Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Black Like Me, a memoir written by John Howard Griffin, tells the true story of Griffin’s time spent in the segregated south in the 1950s as a black man. Griffin, however, was not biologically black. In fact, he was a white journalist with a focus on racial equality- a white man who wanted to experience the truth of black life in a land supposedly “separate but equal”, a sugar-coated line which people knew even then to be a lie. In order to truly understand the plight of African Americans in the southern states, Griffin chemically dyed his skin black using pills normally reserved for treating vitiligo. With black skin and a deep-rooted curiosity, Griffin ventured into the south. What he found horrified him, and became the subject of his memoir.

In Black Like Me, Griffin addresses the dehumanizing conditions which were caused by segregation in the American south. Most people are aware of the immediate impacts of segregation. Black people and white people were physically separated from each other, barred from drinking from the same water fountains, using the same bathrooms, eating at the same restaurants, or even using the same seats on the bus. It served as a barrier, keeping black men and women from attaining education, or those with education from obtaining jobs which could provide livable wages. These are things taught in school, considered to be common knowledge. What fewer people are aware of, however, is what Griffin portrays to be the true result of segregation and racism: the very denial of the right to humanity. When no person affords you even the slightest common courtesy when people deem it unnecessary to look at you on the street, when you need to work hard each and every day to prove to the white man that you mean him no harm- what does that do to a human’s spirit? According to Griffin, the true horror of segregation is the degradation of humanity which naturally ensues from it. The result is a book that is hard to read without taking on the pain of the oppressed- a reaction which is not only desired by Griffin but which makes this book a truly unforgettable, essential read.

There is no specific demographic which I would recommend this book to. The truth is, everyone should read it. It is one of those once in a lifetime books which makes you think just as much as it immerses you in its story. Further, if you enjoy this book and would like to read another like it, I would highly recommend Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane (I wrote a review about this book, too).

-Mirabella S.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

TV Review: The Umbrella Academy

Earlier this year, Netflix took the streaming world by storm once again with the release of its own original superhero ensemble TV-show, The Umbrella Academy. It follows the Hargreeves family, a family composed of seven adopted children, six of whom are superpowered. When the family learns that the world is going to end in eight days, they are forced to confront their childhood traumas and reunite to save the world. The show itself was released on February 15th, but it took me an appalling two months before I actually got around to watching it. When I finally did, it is safe to say that I was absolutely blown away. I binged the entire show in a single day. 10 hours worth of content, and I was riveted to the screen for every moment of it. So, what exactly makes this show so special?

There is no single answer to such a complex question, but after several re-watches, I can identify several elements which make the show so extraordinary (if you’ve seen the show- you see what I did there). When a viewer begins to watch The Umbrella Academy, the first thing which strikes them is how different this view of the superhero genre is from what we are so used to seeing. Most ensemble TV shows focus on the heroes, well, becoming heroes. The Umbrella Academy adeptly avoids this classic trope by presenting us with characters who are not learning to become heroes, but struggling with the fallout of their heroic childhoods. These so-called superheroes are deeply damaged, and their family dynamic is highly dysfunctional. The members of the Academy are not learning how to become heroes, but learning to cope with the struggles of everyday life after an abusive childhood. Of course, they have to save the world along the way, but the show leaves you with the impression that this plot is not as important as the development of the characters within it. Further, the plot itself is deeply shaped by character development of certain key characters who are coming to terms with their powers, or, their lack thereof.

Aside from subversion of the classic superhero origin story, The Umbrella Academy also sets itself apart from the pack through its depiction of relationships between characters. Each of the Hargreeves siblings has a unique connection with each other sibling, a fact which is never brushed over nor forgotten throughout the series. The tapestry of character connections is artfully written, artfully acted, and artfully produced. In essence, at every level of this show, attention was paid to depicting the interactions between its characters in a nuanced, cohesive way. Each character has highly specific thoughts and emotions towards each other character, many of which are unveiled gradually throughout the season.

There are so many other ways that The Umbrella Academy kept me hooked: the random, whimsical, yet dark nature of the show, multiple plotlines which eventually converge, leaving the viewer simultaneously dumbfounded and awestruck, LGBTQ+ representation, and an absolutely fire soundtrack. It would take an eternity for me to detail everything that I adored about this show.

I would recommend this show to any fans of the superhero genre who want to see a fresh take on the definition of heroism. However, one does not need to be a fan of superheroes to enjoy this show. If a whimsical, dark, time-travel centered mystery sounds at all interesting to you- give it a watch! I promise you will not be disappointed (A quick disclaimer- this show does discuss some mature themes and has several violent action sequences, hence its TV-14 rating, so it is definitely more suited to older audiences).

