Tag Archives: bullying

Flash Friday Fiction – ‘Marooned’

Image: 'Marooned', by Howard Pyle, 1909, Public Domain image. Sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Image: ‘Marooned’, by Howard Pyle, 1909, Public Domain image. Sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Marooned

‘Hey, freak. Look where you’re going, yeah?’

‘Oi! We’re talking to you, man! Where you going?’

‘I just wanted –’

‘Nah, nah, nah. Get back here. What you got there?’

‘Just – just my homework, okay? N-nothing –‘

‘Whoo-hoo! Freako’s got a book.’

‘Oh, yeah? Give it here. ‘Marooned’? Looks like old rubbish, man.’

‘It’s v-vintage science-fiction, f-from –‘

‘Whatever, man. Space? Gotta be weird.’

‘Freako. Never talking to nobody. You too good for us, are ya? You special, or something?’

‘N-no. Of course not.’

‘Yeah, right. Stuck-up. That’s all you are.’

‘Be careful with the book! Please! It was my dad’s!’

‘So I shouldn’t do this, then?’

‘No – please!’

‘Hoo, man! Nice one! Cover’s ripped right off.’

‘Got something to say, freak-boy? Geek boy? Nah?’

‘Not goin’ to lower yourself to speak to us, eh?’

‘Whatever, man. Let’s roll.’

‘Later, loner.’

‘Loser.’

I pick up the pages, alone. I gather my things, alone. I keep breathing, alone. I live.

**

This week, my Flash! Friday effort had to focus on the painting, above, and include the concept of ‘arrogance’; I’m not really sure why my mind went to the assumption, on the part of the bullies in this story, that the child they’re targeting is arrogant instead of shy and awkward. I also felt myself falling naturally into a story told practically all in dialogue – it did make it hard to conclude the piece, and I’m not sure I managed it quite how I wanted to, but I think I’ve taken the prompt in an unusual direction, and I’ve written a story, and isn’t that the main thing?

In other news – I’ve survived reading my agent’s editorial letter, which was long and detailed and full of stuff, some nice and some not, about what needs to change in my book. She’s right, of course, about most of it and I do feel a proper fool for not seeing some of the errors she pointed out, but that’s the name of the game. I’m taking a few days to let the edits settle, and then I’ll be back into the thick of it, fists swinging. Whatever you’re up to this weekend, do it well and be happy, and remember – things are never as bad as you fear.

 

ISPCC Shield Campaign – Standing Up to Bullying

If you’ve been following me on Twitter over the past few weeks, doubtless you’ll have seen me making mention of the #ISPCCShield hashtag from time to time. In case you’ve been wondering what on earth that means, then wonder no more. Today is the ISPCC’s (the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s) National Day of Action against bullying, and the Shield is the logo they’ve chosen to symbolise their commitment to eradicating the scourge of bullying, once and for all.

The ISPCC is a charity I hold very dear. They work tirelessly – and without any significant government funding – for the betterment of the lives of all children, no matter where they live or who they are or how much money their parents have. They run Childline (available on the phone at 1800 66 66 66, via text message (within Ireland) by texting ‘Talk’ to 50101, or on webchat via their website), 24 hours a day 365 days a year, and all staffed mainly by volunteers. They were recently involved in setting up Ireland’s Missing Children’s Helpline, designed to give help and support to parents when their child goes missing, and also to reach out to the missing child him/herself, giving them a non-judgmental way to contact home if they need to. The Helpline is also designed to help children considering running away, helping them find better options to deal with their problems.

Pretty amazing, I hope you’ll agree.

Almighty BOD (Brian O'Driscoll) thinks so, too. Image: businessandleadership.com

Almighty BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) thinks so, too.
Image: businessandleadership.com

In March 2012, the ISPCC launched the Shield Campaign for the first time. The Shield logo itself is simple: a person wears a Shield pin (available in selected retailers across Ireland, or from an army of volunteer sellers who’ll be braving the weather tomorrow all over the country) in order to display their commitment to eradicating bullying wherever they see it. The Shield shows that its wearer will act as a shield between a child and a bully, and that any child being bullied can turn to a Shield-wearer for help and support. Children and adults alike can wear it to show that they will not be a bystander, and they will not allow anyone to be bullied in their presence without standing up and saying something.

