The Escape Manual for Introverts by Katie Vaz

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Pages: 144
Format: Graphic Novel
Genre: Non-Fiction
★ – 1 Stars

Feeling cornered at a wedding reception by gossipy guests? Stuck at a holiday party that lasts forever? This beautifully illustrated book is the ultimate funny, sometimes absurd guide to escaping those painfully awkward situations.

Trapped in an airplane seated next to a chatterbox? Are you hosting a dinner party with people who just won’t leave? Katie Vaz has the key to your escape. The Escape Manual for Introverts guides readers through different scenarios with themed chapters (“Friends,” “Relatives,” “Strangers,” etc.). Each chapter covers a range of situations, from an invitation to karaoke night to group lunchtime. And she offers a number of escapes for each scenario: bringing odoriferous foods to lunch for a while, having a pet (real or imagined) that “requires” frequent check-ins, and even investing in a jet pack. This book features Vaz’s full-page illustrated spreads, hand-lettering, and spot illustrations. From the silly to the sincere, Vaz’s clever, hilarious escape plans and bizarre excuses speak to the introvert in all of us.

I am always wary about these kinds of books not only because it’s always focused on the introverts and never on the extroverts but because introverts are often portrayed in negative ways. Even this book, which I thought was going to be at least funny if not relatable in a way, is a poor construct of comics, advice and what is probably meant to be humour but never comes across as such.

For something that’s supposed to be a fun guide for introverts it’s really disappointing. There isn’t any real substance here, not that I expected it, but I was expecting fun cartoons and recognition about experiences like I have found in other similar books. Instead this is a book that offers up suggestions and excuses about how to get through the day around people and it makes introverts look like horrible antisocial people who need to lie in order to get by in the world.

The layout is sparse which only makes it even less interesting. The words are minimal and the pictures are useless, the entire thing was essentially a How To on not talking to anyone and avoiding being around people at all times which is not what being an introvert is about.

Vaz mentions in her authors note that it’s meant to be a cheeky book, but she also says she hopes introverts and other socially awkward people can use these tips. I can see how a few may be useful, the less extreme ones but there are a lot of farfetched ones too. The advice varies from a few reasonable things like how to get off phone calls quicker and avoiding small talk but the majority are things like eating pungent foods to avoid people wanting to be near you and various other subterfuges which again, probably are meant to be funny, or actual advice I have no idea how I’m meant to interpret these suggestions.

This is an annoying book all round as a guide or as a fun book looking at introvert behaviour. I would like to know where are the myriad of books for extroverts telling them to stop talking so much and being so loud all the time? Not to mention how to enjoy an introvert’s activity and company without judgment or belittling, instead there’s more of this nonsense.

You can purchase The Escape Manual for Introverts via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 10th July 2007 (print)/22 December 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster/Audible Studios
Pages: 294/6 hrs
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

Why did I read this? I saw three one star reviews before I started but decided to see for myself. Yeah, no. One star is about right. Look, it isn’t the worst book I have read, but the fact it is trying to tell a trans story and if I, with my limited knowledge and experience, know that this is a terrible story then I can only imagine how any trans people reading it must feel.

I disliked this pretty early on. There is one sentence that told me this story wasn’t going to be right and it only got worse as it went along. The entire thing revolves around Grady and his attempt to be himself. Commendable, brave, all those things in a small town USA high school of course were going to be a challenge, but where Wittlinger has failed is she’s made these big emotional and social changes into small hurdles that all get overcome and resolved in the space of a few weeks and now everything is ok. I felt it brushed over trans issues quickly and at times barely mentioned anything about them at all.

Away from that, the characters themselves had no depth, they are forgettable, one dimensional, and honestly some of things coming out of their mouths is problematic on a whole different level. They are quick things, often said in a single sentence but stick with you. There’s racism, fatshaming, whatever it’s called where we’re still apparently making fun of people for “being a geek”, plus there’s a whole thing about trying to hook up with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s as if Wittlinger needed to make everything around Grady nice so when the few bad things happen it stands out, but also have everyone around him be less somehow, so these key characters could feel superior. It felt weird and grubby at times and I hated reading about the mocking of these characters.

The one saving grace of this story is that it’s short. Malhotra does an ok job on narration, there isn’t much distinction in his voices for each character but I was too focused on the issues with the writing to worry too much about the voices. The stereotypes, the sexism, and the insensitivity throughout is astounding and it is evident Wittlinger has no concept of what being a boy means other than a short haircut and typical boy clothing. I am so glad I have read and know there are better trans books out there to enjoy because if this was my first point of call to books about coming out or an introduction to the trans community I would not only horribly misinformed but incredibly disappointed.

You can purchase Parrotfish via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon

Amazon Aust | Audible

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st October 2006 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Australia
Pages: 278
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

At school I’m Aussie-blonde Jamie — one of the crowd. At home I’m Muslim Jamilah — driven mad by my Stone Age dad. I should win an Oscar for my acting skills. But I can’t keep it up for much longer…

Jamie just wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to be seen as a stereotypical Muslim girl, so she does everything possible to hide that part of herself. Even if it means pushing her friends away because she’s afraid to let them know her dad forbids her from hanging out with boys or that she secretly loves to play the darabuka (Arabic drums).

There are so many things wrong with this story. Ignoring the fact that there are plot holes and an unbelievable plot in the first place, I don’t think this told the story Abdel-Fattah was trying to tell.

