The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel: Reid, Taylor Jenkins:  9781501139239: Amazon.com: Books

Around ten pages into The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, it became my favorite book. 

I started this book after seeing it around everywhere, and so many people talking about it. Previously, I read another Taylor Jenkins Reid book—Daisy Jones & the Six, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. So, after finding out The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was another Taylor Jenkins Reid book, I took others’ advice and picked it up.

It wasn’t what I expected at all. In the best way possible. 

My initial thoughts prior to reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was that—it was just going to be another typical romance novel, with shallow characters and a plotline that I won’t be able to get myself into—even after seeing the book around so much. However, I was quickly proven wrong. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has a handful of tropes that I absolutely love reading about with drama or romance novels—found family, rivals-to-lovers, lavender marriages, and most importantly… The representation in this book was amazing. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has a unique way of telling its story—it’s a story within a story. The book is a biography written by one of the story’s main characters—Monique. She’s a writer, who was recently divorced and is going through a difficult period of her life. She wants to be writing pieces that mean something to her, yet, she’s stuck writing fluff pieces for a magazine she does not want to work for anymore. To much surprise, she’s picked by Evelyn Hugo, a famous actress who reached her peak in popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, to write her biography. She agrees to write it, and the story switches from present to past. 

The story focuses on Evelyn Hugo’s rise to fame, and her stories with all her seven husbands. But truly, the real love story here is her 50 year long relationship with a fellow actress, Celia St. James. 

I didn’t expect for her to have this relationship prior to reading this book, considering it was about… her seven husbands… but the moment I knew about Celia, I started loving this book. 

But even so, the book is so much more than just romance. It tells Evelyn’s struggles in her past, and the way she did almost anything to rise to fame and get out of her horrible community in New York. She made it to Hollywood by herself, and made a name for herself—she is a truly powerful and beautiful woman. In addition, the story also follows Harry Cameron, her best and truest friend. 

I absolutely adored the friendship between the two of them. At first, they started out as mere acquaintances—until it came to the point where they both realized that they would die for each other. Each of them kept each other’s secrets—that Harry was gay, and that Evelyn was in love with Celia. They were friends until the end, and the found family the two of them created was completely heartwarming as well as refreshing. Too often, I always read about male/female characters who almost always get into relationships, without the relationship making any sense whatsoever. It’s so important that platonic love gets introduced more and more into mainstream media, as well as the idea that people can be soulmates without it being romantic—which was definitely Harry and Evelyn’s case. 

Evelyn and Celia were also such a refreshing couple to follow. They started off as rivals, both starring in a movie where each of them wanted the main role. The two of them made a deal when they first met—Celia would teach Evelyn how to act, since Celia was better, and Evelyn would help Celia become more popular. Over a few years, the two of them got closer and closer, until they became a couple. 

Unfortunately, this was during the 50s/60s, and homophobia was definitely more rampant during this time than today. The two of them had to hide their relationship for over 50 years, and it was only when Monique published Evelyn’s biography that their relationship—as well as the fact that Evelyn was bisexual—was made known to the public. They were completely loving, caring, and supportive of one another. Although they argued, mostly over the fact that Celia wanted to love Evelyn in public, and that Evelyn wanted to stay a secret to not hurt Celia’s career, they were completely in love with each other. If you compare Evelyn’s love for Celia to all her other husbands, none of them come close. Celia St. James was her one true love, as Evelyn put it. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo became my favorite book so quickly, it caught me off guard. It was a wonderful blend of found family, finding yourself, and learning to love yourself and others. I felt like I grew with Evelyn, and I definitely was able to relate to her and Celia so many times throughout the book. Evelyn struggles with the same things I do, and it almost felt as if I was being seen by her. Whenever I feel like that when reading a book, I know it’s going to be one of my favorites. For The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, it became my absolute favorite book.

