Summer Reading List Part Deux

Hello, friends! Long time, no see. I told myself I was going to make my blog into something I would definitely keep up with, and I have failed miserably at doing so. Life just gets in the way, ya know? One minute you’re grading a heaping pile of sophomore essays about The Odyssey, and the next, you’ve got Suddenly, Seymour stuck in your head while you’re fitting kids into costumes for Little Shop of Horrors. And then, kids are giving debate speeches about whether or not hydraulic fracking is beneficial to our world, and time just gets away from ya! (Completely unrelated side note: One of the students giving the debate on fracking literally used the line, “Hydraulic fracking may not be all it’s ‘fracked’ up to be,” in his speech, and I about peed myself at my desk at the back of my classroom).

It’s a whirlwind, this life. But, I made a promise to myself at the dawn of the new year to make more time for myself and get back to what I love doing most, which is reading. So, as a somewhat “tradition” I’ve decided to begin, here are my suggestions to add to your summer reading list for the remainder of the summer months:

  1. Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović (YA)


SynopsisTwin sisters Iris and Malina were born with the gleam, an ability that allows them to manipulate and experience beauty through magic. Iris sees flowers as fractals and then recreates them into beautiful pieces of glasswork, and Malina can interpret moods as music and play what the mood of a room or person is on her violin. Their mother, who also possesses the gleam, can take beautiful scenery and bake it into her desserts that she sells at her confectionary in their hometown of Cattaro. But then, a mysterious, white-haired woman attacks Iris and Malina’s mother and leaves her hovering between life and death, forcing the twin sisters to embark on a journey to discover the secrets and lies that are embedded in their past and in their blood, and they must do so if they want to break the ancient curse that was placed on their family.

Y’all, I ate this book UP. Lana Popović is an absolute word wizard. She painted the seaside town of Cattaro so vividly that I couldn’t just see the little town in my head, but I could smell every scent that wafted out of the shops that line the cobblestoned roads. I could taste every single one of Iris and Malina’s mother’s treats, and even in my mind, they were unlike anything I had ever tasted before in my life. This story is simultaneously beautiful and haunting, and the story of this curse on the twins’ family will make your skin crawl. The ending will leave you unsettled, but never fear! I discovered that there will be a sequel titled, Fierce Like a Firestorm. After reading this novel, I am ECSTATIC that another novel is in the works, because I am that excited to read more of Popović’s mesmerizing words. I also love that this novel looks at the concept of “magic” in a way that I have never seen done before. Instead of the typical use of wands, spells, or common “witch” abilities, the abilities of the characters in this story are entirely unique, which is why I found the story that much more enchanting.

2. The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy (YA)

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Synopsis: When Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, a once passionate, secretive, and lively woman, passes away and her father is drafted into WWII, Aila and her brother Miles are swept from their familiar home and sent to live with their mother’s childhood friend and her family in her rural hometown of Sterling. In her first couple of days there, Aila notices some strange things: the flowers don’t smell like anything, she no longer has dreams, there are no mirrors in the house, and she doesn’t even see her reflection in pools of water or windows. She comes to learn that things like scents, reflections, and dreams have mysteriously disappeared in this small town, and she learns that these “Disappearances” happen every seven years. What’s worse is that the people of Sterling believe that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible for them, and Aila and her brother must bear the brunt of the town’s judgement as she searches for and figures out the literary clues that her mother left behind for her. What’s doubly worse is that it is the year of the next Disappearance, and Aila is desperate to find the truth behind them to clear her mother’s name, and hopefully, stop them once and for all.

This was another book I couldn’t put down. If you love mystery, Shakespeare, and a little dash of romance (I promise, it’s not at all gushy or anything), this book is perfect for you. As a fan of mystery and Shakespeare, I devoured this book in about five days, DURING the school year, and that’s saying a LOT. I just couldn’t put it down. It’s told in a bit of a disjointed timeline, switching between Aila’s story and letters written from a character you don’t know the identity of until close to the end, so you do have to pay careful attention to how the two stories intertwine with one another; but, when it clicks, you will be hopping around in your chair, or bed, or wherever you read, because you will be dying to know what happens next.

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)

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Synopsis: Starr Carter has always lived a double life: her life in the projects where her family lives, and her life at her dominantly white prep school that her mother sends Starr and her brother to in the hopes that it will keep them safe from the gang violence and lifestyles that pervade their streets. However, Starr witnesses the shooting death of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer, and Starr’s two worlds suddenly come crashing to the ground. Khalil was unarmed. Suddenly, the shooting is making national headlines, and they are dragging Khalil’s name through the dirt, calling him a thug and suspected gang-banger and drug dealer. Protests are breaking out not only in her neighborhood, but all over. Everyone wants to know what truly happened that night, and the only person who can answer that question is Starr. What Starr does–or doesn’t–say could turn her community onto its head, and possibly endanger her own life.

This is honestly one of THE best young adult novels I have ever read. I adore stories that have characters who just feel real, and that’s Starr. You read her dialogue, you listen to her thoughts, and it’s like she’s standing right in front of you and she’s one of your best friends. Though it’s a sad truth to admit, this story is so relevant to our society right now, and it paints a true picture of the struggle the victims and witnesses of crimes like this go through. The level of fear, frustration, and sheer determination in Starr’s heart will fill yours up with the same emotions, and you will not be able to stop reading–just as Starr feels like she cannot stop fighting–until you know if justice is served. I will give a profanity warning, though. Some people may call the use of it in YA literature unnecessary, but I think it makes the story even more realistic to what comes out of sixteen-year-old mouths in the hallways at school. Trust me, I hear it eeeeevery day. If it’s shocking to you…well, you may be in a bit of denial. It’s also exciting to note that The Hate U Give will be hitting theaters in October 2018, with Amandla Stenberg (star of Everything, Everything and Rue of The Hunger Games) as our girl, Starr Carter. It’ll also feature Anthony Mackie, Common, and K.J. Apa.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (YA and Adult)

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Synopsis: Set in the future in the year 2045, reality has become a place most people don’t want to face. Instead, they spend their time plugged into the virtual reality utopia called the OASIS. When the 80s-pop-culture-obsessed creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves its users with an “easter egg” hunt. Whoever finds the easter egg he has hidden within the OASIS will inherit his entire fortune, and be the new owner of the OASIS itself. Wade Watts devotes his life to living in the OASIS, learning anything and everything he can about 1980s pop culture in order to crack open the mystery of the egg hunt, but goes for years finding nothing. However, when Wade stumbles upon the first clue and his username is out there for everyone to see, he becomes a target for fellow “gunters” who are willing to kill him for their own chance at the grand prize. The race to the easter egg begins, and if Wade wants to make it out alive, he has to make it to the finish line, and also confront the reality that he so desperately tries to escape each day.

Ernest Cline is yet another word wizard who paints such a vivid world inside of the OASIS that you, like the characters inside the book, may never want to leave. I will say, this story isn’t for everyone, but if you are a gamer, love the 80s (like I do), or both, you need to pick up this story immediately. Wade is the absolute underdog. He’s overweight, awkward, and unfortunately has no family other than this inattentive aunt and her greedy boyfriend, and you root for him the entire way to get what he’s after. Cline’s humor shines brightly throughout the entire story, and I found myself laughing out loud at many of Wade’s one-liner insults. The entire easter egg hunt keeps you on the edge of your seat and it makes it difficult to put this story down, even to go to the bathroom or eat your dinner. Not to mention, the copious amount of 80s pop culture references that are woven into this story are absolutely BRILLIANT. I was actually giddy reading it at some points because I was thinking to myself, HA! I get that reference! Bottom line is, you need to read this book. It is excellent. (This story has already been turned into a movie, and even though I am usually a book-to-movie purist, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even with the various changes made to the plot.)

5. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (YA)

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Synopsis: Libby Strout, once deemed “America’s Fattest Teen,” is going back to high school after having to be physically cut out of her house. She’s never been looked at for anything other than her weight, and she’s determined to make her mark at MVB High for something other than what she looks like. Jack Masselin is determined, too, but not to make his mark. He’s determined to blend in and uphold his reputation as the guy with swagger, because Jack has a secret: he can’t recognize faces. The entire world, including his own family, are strangers to him. He can’t let people know about his problem, so he coasts through life on his charm, his humor, and by not getting too close to anyone. And then he meets Libby. After getting tangled up together in a cruel game at school, Libby and Jack are placed in group counseling together. At first, they’re pissed. But the more time they spend together, the more surprised they feel because they realize that together, they are not alone.

Lemme tell ya, Jennifer Niven is one of the best character creators out there. One of her other books, All the Bright Places, was on my list last summer, and when I discovered that she had another, I knew I had to read it. Libby Strout is probably one of my favorite characters that I have ever come across. Her wit is absolutely hysterical, and her courage and feistiness will have you falling in love with her with each and every word you read. I’m typically not one for “feel-good” stories, but man, this one was the exception to that rule. Libby’s and Jack’s stories are unique, and while both of their situations ARE rare in the common population, their friendship is relatable to everyone. It’s hard to say much more without giving the story away, so I’ll let you read it for yourself.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Adult)

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Synopsis: Offred is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She is allowed to leave the home of the Commander and his wife to go shopping for groceries, where everything from street signs to food is labeled with pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. Once a month, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of infertility and declining births, Offred’s and other Handmaids’ ovaries are the only things that make them worth anything in their society’s eyes. Offred remembers the years before, when she would make love to her husband Luke; when she would play with their daughter; when she had a job and money of her own; when she was able to read as many books as she pleased. But now, all of that is gone…now, she doesn’t even have her own name. She is owned. And she is not sure she can take it much longer…

I know, I know, I’m late to the game with this already popular Atwood novel. For those who are unfamiliar with her, Margaret Atwood is the QUEEN of dystopian literature. I bought this book a couple of years ago with every intention of reading it, but alas, I got distracted buying other books, and it kept getting pushed further and further to the bottom of my “to-be-read” pile. I am SO glad I finally picked it up. While this book is supposed to be satire regarding politics/the patriarchy/social trends/etc., it is actually quite terrifying because of how real the possibilities outlined in this story are. Offred’s tale is gut-wrenching. Her inner monologue is both hilarious and depressing, and as a woman, I put myself in Offred’s shoes and I just cannot even fathom the thought of something like this actually happening. Atwood’s writing style is definitely unique, and for those unfamiliar with her work, it may be a bit tough to get into at first. But, I promise you, the story itself is worth it. And once you’re done reading, you can do what I did and finally watch the Hulu series and see all of it come to life, and you’ll wish you had stuck to just reading it instead of watching it, because yes, it is THAT messed up.

7. The Diviners series by Libba Bray (YA and Adult)

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Synopsis: When Evie O’Neill’s gift for gleaning a person’s secrets from one of their personal belongings gets her into trouble in her hometown in Ohio, her parents decide to send her to her boring, bachelor uncle Will in New York, who runs a museum dedicated to the supernatural and the occult. Unbeknownst to her parents, Evie is beyond ecstatic to be thrust right into the middle of a city rich with speakeasies, flappers, and jazz in 1926. After she arrives in Manhattan, though, the police find a girl murdered and branded with a cryptic message, and Will is called to the scene to help. Evie realizes that her gift could help track down a serial killer. As Evie dives into a dance with a murderer, other stories are unfolding in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is living between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and sinister has woken up that threatens them all. 

DO. NOT. SLEEP. ON. THIS. SERIES. I HAVE SAVED THIS ONE FOR LAST BECAUSE IT IS THE BEST. Guys, I have to give credit to Haley Blain for introducing me to this. THANK YOU, HALEY. I am SO glad that she suggested it to me, because it is one of the best series I have read since Harry Potter. Libba Bray is PHENOMENAL. Every single character in this story has depth and a distinct personality. Even just by reading his/her dialogue, you know exactly who it is that’s talking, and that is NOT an easy thing to accomplish as a writer. I can hear each characters’ voices so clearly in my head, including their accents, varying from Brooklyn, the south, the midwest, and the typical old-timey movie star voice (you all know exactly what voice I’m talking about). This is the first time I have actually fallen in love with a fictional character (looking for my real-life Sam Lloyd from this point forward), but even more importantly than that, Libba Bray has created a world of the 20s that is just as glitzy and glamorous as our history books have taught us, and she has managed to intertwine our country’s true history with a supernatural and terrifying story all her own. This story has given me goosebumps, it has made me stare at the pages with my chin hanging down to my chest, it has given me nightmares (not kidding), and it ALWAYS keeps me guessing. The supernatural aspects are downright bone-chilling, and I have to say, if this series were ever turned into a movie, it would be HORRIFYING. Just thinking about seeing the things in this story on the big screen has me creeped out beyond belief (but seriously, will someone pick this up for a movie deal? Tim Burton…I’m looking at you, my man). I haven’t been able to put these books down. The second book in the series is just as good as the first, and I just finished the third and can say it is also equally as amazing. Like I said, it has been a long time since I have read a series this genuinely captivating. Each character is touched on every few chapters so that you can keep up with their stories and see how they all intermingle with one another. I mean, it is just INCREDIBLE. The way that Bray incorporates history into her story is one of my favorite parts, though. It’s not even commonly known history that she dives into, but the history of things in Manhattan and New York itself–things that most people don’t even know anything about. She draws on real historical figures, scientists, psychologists, etc. She draws on real laws, issues, and beliefs of the people of that time period. And she makes you consider what it truly means to be American, and what our country truly stands for. I know you just read that and thought wait, what the hell? Where did that come from and what does it have to do with the supernatural and the occult? But once you read this series, I promise you will understand. I’m serious, everyone. Read. This. SERIES!!! The fourth book of the series is still in the works, and I cannot wait for it to be released so that I can get my hands on it!

