What’s Missing in US Gun Control Debates

These are the statistics:
1982-2011 – America has a public mass shooting at a rate of every 200 days
After 2011 – America has a public mass shooting at the rate of every 64 days

With the student-led March for Our Lives demonstration in 2018, public support ‘common sense’ gun control policies appears to be increasing. In fact, Abele reports that 90% of Americans “support universal background checks” for gun purchases. Capitalising on this, many prominent 2020 presidential candidates have taken it up as a policy issue.

But these discussions miss one crucial element of the problem: public mass shootings have become far more common recently (Mother Jones and Harvard School of Public Health), and there’s ample reason for that.

The one factor that cannot be ignored is best exemplified by Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 students in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He was pictured wearing a Donald Trump campaign hat – saying ‘Make America Great Again’ – and allegedly had ties to white supremacist groups. 

A tweet, which is one of many, in which President Trump appears to demonise Mexican immigrants

Vitriolic political rhetoric is not a new problem – but it is one that has been exacerbated by the widespread use of social media. In addition to this, politicians’ use or approval of it themselves, whether serious or in jest, has the effect of normalising such opinions. 

This effect in turn can motivate the mentally ill, or otherwise unstable, to extreme lengths. In a world moving toward globalisation, we cannot tolerate another massacre – no matter who the victims are.

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Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Since I read this as an audiobook, the lovely picture used above is from Jenna M. Be sure to also check out her review of the book too!

Reading this was a unique experience for me: it was my first time listening to an audiobook! I found myself working at the same time, mind caught between the book and something else, not really enjoying either. But a book like this deserves better. It took me by surprise, delivered a few well-aimed and deliberate plot twists, and left me reeling.

“I have long operated under the idea that civility is subservience. But it hasn’t gotten me very far, that type of kindness. The world respects people who think they should be running it.”

Taylor Jenkins Reid

What worked for me

Glitz and grit of Old Hollywood: I believe that a fundamental human want is to know what celebrities get up to – whether they’re people, just like us, or whether our awe of them is justified. This book in no small way illustrates both the luxury of wealth, and its limitations. The characters attend the Oscars, go to lavish restaurants, and wear stunningly-described clothes. But none of it protects them from abuse, heartbreak or death. In fact, you get a sense of the pressure that a reputation like that of Evelyn Hugo (aka fictional Marilyn Monroe) would entail: a life under the spotlights means one with no perceivable flaws.

The real love interest: as would be expected, this story’s through line comes in romance. This is a story full of love, and yet you still unabashedly root for this one in particular to work out. It is another aspect not romanticised – the relationship has flaws that could signal its end, but wouldn’t necessarily onein real life. It keeps you on your toes, unabashedly hopeful and yet unsure if they ever will get their happy ending. Evelyn’s story has such an air of melancholy that you really do wonder if she’ll be left with a broken heart – and if you’ll end up with one on her behalf.

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.” 

Taylor Jenkins Reid

And… what didn’t

Repetitiveness: in a book with no fewer than seven love interests, and a main character consistently willing to marry for personal gain, the plot often became repetitive. The author asks you to suspend your disbelief and think ‘this time will be different’ a few many times; I found myself snoozing through the portions of the book where I can already tell what the ending would be. The writing was simply not captivating enough to pull you through those gaping filler stories.

Character development de Monique: I shouldn’t have been surprised that Evelyn Hugo was undoubtedly the main character of the story. Somehow, I was though – perhaps because it’s quickly revealed that she is not its narrator. The plot line revolving around narrator Monique, with Evelyn as an inspiration to be bold and act fiercely, serves as another uninspiring backdrop. This is to be expected, of course: comparing the highlights of a more than sixty years of life to a few weeks, one is bounded to not compare. I only wish the writer had realised the same.

Final review: 3.5/5 stars

Review: The Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo

As an avid fan of Leigh Bardugo’s subversive ‘Six of Crows’ duology, I was thrilled to delve deeper into her ‘Grishaverse’. It was a no-brainer new favourite, yet I still stopped reading before finishing the first chapter. I was shocked to see I could already guess its plot: girl meets boy; boy introduces girl to a magical new world; girl falls in love; and girl powers up to defeat the big bad. It was only when I finally picked it up again that I realised how much of that is inverted here.

“Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.” 

Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone

What worked for me

The villain: I’d argue that the protagonist gang of ‘Six of Crows’ is the closest in-universe comparison of this villain – emphasising the empathetic writing. An antagonist who’s both unlikable and ruthless, and strangely understandable in his loneliness, he is the key to keeping the series fascinating. There’s an interesting parallel too – a character foil – with another enterprising main character. This suggests how noble qualities such as ambition and a desire to protect can just as easily become flaws, depending on how far you would go to achieve your ideals. Perhaps a good person is simply one whose limits haven’t yet been tested.