-Mirabella S.

The Umbrella Academy graphic novel by Gerard Way is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library

An Analysis in Summary of the Political Structure Portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984

1984 is a political commentary written by George Orwell warning society of the dangers of both losing sight of truth and blindly following political doctrine. If you are a high school student, a dystopian enthusiast, or simply interested in political literature, it is likely that you will encounter this work at some point in your literary career. Although the themes conveyed by the novel are strong and often repetitively hit home by Orwell, it is undeniable that the novel is full of complicated historical background and political nuance which may not be apparent to the reader on their first, or even their second time reading it.

One of the sections of the book in which this idea is apparent is in Part 2, in which Winston reads excerpts from the book of Emmanuel Goldstein, which summarizes the complex world order which has lent itself to the rise of IngSoc. For the reader who may be confused about what this excerpt means and implies, I have compiled a simple overview of what the three principles of IngSoc really mean (be warned, minor spoilers follow!)

WAR IS PEACE
“In ​1984, war is perpetual because it is impossible to win, but necessary for the world economy and for the permanence of governing principles around the globe. War causes a ​constant drain of supplies​ which could be used for the betterment of life on Earth, which would inevitably result in an unstable society in which ​no wealth distinction would exist​, and therefore, ​no power.”

  • All powers ​are aware that it is impossible​ to conquer the other two superstates
  • All fighting occurs around the equator, over ​labor power
  • All superstates follow variations of the same doctrine, therefore ​no ideological differences actually exist
  • Human ​curiosity is harnessed​ solely in the search for new weapons
  • There are ​no undesirable or desirable consequences​ for losses or gains

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

“Throughout history, all governments have risen and fallen because the middle class overthrew the upper class- that is- before the rise of 20th century ideologies like IngSoc, which were centered around power as opposed to human instinct and thus cannot ever fall.”

  • No threat from without​- none of the superstates can be conquered
  • The masses never revolt because they are ​always prodded to do so​ by the middle class
  • The middle class cannot rise to power because ​unorthodoxy results in immediate death
  • The party will never lose motivation to rule because ​it is an organization​, not hereditary

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

“Because every member of the historically volatile middle class is brainwashed into following party doctrine, doublethink is not just a principle, it is literally a way of thought ingrained into the minds of every party official- low and high ranking alike.”

  • Officials simultaneously ​know that the war cannot​ end for the stability of the world while consciously ​striving to defeat the other superstates
  • In order to survive, a Party member must ​automatically know​ a “true belief” and a “desirable emotion” for every situation

Of course, this is just a summary analysis of the major points directly conveyed within Goldstein’s text- there is deeper metaphorical meaning which can be inferred from analysis of Orwell’s historical context, other works, and even through drawing connections between the three principles! Feel free to comment further interpretations below if you have anything to add- and remember, Big Brother is always watching.

-Mirabella S.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a memoir by Jeanette Walls describing her turbulent childhood years, and how she and her siblings survived poverty and neglect against all odds. Her father was an alcoholic who she longed to trust, but who let her down time and time again. Her mother was an artist with her head in the clouds, with little grip on the realities of hunger and child safety. The Walls family lived a “nomadic” lifestyle, often voluntarily living without a roof over their heads. Despite the many struggles of their childhood, the Walls children became successful in life. They succeed in spite of their parents.

The tone of the novel is set when within the first chapter, Jeannette burns herself cooking food over an open flame (at age three) and her father subsequently breaks her out of a hospital. What follows are the many, some humorous, several depressing, exploits of Jeanette’s father Rex Walls. One of the main focuses of the memoir is Jeannette’s relationship with Rex, who cares for her deeply, but who can’t give up alcohol for his children. An ongoing question that the reader must ask is whether this love is genuine, and whether his stated care for Jeanette justifies his many flaws. Rex always promised his children that he would build them a house made entirely of glass- a glass castle. It is up to the reader to interpret whether this castle was ever intended to be built.

This book truly is a must-read. It is not simply a novel; it is a recording of real life. It is full of danger and emotion, and brimming with moments that will make you laugh, and (quite often) cry. If you are looking for a page turner of a success story, look no further.