So, there you have it! I hope my overly-excited rambling didn’t turn you off of these books. If you do happen to pick up one or more of them and read it/them this summer, I’d love to hear how you liked them! Or didn’t like them…although I really hope that you like them.

Happy reading!



Mother! Analysis/Review

The internet has been buzzing with reviews, reactions, and opinions of Darren Aronofsky’s newest film, Mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer. As a fan of Aronofsky’s films, I was ecstatic when I saw that he was coming out with another, let alone the fact that J-Law is the leading lady (I absolutely adore her). I wasn’t able to see it the day it came out, and when I saw the various reactions that people were having to the film (though not exploring any articles because I didn’t want to see spoilers), I knew I had to see it for myself before drawing any conclusions about it. The film actually received enthusiastic “boos” at its Venice premiere, but Aronofsky had stated in an interview that people will either love it or hate it, which piqued my interest immediately. How could there be no in-between? How could one person in the theater love it, but another person in a different row hate it?

So, Saturday, I ventured to the movie theater with my friend Rachel to devour this film and gnaw it down to its core. And let me tell you, we gnawed it until we couldn’t gnaw anymore. In the time leading up to seeing it, I kept myself far away from spoilers and explanations, because I wanted to figure this movie out for myself. I know Aronofsky’s affinity for metaphors and symbolism, so I was excited for the challenge. Needless to say, I sat in my car for a good seven minutes before driving home after the movie because I was trying to process everything that I had seen, because Aronofsky truly made me think about a LOT of things.



The movie begins with a vision of a woman burning, and a large crystal on a shelf, and a burnt house being restored to its original beauty. Then, we see Lawrence (Mother) waking up in bed. Mother lives in a massive house in the middle of nowhere with her unnamed husband, Bardem (Him). He is a struggling poet with writer’s block that cannot seem to write something new to save His life, and Mother is attempting to make this home a paradise for them both. We discover that this home is where He grew up, and when it caught fire, Mother decided to restore it for Him because she knew how much the home meant to Him.

Suddenly, an unexpected visitor arrives at the house in the form of Ed Harris’ unnamed character (Man), who is a huge fan of His poetry. He invites the Man to stay in their home, much to the dismay of Mother, who wants to enjoy her solitude with Him. At this point of the movie, Rachel and I were both staring at the screen and constantly whispering to each other, What the hell is going on…? And, sure enough, those questions occurred more and more as this movie began to spiral.

It’s important to note that in His office where He writes is the large crystal in a holder (the same one we see at the beginning), which He says He found in the ashes of His house when it had burned, and it is very important to Him.

Then, Man’s wife, Michelle Pfeiffer’s unnamed character (Woman) shows up to the house and He invites Woman to stay along with her husband. Again, Mother is not happy about this, and expresses more concern to Him after Woman makes Mother uncomfortable with her overly personal questions about His and Mother’s relationship and curiosity about the house and the things in it. Not to mention, Man and Woman’s curiosity leads them to going into His office without permission and breaking the crystal, which enrages Him and results in Mother asking them both to leave. Then, Man and Woman’s sons show up, heated about the will that Man had drawn up in the face of his imminent death (he’s visibly ill and dying in the movie) and the boys end up fighting, and one kills the other in the house out of jealousy before running off. Mother is horrified, and He leaves Mother behind as He accompanies Man and Woman to the hospital. This is the point of the movie where Rachel and I were truly gobsmacked and began analyzing everything.

After this event, He returns to the house, and later, Man and Woman show up again with friends and family to mourn the loss of their son, taking advantage of His and Mother’s hospitality and kindness. Mother constantly expresses her distaste of the situation to Him, but He insists on allowing these people to stay as His way of repaying this Man who is such a huge fan of His, since he is dying. After they leave, Mother and Him sleep together and Mother finally becomes pregnant. He is inspired by the events of life lost followed by the creation of new life, and He begins writing again. When Mother is pretty far along, He finishes His poem and lets Mother read it. She is blown away by the beauty of His words, and when the poem gets published, people from all over flock to the house on the night that Mother makes a celebration dinner for Him. He allows them inside to show His gratitude and kindness, and seemingly in a blink, the house turns into a place of chaos, filled with fanatics for Him and His poetry, who begin destroying the home that Mother worked so hard to rebuild for Him, and soon, the people become violent, rioting, ransacking, and not even realizing that Mother is one of the owners of the house, let alone His wife. There are a small few who actually try painting the house for Mother, but she scolds them as well, saying that it’s not their house to paint.

Now, this is genuinely where Rachel and I were sitting, mouths agape, audibly saying, “What the shit?!” along with all of the other people in the audience, because then the entire landscape of the house becomes a literal war zone, with police in riot gear showing up, soldiers with machine guns bursting through windows, people dying and being shot left and right, and somehow, giant, wire cages have been constructed in various rooms with people being held prisoner behind them. Mother begins to go into labor, and He finally finds her in the mess and brings her upstairs to His office, where she gives birth to a son. The people outside leave gifts of fruit, water, and clean clothes for the two of them, and ask to see the baby, but Mother refuses to let Him take the baby out there, fearing for her son’s safety. But, Mother falls asleep after almost two days of being locked in the office, and when she awakes, she finds Him and the baby gone. She runs downstairs to see the crowd passing her baby over their heads, and He keeps reassuring her, saying that they just want to see him and praise him, and eventually, the baby’s neck is snapped while being passed, and then sacrificed at the front of the room for this crowd of fanatics, who then (prepare yourself) is hacked apart and eaten by the fanatics. When Mother loses control and begins to try and take the flesh away from the people in her grief, they throw her to the ground, beating her up, calling her a “cunt,” and spewing hatred at her.


He makes His way through the crowd to Mother, who is bloody, bruised, and beaten, and He begs her to not let their son’s death be for nothing, but Mother blames Him for their son’s death, and finds a piece of glass and begins stabbing the fanatics around them. She finds her way to the basement, where she punctures the old fashioned furnace, allowing oil to spill onto the floor. He finds her downstairs and sees her standing in this oil with a lighter in her hand, and He begs her not to do what he knows she is going to do. But she drops the lighter, and the house ignites, killing everyone in it. We then again see the vision of this burning woman that we saw at the beginning.

Then, we see Him, unscathed, carrying a burnt Mother through the ashes of the house, and Mother asks Him, “Who are you?” He responds, “I am I.” He makes a comment about starting again, that He is taking her to the beginning, because He must create, for that is what He does. He places her on a counter and puts His hands on her chest. She tells him to “take it,” and so He opens her chest, removing her heart. She crumbles into ashes herself, and He crushes her heart in His hands, like coal, and puts so much pressure onto it that it turns into a crystal, just like the one that was in His office. He goes upstairs, places it in the holder, and the montage from the beginning begins again, but with another woman in place of Lawrence waking up in bed.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. What. The. SHIT?! It was at the point of the rioting that Rachel and I looked at each other because we had figured out the metaphor/allegory of this movie (thank you to all of our English teachers/professors who taught us to analyze), but I also realized that for people who are not able to analyze deeply, this movie is going to seem like a complete mess that makes zero sense, and could explain Aronofsky’s statement about people either loving or hating this movie.

To start off, I have to say that the acting in this movie was magnificent. Lawrence is so raw, real, and emotional that it’s crazy to think that she went from being The Girl on Fire to this. Pfeiffer is so deliciously creepy that she gave me goosebumps multiple times, and Harris is brilliant as always. Bardem’s acting parallels and compliments Lawrence so perfectly, and I truly enjoyed every moment of their interactions on screen.

Now, on to the overall metaphor of this movie. This is where people are probably missing the genuine genius of this movie and its meaning, and are walking away from it booing or thinking it’s stupid and has no point. But Rachel and I sat in the theater for a good amount of time putting all of the following pieces together, and even had epiphanies come to us hours later via text message.

Mother and Him are quite clearly Mother Nature and God, who lived in harmony together before the creation of humankind. The Man, who shows up first, is Adam, and the Woman, who shows up soon after, is Eve. Remember, God created Eve for Adam, so Adam came first. God does not ask Adam to leave like Mother Nature wants, because Adam is his own creation. Eve is tempted by the crystal (the “apple”), and because of her, they both are tempted to handle/look at it and end up breaking it. Their children, who show up after, are Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel out of jealousy and flees, and so sin forever plagues the Earth. These fanatics of His poetry are worshipers of God, and there are examples ranging from regular Christians to cult followers (the baby flesh eaters) in the movie. Mother Nature has to watch helplessly as humans destroy her home (Earth) that she has created, while He (God) continues to excuse their behavior as His creations, giving them opportunity after opportunity to absolve their sins, because God forgives. The baby she gives birth to is a representative of Jesus, Rachel and I thought, because people brought gifts to Him and Mother and wanted to see His child and praise him. They then took this child and sacrificed him (like Jesus on the cross) for themselves.

There is one point in the movie where Mother Nature is cleaning up the blood from Abel’s death, and the blood rots the wood in the floor, creating a hole to the old basement, right above where the furnace is. She eventually replaces the boards, but when all of these people show up to the house and wreak their havoc, the hole shows up again. Rachel and I concluded that this hole is a symbol of sin, because of its location and its appearance during this chaos; Abel’s death is also the first death on Earth, so it only makes sense to us that the hole represents sin and a portal to Hell. Mother Nature almost falls through it into the basement during the chaos, but is able to pull herself out. Rachel and I then decided that the furnace area was Hell, because sin leads a person to Hell. It is also where the flames ignite at the end of the movie, adding only more visual confirmation as to what it is a symbol for. This mass of chaos (war, riots, etc.) is the apocalypse, and after Mother Nature decides to take out the entire house (Earth) with fire, He (God) must begin to try and create the world all over again, from ashes, using her heart as its core.

If you don’t think that’s genius, then you probably need to watch the movie all over again. Aronofsky is definitely right in saying that this movie won’t be for everyone, but for those who appreciate the symbolism and the message, it is going to speak to you and make you feel a level of uncomfortable that you have not experienced yet in life. I know that I have given a full synopsis, but there are small details that Aronofsky includes that I didn’t discuss that prove the true genius of his creation of this screenplay, and prove just how much attention he puts into making sure this allegory is picked up on by those who are willing to look for the symbolism he includes.

I was also immensely proud of Rachel and myself after looking up if we were correct in our analysis, because we are, so this is my virtual high-five to my English major partner-in-crime for figuring this movie out with me.

Overall, this movie made me think very deeply about what we, as humans, have done to our planet, both in regards to our harm of the environment and our harm of one another, and the direction we are headed in. I think that Aronofsky’s timing in directing this movie is relevant and important, and while the way he chose to represent this story is definitely shocking and at first confusing as all hell, the moment it clicks, it is definitely something that does make you feel a wide range of emotions.

When I got home from the movie, my dad asked if I liked it, and I was still speechless. Saying that I “liked” the movie didn’t feel like the appropriate answer, but saying that I “disliked” it also wasn’t true. The movie reached me, it moved me, it made me feel uncomfortable, and it shook me to my core. And while I’m sure many people will scoff at the fact that I did, in fact, love this movie, I feel as though those are the people on which the message of this film is lost, or the people who until now, did not realize for what this movie was a metaphor.

Why We Do It.


Ah, Labor Day Weekend. A teacher’s first reprieve after the start of the school year. The surprisingly much-needed extra day of rest that we didn’t realize we needed after only three weeks of the school year starting, because getting back in the groove of our profession after a summer off never gets easier no matter how many years we’ve been doing it.

It’s true, yes, we get summers off, and people who are not in this profession see it as a copout, or that we have no reason to complain about our hours, blah, blah, blah. I could go on and argue with these people for hours, but the truth is that these people would never actually understand our weariness and stress unless they did this for a living. They wouldn’t understand not only the physical demand of this career, but the mental and emotional demand, either.

So many of these people also think that we joined this profession largely because we get those summers off, along with holidays that most other people do not. When I hear that kind of statement, my blood boils to its highest temperature. My acid tongue aches to spout words of rebuttal and argument to those people, because dammit, how dare they suggest something so superficial and thoughtless? No, we did not enter college and think, “Man, I want to become a teacher because I’ll get so much time off!” I didn’t sit through hours of literature, literacy/language/cognition, pedagogy, seminars, methods, grammar classes and student teaching because I wanted time off in the summer. And whenever people look at me and go, “Oh, come on, if it’s not the summers off, why on earth would you want to work with kids all day?” This is what I wish I had the time to tell them:

We teach because our passion for the subjects we teach seeps through our pores and pours out onto the desks of the students in front of us, and if we’re lucky, it’ll soak into at least a few of them.

We teach because it gives our passion for our subject a purpose, a passion that appears to diminish every year in the young people of this era.

We teach because every single face that walks into our classroom is the future of this country, whether they become writers, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, police officers, mechanics, etc., and it is up to us to shape them.

We teach because seeing the light in a student’s eyes when they discover their own passion lights up every inch of our hearts, and it reassures us that yes, we really are making a difference somewhere, for someone.

