We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Flashback post!

Bibliographic Information

Audiobook $19.60
Paperback $6.43
Hardback $120.00
Kindle $12.99
Associated ISBNs 9780140071078
9780143039976 — Paperback
9780143129547 — Paperback
9780606039505 — DEMCO Turtleback
9780141191454 — Paperback
9781101530658
9780891906230 — Hardcover
9780899685328 — Hardcover
9781448719518 — Glued Binding
9781435262225 — Glued Binding
9780822212263 — Paperback
9780445083219 — Paperback

Readers Annotation

A family tragedy has isolated two girls from the village that hates them.

Rating (VOYA)

3P, 5Q

This is an older novel, and it is a Gothic novel. While Gothic is more approachable than Horror, this still isn’t something some people are going to want to read.

This is a beautifully written novel full of feels.

Summary

Here we go. This isn’t really a spoiler, considering it’s been out since the ’60s, so I’m not trying to hide the summary today.

So the set-up is thus: Merricat, her sister Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in Blackwood manor. The rest of their family was tragically killed via arsenic poisoning.

The booke opens with Merricat needing to go to the village to get library books, groceries and stop to get a coffee (because routines are good). The whole time she’s running her errands she is thinking about how much the villagers hate her (and her family) and how much she would like to kill them all. Merricat stops for her coffee in the diner and gets cornered by one of the villagers who starts talking about how horrible the Blackwoods were, and how no one likes them, and how Constance murdered them all. When Merricat is finally able to escape she dashes home.

Constance never leaves the manor. Uncle Julian is half-infirmed due to the poisoning. Merricat keeps promising to be nicer to him. Constance gets two visitors. The second visitor asks about the poisoning. Uncle Julian starts telling her all about that fateful day. How everyone was sitting for breakfast except for Merricat (who was sent to her room with no food). The arsenic was in the sugar. Constance had washed the bowl because she had said there was a spider in it. The police could never convict her of the crime. The women visitors leave.

Merricat runs wild through the manor’s grounds, checking on her tailsmans which ward away the villagers and the bad things, in Merricat’s mind.

Soon, their cousin Charles comes to the manor. He insinuates himself into their lives. He starts to monopolise Constance’s time, starts wearing the girls’ father’s things, starts talking about money and more. He starts saying that Uncle Julian should be in a home. And he starts to try and punich Merricat for her behavior. He suggests she go to a bording school.

Somewhere between Charles arriving and the end of the book Constance brings up Merricat murdering the rest of the family.

Merricat gets so mad that she goes up to their father’s (now Charles’) room and knocks his cigarette (still smoking) in the trash, setting a fire. Soon the whole second floor of the manor is on fire. Charles keeps trying to get the safe out of the house (only concerned with the money). Constance and Merricat get out. The girls run from the manor. The villagers have come and have started wishing the manor would burn down. Eventually they convince themselves to put out the fire. They start pulling things from the manor and destroying things inside. The chase the girls and find Uncle Julian dead. They then realise they should leave.

The girls never leave the manor again. They don’t fix the manor. People start leaving them appology food on their doorsteps and time passes. The girls are happy in their home.

Evaluation

Ok people, here it is: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I was on a old school horror kick when I got into Shirley Jackson, and here we are. I listened to The Haunting of Hill House while on vacation, and wanted to try another of the Gothic Queen’s books, and so enter We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I don’t think I ever really read Gothic fiction before Shirley Jackson. I don’t know what I expected from Gothic fiction, but it wasn’t this. I think I had a more horror mind-set then Gothic, and they’re not necessarily the same thing. Gothic is this disquieting mood… it can be scary but its more about that feeling of quiet horror, of something not quiet right. This whole book is disquieting. Its not necessarily about the twists and turns (in fact they are pretty predictable in some ways) but it is about the characters and their feelings and the feeling that the story itself provokes.

Our characters are very fleshy. Merricat is a disquieting sociopathic-ish girl, who wants all the villagers to die and loves her sister. Her sister Cathy is a recluse (not by choice) and longs to be part of society but has embraced this secluded life they lead now. Uncle Julian is addled from arsenic poisoning, and Cousin Charles has come to prey upon their naivety and seclusion to get to their money. Some villagers have individual personalities, but for the most part they’re all lumped into the “they hate the Blackwoods” camp.

The mood of the book is visceral. You can feel Merricat’s dislike of the villagers and you can feel the villager’s hate for the Blackwoods.

The Blackwood home is a character in of itself. Its old, majestic and depressing. Home to the girls, memories and terrible tragedy.