Importantly, the price of the Shield pin – €2 – goes directly to the ISPCC to help them fund their vital work. The charity sector in Ireland has taken a battering recently due to scandals at senior management in a small handful of charitable organisations, but it’s important to remember that not all charities should be judged the same way. Charities still need help and support, and the ISPCC is one I particularly love. It’s suffering due to lack of funds, and if it suffers then thousands of children will suffer, too.

Because of that, I’m volunteering to sell Shields today, and I’m writing this post to let anyone who happens to stumble across it know that the ISPCC can accept donations through their website (if you’re not living in Ireland, or you won’t be able to get out and about to buy a Shield); more importantly, I want to say that I’m a proud Shield-wearer, and that I fully support any effort to stamp out bullying, in all its forms.

Image: ispcc.ie

Image: ispcc.ie

Bullying isn’t just picking on a smaller child and using your fists to hurt them. It’s calling names, or spreading rumours, or attacking another person’s reputation, or making threats. It’s making insulting comments on Twitter and linking it to your victim’s @account. A scandal involving this very thing happened – among adults – as recently as this week, and among adults who are intelligent and talented and who should have known better, at that. It’s writing hurtful things on their Facebook wall. It’s sending them text messages designed to hurt or frighten them. It’s saying things like ‘if you don’t agree with me, then I’m going to hurt you’ – I am dumbfounded by how often I see things like this on Twitter, or Tumblr, or in social media in general. If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, why would you say it on a social media account?

Image: ispcc.ie

Image: ispcc.ie

Bullying is ganging up on someone and pulling them to shreds. It’s laughing at someone because you think they’re weak, or different, or weird. It’s setting yourself up as the arbiter of justice, and deciding that other people – for sometimes nonsensical reasons – don’t measure up to your standards. It’s not thinking about your actions. It’s using words carelessly, words like ‘loser’ or ‘fool’ or ‘idiot’ or worse; words which make someone else afraid.

It’s not something that people ‘just have to go through.’ It’s not something kids need to experience ‘in order to toughen them up.’ It’s not ‘just for the laugh.’ It’s not acceptable, from anyone or in any situation. It’s not acceptable from adults, or from children; in workplaces or in playgrounds; in real life or on the internet. The Shield Campaign is designed to draw attention to bullying and to bring it out into the light, where it can be dealt with properly.

If you’re a bully, the urge to hurt others can come from a deep place of pain within you. The ISPCC’s Shield Campaign is designed to help bullies, too – because, sometimes, bullies need more help than their victims do. It can come from a sense of disenfranchisement or powerlessness or because of a history of abuse that you’ve suffered in silence – or for a whole galaxy of reasons. One thing is definitely true: taking it out on another person may give you momentary relief, but it won’t solve your own problems. Worse than that, it might end up really hurting someone else.

Image: ispcc.ie

Image: ispcc.ie

If you happen to have €2 burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re looking for a good way to spend it, you could do worse than buying an ISPCC Shield today. If you feel like donating a small amount in order to help in a more long-term way, that would be wonderful too – or, if you’re not Irish, and your own country has a similar organisation to the ISPCC which you’d prefer to support, that would be awesome. But – most importantly – try always to stand up to bullying, no matter where you find it, and remember to treat every other person with the same respect you would show to someone you love.

And, finally, try to show good example to any young people in your life, and show them the way to treat others through your own actions.

Here endeth the lesson.

(Incidentally, in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, writing-wise, lately, well… I’ll have more to say about than on Monday. Stay tuned!)

Image: wodumedia.org

Image: wodumedia.org

Wednesday Write-In #77

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

warm beer :: ridicule :: double vision :: colt :: connect

This week, a voice and a scenario came straight into my head, and it’s something slightly different from my usual style – or so I think, at least. Let’s see if you agree.