-Mirabella S.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your family left behind everything you knew and moved to a remote African village? Probably not, but that is the scenario that the Price family faces as they embark on their missionary trip to the Congo in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible. There are five members of the price family. Nathan Price is a firm willed Baptist pastor, determined to right the “evils” of Africa. Orleanna is Nathan’s wife, and is lost in the identity of her husband. Their daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May each react to their new home in different ways- and to the tragedy which soon befalls them. The family gets more than they bargained for when their Baptist evangelist mission is swept up in the Congolese revolution, and the government- and their world- falls apart around them.

The Poisonwood Bible deals with a topic that is all too often glanced over in modern society: the effect of European colonialism. The Congo that the Price family visits is broken politically and economically. Additionally, it explores the idea of gender through Orleanna, who has lost her own identity and lives for her husband instead. The idea of voice is also thoroughly explored by Kingsolver, who rotates the book’s narration chapter by chapter. Sometimes the story is narrated by materialistic Rachel, other times by dedicated Leah, sometimes by five year-old Ruth May. The only member of the Price family who does not narrate is the father, Nathan Price, whose character can be vividly constructed through the insight of all of the Price women. Because such a diverse cast is narrating the story, not only is the book engaging, the reader is able to see every facet of the trials of the Prices in Africa- and see how each character reacts to a tragedy which befalls them, whether that be through denial or guilt.

This book is so valuable, and reading it is an experience in itself. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good read that is steeped in nuance and artfully written, in which political and religious references abound.

-Mirabella S.

The Posionwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Turtles all the Way Down, a novel by John Green, tells the story of a teenage girl named Aza who struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. After one day becoming involved in the search for a fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, she is reunited with an old childhood friend: who happens to be the aforementioned billionaire’s son. Despite the search for Pickett taking the spotlight as the guiding force of this powerful novel, the resulting work of fiction depicts a battle with mental illness sharpened by author’s personal struggles with OCD.

As Aza balances her fear of the human microbe, school, a budding relationship, and a criminal hunt, she begins to discover that in her own struggles, she has withdrawn from the world around her. The entire work highlights the value of life, much in the way past John Green novels tend to do. However, Turtles all the Way Down stands out from the rest of Green’s work. It obviously rings with his unique writing style and emotionally moving qualities, but also coursing through the veins of this work is a level of authenticity that makes it relatable to our very human nature.

As a personal fan of John Green, I came across this book expecting it to be incredible. I was not let down in the slightest. I could talk about the character development that enriches the plot of the story. I could talk for hours about how the comic elements of this novel are balanced with sharp, relatable reality in a way that triggers emotion within the darkest recesses of your brain, even as the main character discusses Star Wars fanfiction. I could even talk about how despite the obvious focal point of the novel being a criminal investigation, every other element of the novel becomes a tapestry of woven word and plot, with each string tugging and guiding the next into forming a textile of humor and sadness. But I digress. Simply, this book is a must read anyone who wants to read a funny, emotional, page turner of a novel.

-Mirabella S.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Fall Life Hack: Back to Time Management Habits

As a high school student, I know how hard it is to stay on top of your work, keep up your grades, and juggle multiple extra curricular activities. Sometimes, it seems like there just isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done. Key word: seems. Albeit difficult, time management is possible for everyone, regardless of your number of weighted classes or extracurricular activities. Here are a few tips to get you started on your path to a more organized and relaxed life.

To begin, take some time every Monday to schedule out your week. Know that any major assignments that you have are going to take up a considerable amount of time, and also count on minor assignments adding up to become time consuming tasks. Then, display your schedule in a planner or in another prominent place. I have a few whiteboard stickers on the wall above my desk to help me stay organized, but you can use whatever system works for you.

As your week goes on, try not to procrastinate assignments, big or small. Sometimes, this is impossible. Whenever you can, do homework that isn’t due the next day. Remember that in a world where homework is continuously assigned, you can’t always count on being physically able to do a project in a single night, especially if other teachers assign homework to you on that specific day. Also, remember that all of those small assignments add up! Try not to let them get the best of you.

Finally, reward yourself! Being a student is hard work, and if you study a lot like me, you still deserve to feel like a teenager. Take time after school to unwind, even if this just involves eating a snack or browsing your social media for ten minutes. This seems like it would be counterproductive, but if you let yourself take a break, you will be more productive when you go back to work.

I will admit that my word on this subject is by no means final, these are just a few habits that help me keep myself in check. Procrastinating never leads to less stress, it just compounds the stress you feel at a given time to a later date. With finals edging closer, staying on top of your work becomes even more important! To all of my fellow students, good luck, and I hope that this article helps you feel a little bit more in control of your school life.

-Mirabella S.