One thing that irked me was that for a modern sixteen year old girl she gave out way too many personal details to a virtually anonymous person who gives no details back in return. She reveals so much to them and we know nothing, secret identity or not. This secret admirer could be anybody and it is her blind trust that they are genuine which annoyed me the most. Plus, on the truly petty side, her email doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Another thing was her hypocritical nature. For all her arguments against racist stereotypes she is rude and stereotypical herself against others. The only issue there is it isn’t classed as racism so it isn’t seen as bad. The comments she makes to some people are just as outdated and rude but she doesn’t see that there is a problem with it. The other thing she never has a problem with is that she is in love with the racist boy at her school which is problematic in itself.

I understand she is hiding herself and can’t expose who she is, but she is also weak and a coward that even if she can’t say anything, she can’t even reprimand their behaviour in her mind. She can’t fume and get angry that she can’t tell these idiots off, we don’t see her have any emotion at all where she is fearful of revealing herself but also angry she can’t fight back against the racist behaviour. It would have made her a better character to know she was struggling with standing up for what’s right and trying to protect herself at the same time.

I hated that after an entire book about telling us how over reactive her father is about her social life and how she is a good girl who wouldn’t do anything wrong, she proves him right the second she is able to go out with friends. It was a waste of so many scenes making us root for her against her dad as it proved she really was just like he expected her to be.

As a main character she doesn’t feel fully formed, like she is still under construction. She talks about detention like she has been there all the time despite going for the first time, and her relationships with other characters are confusing. She has deep conversations with people she barely knows and doesn’t say anything to people she has been friends with for a while. Overall the dialogue is unnatural and doesn’t feel real. These aren’t conversations that real teenagers would be having, certainly not the way it’s been written. I will admit I skimmed some parts as the narrative becomes boring and cycles around the same things quite a lot. There are super cringy moments and eye rolling moments which highlight further how strangely this story is written.

This certainly failed in whatever goal it was trying to achieve. Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub is a much better example of what Abdel-Fattah is trying to do and while it isn’t exactly the same, it’s a better exploration of the Lebanese experience in Australia with all the exploration of racism, fitting in, and teenage drama.

You can purchase 10 Things I Hate About Me via the following

BooktopiaDymocks

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen

Published: 1st October 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Walker Books Australia
Illustrator: James Foley
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★  – 1 Star

“My dead bunny’s name is Brad;
his odour is extremely bad.
He visits me when I’m in bed,
but Bradley wasn’t always dead …” 

A hilarious rhyming tale about a zombie bunny who comes back to visit his owner.

I hated myself for liking the end of the book. It does get funny at the end, but I kinda hated the rest of it. I could not fathom how and why this book had ever been allowed to be made because it is gross and creepy and weird. I don’t understand who would like this book and while I will admit to appreciating the rhyme, and the casual morbidity, I also read it as quickly as possibly because I didn’t want to look at the pictures or read the story for longer than necessary.

The story didn’t have a funny tone to it that could make light of anything that was happening, and certainly the dark black pages and eerie green colours didn’t help in the slightest. You certainly wouldn’t read it to a child who had actually lost their rabbit because who would want to deal with those nightmares? But maybe, knowing how kids love the gross and creepy stuff it might have appeal to some of them…I guess.

I just can’t stop being perplexed by this book. Why does it exist and why would any one write this, or publish it? I know many people enjoy this, and maybe you need the right tone or humour injected into reading it, but I couldn’t muster up that humour because my own confusion about its existence blocked everything else.

I picked it up because I needed to know what it was about, but my goodness, I have no desire to pick it up again.

You can purchase My Dead Bunny via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Published: 31st October 2006Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin
Pages: 146
Format: Paperback
Genre: Gothic Mystery
★ – 1 Star

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers.

I think it is no small feat for a book with only 146 pages to bore me so much. I had heard this was a classic, I had heard this was a Gothic mystery. A short Gothic mystery sounded like a great read. Unfortunately this was not the case.

To the credit of Shirley Jackson I was intrigued for a few chapters but then I was uninterested. I could see the Gothic mystery feel Jackson was going for. I got into the mood of the book, the small town, the eyes and whispers, not to mention the old house with the secluded family and secrets. After a good introduction to this town and these strange characters it plateaus and not a lot happens. The mystery around Merricat and her sister is decent, but there was something that couldn’t keep me engaged. I think it was perhaps the fact I figured out the secret from the beginning, but even then it is slow.

Merricat is a strange character. She is airy and absent, and if it wasn’t for the fact she interacted with villagers at the start I was half convinced she was a ghost and only Constance could see her. It’s an entirely confusing story as Jackson tries to keep not saying things and keeps etiquette from stating things outright. The dynamic between the remaining Blackwood’s is stilted, Merricat is unreliable as a narrator and she speaks in riddles half the time so you have no idea what is happening.

What was worse than it being confusing was that it became quite boring. I got myself to the halfway point and it got so dull I couldn’t bring myself to continue. I tried but I had no interest in these characters or their lives. The hook of the secret and the general strangeness wasn’t enough to hold me. I even tried skimming but didn’t care for that either. I ended up looking at the plot on Wikipedia, confirmed I knew what had happened and was relieved that I hadn’t read the rest of it, even if it was only 146 pages long I couldn’t make myself read any further.

There is an exciting ending, if one could call it that. Something happens at any rate, but perhaps this tale of Gothic mystery just wasn’t for me. In a similar vein to The Woman in Black, I cannot see the point of dragging things out endlessly for a mood. For even Hill’s story was 138 pages and it managed to have more substance than this one did.

You can purchase We Have Always Lived in the Castle via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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