Image: ubercomments.com

Image: ubercomments.com

The Last Drop

I’m laughing when I fall into the kitchen – someone shoved me, but I’ll never know who. The swinging door slaps smack against the panelboard wall and I tumble, bumpidibump, through it.

‘Hey!’ I shout, already half-up from my knee-bashed crouch. ‘Not cool!’ I get ready to turn around and go after them, but something makes me stop. Something catches me.

And it’s then that I see you, perched on the countertop beside the half-open fridge, and you see me too and there’s that look in your eye again, that look, the one you used to get. Before.

‘Warm beer,’ I mumble, nodding at the fridge, and the words come out all sticky and burning, like napalm.

‘Nothing worse,’ you say and your voice is as fresh and shocking as rain in winter despite the fact that I have heard it before, so many times, and in so many different colours.

‘Yeah.’ I pull myself up onto my feet again and make myself swear I will not trip and I yank my fingers through my stupid hair and I start walking toward you like I was planning, all this time, to do it anyway.

‘How’ve you been?’ you ask as I get close enough to close the fridge door. It meets with a soft moist little noise, a flumf sort of noise, one that gets me thinking about other stuff, the sort of stuff that gives me double vision as I imagine the things that could have happened between us but didn’t.

‘How’ve I been?’ I sound so stupid. ‘Fine, I guess. School. The usual. You?’

‘Same,’ you say, tossing back the last of your beer. You still drink the same brand, and your hair is still golden on top and brown around the back of your ears and down your neck and you still move your head like a colt does, like a coiled spring, like you’re ready but you don’t know what for.

‘How’re your folks?’ I clear my throat, trying not to look at you. I don’t know why I even asked about them, because the ridicule still burns like a blowtorch flame, and the tears are all still fresh in my mind and the anger will never die. I remember what they called me and even though they didn’t use the same words to talk about you, I know you suffered too in your own way. You’re in a different school now, one where you can just be you and not a part of us. You put your beer bottle down so gently that it barely makes a tink on the marble.

‘Folks are fine,’ you say, and when you look at me I happen to be looking at you and then our eyes get all mixed up and there’s no escape. There’s the old connect again, the one where I know my heart’s beating in time with your heart and our breathing falls into step like two old friends.

But then, a stumble.

‘I’ve – got to go,’ you say, and you slither down off the counter like a little kid, all elbows and urgency, and you blink and look away and it feels like I’m falling. ‘Enjoy the party, or whatever.’ And then you’re gone.

I pick up your beer bottle and there’s just a tiny dreg left in the bottom of it and so I put it to my lips and drain it, my eyes feeling like two blobs of molten glass and my nose starting to melt inside. I drink back the sour drop, all that’s left, and then I chuck the bottle with all the other empties, and it settles down clinkidiclink among them like a long-lost traveller arriving home, until I don’t know which one is ours any more.

When I get back outside to the party, someone tells me you’ve gone home early, and I pretend that I don’t even care, and everyone is fooled.

Maybe even me, for just long enough to get me through.

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #58

birthday party  ::  notebook  ::  squash  ::  fresh meat  ::  light

Image: thebeauty411.com

Image: thebeauty411.com

 

Meat

‘For God’s sake,’ Sadie snapped. ‘Look at the state of this place.’

Tara’s room lay before her looking like the Battle of the Somme. Piles of clothing, which Sadie had washed and tumble-dried and folded with mathematical precision now lay in snowdrifts on the floor; the dressing table groaned beneath the weight of the bottles and jars, full of goodness knew what, scattered all over it. The mirror was smeared with makeup and dust, and books lay helplessly where they’d been flung, their spines bent precariously, their pages cruelly folded.

‘Oh, please let me go to Katie’s birthday party, Mum,’ Sadie muttered, in a nasal, high-pitched impression of her daughter’s voice. ‘I promise I’ll clean my room before I go, Mum.’

Rolling her eyes, Sadie stepped inside.