We teach because when that one, quiet, struggling student comes into our classroom unexpectedly before or after school to confide in us something that has been plaguing him, and tears rush down his face, it truly reveals that the connection we have been trying to create has resonated, even though we had gone weeks thinking that it had failed. It makes us realize that this student trusts us, and that is one of the most monumental things a teacher can receive from a student.

We teach because that conversation with that student is one that we’ll never forget, because in that moment, we broke through a wall that we thought we’d never break.

We teach because that same student comes back to us in his senior year–after finding out that he is, in fact, going to graduate–to thank us for being there for him, and he becomes a permanent reminder that we were part of the reason he was able to earn his diploma.

We teach because in the many extra hours we spend after school at the extra-curricular activities we have volunteered to sponsor, we get to know our students in a completely different environment, and those connections strengthen more than we could have ever thought possible.

We teach because even on those days where we haven’t gotten much sleep, are bogged down with grading, and there doesn’t appear to be a moment to breathe during the day, there’s that one student who is able to make us laugh and forget just how tired and stressed we really are.

We teach because on those same days, we walk into the building and into our classrooms and we gaze upon the faces that are equally tired and stressed, and we see our entire purpose before our eyes, and knowing that purpose is undeniably fulfilling, no matter how void of energy we feel.

We teach because even though we know that not every student is going to fall in love with our subject, there are going to be a handful who do, and that handful is worth every lesson plan, mistake, and hour of grading.

We teach because watching the ones we were worried wouldn’t make it walk across the stage at graduation makes our hearts swell with pride, love, and accomplishment. And there is no better feeling than that.

We teach because the looks on our students’ faces when they find out that we are, in fact, humans too, who contrary to popular belief do NOT sleep/live at school (even though a lot of the time, it feels like that), are priceless, and it breaks down yet another wall that separates us, allowing us to better connect with them.

We teach because even though some of us have children at home (I, myself, do not), these children become something like our own in a way, and therefore teaching them gives us an entirely different sense of purpose in our lives.

We teach because part of our duty isn’t only to teach our students about our subject, but to teach them how to be good people, and watching that kind of growth over the course of four-five years (depending on what level we teach) makes us more emotional than we’re sometimes willing to admit.

We teach because we have a passion for not only sharing our knowledge, but a passion for learning ourselves that we hope to instill in the many students that walk through our doors throughout the course of our careers.

We teach because some of our students heartbreakingly don’t have a support system at home, and school is their sanctuary where we are the only people they have in their lives that care about their success, and where they may get their only hot meal of the day.

We teach because some of our students see our classrooms and school as their safe space, because once they leave those walls, they are at the mercy of gang violence, difficult home lives, and sometimes no house to go home to at all.

We teach because our coworkers are a second family, our therapists, and our much needed comedians on those days that we want to rip our hair out and nothing seems to be going right.

We teach because at the end of the year, the students we had no idea even liked us bring us “thank you” cards and sometimes gifts that both surprise us and warm our hearts, assuring us, yet again, that we were making a difference in their lives all along, even though we couldn’t see it.

We teach because dammit, we love what we do, no matter how many hours we spend away from home grading, coaching, sponsoring, supervising, teaching, etc. Because messages like the ones I received below make every single hour of stress, frustration, crying, planning, etc. worth it.




Does that answer your question?

Never Too Late.

It’s safe to say that there are many people out there in the world (myself included) who have always lived under the belief that the age of 30 is considered the cut-off as to when we should be married, ready to have children, and can no longer do the things we used to when we were younger. We can’t run as fast, lift as much, stay up as late, etc. It also seems to be the cut-off where we think that we can’t really change anything about our lives. We are who we are, and that’s the way life is going to be until the day it ends.

A good friend of mine brought this belief to my attention, and that’s when I realized how much I invested my own belief in it. I have been stressing myself out as a single, 25 year old woman, thinking that I am running out of time to find someone to spend the rest of my life with, thinking that I only have five years to get married and start a family. I’ve had my heart broken twice in the past year and a half and joined dating sites to try and get myself out there, because I’ve been so stuck in this idea that my time to do so is running short. But why did I believe it so strongly?

As I thought more about it, I realized that our society has adopted the idea as a whole. So often on TV, in movies, and in our own lives, we are seeing people as young as the age of 21 falling in love, getting married, and starting a family not too long afterwards. The thought that someone younger than us finding eternal love and happiness while we are struggling to do so is discouraging, and only further ingrains the idea in our heads that we may be running low on time. Now, this is not to say that the fact that this is happening for young people is a bad thing. I do, in actuality, envy them. After losing love myself, I want nothing more than to find it again because of how wonderful it feels. I have a vast amount of friends who found their forever mate in college and are now either married or engaged to be. Some of them are expecting their first child or have one or two children already, all before the age of 26. This makes so many of us in our early 20s feel like we are falling behind the expectation, or like there’s something wrong with us because we haven’t made it there yet.

I’m here to tell you to STOP thinking that. I’m here to tell myself to stop thinking that.

There is no set deadline as to when this is supposed to happen. For one thing, worrying about it may cause you to rush into something because of this idea that you don’t have much time left, and it won’t end up lasting, leaving you looking for it all over again. For another, it’s just stupid! Love takes time, and if you don’t go about it with the attention that it needs, it will suffer. Plus, while finding someone to spend your life with is important, what’s more important is making sure that your life in its individuality is enough to make you happy. If it’s not, you need to do that before you worry about bringing in someone else. And it is okay to take as much time as you need to do that, because again, your age has nothing to do with when or how this should happen.

The other side of the belief is that once you’ve hit that 30-year mark, your life has hit a plateau and will become a monotonous day-to-day routine that you cannot change, because 30 is “too old” to do anything else except be a mom or dad with a job and children to take care of. This belief is also a load of BS.


The same friend who brought this idea to my attention was kind enough to contribute her own “screw you” story to this stupid belief, and I really loved what she had to say:

Last week, a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook about her 38 year old, full-time engineer, mother of four, sister-in-law who recently placed first for women and 6th overall in a marathon in Salt Lake City. My friend was congratulating her sister-in-law for this accomplishment, but also thanking her for the reminder that our mid 20s don’t have to be the peak time of our lives. This post got me thinking about my own life. I’m 35, a full-time special education teacher, and a mother of two. The internet is filled with blogs (mostly written by people much younger than me) about all the things you’re supposed to stop doing or wearing at a certain age. These blogs suggest that 30 is old and nothing new or fun can happen beyond 30. I mean, sure, I get tired staying out past 10:00pm on the weekends and drinking three beers in a night will now give me a headache in the morning. And, it’s true that I’m much more content staying home on the weekends, bingeing on Netflix, and spending time with my husband. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m 35 with two kids and a full-time job. That’s a lot of fucking work, people! Fortunately, I also happen to be happily married for the last 11 years, so that makes staying home on the weekends a lot more fun. But, none of these things mean that I can’t try new things or reinvent myself now that I’ve become a member of the “over 30” crowd. I started thinking of all the things that I started doing after I turned 30, and hopefully I can spread some hope to the “under 30” crowd that you can grow up, start adulting, and still enjoy life. *Disclaimer, none of these are at the Eat, Pray, Love/wild level, so lower your expectations*:

  1. I started running. 5ks were trendy and everyone seemed to be doing them, so I thought, “What the hell?” Turns out, running is stupid hard, especially when you have asthma. But I downloaded the couch to 5k app, got some fairly decent shoes, and started preparing for the Brookfield Zoo 5k. I was proud of myself for choosing to run (despite not being chased by zombies) and working through shin splints, sore muscles, and feeling that I was going to pass out and die at any given moment during my run. It felt rewarding to push myself to do something difficult and find success in it. This lasted one whole summer. Then I decided running was overrated and moved on to not running, which was way more fun.
  2. I taught myself how to crochet. I love watching TV. It’s what I do to relax and turn my mind off at the end of the day. But I really needed something to do while I binge watched Parks and Rec for the third time (and playing Candy Crush Saga was pretty soul-sucking). I have a few friends and family that were always crocheting such cute hats and stuffed animals and I wanted to get in on that. So, for Christmas, I asked for crochet hooks and taught myself how to crochet. I realize that some view knitting and crocheting as an “old lady” habit, but, whatever, I can make stuff out of yarn and you can’t. But in all seriousness, there’s major satisfaction derived from teaching yourself a new skill and using that skill to create something.
  3. I took dance class! In kindergarten I took ballet, but only one class. I thought it was boring, though I’m pretty sure it was a bit pricey for my parents at the time. My sister ended up being the dancer in the family and danced from age five to adulthood. I got to watch her dance at recitals and competitions and realized how much I really love dance. In high school, I was a cheerleader and eventually a pom, so I got to do some dancing at a real basic level. Now, my daughter is dancing and her studio started offering adult dance classes. Sign me up! The first class was a ballet/lyrical combo and I loved it. I might not have any technique to speak of, but I got the basic idea and enjoyed getting some much needed exercise while still having fun (see: running). This summer I’ve been taking tap. I’ve always wanted to take a tap class and was not going to pass up this opportunity. I’m the only one in the class of four who has never taken a tap class before, but I love the challenge. I also learned the importance of the saying, “Fake it ’til you make it.” I’m getting quite good at it. Faking it, that is.
  4. I challenged myself to read 50 books in a year. This one I’m still working on. The closest I’ve ever gotten is 47 books in a year (I read ten books that summer alone!). I love reading and found that I was reading less and less as life got busy. When I started working in DeKalb, I discovered audiobooks and began listening to books on the way to work (it totally counts!). There are just so many books and so little time to read them all. Challenging myself has made me a little pickier about what I read, too. I no longer waste my time finishing a book just to say I finished it when I could be reading something amazing instead.
  5. I took time for myself. When I first got married, I didn’t have a full-time teaching job and was subbing. In the beginning, being a substitute led to a lot of days home alone waiting for my husband and pathetically codependent. Eventually, I got a full-time job and became busier. Then we started having kids (all two of them) and I realized how I never had any alone time anymore. I love my husband and kids, but I wanted to make sure that I kept my own identity as a person and not just be known as someone’s wife or mother. So I try to make sure that I’m making my own plans to go out with my friends, shop alone, get a pedicure, or just shut myself up in my room for 30 minutes to watch Parks and Rec (it’s seriously the best) so that I can take a break from life and be the best me I can be. The best advice I can give a new or a stressed out mom is: what’s good for mama is good for the baby. When we’re stressed out or unhappy, our families see that and can feed off that. Taking care of myself is one of the most important things I can do to take care of my family.

Things I’m still working on as an adult:

  1. Talking to strangers, both in person and on the phone (the struggle is real)
  2. Backing out of my driveway and not looking like an ass (it’s angled and stupid)
  3. Going to bed at a reasonable hour on a work night (getting up early is the worst)
  4. Regularly exercising and eating healthy (ugh!)
  5. Clumsiness
  6. Remembering pretty much anything not written down
  7. Gossiping
  8. Being politically informed and up to date on current events (it’s just so boring!)
  9. Spending less time on my phone (FOMO is a real thing)
  10. Spelling (sp?)

I’m proud of myself for trying new things and branching out. It’s easy to become complacent and get bogged down by the monotony of our daily lives. Boring can be good sometimes, but I strive to try new things every now and again. I’m halfway through my 30s and I definitely haven’t peaked yet. That makes me happy 🙂 ” — Andrea S.


All of what she had to say is absolutely true. Your 20s are not your peak time, and who was the boss man/woman who decreed that they were? No takers? EXACTLY. This idea has somehow become almost like a law that we all unintentionally follow, and I am so glad that Andrea brought this to my attention so that I could stop conforming to it and enjoy my solitude while I have it. I actually saw a video on Facebook today of a man in his 50s who is more ripped and built than the majority of the male friends my age that work out on a daily basis. His reason for continuing to work out in his 50s? Age doesn’t define your ability if you believe that you are capable. And let me tell you, the videos of this man exercising had me in awe and feeling an immense amount of respect for him (in addition to feeling super inadequate in comparison to his massive muscles).

My overall point in writing this post is this: stop thinking that you need to accomplish certain life milestones by a particular age. Stop thinking that you are “too old” to try new things, no matter how difficult, once that age passes. Stop thinking that you are “too old” to reinvent yourself once that age passes. The way I see it, if you don’t see a certain age where you expect to “peak” or an age by which you expect all of these milestones to be reached, then you will live your life constantly exploring, growing, and discovering new things about yourself. It is never, ever too late to find love, to learn a new skill, or to build off of yourself and make yourself stronger, deeper, and more well-rounded. And if you ask me, that sounds a hell of a lot more fun than peaking and then living the life of monotony into which so many people fall because they invest so much in this belief. Go against the grain. Do the unexpected. Have faith in yourself and in the universe, God, or whatever you believe in to give you the things you seek when it’s the right time for them to appear, and have faith in yourself to never settle. Keep growing. Keep exploring. Do not let your age define you. Do not let your age hold you back from becoming the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

Mischief Managed.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore

I know, I know, it was only a matter of time before one of my posts related to Harry Potter; but, in my haze of painkillers and being bedridden due to my tonsillectomy, I decided that I wanted to write a post illustrating why this worldwide phenomenon means so much to so many people. Why does this story manage to touch not only children, but people older than the ones who grew up with it?


I remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in elementary school and immediately upon finishing it, I was hooked. My little, young mind was swimming with visions of animated, edible chocolate frogs, paintings that moved and talked, and giant stadiums where people were flying on broomsticks to play a sport that somehow felt oddly real. Not only that, but the magic that I had always pretended to possess while playing make-believe with my friends was suddenly within my reach. I was able to lose myself in a world that I had never dreamed would come to life for me. I found a strange sense of belonging in a world that both didn’t exist and entirely existed at the same time.

Now, I went to college majoring in English and was exposed to what are considered the best-written stories of all-time, and I don’t contest with any that I have read. But in my education, I’ve also learned what makes a good story, and I think that that’s why at the age of 25, I look back on this series and realize in an entirely different light how incredibly brilliant it truly is. I understand, at least logistically, why this series is now considered one of the best of all-time. I could sit here and spend hours talking about J.K. Rowling’s knack for details, double meanings, and creating a world that is unlike any that has ever been created before. I could talk about how she accurately connects the meanings of various characters’ names to their personalities. How she created detailed back stories and family trees for all of her characters. I could talk about how intricately woven the plot is, and how this magical world goes from being fantastical and wondrous to dark and dangerous in a matter of pages. But in all honesty, it’s more than logistics and clever writing that make a story truly great.

The truth of it is that J.K. Rowling created a home away from home. There are characters in this story that any person could connect with. Characters for the bookworms (Hermione and Neville), for the outcasted (Harry, Draco, and Luna), and for the goofy but loyal (Ron, Fred, and George). The famous trio became friends of my own, and I literally grew up alongside them as if we were in fact attending Hogwarts together. I was the around the same age as Harry is in The Sorcerer’s Stone the first time I picked it up, and for the years that followed, I caught up with the ones that were already released, patiently awaited the new ones to be released, and I evolved along with them.


I grew up with a vividly wild imagination, and I still possess it. I thought that the worlds created in my games of make-believe were exciting, that is, until I picked up a Harry Potter book. It was then that I was whisked away into a place that I finally felt I belonged. I’ve always been a bit of an odd bird, an old soul, a bit of a nerd. While I didn’t grow up with a difficult childhood and got along with everyone, being different than basically all of my friends meant that there was always an essence of loneliness at times. I mentioned in a previous blog post that even in high school, there was never one group at school that I felt I really “belonged” in, though the closest I got to that was with my theatre friends. But at Hogwarts, my eccentric and knowledge-seeking self felt right at home amongst the likes of Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood. There’s really no other way I can think to describe the experience of reading and experiencing these books other than “magical.” I clung to every word on each of those pages, and they made me feel something that in my pre-teens, I had not yet felt in life.  The reality for me is that reading has forever been an escape; a place where I can live the life of someone else and forget my own for awhile, especially during times of hardship, heartbreak, or sorrow. It’s a place where I can wrap myself up in eloquent words and evocative scenes and lose myself completely. But this story…this story is why I find reading beautiful. This story is why I want my students to read. This story is what inspires me to play, imagine, and never lose my sense of childhood wonder. This story is what made me who I am.

I dressed up on a costume day at school in my full Hufflepuff garb — robe, tie, time turner and all. My students loved it!

I will never in my life forget the night I finished The Deathly Hallows. I had bought it the day before when it had been released and had read it from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep with it in my hands. I can still remember the ache in my neck and behind my eyes as I sat on my living room couch, with a single lamp on behind me, powering through how tired I was so that I could finish it. I remember finishing the chapter in which Snape’s true intentions are revealed, and my heart breaking into a million pieces for a man who I, like Harry, was blinded by hatred for. I remember thinking about everything that he had ever done in the series and it all finally clicking and making sense, and the knowledge that this revelation came too late had tears spilling in rivers onto my shirt. He was gone, and Harry would never be able to reconcile with him. would never be able to reconcile with him and apologize for my blatant dislike of his character. It broke me. The deaths of Tonks, Lupin, and Fred broke me further afterwards. As I neared the final chapter somewhere around 2am, I remember feeling panic well in my chest. Is it really over? No, it can’t be over. There’s no way that it’s going to be over with the turn of a page. And then I got to those last words of the epilogue: “All was well.” It was as if the Hogwarts Express had crashed through my living room and run me over. I had already sobbed heavily at the deaths of so many of my favorite characters in the previous chapters, but the sobbing that commenced when I finally brought myself to close the back cover was a sorrow I had never felt for another book in my life. Though I knew they were still eternally alive within the many, many pages of the series and on the silver screen, I felt like a life that had been separate from my own had ended. Luckily for me, and for so many others, this story has lived far past the day that the final movie premiered, and for me, Hogwarts will always be home, and this story will never die.

Because of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I am forever changed and forever grateful. I am forever a proud Hufflepuff whose favorite professor was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. I am forever that little girl who picked up a book with a boy wearing round glasses and a lightning scar on the cover and had her life changed for the better.


Trying to sum up why other people love this story was difficult because there are so many different facets to cover, and it put this blog post on hold for a week as I typed and deleted, typed and deleted. Suddenly, an idea spawned in my head: what better way to help explain this than with the help of others? I decided that I wanted to reach out to fellow Potterheads of mine and ask them why this story meant so much to them. You have read my own account, and the responses I received from my friends do not disappoint. The glorious and heartwarming truth of it is that this story means something to each person for his or her own unique reason. Here is what my fellow Potterheads had to say:

Jen P. — age 37:

“Harry Potter was the story I looked for as a kid. It’s what I wished for when I was little, but had to settle for as an adult.”

**Jen would have written more, but when I contacted her, she was in the deep north woods with horrendous service on her cell phone. She is one of the most dedicated HP fans I have ever known, and she got to be in the wand-choosing ceremony at Universal Studios, which I will forever be jealous about.**

Samantha T. — age 26:

“Well, my reason is much more sentimental than most. My dad was reading the series while he was sick and dying. He died before the seventh book was released, so he himself never got to finish. So, I set out to finish what he started. [What made me fall in love with it was] the message of life and death and good vs. evil. Harry was surrounded by loss but he persevered and pushed through to defeat the source of darkness that took so many he loved from him. It’s relatable, really, more than anything.”

FullSizeRender.jpgSamantha’s tattoo on her side; the quote from the book is in honor of her dad. This is one of my favorite Deathly Hallows symbol tattoos that I’ve ever seen.

Tyler B. — age 22:

“Harry Potter is far more than a book or film series; it’s what saved my life and a part of who I am now. I first started reading it when my parents were getting a divorce and used it as an escape from all the fighting and stress that a divorce causes […] It helped me compartmentalize what was happening to my family and showed me that things can be bad and good at the same time […] Pretty much, it taught me more than all the child counselors I was seeing at the time taught me. I always go back to The Order of the Phoenix as the book to give me answers when I need them […] In OOTP, all [Harry’s] friends and all the people in the world that brought him happiness suddenly leave him and make him alone again. And that feeling of the people you care about, and who care about you, all of a sudden leaving you and crushing you hit me so hard. Even though I was making friends, I always felt like I was alone because certain parts of my life weren’t complete, like my family. We didn’t have all the money or luxuries as some of my classmates, we still fought and yelled at each other and didn’t show enough love […] So reading about [Harry’s] loneliness and reading about how his friends all thought ignoring him was best for him made me feel like my loneliness was meant to be better for me. But, it wasn’t until the Department of Mysteries scene where the whole crew came with Harry regardless of if he wanted them there or not that it dawned on me that I was pushing people away as much as I was thinking they were leaving me. I struggle with constantly feeling alone and reading Harry Potter always reminds me that I’m not alone […] I use the books to work through my problems because there are so many things Harry or other characters go through that teach you [something…] The ease with which I was able to connect with Harry and most of the characters allowed me to feel a part of something when I felt like I was attached to nothing. And that’s also what the Harry Potter community does for me too […] It makes me feel surrounded by people who like me and want me around just because of the fact we all like Harry Potter […] Most of this community goes unspoken and that’s what a lot of my problems have been like: existing without being talked about. But this community has also healed me without being talked about and that’s what’s so great about it. I’m alone, but not really alone. I’m able to be a part of something bigger but still work through my own problems how I see fit.”



Tyler’s tattoos: on his arm, the symbol of the Deathly Hallows (I have a smaller version on my arm), and on his hand, the script that Professor Umbridge forced into Harry’s hand in The Order of the Phoenix (this is probably one of my favorite HP tattoos that I’ve ever seen); on his middle finger is the Elder Wand; on his index finger is the sword of Gryffindor. I love that both are “piercing” him underneath his knuckles.

Rachel M. — age 19:

“There are 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series, yet I am having the hardest time using just a few to describe my immense appreciation for it. It’s almost funny to think that I am the person I am today because of books, but it’s very true. I was blessed enough to get my paws on The Sorcerer’s Stone during a very pivotal time in my life. Right before I was introduced to Harry and the gang, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. As the wise Professor Dumbledore once said, ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ Escaping to Hogwarts, if only for a short period of time, was my light. It gave me the hope and courage I needed to get through the day. I picked up the first book nine years ago, and I have yet to leave Hogwarts. It’s my home…And I will always be grateful for the seven books that got me there.”


Rachel, channeling her inner Draco Malfoy. I made this Slytherin scarf for her as a graduation present.

Lauren D. — age 25:

“The Harry Potter series has always been immensely important to me. I began reading them when they were first published, and I was instantly swept into the Wizarding World. These books took my love of reading to new heights as I absorbed every word written on the page, and anxiously awaited for the next book to be released. It was as if I, too, was partaking in the adventures and facing the dangers along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The depths of J.K. Rowling’s writing created a world in which I could not help but be fully drawn into. It was as if Hogwarts itself rose out of the paragraphs and filled my bedroom with magic. I truly felt connected to the characters and became invested in their well-being. I found pieces of myself in each of the characters that I had never found in any other book. I have never been considered popular, and growing up, much less so. I was the smallest in my grade, I loved school, and I was very shy. I found myself connecting the most to Harry, Ron, and Hermione because at one time or another, they were seen as outcasts. Harry was ignored by the Dursleys, as was I by my classmates. Hermione valued education, and her intelligence was one of her greatest assets. Similarly, I have used my love of learning to propel myself further in my career. Ron was good for a quick joke, but often exiled by other Purebloods because he did not fit their mold as a proper Pureblood. As with Ron, I found myself not given a chance by my peers due to preconceived notions. For one reason or another, I didn’t have any true friends, but I always felt as though I did when I opened a Harry Potter book. Looking closely at the saga, important life lessons are integrated seamlessly into the plot. These life lessons are not exclusive to a world with magic, and easily transfer to one without (but sorely in need of it). Through the Harry Potter series, readers are taught about character, love, and sacrifice. They’re told that what matters is what a person makes of their life, not the family or status they were born into; how to treat others, especially those who are depicted as lower class; true love is not always romantic, but it can always conquer all; sometimes we feel too much is being asked of us, but we must rise to the occasion to the best of our ability. However, I believe the most important lesson that can be acted on is that discrimination and hatred of a particular group is detrimental to society. Those that use innocent groups of people as scapegoats have their hearts full of hatred. This hatred must be overcome by society joining together to stand up and show that hatred has no place.”

Lauren R. — age 24:

“I always say that I grew up in the Harry Potter Generation. Friends and family my age, and even those younger and older than me became enchanted by the Harry Potter books. It was a way for many to not only lose themselves and their worries in the pages of great books, but also a way to connect with people you may not have otherwise connected with. For me, reading and watching Harry Potter brought me into a world where magic was real and great friendship and loyalty mattered most. What makes Harry Potter important to me above all other reasons is the bond it created between my family. My mom, siblings, cousins, and even some of my aunts are all huge Harry Potter fans. We were always close, and frankly didn’t need to find a reason to get even closer, but Harry Potter managed to bring us together even more. Some of my cousins would even wait at the midnight release of the next book at Borders, then go straight home and start reading it together in one room, nearly finishing it in one sitting. I can’t think of any other series that had this kind of effect on my loved ones. Growing up, my siblings and I would always watch the latest Harry Potter movie at the theater with my cousins, sometimes holding hands through the intense action scenes. We would then go home and talk about the movie and how it did or did not match the book. We would make predictions and be excited about the next book release, then movie release. When the final Harry Potter movie was in theaters in July of 2011, our grandpa passed away. He was sick for awhile, and his suffering had finally come to an end. My parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins all stood in his hospital room in the ICU as his breathing and his heartbeat stopped. That moment and then next few days were very emotional for all of us, and we stayed close. At our grandfather’s wake, my cousins and I all decided to buy tickets online to see the last Harry Potter together in theaters that night. As always, Harry Potter brought us comfort, it eased our worries and pain from the outside world. It distracted us for a little while from the sad and painful events of that week and it brought us together. The way I see it, two big parts of my life came to an end of sorts at the same time. Both my grandpa and Harry Potter ended their stories in July 2011. Myself and others will always keep their spirits alive, but their original existence came to an end. July 2011 was a very emotional month for me and I now connect my love for my grandpa to my love for Harry Potter. Each reminds me of the other because of what took place. Now, Harry Potter is what I read and/or watch on a rainy day, when I’m sick, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I need encouragement, and when I’m trying to fall asleep. It is my ultimate comfort and brings back memories of my childhood, the bond with my family, my grandpa, and now even my wedding, because my husband and I were nerdy enough to have a Harry Potter themed wedding.”