Really, Jackson’s prose is on point here. This is some well crafted fiction. Its dripping with creepy vibes. This is a more accessible read than The Haunting… was, at least for me. I didn’t get lost in this story (though maybe that was the point with The Haunting…). I was absorbed in every word and every moment. I knew what was going on, I knew where it was going, but I was still riveted to see what was going to happen.

This isn’t a story of twists and turns. This is a story of feeling. And those feelings are exquisite.

Genre

Gothic

Horror

Readalikes

Tresspass by Rose Tremain

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

(Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier)

Significance

Shirley Jackson’s last novel, and her only non-paranormal novel. (Arguably her best novel)

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Discuss the villagers and their feelings about the Blackwoods.

Talk about Cousin Charles.

Discuss how the girls/villagers reacted to the fire.

Author’s website

Shirley Jackson

Awards

none (Won Time’s best novels of 1962)

YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Unreliable Narrators: Don’t Believe a Word (2016)

Reviews

PW

Kirkus (if working)

Why I Chose It

I had listened to The Haunting of Hill House and found it intriguing (and entirely unexpected) and wanted to try this one (toted as Jackson’s other great work).

Other Information

Coming to a theater near you! (2017 release date?)

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Honestly Ben

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Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $10.51
Paperback
Hardback  $10.58
Kindle $10.99
Associated ISBNs 9780545858267
9780545858311

Rating (VOYA)

3Q, 3P

Readers Annotation

Self-discovery is rarely easy for a straight boy in love with a boy.

Summary

Ok. Here we go.

We’re back at Natick, but this time with Ben.

SPOILERS!!!

Ben has spent the winter break at home with his family. He gives advice to his brother that if said brother wants to hang out with Julie (the girl everyone calls “dumptruck”) that he can do that.

Back at Natick, things are weird. He and Rafe are not talking, and Ben feels that loss and the loss of Toby and Albie. However, baseball season is starting. Ben plays for the team and is good but quiet. He gets nominated to be the team leader (I swear there’s a better term for this that I just can’t remember) and wins the vote. 

Ben has also been chosen to receive the Pappas Award slash scholarship, named after a former student who enlisted in Vietnam.

Ben meets a girl named Hannah, and the two are intrigued by one another. They trade numbers and agree to meet up.

Ben is struggling in Calculus. He doesn’t really understand, and his teacher is no help when he tries to talk to her about it (“you just need to study harder”).

So Ben starts dating Hannah, studying Calculus like crazy, tries to lead the baseball team, and eventually reconnects with Rafe. They decided to try being best friends again. There are just some things they can’t talk about: Rafe’s boyfriend J (omg forgot his name) and Ben’s girlfriend Hannah. Ben tells Hannah about the Rafe debacle. She’s cool with it.

A spring fling is thrown. Ben takes Hannah, Rafe takes J. J breaks up with Rafe. Ben feels like he needs to comfort his friend and asks Hannah if its ok. She’s not super on board with the idea but tells him he can but then she’s leaving. So Ben goes to comfort Rafe, but as he watches Hannah leave he thinks maybe he shouldn’t have made this choice. The boys go to the beach and yell at the sky.

When Ben next talks to Hannah she’s pissed at him. She doesn’t like that Ben chose Rafe over her. Ben doesn’t totally understand what she’s saying and she gives him an implicit ultimatum: Hannah or Rafe. Ben keeps putting off calling Hannah after this conversation because he doesn’t want to have the talk with her about what he’s feeling. In the end, Ben chooses Rafe and breaks up with Hannah.

Ben has been learning about Peter Pappas (the boy the award is named after) and has discovered that he was anti-war. He tracks down Peter’s sister and learns that Peter enlisted in order to keep his father’s love/approval. Ben draws a lot of parallels with Peter Papas.

Ben is still struggling in Calculus.

Ben and Rafe go out on a date (to a coffeehouse poetry slam) and spend the night together. The day after Ben and Rafe are splitting up and Rafe says “I love you” but Ben doesn’t say it back.

So naturally, Rafe needs to have a talk with Ben (right before his Calculus test that his award is riding on) about how he can’t be with someone and not be with them again. This sends Ben into a depressive spiral. He goes to Mendenhall (one of the baseball guys) and gets the answer key to the test. After he cheats, he ends up in a depressive funk and doesn’t leave his room for a day.

Ben and Rafe eventually talk, and Rafe realizes he was perhaps pushing Ben too far too fast.

Ben’s award speech is more a confession of how he cheated to get his award, and the truth about Peter Papas than anything. Ben gets suspended. His father is “embarrassed to be his father.” Ben also confesses to loving Rafe. Ben’s dad tells him that Carver men are straight and that if he’s not straight then he’s not a Carver (and no son of his) and that if he may never talk to Rafe again.