– Claire C.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library and can be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Ted Lasso and the Importance of Mental Health

Ted Lasso' Season 2 Finale: "Believe" Sign Is Important

The show Ted Lasso has risen in popularity over these past few months—with a series of Emmy wins and a promise of a new season to boot. The show has won the hearts of thousands of people—including myself.  

I was skeptical about Ted Lasso in the beginning, I only started watching it just over a month ago. I’ve seen it everywhere, on TV, on social media, even at my own school, and figured I’d give it a try. And in an instant, I was hooked. 

Ted Lasso is about an American football coach who travels to England to coach top-flight English football team, AFC Richmond. Hired by the club’s new manager, Rebecca Welton, Ted Lasso and his fellow coach, simply named Beard, go to England and begin their journey. While labeled as a comedy, Ted Lasso also delves into much deeper topics—leaving home & your family, divorce, isolation, and most of all—allowing yourself to feel and talk through your emotions. 

Ted Lasso stresses the importance of taking care of your mental health, in addition to your physical health. It’s one of the main reasons why I fell in love with this show. Typically, in mainstream media, we don’t see characters attending therapy, talking through their emotions, or even opening up to other people in a casual manner. There always has to be something big that happens, and a big deal is made, which is not often the case in real life. And, even though Ted Lasso is a comedy, the show completely spins this topic on its head and presents it in a beautiful, respectful manner. 

Many characters end up going through something difficult during the second season. Ted, one of the main characters—is dealing with his divorce, coping with his father’s death, and dealing with severe panic attacks. Beard, his assistant coach, is in what is essentially a toxic relationship. Jamie Tartt, one of the players on AFC Richmond is coping with his father’s abuse. Rebecca Welton is dealing with her own divorce throughout the entirety of the show. These are just four characters—everyone is going through something, and the show’s writers genuinely take the time to have these characters try and better themselves. A therapist is brought in during season two, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone—and all the players regularly see her and benefit from therapy. The characters openly talk about their problems with one another, and communicate their emotions with one another. The four coaches of Richmond—Ted, Beard, Nate Shelley, and Roy Kent—specifically have meetings where they share their problems, feelings, and generally just vent—without needing to solve any problems. The show doesn’t joke about these topics, even if it is a comedy. 

I appreciate this a lot. Mental health in sports is something not talked about enough. Whenever we hear about athletes talking about their mental health (Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, for example), it feels rather taboo, in a sense. Some even bully or make fun of these players for talking about their mental health and taking care of their mental health—even if it is as important as their physical well beings. So many athletes suffer due to the pressure of the public, from their family, even from coaches and teammates. Most don’t have an outlet, due to this stigma around mental health. This is very prominent in men’s sports. Men’s sports are shrouded with hypermasculinity—having to prove to others that you’re a “tough man,” that you don’t feel anything, that you can conquer anything without the help of others. This creates unhealthy environments for the players. 

As Ted Lasso goes on, I hope it continues to highlight mental health in athletics. The writers present the topic in such a respectful way, and it’s important to bring awareness to these topics. It is what has made me love the show, and I am genuinely looking forward to more. 

– Claire C.

Reading Slumps & Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

I like to call myself an avid reader. I enjoy reading, I read all the time, and I find a lot of joy out of it! I know some people aren’t like that, but I personally really enjoy it. Sometimes, I find myself getting into a dreaded reading slump. 

A reading slump to me is a period of time where I don’t read because I can’t find any book appealing to me, or when I just can’t bring myself to pick up a book. If there are times I don’t have time to read—I don’t call those slumps. Just times where I don’t feel like reading, most likely because I can’t find a book to read. 

I really hate getting into these slumps. I want to read a book, but I just can’t. Recently, I’ve gotten myself out of a long slump—and I got out of it by reading outside my comfort zone. 

