Children of Blood and Bone

It’s been a tough few months, I tell you. Life has been very interesting, in some ways very good, and some quite bad. I’m finally getting over my insomnia, something I’ve struggled with for years (see this post about what it’s really like to live with it). I’m enjoying my job as a full-time book editor. I have two wonderful boys, even after years of infertility. My kids are healthy and happy, for the most part. I’m healthy. My husband’s physical health is doing better. I have amazing neighbors, friends, and family, on both my side of the family and his, who have been my shoulders to cry on, listening ears, sounding boards, examples, and confidantes. I just got to vote. My family and I have enough to eat each and every day. We live in a comfortable home. I’ll never run out of books to read, or, for that matter, hobbies to enjoy.

But, my marriage is in a whole new phase of hard. My husband has some issues. I have some issues. Together, we have some issues we haven’t been able to resolve, even after 19 years of marriage. We’re both committed to staying together, at least for the sake of our kids, if not also because we’re not yet ready to abandon what he and I have worked so hard for years to build (our family and a stable financial situation) nor on the possibility, however small, that we can figure out how to overcome our problems.

So, I just keep plugging away, taking each day as it comes, praying, helping others, accepting their help, and doing my best. Writing. And reading. Most recently, I finished listening to Children of Blood and Bone Tomi Adeyemi. I have never read a more vibrant, dramatic book than this one. Holy freaking cow. Even through it’s 85 chapters (yes, 85), I was spellbound. This is a book that anyone who likes to be immersed or completely transported by a book should get. It had everything: a unique and well-developed setting, a fast-moving but rational plot, and a magic system that was unique and fundamentally integrated into the characters’ identities and the advancement of the plot. Its three main characters were all fully developed: complex and capable of being understood in both their good and bad choices. It was very interesting, in fact, to observe that most of their choices were based on their reactions to fear. Indeed, fear and all of its variations, as well as the myriad ways that humans react to it, seemed to me to be the ubiquitous theme of this book.

What Was Children of Blood and Bone About?

Before the story of Blood and Bone begins, some traumatic events happened to the characters, and they have lived in fear ever since. Zélie Adebola, one of the three main characters, used to have magic, but it was ripped away from her and her people.  She remembers when “Burners” ignited flames, “Tiders” beckoned waves, and her “Reaper” mother summoned forth souls. But then, under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good, in his father’s name. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Who Would Like/Not Like Children of Blood and Bone, and Why?

In Zélie we see those people who react to fear with anger and a desire for revenge. In Amari, the “rogue princess” and second main character, we see those who are shut down and paralyzed by it. And in Inan, the crown prince, we see those who try to channel it into something they think is more virtuous, like duty.  In all of them, we see the effects of the never-ending dichotomy that we humans in the real world always seem to be entrapped in: the belief that the only thing that matters is who has the power and who doesn’t. This book, like much of human history, is a reflection of the fact that very few people can see other options, other ways to live outside of that dichotomy. Yet, like Zélie, Amari, and Inan, there are many who desperately want those options, especially when that dichotomy takes away family members and those they love.

In fact, Tomi Adeyemi, the author herself, expresses that desire for an alternative very strongly in the author’s note at the end of the book. In it, she explains that, while the story is fictional, the emotions portrayed by the characters are very real, fueled by shootings of black men by white police. And those emotions are very real, gut-wrenching even. I felt them in the book; I feel them whenever I hear of anyone unarmed getting shot by the police, but especially when I hear of unarmed black men getting shot by white police. But yet, Tomi, like I and many others, stops short of identifying what those options might look like. It’s like she’s as trapped as Zélie, Inan, and Amari, and the rest of us in the real world in this never-ending cycle of pain inflicted and felt, where it’s only too easy to see what or who is causing the pain, but almost impossible to see a concrete way to stop it.

I would even go so far as to say that we’re like Amari, the daughter of the ruthless and vengeful king. She emerges from her paralyzing fear of him to (spoiler alert) strike down its source, only to realize as she’s doing so that the very act makes her just like the source (end spoiler). She wonders, as do I and as should everyone else alive today: is there another way, besides striking down the source, to make everyone see the cycle for what it is and work together to make it stop?

Personally, I think, and as this book (and Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and many others) shows, the trouble comes with power. We humans appoint people to be in charge so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of managing large groups of different peoples, or the punishment of those who’ve done wrong, and then get mad when those people abuse their power. The truth is that, if we were to analyze all human leaders over time and across the present, we would find that the majority don’t handle it well. And I would be willing to wager that that is caused more by the power structures of human societies than by weaknesses in the men themselves. Very few men or women can handle, I think, any significant power being bestowed on them without becoming hungry for more, greedy, myopic (i.e., focused only on the group of people they’re supposed to protect to the exclusion of others), violent, jaded, or paranoid.

But does this mean that we should excuse the actions of any and all leaders, whether they be kings, presidents, police officers, teachers, parents, etc., if they abuse their powers? Of course not! Maybe the answer—the third option, if you will—is more complex than that. Actually, more complex and more simple. Maybe it requires that each of us take more responsibility for our spheres of influence, helping (or at least proactively trying to understand) our neighbors near and far. Maybe it requires that we get more involved in our communities both off- and on-line, not just being civil but proactively warm-hearted and grateful, like the man in the video below explains. Maybe it requires that we make our power structures more diffuse so that no one person has too much power. Maybe it requires that we love and forgive everyone, as seemingly impossible as that is.

 

Is all of that too idealistic? Decidedly so. Too difficult to execute? For sure. Necessary for us to stop police brutality (or any kind of abuse), despots, mass public shootings, wars, etc.? Probably. It’s certainly better than the power dichotomy, or the reactions to fear that each of the three main characters of Children of Blood and Bone represents. After all, aren’t we all, quite literally, children of blood and bone ourselves? Isn’t that, at least, a starting point: our shared humanity?

But then, maybe the best reaction—and the example of the solution for us—is found not in any of those characters, but in another one altogether, that of Zane, Zélie’s brother. Though we’re never really allowed into his head, we see, through his actions, that his focus is on protecting his family, and her in particular. That focus seems to make it hard for feelings like bitterness or anger to take root in his soul. Even though he has a hard time understanding Zelie and the choices she makes, which often put her and him in danger, he can’t not protect. He, in my mind, is the hero of the story. If I could be like him, focused on the protection of not only my immediate family but also my whole human family, I think I would have less reason to fear for the future.

So, Should You Buy This Book?

I would go so far as to say it should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what it feels like to be oppressed (which should be all of us). I’d venture even farther by saying that you’re cheating yourself if you don’t get the Audible version. Bahni Turpin’s rendering of the accents and emotions of the characters makes listening to the book a truly immersive experience, somewhere between a book and movie (just without pictures). Children of Blood and Bone, though set in a fictional world with magic we know nothing of, is an accurate and gut-wrenching reflection of how humans handle power and fear. Hopefully, we can take from it the motivation, the example, and maybe even a magic of our own making to make this real world a better place.

What’s the Deal?

Between Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BetterWorldBooks, Thriftbook, BooksAMillion, and eBooks, Barnes & Noble had the best price, at $10.76 for a paperback copy.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

Because I listened to it on audiobook, as opposed to read it on my Kindle, I can’t give you an exact count of instances of profanity, sex, violence, positive themes, or negative ones. I can tell you, however, that there is a lot of violence and death, some swearing, no sex but some kissing, lots of positive themes like familial love, charity, devotion, and a good many negative ones, like revenge, greed for power, killing for sport, etc.

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?