Ben goes home with his family, Rafe goes to Boston to wait for his flight the next day. Ben confronts his father, and it goes about as well as  you’d expect (not well at all). So Ben decides to take Rafe up on his offer to go to Colorado together and leaves his family behind.

Rafe’s parents are awesome (though don’t get that Ben isn’t gay/bi). Ben doesn’t know what his life is going to be, but at least he has Rafe.

Evaluation

I’ve got to say, I think I liked Openly Straight better. I really wanted to read this one, but knew that I had to read that one first. I’m pretty sure I just found Rafe and his situation more relatable than Ben’s situation. I mean, this is one of my favorite tropes (OMG I’m totally not gay but I have feelings for this guy!?!!!?), but… I don’t know. I just think due to Ben’s character and his general separation from his own feelings, that the book left me kind of not feeling it.

Not to say that this wasn’t a good read, because it was. This just wasn’t my favorite read.

So, I did like that we got Ben’s perspective on things. Being able to see into his head was a really nice change of pace. His character got more fleshed out than he was in Openly Straight. We also got more of Rafe, and it was really interesting to see him through Ben’s eyes, it gave him some extra depth that he was perhaps missing before.

I liked that we got some more Toby and Albie (though more the former than the later). They weren’t super fleshed out in Ben’s tale, but Toby’s story arc was a nice counterpoint at the end of the story.

I really enjoyed (?!?) getting Ben’s perspective on the baseball dudes (and his confusion on how interacting with them works). Sure, none of them was really fleshed out, but they really didn’t need to be.

Natick, of course, was still as vague as ever. I mean, I don’t need all the minutia of school life (oh god please no), but I sometimes feel it was glossed over just a little much for me. And really, I wonder about the rules on leaving campus…

The point being, I was a little let down, and a little disconnected, but it was still a nice story. The ending is super open ended, and lord knows how Ben’s life is going to turn out, but it wasn’t a bad place to stop the story.

Genre

LGBTQIA+

Realistic Fiction

 

Readalikes

What’s in a Name by Ellen Wittlinger

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

 

Significance

Straight boy in love with another boy and struggling with it.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Let’s talk about Ben’s dad and his relationships with his family.

What do you think of Ben’s conclusion on his own sexuality?

Were there any parts of this book that seemed unrealistic?

Author’s website

Bill Konigsberg

Awards

none

Reviews

PW

Kirkus

 

Why I Chose It

Honestly, I wanted to read this one but figured I should start with the first book first and then get to this one. I’m kind of a sucker for the trope (straight with one exception).

Other Information

There is a possibility of this book bringing up Bi Erasure. Be aware that this is a big thing for Bi people, also be aware that the author has written a blog post in response to this. I happen to agree with him (that for Ben, he’s not Bi, he’s just attracted to one boy), but I can see why there would be controversy and why some people could be upset. Be aware of your own biases, and understand that unless you are a Bi person yourself, you might not truly understand where they’re coming from and why they’re upset.

Also be aware that some people may not be happy that the author never really names or addresses the issues that come up with Ben’s father (Abuse?).

Openly Straight

openlystraight_cv

Bibliographic Information 

Paperback $8.36
Hardback $11.84
Audio CD $25.57
Kindle $5.99
Associated ISBNs 9780545509893
9780545798655 — Paperback
9780545509909
9781480683051 — Glued Binding
9781520066813 — CD

Rating (VOYA)

3P, 4Q

While the quality of this book is good, and its well written (leading to its 4Q), this is definitely not a book for everyone since there are LGBTQ+ (mainly the G) in this book which gives it a 3P.

Readers Annotation

Rafe doesn’t want to be the “gay” kid anymore and makes a dramatic decision in order not to be.

Summary

Ok. So Rafe is an openly gay kid back in Colorado, but he’s gotten tired of first being identified as the GAY kid. He wants people to just think “Rafe” and not “Gay Rafe.” So he decides to go to a boarding school on the East Coast and go back in the closet (though he doesn’t let himself think about it that way).

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

So, Rafe’s new roommate is an overweight, strange boy named Albie. He’s sort of a survivalist (but not really). Albie’s best friend is the openly gay Toby (who is super weird). After Rafe gets all moved in he gets drafted into a tag football game (he’s never played before) and thus gets drafted into the “jocks” group. They’re all kind of shallow (and exactly what you’d expect from jocks) except for Ben and Bryce.

Rafe is in a creative writing class and his teacher keeps telling him there’s something he’s not quite getting to in his writing and reveals that Rafe’s mother had told him all about her gay son Rafe because he’s the teacher associated with PFLAG. He gives Rafe an assignment to keep track of how things are going with not being openly gay.