She found the notebook shoved beneath the mattress. Its light pink cover caught her eye as she stripped and remade the bed, but her eyes flicked away from it immediately. She’d once promised Tara she would never read her diary, or snoop through her phone, or even look at her Facebook page, and she did her best to keep her word; but something about this small, secret thing caught her mind like a hook catches a fish, and she found herself looking back. Straight away, she saw what had drawn her eye.

One word, scribbled in angry black biro, all over the cover. Over and over it was written, the letters getting wilder as they went. The nib had been dug in, gouging lumps of cardboard out of the cover like Tara had wanted to wound it. One word.

Meat.

Sadie’s hand trembled as she reached to pick the notebook up. ‘I have to look,’ she rationalised. ‘I’m her mother. I’ll just read enough to give me an idea what’s happening, and then I’ll stop.’

Blinking, she opened it to the last entry, so recently written that the ink was barely dry.

Remember when they used to call me ‘fresh meat’ at school? Her daughter’s handwriting was gently sloped, neat, clear. Sadie could hear her voice in her head as she read, and she felt her heart fluttering in her chest at her words. That was until ‘that night’. Now, it’s all ‘Oooh, lads, d’you smell something off? Like, something rotten?’ and they hold their noses when I walk past, like I stink or something. No matter how many showers I have or how much body spray I use it’s always the same – ‘rotten’. ‘Skank.’ ‘Slut.’ They laugh right into my face, and they ask me things like ‘how much per pound?’

I know they’re not talking about meat. I know it’s all my fault. But all I did was kiss him.

Sadie held her breath. Her eyes were already on the next sentence before she could stop herself.

It’s been nearly a month now but they just will not leave me alone. I don’t know what to do. Nobody cares. Not even Katie.

Sadie felt sick, suddenly. She hadn’t said a word to indicate that she and Katie weren’t getting on. And wasn’t she supposed to be at Katie’s, right now?

Sometimes when I’m coming down the science corridor they all squash themselves into the corner between Lab 3 and the lockers. ‘Get away from the rotting meat!’ ‘God, can you smell it?’ All this hysterical laughter, ha ha ha. And I know for a fact that was Katie’s idea. ‘We’re just having a laugh,’ she told me yesterday. ‘Lighten up.’

Well, I wonder if she’ll be laughing tomorrow.

Gasping for breath, Sadie flicked through the rest of the notebook, but every other page was blank.

Squeezing her eyes shut against her panic, Sadie scrambled in her pocket for her mobile phone. She dialled Tara’s number from memory as she sat on the half-made bed, digging her nails into the notebook’s cover as she waited for the call to connect.

It just rang, and rang, and rang, every trill searing through Sadie’s heart like a hot knife.

Katie’s mother… Katie’s mother’s number… Sadie’s fingers felt like icicles as she flicked through her contacts. Eventually, she found their house number, and hoped it was still current.

Click.

Crrrring crrring… crrrring crrringgg…

‘Hello?’ It was a child’s voice, a little boy. Edward? Edmund? Sadie couldn’t remember. She realised, with a pang, how little she had listened to Tara’s prattle about Katie and her family, and her brother and her parents and their lovely designer house…

‘Hello, love! Is your mum at home?’ She tried to speak clearly through her chattering teeth.

‘She’s washing my sister,’ replied the child. ‘In the bath.’

‘She’s what?’ Sadie’s brain skidded to a halt.

‘A girl came and throwed loads of horrible stuff at Katie,’ the boy explained. ‘Like blood, and stuff. It got all over our carpet, and things, and went all up the walls.’

‘Oh, my God…’

‘Who is this?’ the little boy asked, in a suspicious voice.

Just then, Sadie heard the front door slam shut. She disconnected the call and ran to the top of the stairs.

Tara stood on the mat in the hallway, her face streaked with tears and her hands and clothes spattered with gore. She looked up and saw her mother standing, pale-faced, clutching her phone like she wanted to crush it into atoms.

‘Look, I can explain…’ she said, holding up her crimson hands, but all she could do was watch, dumbfounded, as her mother threw her head back and laughed, before running down the stairs to wrap her up in a hug.