I had the honor of photographing Lauren’s Harry Potter themed wedding, and oh my Lord, was it amazing. I wish I could post all of the photos of the centerpieces without making this post super long. Lauren made all of the centerpieces herself, the Monster Book of Monsters included. I was a kid in a candy store. All of the people who attended the wedding had been sorted, and their houses were printed on their placement cards. Lauren walked down the aisle to music from the movie. All of the bridesmaids and groomsmen had house scarves. It was absolutely incredible.

Cori S. — age 35:

“I was introduced to Harry Potter as a college freshman, back in 1999. A friend handed me a paperback copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone and said, ‘Just read it.’ In other words, ‘Yeah, it’s a story with a kid and magic and wizards, sounds crazy, but you’ll love it.’ So, I read it. I fell in love. I then read The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban, and anxiously awaited the midnight release of The Goblet of Fire. I was 18 in 1999, and thus 25 (nearly 26) at the release of The Deathly Hallows. The height of my Harry Potter consumption (1999 to 2007) was during late adolescence/early adulthood. One of the coolest things about Harry Potter fandom is the shared cultural experience. I attended midnight release parties with my friends and introduced the series to my then-boyfriend (now husband). After the release of The Deathly Hallows, knowing it would be the last in the series, my friends and I set limits to the number of chapters we would read, meeting at regular intervals to discuss the book. Love for Harry Potter transcends age groups. I have been teaching since 2006, and I have had the pleasure of introducing Harry Potter to elementary students, talking about the books with my first few classes of middle school students, and bonding over the near-obsession with high school students. My high school Book Club is full of students who cite Harry Potter as the origin of their love of reading. Over the past 15 years or so, I have heard many book series declared “The next Harry Potter.” In my opinion, no series given this declaration has ever come close to achieving the beloved status of Harry Potter. The influence of the Boy Who Lived has been present in my life for the past 18 years, and I will certainly continue to share and discuss the series for years to come.” 


Cori received the above picture as a gift from the same friend who encouraged her to read Harry Potter in the first place.

Christina B. — age 31

“So, I struggled a little to figure out why specifically Harry Potter resonated with me. Part of it is the age I was when I started reading them — I was in middle school, and in a lot of ways kind of grew up with Harry Potter and his friends. Part of it is that I really do enjoy fantasy novels. What I decided in the end that it comes down to, though, is that I love Harry Potter because it’s real. I know that sounds weird to say about a series of books with magic and wizards, and of course I don’t mean the magic and the wizards are real. What I mean is, the characters are real. They have strengths, but also weaknesses. They doubt themselves, make mistakes, and sometimes fight with each other. They endure sometimes overwhelming setbacks and obstacles and risks. Despite that, though, many of them make the choice to keep going and to persevere. This refers, yes, to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but also to characters that, in many other novels, tend to get overlooked or portrayed as two-dimensional. I love that Neville, who so many people completely write off as being helpless or useless, contributes to saving the day in the end. I love that the character you spend the first couple of books hating ends up being one of the most selfless. I love that Luna, who initially just seems weird, ends up being strong and brave (without losing her weirdness!). I guess it comes down to the idea that everyone is capable, if they so choose, of contributing something of value to the world.”

Thomas M. — age 26:

“So, I think what started my love for the Harry Potter series was how it allowed me to immerse myself in a different world. A world of magic and adventure, love and friendship, adversity and the strength to overcome it. I was ten years old when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was the first thing I woke up to on my birthday, wrapped and sticking halfway out from under my pillow. I couldn’t put it down! So, naturally, I finished it in three days. That’s when my obsession began. My mom brought me home the second that weekend. It was finished by the following Friday, and the third book the Friday after that. These books were a distraction from the chaos that had been my life at the time. My parents were freshly divorced and I was the second youngest of five to a newly single mother. These books gave me my own little escape from the hard times we were facing. In that, I found a new passion I never had before: to READ! Harry Potter made me realize early that the true gift of a good story can bring you to a different world with endless possibilities.”

As I received each of these testimonies, I found one common thread between all of them: this world is real for us, not because of the magic or wizardry, but because we all saw and still see so much of ourselves and our own struggles within the pages. While our choices for reading the story may be different, the truth remains that this story and community brings people together. It heals us, it comforts us, and it lets us escape, and that is why it’s beautiful.

As J.K. Rowling said at the final movie premiere in London, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” This story has become home for so many people, and I will always open the front door with open arms to others that wish to live here with us.

Have your own story to share about how you came to find this beloved series? Share in the comments below! I would love to know your stories!

Baby Driver Review

**Spoilers for the movie ahead–turn your car around now if you have not seen it**

Immediately upon seeing previews for Edgar Wright’s movie Baby Driver, I thought three things: 1) ANSEL ELGORT AND LILY JAMES, 2) CAR CHASES, and 3) MUSIC. Three things that combined to have exponential potential to be one of the best movies of the year, and let me tell you, Baby Driver drove me crazy, baby. Almost as much as it drove my friend Rachel crazy when she learned that the theater we were at had Mr. Pibb.


Ansel Elgort – Baby


If the intense, brooding look in the photo doesn’t do it for you, then let me tell you right now that his charm will. I became a fan of Ansel Elgort after his on-point portrayal of Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, but this is a totally different role than I’ve ever seen him play. I thought that he communicated the dimension of Baby’s personality super well, and made it seamless for me to find him adorable, damaged, and completely badass all at the same time. I knew right away that I was going to love Elgort in this role as soon as the opening scene began, with him in the getaway car jamming by himself with his headphones in. Elgort basically did everything that we all do when we’re listening to music and think (and hope) that no one is watching. Wonderfully endearing. The endearment only increases during any and all scenes in which he interacts with his wheelchair-ridden, deaf foster father. Baby suffers from his own hearing issues (a constant hum/ringing in his head from a car accident as a child), so watching them communicate with sign language is beautiful and makes Baby a real person with something/someone to live for instead of a mindless criminal, which is honestly what the previews make him appear to be. I don’t even need to talk about watching him drive, rocking pair after pair of sunglasses (all of which look great on him), because let’s be real, that all speaks for itself. Overall, I thought Elgort was excellent, and he isn’t tough on the eyes, either.

Lily James – Debbie


As a fan of Lily James from her days on Downton Abbey, I was wildly excited to see her in a role that wasn’t as a wealthy, British socialite or as Cinderella. I have always seen her in fancy dresses, hair done up, looking like utter perfection. In this movie, she dons a charming southern accent (which was super well done for someone who is English), a diner waitress’ uniform, curly hair, and the air of a girl who just wants to escape the life she has made for herself. While I thought James’ acting was lovely, I thought the character herself lacked some backstory and dimension, which isn’t a fault of James but a fault of the writers. We end up knowing nothing about her own life or why it is that she wants to just drive down the highway with nothing but her music and no looking back. Are we supposed to just believe that this girl is openly willing to hop into a car with a guy she’s only just met to leave town with no explanations as to why? Why is music so important to her? We know that it’s important to Baby because his late mother was a musician, but we lack that aspect of Baby and Debbie’s connection. When people are brought together through music, that underlying reason of its importance to the person only strengthens the connection between them, and I thought that was missing from this love story. Quite honestly, it’s one of my only real gripes about the movie. Debbie gets pulled into Baby’s world, but we get no look into her world. I know that her world isn’t meant to be the focus of the movie, but come on! Give my girl Debbie a little depth, Wright.

Kevin Spacey – Doc

Kevin Spacey;Jamie Foxx

Everyone knows that Kevin Spacey is no stranger to being the mastermind, the bad guy, or the villain, so it won’t surprise anyone that he is excellent in this role. As Baby’s boss, Doc arranges all of the heists and hires the team. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Spacey do poorly on screen (though I haven’t seen every movie he’s ever been in), and I think his veteran status in Hollywood speaks for itself, here. As a character, I thought Doc was just another heartless criminal, but I liked that upon seeing Baby with Debbie his heart pulled a “Grinch” and grew three sizes that day and he chooses to help them–and, ya know, takes a shotgun to the back for them. He does this all because he knows what it means to be in love with someone. I was glad to see a redeeming quality in Doc before his time on screen ended, especially after seeing that his eight-year-old nephew knows fully well what his uncle is up to and treats it as nonchalantly as his uncle does, which made me really hate Doc at first. It showed that somewhere, deep down, Doc cares for Baby, even though he does not want to admit it and ruin his persona.

Jamie Foxx – Bats


You know those characters that are so detestable, despicable, and infuriating that you can’t help but love them for their horribleness? That is Jamie Foxx in this movie, and he did a ridiculously good job making Bats the most hated character in the group. For anyone who watches Game of Thrones, think of Bats as the Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger of the group; someone who is so good at being bad that you admire his weasel-like ways while simultaneously hoping he catches the next bullet. As his name implies, Bats is a little/lot batshit crazy, and Foxx plays it so coolly that you almost believe he may be sane until he, well, acts the opposite. Foxx flipped the switch between calm/collected and off-his-rocker in split seconds, and I lived for the moments where he lost his cool. I think Foxx was perfect for this role, and I was beyond pleased with his performance.

Jon Hamm – Buddy


I, personally, have not seen Jon Hamm in anything memorable, but like Jamie Foxx, he played the character on the verge of insanity well. At one point, Bats says something to Buddy and his girl, Darling, about why they rob banks: “You guys rob banks to support a drug habit, I do drugs to support a robbery habit.” So, we know that Buddy is into some illegal substances, which implies that he may not always be 100% able to control himself. And sure enough, we get to see Buddy get pushed over the edge when Darling gets shot and killed in their last heist. His confrontation with Baby (who he blames for the death of Darling) was akin to Jack Torrence coming after his wife in The Shining, except instead of wielding an ax, he is driving a cop car (intended as his weapon to run Baby over) and blasting what he knows is Baby’s lucky song. Before they head out on a heist, Baby shares with Buddy that “Brighton Rock” by Queen is his lucky song in a moment where we almost think that Buddy might not be that bad of a guy. Buddy blasts the song over the cop car’s speakers in what he hopes is a poetic and cathartic moment for himself, hoping to see Baby die to the tune of the song that has brought him luck in the past. Like Foxx, the coolness that Hamm exhibits with a character who is definitely about to snap is really well-communicated and I loved to hate him, too.

Eiza Gonzalez – Darling


If there’s one thing that Eiza Gonzalez lives up to, it’s her character’s name: Darling. But for me, that’s really the only thing that she did for me. I thought out of all of the acting in the film, hers just didn’t match up to the rest of this all-star cast. Her character is blatantly there for the sex appeal, given her constant makeouts and suggestive conversations with Buddy about what they’ll do together after each heist is over. I know that the character’s function wasn’t Gonzalez’s choice, so again, this is a fault that I attribute to the writers. But the way that Gonzalez chooses to deliver her lines is a bit cheesy, and a majority of the time, it looks like she’s trying too hard to match the insanity of her co-stars. At one point she tries to tell Bats that he knows nothing about hers and Buddy’s life, but I couldn’t help but not care because I just didn’t find her character’s level of “crazy” as convincing as Hamm and Foxx. It’s intended to sound intense, but I found it as laughable as Bats does in the scene. The only line that I liked her delivery of is when she says, “When Buddy sees red, you’ll see nothing but black.” It may be an unpopular opinion, but she just didn’t do it for me compared to all of the other actors in this movie. She tried to portray herself as a force to be reckoned with, but I just saw her as more of a force to not take seriously, which is always a shame to see when it comes to female characters.


With my only real issues being the female characters in the film, I thought that literally everything else was top notch.

Let’s start with the soundtrack. My GOD, I thought that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I had won the soundtrack battle for me, but this movie may have taken its place. The tracks chosen by Baby throughout the movie combine effortlessly with each scene, and give the movie a Starsky and Hutch-like vibe at times. Baby would go from funk to rock to hip-hop, and each one creates a distinctive mood within each scene throughout the whole film.

Secondly, I absolutely adored the fact that this movie felt like it was skipping around between the 1950s/60s/70s, both in the dressing of each scene and the dialogue/choreography. Baby and his foster father’s apartment has a clearly 70s vibe, as do some of the cars that Baby drives, but the diner at which Debbie works is clearly a tribute to diners of the 50s. Combine these scenes with the music choices, and you’re time traveling through various film eras from scene to scene. There’s quite a bit of dialogue throughout the film that echoes the writing from 50s films and gives this movie a charming, old-time feel at certain points, especially the scenes between Baby and Debbie. James adopts an airy, southern hybrid of the Transatlantic accent in some moments, which teleported me back to the era of Audrey Hepburn. As a lover of 1950s Hollywood/cinema, this is a particular aspect that made me all giddy inside. The choreography during the scenes in which Baby goes to pick up coffee for the teams parallels that of Gene Kelly. Granted, Elgort’s not dancing like Kelly was and they weren’t actual choreographed dance/tap numbers, but Elgort’s head-in-the-clouds movements, dancing from streetlight to streetlight had a very Singin’ in the Rain energy to it.

As I said before, the car chases and getaway scenes speak for themselves. While I have watched many a movie containing car chases, what I liked about this movie in particular is that each car chase scene is unique, and they each contribute to just how good Baby is at his job. He starts his first chase in a stick shift Subaru, drifting around corners and hopping medians, and then switches to everything from giant SUVs, sedans, and compact cars. And yes, he knows how to kick ass and make a getaway in all of them. Something unexpected happens in each one, which is refreshing to see after how many cookie-cutter car chases have zoomed throughout the history of cinema.