Over the course of quarantine, I didn’t read. I mostly read online—short stories, comics, but not a long novel or a published book. It really confused me, because I had a shelf filled with books I have yet to read, but I couldn’t bring myself to sit down and read. I attempted to sit down and try, but I just couldn’t get into the story. The genre of the book was Young Adult fiction—a genre I always found myself reading. Yet, I just couldn’t get into the story. I wondered why. 

It honestly really concerned me. I feared I lost my love for reading, and that I couldn’t find happiness in it anymore. That was until I found myself reading another genre—poetry and prose. 

Most of my life, I’ve found myself staying in one genre—young adult fiction or children’s fiction. It was the genre that made me the happiest, and one of the easiest genres to read. I never really dabbled in historical fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, or poetry. It wasn’t that I didn’t like reading it, it was just that I didn’t feel comfortable reading those genres. I tend to get confused or bored—and once I get confused and bored, I just never finish the book. 

That was until I discovered The Waves by Virginia Woolf. 

I became very intrigued very quickly—the way Woolf wrote her characters and her style in The Waves was confusing, but I found myself enjoying it! It felt like reading poetry, or really flowery prose. It was beautiful, moving, and I found myself getting teary-eyed throughout. I had never read a book like this before, and it surprised me when I found myself absolutely falling in love with it. 

The Waves is what made me start to branch out of young adult fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I still read a lot of young adult fiction—but now, I feel comfortable reading other genres. After The Waves, I decided to read more older books, which meant I had to try harder at understanding the language. I decided to read Russian classics—Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov. It felt good to read those. 

I also started to read plays, like Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Coriolanus, Betrayal. When I found myself understanding the messages and getting really into it, I felt really good. Then, I started branching out into fantasy—Ender’s Game, American Gods, and The Gilded Wolves. 

That is what got me out of my reading slump! After The Waves, I ended up reading eleven books in two weeks. Yeah… it really shocked me how one book can get you out of a year long stump! And a book outside of my comfort zone, nonetheless. 

Reading out of your comfort zone can be daunting, but I promise it reaps so many benefits. You are able to talk to more people about the books you read, expose yourself to new themes and new styles of writing, and you never know—you may be able to expand your comfort zone to a wider range of books.

– Claire C.

RENT, the Musical

A playbill from the Original Broadway Cast of RENT.

RENT, the musical by Jonathan Larson, is one of my favorite musicals of all time. I’ve listened to a lot of musicals—and at this point, I can’t really name them all. But RENT makes it near the top of my favorites, because of its music, plot, and beautifully fleshed out characters. 

RENT tells the story of a group of starving artists living in Lower Manhattan’s East Village, from 1989 to 1990. During this period, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was wiping out thousands of people not only in the US, but all over the world. It was a devastating epidemic, and even today, around 35 million people have passed due to HIV/AIDS since 1981. This epidemic plays a huge role in the story of RENT, as different characters—Roger, Mimi, Angel, and Collins—are living with it, and one of them eventually passes away during the musical. 

The main characters include Mark, a filmmaker; Roger, his roommate and a musician; Mimi, a dancer at the local club; Angel, a drag queen and performer; Tom Collins, a professor; Maureen, a performer and actress; and Joanne, a lawyer and Maureen’s partner. All of them struggle to achieve their dreams, and this musical shows the struggle and the cost of wanting to achieve those dreams. RENT shows the discrimination and the stigma that surrounded HIV/AIDS during this time. This same stigma caused the real life deaths of so many people around the world. A disease that could’ve been stopped and prevented sooner, wasn’t, all because of discrimination. And the cost? Countless human lives. 

This is what Jonathan Larson set out to do when he wrote RENT. He lived in the same village the characters lived in, and he wanted to put out something that people could relate to. He based the experiences of the characters, especially the ones living with HIV/AIDS, on some of his own friends. Although, this was very controversial and experimental at the time. He wanted to write a rock musical, and those were rare—even never done before. It took him so many years and work to complete RENT and eventually have it produced and performed. The most heartbreaking thing about it all is that he passed away the night RENT was going to be debuted. He put in all his work, and never got to reap the fruits of his labor. 