Magic system: of everything I’ve read, the ‘Grishaverse’ has to have one of my favourite representations of magic. Grisha magic begins as a hard magic system, with definite categories of powers. Throughout the series, these ideas are subtly eroded to suggest that certain limitations to power may be self-defined, and therefore overcome. A certain character straddles the line between two orders of Grisha, and her powers are one of the most interesting of the bunch. In addition to this, magic is shown to have a profound and well-thought-out impact on religion, politics and culture. Bardugo’s world-building in this sense is unparalleled.

“What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.” 

Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

What almost worked

Debate on morality: With multiple characters with limitless, explosive power, ethics could’ve been the necessary puzzle piece to keep the books interesting even in its non-essential scenes. Though it is briefly debated, mostly characters seemed to see it as fairly black-and-white. An example of the ball being dropped in this is a monster type mentioned. They used to be people, and are implied to even still have some humanity; this could’ve led to a moral dilemma on whether killing them is acceptable. Yet, this is neatly glossed over and results in a plot thread with no conclusion.

“You are stronger, wiser, infinite in experience.” I leaned forward and whispered, my lips brushing the shell of his ear. “But I am an apt pupil.” 

Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising

And… what didn’t

Undeveloped characters and romance: it’s been a long time since I couldn’t fully root for the main romance in a book like this. I found the main love interest intensely bland – especially when two other fascinating potentials are introduced. It’s told, rather than shown, that he’s cocky, and apart from his love, that truly seems his only defining quality. This may just be a symptom of a larger problem – unlike in Bardugo’s other books, the less important characters have no discernible spark of personality.

Lack of consequences: in a grave situation, and one later described as extremely bloody, almost every main character survives purely through the magic of plot armour. This is the risk of having multiple series following your book – most characters have to survive to continue it. The magic system comes close to being flat-out broken by being used for resurrection, raising a million plot holes. In all of this, it ends up with every character with two or less witty lines dead (in a failed attempt at emotional impact) with no fanfare, and every character with an emotional arc alive.

Final review: 4/5 stars

Time’s Up in 2019: where to go from here?

There’s no doubt you’ve heard of it: the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have become national and international news in two short years. While #MeToo encouraged victims to speak up about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault to demonstrate prevalence, the Time’s Up movement took action against what had been shown to be an epidemic of sex-based crime.

One key thing to note here, is that while both movements have affected many, both were predominantly American enterprises. In fact, Time’s Up was started by Hollywood celebrities, which begs the question – what is Bollywood, and the rest of India, doing about the same problem?

It’s undeniable that Indian, and in general, Asian, culture has a conservative approach to women’s sexuality, and this can and has bled into their mentality regarding sexual assault. The fear of the social stigma that may come with allegations has lead to devastating consequences for women. 

A 2006 National Crime Records Bureau report estimated that unreported rape crimes made up 71% of all rape crimes in India, as opposed to the international UN estimate of 11%. This is in addition to the fact that marital rape is not yet considered illegal in India.

Personally, that’s quite unacceptable. High unreported rape would indicate a prevalence of those who would persecute a known survivor of these crimes, rather than help. As for marital rape – Time’s Up is engraining in us that no means no, no matter your relation, your clothing, or the circumstances. 

These dire facts point to only one fact: revolution is coming for this country. As more and more women, including some in Bollywood, continue to speak honestly about their experiences, we should expect to see this matter be taken seriously, worldwide, in our lifetimes.

Modern Magic: a short story

Do be sure to take the poll at the end of this story!

I know what you must be thinking – super-powered abilities really aren’t run of the mill. So why am I using mine to fix such a… mundane issue? Well, what you must understand is that at this point in my life, I was sure I’d perfected the art of the waking. Roll out of bed, brush your teeth, wash your face. Bundle up warm for the frighteningly cold day, and the rest is an graceful dance in the pursuit of getting out the door at around the speed of light. 

Then rush out the building, not taking the time to savour the redolent bakery. I should’ve known I would still be late – it’s just that it’s far too easy to become so reliant on your abilities, that you forget how life was before them. I made it only about halfway to campus before realising I was set on an inevitable crash course for lateness and one of my professor’s world-renowned lectures. A quick pause and a glance at my inner city surroundings showed the perfect solution.