 

 

 

Enjoy the Silence?

It may come as news to most people, but yesterday was ‘Twitter Silence’ day. People were encouraged not to Tweet for a 24-hour period in solidarity with the women who’ve recently been experiencing horrendous abuse at the hands of online bullies, or ‘trolls’, on Twitter and on other forms of social media. Some of this abuse has truly been stomach-turning: women have been threatened with physical and sexual assault; their home addresses and personal information have been published online; at least one woman (an eminent professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge) was told a bomb had been planted outside her house. In response to this treatment, a day of silence was proposed, in order to ‘show what Twitter would be like if trolls over-ran this place [Twitter].’

heyithinkthisway.wordpress.com

heyithinkthisway.wordpress.com

I’m not sure whether the day achieved its desired effect, or whether it will make any difference to the lives of the targeted women – or, indeed, women on social media in general. All I know is, it has certainly generated a lot of news, and a lot of comment, which is probably a good thing. For me, personally, it demonstrated how difficult it is to make a stand on an issue which will suit everyone’s point of view, and which has any hope of gaining a wide base of support. I did send one Tweet yesterday, which I’d sent before I remembered about Twitter Silence; I hadn’t specifically pledged to take part, but I did think it was a good idea. I thought I might take part by default, by just ‘observing’ rather than actually making a conscious decision not to Tweet for a particular reason. During my observation, I was surprised to see how many people felt that the idea of boycotting Twitter for a day, taking part in a ‘silencing’, was the worst possible way to make a stand against abuse and bullying online. ‘Why would we silence ourselves,’ they argued, ‘when what these bullies want to do is silence us?’ As many women as took part in Twitter Silence also took part in ‘No Silence’, whereupon they went about their normal business on Twitter and made no attempt to curb their normal usage of the site.

I can see their point of view, too.

I think there’s a huge difference in ‘being silenced’, and ‘choosing to remain silent,’ though. I thought the idea behind ‘Twitter Silence’ was a good one, a principled and dignified stand against a tide of hatred that shouldn’t even be a part of public discourse in a civilised society. The women taking part weren’t ‘being’ silenced against their will; they were choosing to remove themselves from a forum for discussion where they felt their voices were being crowded out and ignored, and where their contributions were seen as meaningless merely because they are women. So, I had no problem with the idea of Twitter Silence itself – passive and peaceful resistance can often be a very effective way of getting your point across – but I respect the choices made on both sides, either to take part or not take part.

But the question remains: Why does this sort of thing even go on in the first place?

It terrifies me that women in the public eye can expect such vicious threats and disgusting attacks on their personal appearance, their safety and that of their families, simply by existing, and having the temerity to hold and express opinions. It terrifies me, too, that people feel they can treat one another so viciously on the internet, when – perhaps – they wouldn’t be quite so vitriolic if placed in a face-to-face situation. What makes communicating with someone on the web so different from having a telephone conversation, or a discussion in person? Why is it so easy for us to forget that the people with whom we communicate on the internet are people, plain and simple, deserving of respect and consideration? Could it possibly be because (and this is the truly horrifying thing about all this) treating others with respect and consideration is now passé, something which isn’t done any longer in this new world of ours?

I think the bullying mindset – I refuse to use the word ‘troll’, as some online bullies do, almost like it’s a badge of honour or something to be aspired to – has always been there. If a person who is inclined toward hatefulness thinks they can get away with harassment and bullying because they’re doing it anonymously, chances are high that’s exactly what they’ll do. ‘Poison-pen’ letters are nothing new! Sometimes, though, it amazes me how short-sighted people can be, or how completely incapable of seeing another person’s point of view they can be. I, personally, don’t see the point in engaging in behaviour designed to destroy another person, to intimidate or upset them, purely because you don’t agree with what they have to say or you don’t believe they should have a voice because they are female/differently abled/of a certain ethnicity or sexuality/any other completely meaningless distinction. I do see the point in engaging in protests designed to make political points, draw attention to important issues, and effect change, and I believe the internet can be the best tool we have to achieve aims like this, but I just wish it could be done in a spirit of mutual respect.