But even so, RENT continues to be one of the most beloved musicals in the world, and a classic. So many productions have been performed around the world, and its been translated into so many languages. It also became a movie in 2005. The reason why RENT became so popular and beloved was because it was so real. You could feel the pain these characters were facing, you could relate to their loss, and you could relate to the joys they experienced together. The message RENT is trying to tell us is that no day is promised. No day is promised, and we need to cherish our lives with the people we love, and that is such a beautiful statement. 

No day but today!

Another Day, from RENT

-Claire C.

The Life Aquatic & Learning to Live with Sadness

The Life Aquatic (2004) | Life aquatic, Steve zissou, Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films. Its plot—combined with its direction, soundtrack, and cast—makes the film stand out against most of the films I’ve watched before. It centers around the themes of familial love as well as sadness, letting go of your past, and looking to the future. 

The story follows Steve Zissou, an oceanographer and filmmaker, on a mission to kill a shark—specifically a “jaguar” shark (which he coined himself)—that ate his best friend and partner, Esteban. He’s pretty washed up, with his funds for his films low—due to how badly his films were doing. He’s out to kill this shark solely for revenge, and he says he’ll do whatever it takes to get justice for his friend. Zissou is accompanied by his friends—the crew of his ship, the Belafonte. There’s one special member, though—and it’s what sets the film into motion. 

Irony, Control, and Distance in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou –  Offscreen

That special member is Ned Plimpton, a polite, young man who came to Zissou during the premiere of his latest film. Ned claims to be Zissou’s son, the child of Catherine Plimpton, a woman Zissou remembered and supposedly had an affair with. At first, Zissou doubts this—because both of them aren’t really sure. It’s only when Ned is invited to stay at Zissou’s island and headquarters, and Zissou wakes him up in the middle of the night to film some “jellyfish” on the shore. Standing there, with his boom microphone—Ned adlibs along with Zissou. Though it’s awkward, Zissou figures out that a narrative between him and Ned could make his next film—and mission—successful. He hires Ned right there, and Ned joins the crew. 

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

I won’t be discussing the film in its entirety, but what I found very compelling about the film was how it handled the themes of familial love—specifically paternal love. 

Ned and Steve are awkward together. The two of them tiptoe around the fact that Steve might or might not be his real father. They avoid even breaching the topic. But, when they do, Steve confesses that he never wanted to be a father, right in front of Ned. After that, they don’t talk about their relationship with one another. 

During this, Steve is also still weighed down by the grief of losing his best friend. He’s mourning him, and his anger is what drives him throughout the entire film. Most of the crew is telling him not to do it, not to kill the shark—or that the shark didn’t even exist. Even so, Steve still pushes on—through bad weather, a pirate attack, and even a kidnapping of one of his crew members. They go through a lot, just trying to find this shark. 

The most devastating part of the film happens next. The crew finally gets the shark on their radar, and they realize they’re only a few miles away. A helicopter ride. So, Steve and Ned—a pilot—climb into the Belafonte’s worn out helicopter and fly away. On the ride, Steve and Ned talk about a letter Ned sent to Steve when he was younger. He admired Steve, and admitted that he wanted to be an oceanographer when he grew up. Turns out, Steve had kept the letter all these years, and he pulls it out to show it to Ned. This connection shows that the two of them, especially Steve, care for each other—and that Steve was ready to become a father to Ned. 

YARN | "Thank you for your good work. Sincerely, Ned Plimpton, | The Life  Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) | Video clips by quotes | 00cb57e4 | 紗

But, due to the helicopter being worn down and broken—they end up crashing into the water, just where the shark was. And although Steve is fine, Ned… wasn’t. The most interesting thing about this scene is that it’s framed to look like a shark attack—with Ned hanging onto a floating piece of debris, and red filling the water around them. Almost exactly the way Steve lost Esteban. (It’s later revealed that Steve was infertile. He couldn’t have children.) 