Rafe gets close to Ben, but he also gets close to Albie and Toby. He finally starts to mend bridges with his old BFF Clare Olivia in Colorado, though she really doesn’t understand what he’s doing. 

One night, after botching a play in baseball, Bryce doesn’t come back to the dorm. Rafe is the one to realize it because he was playing “Scanner Pong” with Albie and Toby (a completely stupid game where they listen to a police scanner and drink when certain words are said). Rafe goes to Ben to see if Bryce is in their room. When Ben can’t find Bryce, the boys (Rafe, Ben, Toby, and Albie) sneak out in order to try and find him before he misses curfew and gets expelled from school. After a long night of searching, they don’t find Bryce. They get back to the dorm and find out that Bryce was taken to the hospital. 

Bryce, who suffers from depression, leaves school to try and get better. Ben and Rafe start to bond.

The boys go to Boston and terrorize some waterfowl. 

When parents weekend comes around, Rafe must tell his parents about his current predicament of being back in the closet. They don’t really understand, but agree to keep his secret. They bond with Ben and keep hinting to Rafe that he likes him.

Rafe invites Ben home with him for Thanksgiving break. Ben agrees once Rafe says he’ll pay for his plane fare. The boys have a discussion about the budding romantic feelings between them, calling their feelings agape love (transcendent). They hang out with Clare Olivia and go skiing. They also end up necking in Rafe’s room the night before they head back to school.

Ben is weird after that, distant and confused. Rafe is also confused and starting to realize he needs to tell Ben the truth. He’s also starting to realize he doesn’t care much for the jocks that he’s been hanging out with. 

Late one night, Rafe wakes up and feels compelled to go to Ben. He knocks on the door and is let in. The boys spend the night together. After, they talk. Ben opens up about not being able to be with Rafe because he feels like he can’t do it, and he’s adamant about being straight. Rafe tells Ben that he’s gay, and has been the whole time. Ben gets understandably angry, upset that they weren’t on the same page the whole time.

Rafe and Ben’s friendship falls apart. Rafe bonds more with Albie and Toby, and re-comes out. He ditches the jocks and joins PFLAG and meets new people.

Evaluation

This was a nice read. After finishing Falling Angel, I needed a light fluffy piece. My default genre is LGBTQ+, so this was right up my alley. Honestly, I only read this one because I wanted to get to the next one: Honestly Ben (review coming!), but this was a nice little side-read.

Oh Rafe. He’s a nice kid, and I genuinely like him, and I could understand what he was trying to do but… oh honey no. His journey back into the closet and finding his way out again was truly compelling. He did discover things about himself that he hadn’t been able to while the “gay kid,” but it came with a price. The longer this experiment wen on, the more Rafe found himself constricted by what he couldn’t say.

At the end of it all I knew it was all going to blow up in his face. And lo, it did. I can’t wait for the next one (OMG, do Rafe and Ben make up? Can they be friends again or more? Or will they languish apart never being able to reconcile what happened?)!!

The characters were pretty great. You got a feel for the jocks, just a little bit (really their details were just as shallow as they generally were) before we got to the new friends. Albie and Toby are adorable little nerds. Albie is survivalist-ish and a slob, and Toby is gay and just a bit strange. They were a lot of fun and became such great friends for Rafe. Ben was awesome. He was trying to fight labels as much as Rafe, but did it in a much better way. And Mr.  Scarborough was great (even though we only really see him in his comments in Rafe’s journal entries), he really helped point out to Rafe that he should be thinking about things/feelings.

The boys’ school wasn’t super detailed. It wasn’t really important to have a detailed school. We were told what we needed to know (dorms, crazy coach, East Coast) but not much else. The setting wasn’t what was important about this story.

I really believe that this was a believable little story, with some great thinking moments and a great set up for conversation starting. I for one, quite enjoyed myself.

Genre

LGBTQIA+

Realistic Fiction

Readalikes

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jayne Robin Brown

What’s In a Name by Ellen Wittlinger

Significance

A discussion on labels. This book talks about labels and how we use them, but doesn’t offer answers, only the beginnings of the conversation.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

What did you think of Rafe’s experiment in not being labeled “gay?”

Let’s talk about Ben.

Who was your favorite character?

Author’s website

Bill Konigsberg

Awards

Notable Books for a Global Society: 2014

Rainbow List: 2014

YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults: 2014

Reviews

Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Why I Chose It

I just really wanted to read a fluffy LGBTQ+ story and the second book caught my eye, so naturally I had to read this one (the first one) first.

Other Information