There are tons of movies about bank robberies, getaway cars/drivers, car chases, and criminals, but I think Baby Driver remains an original in the gamut of crime movies. We sympathize with Baby, we root for Baby, and we admire Baby’s devotion to his foster father and late mother. But most of all, the element of music being thrown into the mix is what makes this movie stand out from the others, as well as Wright’s attention to detail and cinematography. I especially loved the first time Baby goes to get coffee, and as the camera pans along with him dancing down the sidewalk, single words from the song playing are written on telephone poles, streetlights, and windows, appearing on cue with when the word is sung. It reminded me of some of the great, small detail work in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, another one of Wright’s movies.

Bottom line is, you do not want to miss this movie. It is the most original, nerve-wracking, exciting, and entertaining story I have seen in years.

The Age of Entitlement and Backwards Expectations

Before I begin my thoughts, I want to be sure that I address that this post is in no way, shape, or form directed at anyone that I know personally or that I am close to. This post is purely based on my own observations of people while working in the food service industry, random observations of people in public places, observations of the human existence, and observations as an educator.

Let me start off by saying that growing up, my parents instilled one thing in my brothers and I from the moment we could talk: treat everyone with respect. They told us to always respect our elders whether they were teachers, bosses, our friends’ parents, etc. because they are authority figures, and whether or not you agree with their opinions/rules, they are your superior and you always respect your superiors. Basically, they expected us to live by the Golden Rule, which is to treat everyone the way that we would like to be treated, and I have always lived my life that way. Throughout middle school, high school, and college, I never would have dreamed of talking back to or disputing a teacher (even if I disagreed with how they chose to run things), being rude to a waiter/waitress/retail worker, or treating any person, for that matter, with any level of disrespect or rudeness. I was taught that every person on this earth is fighting some kind of battle in his or her life, and therefore kindness and respect should be given to him or her until I am given a reason not to give it.

It appalls me how many times I have seen people (a lot of the time, adults) berate and publicly embarrass waiters/waitresses and retail workers for something that is beyond their control or not their decision. How many times the kitchen has unfortunately run out of something, and therefore it is somehow the waiter/waitress’ fault, and the customer feels the need to publicly humiliate him or her as a result. How many times a clothing store clerk has politely, yet visibly regrettably turned down a coupon that has expired, and the customer feels the need to scream at this worker and degrade him or her when it was not this worker’s decision to no longer accept the coupon, and it was in fact the company’s policy. I recently read an article discussing how the phrase, “The customer is always right,” is an absolute load of bull, and after witnessing the many situations that I have, both as an observer and as a worker in the food service industry, I have to agree wholeheartedly.

I’ve also read many articles that point to this generation of mine as being the most accepting of others and largest advocates of equality and mutual kindness, yet I see so many kids and teenagers coming up behind us exhibiting this same level of entitlement and disrespect that I’ve seen many an adult display in multiple different avenues. So, that begs the question: Where is the disconnect? Where did this level of entitlement come from and why does it appear to be getting worse instead of better when this generation is supposed to exhibiting the opposite?

Here is where my unpopular opinion begins, and I want to tell a short story to preface it. One day, I was having a discussion during passing period with a small group of my freshmen students about the topic of respect, which my students know is the most important thing to me. I asked them, “When you meet someone new, do you expect him or her to treat you with respect and kindness even if he or she doesn’t know you?” They all answered with a unanimous, “Yes, Miss!” Then I asked, “So when you meet someone new, do you respect them right away and treat them with kindness even though you don’t know them?” And their answer shocked me. They said, “No way, they have to earn my respect.” I looked at them all, puzzled, and asked, “Do you realize how little sense that makes, and how hypocritical it is? It is completely backwards.” They laughed it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but therein lies the problem: people fail to see that it is a big deal to live in such blatant hypocrisy.

Why is it that humans have all of a sudden become so entitled to receive respect, but then do not feel as though they should have to give it? People have become so content with disrespecting, berating, and stepping on others to get what they want, but God forbid if someone does it to them. We sit here and wonder why people are so unkind to one another when I think it is partly our current mindset as a society that is fostering it.

In this generation, we have been exposed to so many Oprah-esque speeches, videos, and rants about getting what you want and doing what you want; how we “deserve” to get what we want, because apparently, just being alive entitles you to get anything your heart desires. But what I feel is implied in those, “You do you,” types of speeches is the suggestion that because you “deserve” to get what you want, how you treat other people in the process of attaining it is allowed to fall to the wayside. And yet, we expect to receive respect and kindness from anyone we come into contact with in that process. Why is it all of a sudden accepted in our society to treat other people like garbage to get what you want, but when the shoe is on the other foot, those same people raise hell about it?

I’m sorry, but there is only one thing I will accept that humans “deserve” to have, that they are born inherently deserving of, and that is an education. Everything else you think you “deserve” should be dependent on how you have chosen to treat others, whether stranger or friend, because to me that speaks hugely to your character. If you’re a shit person? No, I don’t think you “deserve” to become the CEO of your company, or to have your meal comped because the wrong topping was put on your pizza. Did you just verbally abuse a cashier in a public place for making a small mistake or for something that they cannot control? No, you should not get your money back. You should get a swift kick in the ass that boots you right out of the establishment’s door, because when people with that sense of entitlement get exactly what they want, it only fuels their idea that behaving that way is acceptable, and that it is more than okay to do it again because they have been shown that it will get them what they want.

As an educator, I’ve read many a horror story online about students who bring fiery wrath down upon a teacher when they earn an F on a test, and instead of being backed by administration, that teacher is faulted by admin, the student, and the parents, rather than the student who obviously failed to prepare for the test. I’m sorry, but when did parents suddenly begin to think that a student failing a test or a class is the teacher’s fault?


This comic is THE perfect example of what I’m talking about. The difference between the looks on the student’s face says it all. Somehow in the years that have passed, it has become okay to challenge and disrespect the ones we are supposed to respect, even when the fault is our own, and the repeated acceptance of the behavior has only built up this level of entitlement that our society has come to foster.

I get it; generations change, expectations change, and society changes. But of all of the things for us, as humans, to begin to throw away, why did basic human understanding and empathy have to be what’s deteriorating? In its attempt to empower people, I think our society and culture has instead accidentally impressed and ingrained this air of entitlement into our young people, and for that reason, I worry about how the younger generations will move forward. Will they move as one to unite us, or will they move with an “every man for himself” mindset where all they do is step on each other to get what they believe they “deserve,” no matter the kind of person he or she has been, and be stuck in an endless cycle of anger at those who disrespect them but then go and do it to others?

I write this post because what I have seen has made me so incredibly sad, not just for the people who I have witnessed as the receivers of this rudeness and humiliation, but for us as the human race. I wish for nothing more than for people to step off of the pedestal that they have put themselves on and that society has built for them, and regain their humility, humbleness, and sense of unity with other people. We’re all on this planet for such a short time, so why waste it treading violently on the backs of others for our own benefit? Be kind. Be understanding. Be respectful, even if you don’t agree. I think you will find that this earth is far more pleasant to live on when this nonsense isn’t present.

My Top 8 Books/Series You Need to Read This Summer

Greetings from vacation in Folly Beach, SC! While most people make sure to bring their toothbrushes, underwear, and sunscreen, one of the first things I am sure to pack for an upcoming vacation is an arsenal of new books that have been sitting in my “to be read” pile, which is ever-growing and I don’t think I will ever catch up.

As an English major and someone who grew up loving to read, I have read a plethora of books; some I loved dearly, some I put down and felt nothing afterward, a feeling that I hate intensely. People from all of my walks of life have come to me asking for suggestions about what they should read. So, I have decided to compile a list of my go-to’s/favorites that I give to friends, family, etc. for all of you. Some I read awhile ago that stuck with me, and some I have read recently and touched my heart so much that they have booted others off of the list.

Before I go into the list, you have to know that I appreciate various books for their own unique reasons. I am a lover of the English language, so when an author has impeccable prose in combination with a moving/exciting/devastating/suspenseful story, they automatically solidify a place in my list. Each of the books in this list will vary by genre and audience. When I say “audience,” I mean that there are a number of YA (young adult) novels on here. I’m a sucker for a good, well-written young adult novel, and as a high school English teacher, I come across quite a few. But, don’t worry, there are adult stories on here too if YA is something you refuse to read.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here is my top 8 books/series that you need to read this summer:

1. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (YA)


When Violet Markey and Theodore Finch meet on the ledge of the bell tower of their high school, they aren’t expecting that both of them are there contemplating to do the same thing: jump. After literally talking themselves “off the ledge,” the two team up for a project where they must explore the natural wonders of their hometown, and along the way, Violet, who has spent her days closed off and counting down the days toward graduation, finally begins to see what life truly is, thanks to Finch. However, while Violet begins to live, Finch begins to fade into himself. Though Finch convinces Violet to back away from the ledge in the beginning, this story will have you wondering who is truly saving who until the very end.

I read this book per the suggestion of the librarian at the high school where I work, and it was the first YA book that I had read in a long while that had felt the most original, relatable, and just had a beautiful story. And while I love me some John Green, I have to say, this book took The Fault in Our Stars off of this list. In my opinion, Violet and Finch were characters I could connect with more easily than Hazel and Gus (though I still adore that story), and I think more of the younger population could, too. Now, I read this as a 23 year old adult a couple of years ago, and my sister-in-law just finished it as a 27 year old adult, and we both absolutely love it. It is the perfect combination of humor and heartache that leaves the reader with a meaningful message about love and life. Finch’s character bleeds off of the pages to the point that he feels real, and his connection with Violet is unexpected but intoxicating. Jennifer Niven is a wizard of a story-teller, and I plan to read anything and everything that she ever writes.

2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (A)


In Carriveau, France in the midst of World War II, Vianne must watch as her husband leaves to fight on the front, leaving her and their daughter behind. The Germans have threatened to invade the country, and when they do, Vianne is forced by a German captain to requisition her home and either live with the enemy under her own roof, or die. Her younger sister, Isabelle, who is only eighteen, feels the restless urge to do something to contribute to the war, much to Vianne’s dismay and constant objections. Isabelle meets a young man who sings the song of rebellion that she has wanted to hear, and she falls in love with him. But, when he betrays her, she decides to join the Resistance and help others, risking her own life every time. The two sisters must make life or death decisions time and time again in order to protect not only themselves, but the ones that they love.

This book was suggested to me by multiple coworkers of mine, and being a sucker for WWII historical fiction, I gobbled this book up within a few days. Very rarely is there a WWII story that brings to light the war that many women fought during this heartbreaking period of our history, let alone in the smaller villages of the countries in Europe. The individual wars that Vianne and Isabelle fight throughout this novel made my heart ache, and simultaneously had me sitting on the edge of my seat. I hurt for the sacrifices that Vianne must make for her daughter, but admired and desired her courage for myself. I rooted for Isabelle’s spunk, but also cringed and held my breath during her life-or-death decisions. And I fell in love with both of them.

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (A)


Marie-Laure and her father live in Paris during World War II, down the road from the Museum of Natural History at which her father works. At the age of six, Marie-Laure goes blind, and her father builds a miniature version of their neighborhood for her to touch and memorize, and the two go out walking whenever they can so that she can count the paces from one block to another. When the Germans invade Paris, they must flee to Saint-Malo to live with her reclusive great uncle, a former soldier from WWI dealing with unbearable PTSD. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, she and her father carry the museum’s most valuable, but dangerous possession.  Meanwhile, in Germany, an orphan named Werner becomes fascinated with a banged up radio that he finds, and he teaches himself how to fix it and any other radio that is brought to him. This rare and coveted skill earns him a place in an academy for Hitler Youth, and he is eventually sent out into the battlefield to use his technological skills to track down the resistance. However, Werner is not an advocate for the war he is fighting, and he soon learns that his work costs too many human lives. When his convoy heads into Saint-Malo, his and Marie-Laure’s stories converge.

This was yet another suggestion from coworkers, and I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say that this is hands down, the most beautifully written story I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Doerr’s flawless word choice almost made the words float right off of the pages, wrap me up, and cuddle me into a warmth that I had never felt before while reading a book, even when the scenes I read were harsh or sad. With Werner’s half of the story comes a lot of talk about science and technology, two things of which I had never found interesting or easy. However, thanks to Doerr’s uncannily gorgeous writing, I found science and technology enchanting and mesmerizing for the first time in my life. The way that he connects science/physics/tech to the beauty of life itself moved me to my core, and this book produces one of my favorite passages of all time (again, no exaggeration). If you are in need of a moving, poignant story that demonstrates that there are people out there who just want to be good to one another, then do yourself a favor and read this book. While it isn’t like other WWII fiction that is filled with action (but I promise, there is some), it is filled with hope, a sense of unity, and unfailing courage.

4. A List of Cages by Robin Roe (YA)


When Adam lands a position as the school psychologist’s student assistant, he thinks that he has scored the easy elective–that is, until he is asked to track down a freshman who has been skipping his appointments. That student is Julian, who is the foster brother Adam hasn’t seen in five years. At first, Adam is thrilled to reconnect with Julian, because he appears to be the same, shy, imaginative boy that Adam once knew. But, Julian is keeping secrets, both about where he disappears to during the day at school, and about what goes on outside of school. Adam wants to break Julian out of his shell and help him, but little do both boys know that they could end up in great danger because of it.