From Failed Parenting to Reunion: Analyzing the Impact of Dysfunctional  Families in Wes Anderson Films | by Joseph Massaro | Medium

Eventually, though, Steve and the crew are able to get into a submarine and see the shark up close. It’s my favorite, and most beautiful part of the film. The shark is swimming around them, glittering and beautiful, capturing the eyes of all the crew members—shocked that the shark was actually real. In the center of the frame is Steve, quietly reflecting on the events that had happened leading up to this moment—the moment where he’s “supposed” to kill the shark. 

Instead, when asked if he still wants to kill the shark—Steve shakes his head, claiming they ran out of dynamite anyway. He tears up, and he asks, “I wonder if he still remembers me.” The whole crew then puts their arms on Steve, holding him as he cries, the shark still circling around. 

The Life Aquatic might not be Wes Anderson's best film. But it is his  greatest. - Vox

I believe that the shark represents sadness. Something that is looming, circling, engulfing us. And when it attacks, there’s no stopping it. Steve has been going through this ever since Esteban died. His sadness and his grief engulfs him, consumes him, to the point where it causes the death of someone else close to him. It’s destructive, not only to others, but to himself. In an effort to find peace, Steve sets out to kill the shark—or, his sadness. He goes through so much, just to get rid of it. 

In the end, when faced with it—when faced with his grief and he’s given the chance to finally kill it, he turns it down. He looks right into its eyes and says, “I wonder if he remembers me.” This is when Steve learns that sadness cannot be killed. It cannot be obliterated. Sadness can only be lived with, and that’s something we need to learn. It’s what comes with life. But what we can do is have others who support us and love us anyway. This is represented by his crew—his family—putting his arms around him and holding him as he cries. Even though his grief was engulfing, drowning him, the people who loved him and who he loved in return—were still there every step of the way. 

Their film ends up getting produced, and receives lots of support. They’ve dedicated it to Ned.

The ending credits of the film leave a bittersweet feeling in your stomach. As the crew is walking down the pier, Buckaroo Banzai credits style, in the background you can see the Belafonte. It’s ready for their new adventure. And there, at the very top—with his signature pilot’s uniform and spyglass, stands Ned—guiding Steve and his crew, onward towards the future. 

Steve Zissou » BAMF Style

– Claire C.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is available for checkout as a DVD or Blu-Ray at the Mission Viejo Library.

Twelfth Night and Gender Identity

Audra McDonald, Anne Hathaway, and Raúl Esparza pose as Olivia, Viola, and Duke Orsino in Shakespeare in the Park’s Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is my personal favorite Shakespeare play. I read it for class in the 10th grade. At first, I approached this play cautiously. I have never read, listened to, or watched a Shakespeare play in my life—but I presumed that the language would be difficult, and the topics uninteresting to me.

And wow, was I wrong.

As we read along, I found myself completely invested in Viola’s story—the way she turns herself into ‘Cesario’ to navigate high society, how she manages to get a Countess to fall in love with her, and how she manages to fool Duke Orsino into thinking she was a man. I was interested in the way she navigated her relationship with not only Olivia and Orsino, but with her gender, as well.

The reason why I became absolutely obsessed with this play was because how it tackled gender and sexual identity, though maybe not completely outright, but it’s there! You just have to read closely, and watch closely.

Tamara Lawrance and Oliver Chris pose as Cesario and Orsino, in the National Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night.

Viola dressing as a man, and turning herself into ‘Cesario,’ addresses gender fluidity in such an amazing way—and brings up so many possibilities for newer adaptations of Twelfth Night and so many more possibilities for actors playing Viola. In Shakespeare’s time, for example, all roles in his plays were played by men. So, in turn, Viola was played by a man, playing a woman, who was trying to pass as a man. A bit confusing, isn’t it?