A second later, I’d ducked into a nearby narrow alley – truly the kind of place where a movie character would get ambushed and assaulted. After a brief check around me to confirm that wasn’t not the case, I yanked my gloves off and splayed my fingers. My fingers warmed as they moved in a circular motion, and I was once again treated to the sight of the people walking backwards on the streets. Cars seemed to reverse in a perfectly orderly fashion, and any passengers must’ve been talking backwards. I pulled out my phone with my other hand and watched the time tick back 8 minutes, 9, 10… I dropped my hands abruptly and pulled back on my gloves.

Being a superhero is rather fun – if you use your powers right; why strain yourself fighting crime when you could ensure you had a little extra time to finish your homework? After all, the snooze button has nothing on the ability to grant yourself some well-deserved rest, out of time’s linear path. I meandered far more cheerfully to school with those thoughts swirling, confident in the knowledge that I would arrive with time to spare. I shoved my jittery hands into my pockets – surely, every power must come at a price – and people-watch as I strolled along.

How peculiar, I thought, that those people were at my mercy, with no knowledge of it. The woman across the street with her grocery list a foot long had probably already bought her items, and was altogether none the wiser. It would have been, enough to give most people a god complex! Lucky my ego wasn’t any bigger – My thought was impolitely interrupted when a petite girl rounded a corner, directly into me.

“Yo, watch where you’re going!” She neatly ignored me, and continued on her path – backwards? She back-pedalled across the sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. I reached out to grab her shoulder, and not a second too late: her unconventional path was ready to take her directly onto the busy road. “What the hell are you doing?” She pulled out her earphones huffily, and looked at me with keen eyes.

My heart skipped a nervous beat; it felt far too coincidental for me to have met a crazy girl walking backwards just moments after I had used my power. Whatever she found in her scan of my face was clearly unsatisfactory, as she demurred, “Nothing, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks, I guess.” She nodded her chin nonchalantly at the road that I saved her from. 

Her easy dismissal lit a flicker of indignation in my chest. “Try me, Miss Condescending.”

Fumbling to untangle her earphones from her jet-black mane of hair (and looking decidedly comical), she turned and glared. “Really? You wanna hear it from the crazy girl? Some idiot is messing with this timeline, and they just reset this day. Not by much, I assume, only by a couple-” I clamped a hand over her mouth quickly, and her wide eyes were the only notice I got before she starts yelling to “Get this crazy boy off!”

A woman stopped and stared disapprovingly, apparently judging it a petty lover’s quarrel. With my thoughts slowly leaving ‘fight-or-flight’, I dropped my hand, only to catch the piercing look the crazy girl speared me with. I was entirely unsurprised and only a little resistant when she started dragging me somewhere. When I noticed she was taking me to the same shady alley, a sneaking ironic feeling of déjà vu crawled up my spine. Definitely not a coincidence.

“I can walk by myself,” I grumbled, shucking her vice-like grip. Nonetheless, she waited for me to go ahead, and I had the jarring realisation that I was about to be interrogated.

True to form, she didn’t beat around the bush, forcing me into the alley away from prying eyes, only to whisper-scream, “It’s you, isn’t it? The time-traveller? What the hell are you thinking?”

An idle part of me wondered if she was part of an undercover operation to root out secret superheroes, and what the benefits might have been of employing a young, cute, female agent for that. “Yes, yes, and I doubt I was thinking. Why should I? It’s my power, to use however I want.” Her mouth fell open, eyes clearly showing her scathing judgement. Instinctively, my arms crossed and I continued, “What’s it to you, anyway? What are you, a-” I lost his train of thought in accusing her of being a cop – or more accurately, I jumped off my train of thought and collided head-first with another. “Are you like me? A superhero?” 

Head ducked, she snorted softly, sending another indignant stab rushing through me. “I mean, superhero is one word for it, but…” She pulled off her gloves and I watched as her fingers flutter over the ground. Where once there was only frost shards, she brought up a plant stem, as if in hyper-speed.

It was my turn to be unimpressed. “Your power is growing weeds. In a city. You do realise you have the least useful superpower in the history of anyone, right?” Her gaze snapped up and I barely had time to register her movement before the shoot moved to wrap itself around my foot. “Hey! Stop that!” I stumbled backwards and put my hands up in as conciliatory a gesture as I can manage, considering she just tried to entrap me. 

“Oh, relax. It wouldn’t affect you.” Her statement was punctuated with a small smirk that seems to ask, ‘not so useless, huh?’ “Have you stopped any crime? Solved any felonies? What was your reason for using your ‘superpower’ this time?” Her words were dripping so heavily with sarcasm that the air-quotes are implied – her arms were obviously too busy, in actuality, with her passionate arm gestures. I moved back slightly to avoid a hit.

For a moment, I contemplated telling this know-it-all girl that I had prevented a mugging, saved a gunshot victim, stopped a suicide attempt before it even happened. But her eyes bored into me with unwavering principle, and I simply couldn’t speak the words. “I used it because I needed to get to college on time, sue me,” I mumbled instead.