I am subscribed to a monthly YA Lit “loot crate,” and this is one of the books that I received in my box. I read this book recently, and this story moved me so much that I suggested it to my coworkers to include in our options for our freshmen to read as their independent reading novels. Adam and Julian’s characters are vastly different, and I think that the issues covered in this story are widely relatable and unfortunately, very real in a lot of cases for young people in our society. The history and progression of Adam and Julian’s friendship is touching, and Adam’s personality is so hilarious and unique. His character suffers from ADHD, and Roe does a fantastic job making his dialogue and actions indicative of this. I wanted to be Adam’s best friend, and I wanted to be Julian’s savior from himself. I cannot say enough good things about this book. From Roe’s blunt and clever prose to the heartbreaking developments throughout the plot, this book is a must for any YA lover, or teacher of young people.

5. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (YA/A)


Twelve year old David is mourning the loss of his mother, and trying but failing to accustom himself to his father’s new wife and baby brother. As he sits in his attic bedroom, he finds solace in the fairytale books that his mother used to read with him. But then, the books begin to whisper to him from their shelves, and the stories within them come into his own world. The Crooked Man has appeared, and he wants something. World War II is raging across Europe, and David finds himself within a world that is partly his imagination, but partly a manifestation of the things he is struggling with in his actual life. In this fantasy world, David encounters wolves, dark sorceresses, and a king who is slowly fading away and keeps his secrets in a legendary book. Little does he know, the Crooked Man is following his every move, and he is in more danger than he realizes.

I first read this book in my World Literature class in college, and upon finishing it, it became one of my favorite books of all time. I have to thank my professor, Dr. Barclay, for bringing this incredible book to my attention. I had no idea what to expect when I started it, but Connolly’s haunting prose in contrast with a fairytale land spoke right to my twisted heart. He combines some familiar fairytales with some of his own creation, and puts dark twists on the familiar ones that are clever and spine-tingling. The Crooked Man is the only character that I have ever read about that literally made my skin crawl and hairs stand up on the back of my neck. His small appearances throughout the story gave me the creeps, and when I learned the disgusting and shocking truth about him, I was appalled and screaming for David to never come into contact with him again. He’s easily one of my favorite villains in literature to date. This book is discussed and deemed as the best adult novel that can appeal to the young adult population. Also, take into account that John Connolly is an Irish author, and the Irish are known for their folklore and fairytales. His lilt is apparent in his writing, and makes every sentence almost lyrical to the point that I was mesmerized by it while I read.

6. The Testing trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau (YA)


The Seven Stages War left the world in destruction, and it is in need of rebuilding by only a chosen few. In order to become a member of the elite group in charge of this, candidates must go through the Testing, which will give them the opportunity of a college education and career in helping the greater good. When Cia Vale is accepted as a candidate for The Testing, she is ecstatic for the opportunity to follow in her father’s footsteps. But her father’s advice before she leaves sends a chill down her spine: “Trust no one.” As Cia goes through the process, she is hit with a reality that is both shocking and deadly. Can she really trust anyone? Can she trust Tomas, her childhood friend who offers an alliance and seems to have feelings for her? And, can she trust this government that has a huge secret in regards to the Testing process?

I know, I know. Another dystopian novel out in the novel-verse. But let me tell you what sets this one apart from the other ones (like The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies). While this one mentions a love story, IT IS NOT A MAJOR PLOT POINT FOR A CHANGE. I find that super refreshing. Yes, Tomas has some feelings for Cia, but the beauty of this story is that Cia doesn’t spend her time inside of her head wondering constantly what her feelings are for this boy like Katniss does in THG, and even less than Tris does thinking about Four in Divergent. Not only that, but this series is unique in comparison to the other two famous ones. Yes, THG is twisted, but as many people know, it is similar to Battle Royale in many ways. The Testing hit me unexpectedly with some dark realizations about the government in charge, and the fact that it is kept secret from the world (rather than broadcasted like THG) makes it that much more insane. The tests themselves left me staring at my book with my mouth agape. Only those who have been a part of the Testing process know what they consist of, and they are forbidden to speak of it afterwards. While Charbonneau’s writing isn’t close to comparable to other authors in this list (still good though, obviously), I found this storyline so much more interesting than THG or Divergent, and all three novels in the trilogy were equally exciting instead of falling short in the second and third installments. If you are going to read this trilogy, the second and third books are called Independent Study and Graduation Day.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (A)


Melanie thinks that she is just like every other little girl on the base. She wakes up, gets strapped into her wheelchair (head, neck, legs, and arms), and attends school while the guards stand at the door with their rifles at the ready. She loves to tell her favorite teacher, Miss Helen Justineau, about all of the things she wants to do when she grows up, and she doesn’t understand why that makes Miss Justineau look so sad. The reality is, Melanie isn’t like other little girls. The world has been torn apart by a fungus that turns humans into flesh-eating monsters, and Melanie is one of them. Soon, she should develop into a full “hungry,” or zombie-like creature who desires human flesh. However, Melanie appears to have a sense of control that the other students don’t, which makes her a target for research by the base’s lead scientist, Caroline Caldwell. But when the base is attacked by ravagers, Caroline, Helen, Melanie, and a couple of soldiers flee in order to hopefully continue Caroline’s research. But Helen knows that Caroline has a plan for the research, and it isn’t to keep Melanie alive. To Caroline, Melanie is another test subject–her “little genius.” But to Helen, Melanie is a student who is fascinated with the world she thinks she knows outside and has ambition, hopes, and dreams. Helen’s attempts to protect Melanie’s unique innocence creates a major dilemma: does she save Melanie but risk never finding a cure, or does she sacrifice a little girl that she knows and loves in order to possibly save hundreds?

This book came as a suggestion from a friend of mine who is a lover of the horror genre, and his suggestion did not disappoint. This books combines horror and dystopian fiction into a wild ride of deciding whether to do the right thing, or the wrong thing for the greater good. Carey’s writing is blunt and unflinching, and he does not spare any details in regards to the terror that humans have become. I, for one, have never detested a character quite so much as Caroline Caldwell (except, of course, Dolores Umbridge from the HP series), whose practical and heartless approach to every situation made me want to punch her through the pages. Melanie’s innocence and fascination with the world and her mature realization of what she is is endearing. All of the characters appear to be developed so carefully by Carey in their characterization that if the book all of a sudden just became dialogue, you would know exactly who is speaking. The story itself is fast-paced and exciting until the very end. Normally, I am not a big fan of zombie stories, but I absolutely loved this one. It is making me want to give other ones a shot.

8. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (YA)


Cadence Sinclair is a part of a wealthy family. They travel to her grandparents’ private island just off the coast from Martha’s vineyard every summer where she spends her time with her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and a young boy named Gat–the Liars. Her grandparents own the largest house, and the three others houses are for each of their daughters. In Summer Fifteen (as in how old Cadence was at the time), there is an accident. Cadence is found injured in the water, but she can recall nothing of what happened and experiences inexplicable migraines for the next year. She is not allowed to go to the island the next summer, but returns the summer after to find that everything on the island is different. One of the houses is sleek and updated, and even the Liars are acting different. But, no one will discuss what happened in Summer Fifteen with her. Cadence is desperate to know what happened and must piece everything together on her own until the truth finally emerges.

I devoured this book in one day. This was another recommendation from the librarian where I work, and she warned me that it was going to throw me for a loop, but when I got to the end, I wish I had had someone there to take a picture of my face, because I was dumbfounded. I did not see that ending coming, and this was the first mystery novel that genuinely made me almost stand up from my chair and yell, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” I remember walking it back down to the library in the same day, and I looked at Kathy, who was looking at me expectantly, and I said, “I don’t even have words.” She said excitedly, “I KNOW, RIGHT?!” This response is coming from a woman who is normally calm and reserved in any situation or conversation, mind you. I stood there, handing the book over to her, not even knowing where to begin with my opinion. This book is a complete mind-bender, and while Lockhart’s writing is very concise and to-the-point, man does she write a wild story. I could not put it down for even one minute. I almost forgot to eat because I was so engrossed in it and wanted to know what was going to happen next. I had to know what happened to Cadence, and when I found out, I almost flipped over the table I was reading at, and flipped myself over in the process.

I am currently reading The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, which is another WWII historical fiction (like I said, I’m a sucker for them), and this one is already on its way to being put on this list. When I finish it, I will probably include it on this post and re-post it.

So, there you have it! I hope that you decide to pick up one of these books, and that you message me your thoughts, because I love to discuss stories that are dear to me with other people. Vacation is time for you, and if you’re a reader like I am, these are all excellent stories to get lost in while you’re laying on the beach, by the pool, on a boat, or even in a hammock in the middle of the woods. I consider them their own little vacation spots for me to visit, even when I’m laying in bed at home.


Everyone knows someone that is a constantly slow-swinging, emotional pendulum, with one extreme on the left, the other on the right. If you don’t know of anyone, then chances are, you are that person. I know I’m that person. What kind of person is that, you may ask? We are the ones who feel emotions, no matter which ones they are, from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes, and spread into the outermost points of our fingertips. We feel them deeper than the actual depth of our physical bodies. We feel them as if the absolute bottom of the ocean is at the center of our chest, and those emotions manage to reach the very pit of it and burrow down into the sand, making a seemingly permanent home inside of us where we cannot reach them.

I have gone my entire life being someone who feels every emotion and acts on it passionately, whether it be sadness, happiness, anger, jealousy, regret, etc. I have a small handful of people in my life who are also of the same breed, but the majority of the time, I feel as though no one understands why I react to things the way that I do. I am driven by my emotions, and my mind is always one step behind them. But what those other people don’t realize is what it’s like to be one of these people, and thus we often get dismissed as overly-emotional beings, who overreact, overdramatize, and/or overdo everything. I wish I could say that I could control it, but the heart wants what it wants, and the heart feels what it feels. And who are we to tell it to shut the hell up when it’s the thing that’s keeping us breathing and feeling? Plus, for people like us, telling it to stop is, well, next to impossible.

The truth is, I can somewhat sympathize with those people who think that of us. There are times where I look at myself in the mirror and curse the fact that I feel so intensely; but, there are other times where I thank the good Lord above for the same thing.

Why it can be Wonderful


I want you to think about what the happiest moment of your life has been, as of today. Think about what it felt like. Now, take that feeling and amplify it by 100, and imagine feeling that in the most mundane moments. Think about what it would be like to feel that when someone simply compliments your appearance at work, or when you get to pet a random dog walking down the street. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if all of life’s simple moments felt that wonderful?

That’s what I feel in moments that make me happy. Happiness dives into my chest, burrows into the sand, and warmth spreads throughout my entire body. It emits a glow that pulses to the beat of my heart, consistently pumping that warmth through my veins and out through my pores. It stays there until another emotion comes to evict it from its spot. It’s what I felt when I was sitting in a park waiting for photography clients, and an old man with not one, not two, but THREE corgis emerged around the corner (one of them being a puppy), and upon seeing the look on my face, smiled and let the leashes go so that I was stampeded by a mass of corgi kisses and love. It’s what I feel when I see a perfectly bloomed flower in someone’s garden. They are small, unimportant things, but my heart feels them as much larger than that. And because of that, life is always in technicolor when happiness is prevailing.

Not only does happiness radiate for someone like us, but love does to. People like us love with each and every atom that makes up our being. Looking into the eyes of a significant other, husband, or wife is like diving into a pool and suddenly being able to breathe underwater. It takes our breath away every time, but then, when we realize we can breathe again, it is a release of tension, stress, and any panic that exists in our hearts. It happens every time, without fail. It’s what I felt when my first love told me he loved me for the first time. It’s what I felt when another one told me that he was so glad I was his. And in those moments, people like us might as well sprout wings and soar away because that feeling is so intoxicating. We look at our loves and take in all of the details of his or her face, shoulders, hands, and lips, because we want to be able to love every inch of them the way they deserve to be.

We give all of ourselves to these positive emotions, and therein lies our downfall.

Why it can be Simultaneously Awful


As a result of loving so passionately, intensely, and fully, when that love is taken for granted or betrayed, the fall is excruciating. Suddenly, pain bulldozes into our chests and upheaves happiness and love from their rightful place and tears apart the bottom of that ocean until it’s a swirling mess of debris and chaos. It feels like we are exploding, and yet the outside of us remains completely intact. Little does anyone know, the brick and mortar that we have built inside over the years is being demolished by just a few words uttered from the mouth of someone we trusted, loved, and thought had a secured place in our future.

I have watched many a friend have his or her heart broken, and they have always been able to bounce back faster than I am able to. I would look at myself and ask, Why were they able to be okay, yet I’m standing here feeling as though I have lost everything? To quote the eloquent John Green, “Pain demands to be felt” (The Fault in Our Stars). It demands to be felt by everyone, but for us, it demands, and demands, and demands. It’s an unwanted solicitor that won’t take no for an answer. It’s a jackhammer chipping away at our bones until we are whittled away to nothing. It’s what I felt when the first love left, and food had no taste anymore, and I couldn’t attempt to smile without crying instead. It’s what I felt when the next one left, and I couldn’t even eat, let alone want to stay awake and endure the hurt that was patiently sitting at the edge of my bed. It sat there, waiting for me to wake up every day so it could hound me with its loud, screeching, agonizing cries that begged for relief, and begged for reasons as to why this happened again at the hands of someone who had watched it happen to me the first time, and yet turned around and did the same thing to me. It is consuming. It is blinding. And believe it or not, it is often times more than our massive hearts can handle, and telling us to “get over it” and “move on” is not only more painful, but sometimes insulting. We want to look at those people and say, “Don’t you think if we could ‘get over it’ and ‘move on,’ we would?”