This shows that… does gender actually matter in Twelfth Night? What is gender actually? A person’s gender identity is what that person makes of it, and Twelfth Night showcased this perfectly. People fall for Viola, and people fall for Cesario—no matter the gender, Viola’s self is what wins people over. Even in the end, Orsino tells Cesario (technically still Cesario), that, once he gets his old clothes—he can be Viola once more. It’s almost as if gender is something you can put on, then take back off again, a perfect explanation of gender fluidity.

“I am all the daughters of my father’s house, And all the brothers too—and yet I know not.”

Act II, Scene 4

As I discussed before, Viola’s gender fluidity allows for so many newer adaptation of Twelfth Night. A particular favorite of mine is Shakespeare in Clark’s Park’s production Twelfth Night, which, in the end, had Viola renaming themself to Vi, and forgoing gendered terms, possibly being nonbinary.

Johnny Flynn and Mark Rylance as Viola and Olivia. This is a more traditional take on Twelfth Night, as this production at The Globe had an all-male cast, just as Shakespeare did.

Taking these age-old plays and turning them into something relatable, modern, completely realistic in this day and age is extremely important. It’s how you get younger generations to read and analyze these works of literature and interpret them for themselves. Relating to Viola’s journey of self-discovery is exactly how I felt myself so connected to this play. Though, obviously, it is not a completely perfect dissertation on gender and identity, but I believe it made leaps, especially during Shakespeare’s time. People conflicts with identity, sexuality, and gender, didn’t just start in modern times. It has been happening for a very long time, it’s only recently we’ve been able to give these labels names.

Twelfth Night explores these themes in a great way, and relating to the characters makes this play so much more meaningful.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.”

The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, tells the story of six people growing up—Bernard, Louis, Neville, Susan, Jinny, and Rhoda—and how they mourn their friend, Percival. Each of them all have very distinct personalities. Bernard loves words, Louis is insecure with his place in the world, Neville desires order, Susan adores nature, Jinny values her physicality, and Rhoda is very dream-like, an introvert.

The most interesting thing about The Waves is that it’s separated into nine sections, each section starts with the time of the day, and each section is about them in each stage of life. Virginia Woolf doesn’t follow a typical narrative. Instead, she opts for the characters to tell their most inner thoughts and feelings—similar to a monologue. Here is a section from the novel:

“”I see a ring,” said Bernard, “hanging above me. It quivers and hangs in a loop of light.”

When greeted with the beginning of the narration, it really surprised me. I have never read a book like this before, and I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf. Trying to get used to the style of writing—which was prose-heavy, was difficult for me, as someone who’s never read this style before. It got easier as I read along, though, and got invested into the story. I remember getting into a flow, then I finally understood their personalities and motives. Going on Sparknotes a few times didn’t hurt, either.

Aside from that struggle, I loved this book. Although it was something very different for me, I think I want to read more books like this one. I truly felt as if I was growing up with the six friends, watching them as they went from childhood all the way to the end of their lives. I found myself relating to Neville, a man who preferred order—who later became a successful poet. This book had many sections that really resonated with me, and I will be reading it again in the future, for further understanding.

If you enjoy prose-heavy books, or books filled with lots of imagery and poetry, The Waves is perfect for you. It was a very beautiful read, and even if you’ve never read a book like this before—I’m sure it will still be very enjoyable.

The Waves has also been turned into The Waves in Quarantine, a theatrical experiment in six movements. It has been shown by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre—created by Raúl Esparza and Lisa Peterson.

Lastly, here’s my favorite section of the novel, spoken by Bernard. Enjoy reading!

“…And while you gesticulate, with your cloak, your cane, I am trying to expose a secret told to nobody yet; I am asking you (as I stand with my back to you) to take my life in your hands and tell me whether I am doomed always to cause repulsion in those I love?”

-Claire C.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.