and on their own devices. I’ve never let them play any video games with an M rating, or watch any content with an R-rating (and sometimes even a PG-13 rating). It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of that, given the many ways they can get content these days, the fact that violence is so prevalent in so much of what we watch, and the fact that they fight me almost every step of the way, as if they don’t have access to a million other ways to entertain themselves with non-violent media content.  I don’t think I can allow my kids to play first-person shooter video games and not expect them to get desensitized to the act of shooting other people. To a similar extent, same thing with allowing to watch violence in movies, YouTube videos, etc.
  • more empathy/sympathy: over and over again, the academic books and studies I’ve read show how the tendency that we have to commodify other humans, define them as other than us, criticize them or make them seem less than human is a tendency that is growing all too common in our society. Dr. Brent Slife, in his book Frailty, Suffering, and Vice (which I reviewed here), says: “the cultural emphasis on individual separateness is part of the problem.” We tend to abstract others, or view them as a part of the world that is “out there,” and only existing to potentially meet our needs. The internet only heightens this.  “Commodifying people is another kind of self-inflicted wound because it makes it all the more difficult to form the special, committed, caring relationships we so clearly need.” How else could someone justify walking into a school and shooting countless unarmed people, and then go and get a sandwich at a nearby Subway, like the Florida shooter? How else could the Las Vegas shooter justify shooting more than 50 unarmed people from afar? While I’m not saying that anyone who has a hard time empathizing or sympathizing with someone else is going to end up shooting a bunch of people, I am saying that there has to be an association. For my part, I try as much as possible to talk about what other people might be feeling or thinking in ways that my kids can understand. I seek out social media content and engagement opportunities that enables me to understand other peoples’ points of view.
  • encourage better mental healthcare infrastructure: we know now, after so many shootings, that mental illness plays a part in some of the shootings. It was a factor in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Would it be possible to ask our legislators to at least investigate the possibility of requiring psychological evaluations for anyone wishing to buy a gun? Would that help? Do we have data on that? If we were to encourage more people to get degrees in social work, psychology, and psychiatry, provide scholarships for them to do so, expand funding for mental healthcare nonprofits and agencies, and expand funding for research into the causes of and possible cures for mental illnesses, would that make a difference? I want to know!
  • make it illegal for the press to name the shooters: if the motive of a shooter is notoriety, wouldn’t asking our legislators to make the naming of the shooters in press reports about the shootings illegal help to remove the possibility for that notoriety?
  • funding for more protection at schools: if nothing else, would it be possible to provide funding for training of veterans or off-duty police officers to serve as armed guards at schools?

Caraval, a Good Distraction

In an effort to distract myself from my illness and these difficult questions, I read Caraval by Stephanie Garber this past week. It’s about a girl who gets swept up in an all-consuming game, one that involves other players competing for a prize given by a magical but very mysterious host named Legend. She goes to escape her abusive father, rescue her flighty sister, and meet Legend, but finds that nothing in the game is what it seems to be and that she stands to lose much more than she gains, if she can gain anything.

Because almost the whole book is set in the game, in and around an isolated island village that exists solely for the purpose of Caraval, the book’s setting is at once enchanting and bewildering. It’s full of quaint dress shops, evil tunnels, and enchanted bridges. It’s populated primarily by other contestants in the game who are competing against Scarlett (the main character), and the actors in the game, the people Legend sets in strategic locations at certain times to confuse or help the players. It’s like the reality show Survivor meets the movie Alice Through the Looking Glass.

This book’s strengths are its unpredictability and its style. It is rich with both. As a distraction, it was effective. As a depiction of the complicatedness of human nature, it was accurate, even given the outrageous premise. It was a good read, overall.




Have you read Caraval? Did you like it? What are your thoughts about what we can do to prevent more mass shootings?

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