Yes, pain and heartbreak is the worst of them all, but it also expands to feelings of regret, worry, anger, etc.

I want you to think about how you felt after doing the worst/meanest thing you have ever done to someone, as of today. Again, amplify it by 100, and you get what we feel when we make the simplest slip-up. It’s what I feel long after I say something that comes out the wrong way, even though the other person tells me that “it’s totally okay” and they understood that I “didn’t mean it that way.” It’s what plagued me for hours after I told a white lie to get out of something that I didn’t want to do, or because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. When we regret, we dream up thousands of ways that we wish we would have gone about it, and almost forget the truth of what we actually did because we want so desperately to believe that something different happened.

When we worry, we concoct every possible horrible scenario that could happen, and it consumes every thought, breath, and movement to the point that we lose all sense of what is happening in the present. When we get angry, every object in our path turns into a potential punching bag, but our hurt overshadows it and whispers in our ear that we love too much to stoop to being harmful. And as a result, that anger drills into our chest and makes our heart beat violently as if it’s imitating the punches we wish we could bring ourselves to throw.

Why it’s Important to Understand

In the most simple terms, what most people feel for a couple of hours or days (at most), we can feel for weeks, sometimes months with all of the intensity, ferocity, and depth of a thousand oceans.

If you are reading this and people are popping into your head that fit the scenarios that I’m talking about, I ask you to open your heart and your understanding to people like us. Yes, when this person literally collapses in the middle of a busy downtown sidewalk because two of her favorite breeds of dog are approaching and the owners have said that she can pet them, you can roll your eyes, but smile, too, and understand that in that moment, she is feeling her ultimate happiness and it will stick with her through any daunting times ahead (side note: I actually did this, and I thank my best friend for being one of those people who understands me when I have moments like this).

When you see that this person is in love (or getting close to it), share in that bliss with them, but be ready to catch them if they fall, because as you know, the fall is blunt and unforgiving.

When this person is feeling regret or worry, don’t dismiss them and tell them that they worry too much, to forget about it, or stop fretting. That makes it worse. Soothe them instead, and assure them that it will be okay. Remind them that what is past is past, and that life does go on after these slip-ups. Remind them that we have zero control of the future, and therefore cannot live in fear of it, because then we, as people, forget to live.

When this person is feeling pain or hurt, whether from heartbreak or other, by no means should you tell them that there are “other fish in the sea” or that they need to move on and get over it. Understand that their heart has a difficult time catching up with the reality in their head that they do not deserve the hurt that they are going through, or that the person who did this to them is a jackass and doesn’t deserve someone like them. Understand that they wanted that fish, and they are not ready to accept another fish on their line. Validate their feelings, because nothing is more comforting for them than feeling like someone, somewhere understands just how unbearable it all is. And if you’ve never experienced heartbreak, don’t say anything. Let them vent, let them cry, and hold them close, instead. Because nothing is more frustrating for them than explaining feelings with which you cannot empathize.

People like us aren’t asking to be babied. There are plenty of doses of reality that we need to open our eyes to, and we welcome those moments with open arms. We don’t want to live in a fantasy world where we are invincible. All we ask is to be understood. Understand that we feel more than most, and therefore may take small moments and blow them up into something greater than they appear to others. Understand that we take quite a bit longer to bounce back from hurt than most, and that we need you, even if we push you away.

We need you to understand because in the moment, it is nearly impossible to articulate what we are feeling. Because we have gone for so long having no one to turn to that comprehends what we go through. Because swinging on that pendulum alone from one extreme to another is both gratifying and hellish, and it’s a comfort to know that you are there to catch us if it swings too violently, and launches us into the deep abyss of a thousand emotions that demand to be felt again, and again, and again.


Those close to me know that I have a slight (okay, huge) fascination with James Dean, and I’ve had many people ask me why/how I became interested in him. Whenever I was asked, the topic either changed or I honestly didn’t have enough time to tell the whole story. Most people are familiar with his face, and for most people, his face alone is enough to be interested. But, my interest in him goes much deeper than that, which I don’t think a lot of people realize.

The first time I took notice of James Dean, I was in middle school on vacation with my family. We were sitting in a restaurant, and on the wall was a poster of Jimmy sporting his signature brooding look. If you know his face, I’m sure you know the look I’m talking about. At the bottom of the poster was this quote, said by Dean himself:

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”


While I was struck by his obvious good looks and my middle school heart began to flutter, I was also mesmerized by those words and that look in his eyes. I had heard his name before in songs, heard his name referenced in movies, and I always wondered why he seemed to be so iconic. And thus, my fascination with Jimmy began.

As a youngster, of course, my obsession initially began with how impossibly handsome he was. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I decided to delve deeper into who Jimmy was, and why he appeared to have left such a mark on the world. After a quick Google search, I learned that he had only made three movies in his life, because his life had been cut short in 1955 at the age of 24 when he died in a car crash. Immediately, my heart hurt. Why? Good question. Why did my heart hurt for a man who had been dead for over 50 years and I had never met, nor would ever meet? In hindsight, I believe it’s because something inside of me knew that Jimmy’s life and his story would end up meaning a whole lot more to me than I knew at the time.

College was really the first time I dove deep into Jimmy’s story. I was reading articles online, and each reading left me wanting to know more. I read reviews of his movies, all of them hailing him as a unique talent that the world would never know again. When I finally got my hands on his most iconic film, Rebel Without a Cause, I saw precisely why. He performed with raw truth, innocence, and possessed an aura of inner torment. The wild, brooding look was there, and his talent drew me in like a siren’s song. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to see his other films, and after seeing them, my heart ached even more over the fact that a man that young, with so, so much talent, was taken away from the world too soon.

Then, I picked up the biography that was rated as the most accurate and thorough account of Jimmy’s life, The Mutant King by David Dalton. And before I get into what solidified my admiration of Jimmy, I have to interject with a quick story of myself.

Growing up, I was the only girl in my family, and one of four girl cousins (including mom and dad’s side) out of twelve, only one of which was my age. So, basically, I was always surrounded by male influences. Therefore, I grew up liking “boy stuff” in addition to my Barbies and Bratz Dollz. I loved playing with Legos, Star Wars Micro Machines, the little green army men in our sandbox in the backyard, Nerf guns, the list goes on. I loved Batman, TMNT, Power Rangers, and Pokemon. When I got to middle school and high school, it was obvious that I wasn’t like most of the other girls in my class. I wasn’t into makeup/shopping/doing my hair much, I detested Laguna Beach and The Hills, I was a major Harry Potter/LOTR geek, and I just knew I was different. I loved history and was fascinated with the 1920s and 1950s. I made the cheerleading team when I was a freshman, and that’s when I was made almost painfully aware that I was an odd bird. I got along with everyone, but I knew I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of them. And while I have always embraced who I am and have always been proud of it, it wasn’t easy to feel and be constantly reminded that I didn’t exactly fit into any particular clique or place in the hierarchy of high school. I spent those years bouncing between my cheerleading friends, choir friends, theatre friends, and friends from middle school. Everyone else seemed to have a “group,” and I didn’t. College was a relief for me, and it’s where I finally felt like I could just be me without the pressure of needing to feel like I fit somewhere.

SO, back to The Mutant King. As I read through this incredibly detailed account of Jimmy’s life, I learned that Jimmy was pretty much exactly like I was, though his high school was significantly smaller than mine. He was in a lot of different sports and extracurriculars, but found most of his happiness in theatre. He didn’t have one place that he fit. But the thing about him that resonated the most with me was that when he began his acting career, both in television and movies, he butted heads with a lot of people. He was remembered by people as initially off-putting, emotionally sporadic, narcissistic, and quiet. But those who were close to him described him as kind, goofy, and a man who loved others and loved life. When he moved to New York, he became a member of the Actors Studio, where he learned the art of method acting, and it was his method acting that became a frustration for his costars. He was notorious for doing scenes differently every time he did them, mumbling his lines, and throwing off his costars with his unpredictability. Elia Kazan, who had discovered Jimmy at the Actors Studio, encouraged his method acting when he directed him in East of Eden, and Nicholas Ray did the same for him when he directed Jimmy in Rebel. His older costars who were used to the traditional way of acting would get angry and irritated with his antics, but Kazan and Ray knew that they were getting raw, emotional, and real performances out of Jimmy by allowing him to method act. However, when Jimmy landed a supporting role in Giant aside Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, his method acting was met with a lot of pushback from director George Stevens. Stevens was different than the previous two directors that Jimmy worked with, and he liked to spend hours upon hours of shooting and then cutting things away in the editing room, leaving Jimmy and other actors to sit doing nothing all day on set when they thought they’d be, well, acting. Method acting takes a lot out of you emotionally, so Jimmy would prepare himself to become his character (Jett Rink) and end up doing absolutely nothing. In protest to this constant interruption of his craft, he just didn’t show up to set one day, which infuriated Stevens. When Stevens threatened to kick Jimmy out of Hollywood, Jimmy met that with a cool statement about sticking to his guns. The biography also mentioned a scene or two in which Jimmy had taken his own liberties with his character (not in the script) that never made it into the final cut. But, despite a lot of angry fights and outbursts from the director, Jimmy tried to remain who he was as an actor and as an artist, and did everything he could to bring Jett Rink to life the way that he saw fit.

And that right there is why I find him beautiful, and why he is now and forever a hero in my heart. In the midst of people who wanted him to do things their way, from costars to directors, he remained 100% Jimmy. He was different, and did his damnedest to make sure that no one dulled his shine. As someone who always felt like she never really fit in any particular place, Jimmy’s story made me realize that it’s okay not to fit. It’s okay not to be liked by everyone. It’s okay to do things the way you want, even if others don’t understand it or don’t like it, because staying true to who you are as a person and as an artist are what’s going to matter down the road. Sure, Jimmy angered and frustrated a lot of people, yet he also gained a lot of love and respect from others. And what did he get by staying true to himself? Eternal glory. Eternal respect. Eternal life. He left a legacy of originality and individuality that spoke to so many misunderstood young people in the 1950s, and I know it has spoken to me as a young person in the 2000s. I look at that unforgettable face of his and am reminded every day of these lessons and stories, and they inspire me to never allow anyone to try and tear me down for being who I am.


When I was going through the heartbreak I talked about in my last post, I ventured to Fairmount to pay my respects to this man who had made me feel like I was not alone. I had immersed myself in his story and felt understood by someone I had never met before. I read that when people visit Jimmy’s grave, they leave personal items, cigarettes, flowers, etc. So, on my way to Park Cemetery, I stopped and bought a single, red rose; something as unique and beautiful as he was. When I found his headstone, I was overcome with an emotion I couldn’t exactly understand or explain. I knelt down next to it and broke down into tears. I thanked him for assuring me that I was not alone, for reassuring me that being different is beautiful, and for inspiring me and encouraging me to stay that way. I also read (and saw proof) that women come to his grave and kiss his headstone with red lipstick, so I did, too (it’s the one right above the “e” and “s” in “James”). In addition to my rose, I clipped a keychain off of my car keys (a letter “S” from Coach) that I had owned since I was sixteen, and attached it to the rose. I don’t remember how long I sat there, but I know it was a good, long while.



The events surrounding Jimmy’s death are eerie, and are just another aspect of his story that make him so fascinating to me. I could go on for hours about all of the different coincidences, but I’ll just talk about my favorite ones. First, Jimmy’s Porsche Spyder, “Little Bastard,” is said to have been cursed after his death. The car was taken apart and parts from it were sold. Apparently, those who put the parts of Little Bastard into their own cars all ended up in automobile accidents. Second, Jimmy had told multiple people that he didn’t expect to live past the age of 30, and made a comment to another friend that if he were to die, he would want it to be a car crash, because he would at least go out in a blaze of glory. And last, while filming for Giant, Jimmy also filmed a PSA about safe driving. The line he was supposed to say was, “The life you save could be your own.” But, in typical Jimmy fashion, he changed the line on camera and said, “Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine.” And, sure enough, due to someone else’s careless driving, Jimmy was no longer alive just short of a couple of weeks later.

Now, what I am about to tell you is going to sound a little crazy, but I swear on my life, it is true. I remember at one point during these months of reading, researching, and self-discovery, saying to a friend of mine, “I wish I could have met him, because I feel like we would have been good friends.” And I shit you not, I dreamt about him only a couple of nights later. In the dream, we were stepping out of a car together, he in a tux, and me in a gown, onto a carpet to head into some kind of premiere together. As reporters flocked to us, he held his arm out in front of him and said, “Now, now, make way for me and my beautiful wife.” And he looked at me and smiled. That is all I remember of the dream, but the moment was as vivid and felt as real as me sitting here at my laptop typing this now. I can still feel his hand on the small of my back, leading me down the walkway. Weird? Absolutely. But damn, was it cool.

So, there you have it. To me, Jimmy is more than just a pretty face and unforgettable talent. He is my inspiration, my reminder, and my forever positive influence to stay true to myself, no matter who or what tries to get in my way. And I will always be thankful for seeing his face on that poster in the restaurant all those years ago.