I awaited her verdict, but she was already turning away. “So what’s so heroic about you?” Somehow, her dispassionate response struck harder than a yell. 

I moved to follow her out the alley, though my intentions past that felt suddenly unclear. She’d only just stepped out when a older girl grabbed her by the wrist. “I’ve been looking all over for you, mija!” The new girl held up her hand, showing a tracker app, and for some reason, that sent shivers down my spine. 

The girls looked similar enough that I was unsure on whether to question the new arrival’s presence, but she pulled her ostensible-sister along with long pointy nails digging into her skin. “Hey, wait up!” I ran up to the impatiently waiting girls, and here my planned actions ran out. “I-I’ve never met someone – someone like me before, and since I don’t know-” The elder sister only rolled her doe eyes and continued storming away. Miss Condescending, previously so animated, seemed to have lost her fire.

“Why do you always have to act like this?

My feet paused at the mouth of the alley, apprehensive about what might have been my first real decision of the morning – or perhaps, even longer. It was more instinctive that time to pull off my gloves and whip out my powers. I didn’t even need my phone this time: I continue until she’s back in the alley, looking self-righteous as she should be, and her seedling had shrunken again. Her eyes stayed wide-open the whole time, and I realised that I had forgotten to ask her of the crucial question of how she knew she had time-travelled.

When her movements were her own again (she flexed her fingers to check this), her breathing slowed and she straightened up. “That was risky.”

“What was?” I said, peering out onto the street. 

“You didn’t know if I would remember you what happened after the rewind. You didn’t know if I wanted to rewind.”

“Didn’t you?”

She took my out-stretched hand and we hurtled down the street in the opposite direction from where her sister had come, and would come again. “Yes.”

“Then it wasn’t a risk at all.”

Her delighted laugh was punctuated with little gasps as she tried to catch her breath. We stopped two blocks from there, leaning against a solid brick wall. She fiddled with her phone for a moment before gazing up at me. “The name’s Mia. You know, in case you were wondering.”

“Jamie.” I continued with as much bravado as I can muster, as if her response didn’t matter, “So, how do you feel about teaching me how to be an honest-to-god superhero?” 

She laughed, and started walking away. For a split second, I was certain she’ll keep walking, but she turned back with a grin. “First lesson, keep up…”

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I must say – the original cover is far better, especially since the film cast doesn’t always match the book’s given character appearances!

On my first read of ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, I didn’t understand the hype. It’s no understatement to say it’s considered a modern classic, one of those coming-of-age books that everyone is supposed to read – but I just couldn’t appreciate its appeal. Upon a reread, I think I finally see it.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” 

Stephen Chbosky

What worked for me

Feeling infinite: in all the teenage-centric books I’ve ever read, this had one of the most interesting views on memories. Instead of describing a so-called ‘perfect day’ , the author repeatedly shows how we remember specific moments in all their brilliance. I’ve certainly felt the same: memories where I forgot adolescence is fleeting, where every part of me lived in the moment. In addition, this method helped keep the book brief, and thereby impactful the whole read through. The moment of feeling infinite is both the book’s best scene, and a cementing moment of the central friendship.

Inconclusiveness: move aside, happy ending – this novel takes a unique stance on how best to conclude a coming-of-age story. Since it heavily features romance, I was expecting the classic ‘boy gets with girl and they ride off into the sunset together’ ending. I was pleasantly surprised in that: it’s clear that the main character is not only continuing to learn, but “both happy and sad at the same time“, come the end of the novel. It feels like we only saw an excerpt of a story; he feels like a real person, whose life existed before the novel, and will continue long after.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Stephen Chbosky

And… what didn’t

Abusive relationships: the above quote is used at a point in the book to explain why a character stayed in an abusive relationship. Beautiful as it is, this use of it is incredibly problematic. The main character, who this is explained to, is not a child. He’s fifteen years old at the time, and this is far too old to be limiting your understanding of intimate relationship abuse to something so glib and simplistic. If a book brings up such nuanced issues, they ought to be addressed with the suitable gravitas.

The idea of a wallflower: this one was such a glaring issue that it blinded me at first to the book’s virtues. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve seen a plot line revolve around an introvert ‘discovering themselves’ by becoming more social. This is simply not how the world works. Chbosky’s emphasis on ‘participating’ is certainly noble, but it’s implied to be done exclusively through parties and dances, dates and hang-outs. Instead, a single friendship scene could’ve been cut in order to show a more real experience: this shy student discovering new hobbies and talents, and coming into himself individually, and as a friend.

Final review: 3.5/5 stars