If we turn the greatest invention of the modern age into a place where all we do is spit hate at one another behind a veil of anonymity, what does that say about us? And how unutterably sad would that be?

Welcome to a new week. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new era, too.

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Weight of Water’ and ‘Breathe’

Alors!

Not only is it Saturday, friends, but it’s now June, too. What on earth is going on with this relentless forwardness, eh? It’s enough to make a gal’s head spin. In any case, we’ve got to keep on keepin’ on, and in that spirit I present to you a review – not so much of a particular book this week, but of an author’s oeuvre to date. (Don’t worry – she has ‘only’ published two books so far. We won’t be here all day, or anything.)

I thought I’d do my review like this because I have such varying feelings about the two books in question, both written by Irish-American author Sarah Crossan. One of these books is among the most unique and crafted pieces of fiction I’ve read for the YA readership (or, indeed, in general); the other is also an excellent book, but somehow lacking. The former is this book, right here:

Image: yellowbrickreads.com

Image: yellowbrickreads.com

The latter book is this ‘un here:

Image: epicreads.com

Image: epicreads.com

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so torn between two books by the same author before. It’s probably because I read ‘The Weight of Water’ first, and – to be fair – very little could stack up against it. What makes the book so special is not even the plot, or the characterisation, or the setting, or the dénouement (even though all these things are great, in their own right), but the fact that it is entirely written in verse.

Yes. Verse.

I’m not talking Shakespearean sonnets or rhyming couplets here – more like free-form verse, perhaps, than anything – but this narrative style lends the book such power and heft that it’s hard to imagine how it could have been done any better.

The story takes us through a journey made from Poland to the UK, undertaken by Kasienka and her mother. They are searching for Kasienka’s father, who has abandoned his family, leaving them practically destitute, not to mention heartbroken. They have no idea of his whereabouts until they receive a postcard from him with a British postmark, which leads to their arrival in the UK. The first poem in the book describes their leaving Poland, and Kasienka’s mother’s obsession with a borrowed nylon laundry bag full of clean clothes which is at once a source of pride (because the clothes are clean), and a source of embarrassment (because they’re in a borrowed and unstylish bag), for her. When they eventually arrive in Britain, she is too ashamed to claim the bag of clothes from the baggage carousel, and so they leave it behind. It’s a small image, but I found it very effective in describing the mental and emotional baggage they bring with them from their home country; the mental baggage, of course, is much more difficult to leave behind.

Kasienka (immediately dubbed ‘Cassie’ by her teachers and schoolmates, none of whom can be bothered to learn her real name) is put in with children much younger than herself when she begins to attend school, simply because her English is not perfect; bored and understimulated, she sticks out from the others from the outset. When her intelligence is discovered, she is finally placed among her peers, but finds she is still an outsider. Exotic, intelligent and a talented swimmer, she becomes an object of jealousy among the other girls. The book takes us through Kasienka’s savage treatment at the hands of bullies, the practical, not to mention emotional, difficulties she experiences in sharing a one-bedroomed flat with her heartbroken and out-of-touch mother, the ongoing search for her father, her swimming prowess, and her courage in carving out a new life from a country and community that seems, at least at first, unyielding. Kasienka’s voice, aided by the powerful verse narration, is evocative and touching, and her courage is unmatched. I devoured this book, not only because I loved the story, but because I loved Kasienka, too.

It’s no wonder this book was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Give it a go. Go on.

Then, we come to ‘Breathe’.

Before I get into my thoughts on this book, I want to say that I read it with relish, and enjoyed it. It’s well written, with wonderful descriptions and imagery, and an expert use of language. Sarah Crossan is an exceptional writer, and ‘Breathe’ shows her mastery of prose just as clearly as ‘The Weight of Water’ showed her mastery of verse. Having said that, ‘Breathe’ just seemed ‘same-old, same-old’ in comparison with ‘Water’.

‘Breathe’ imagines a world in which the oxygen supply has dwindled to a point where it can no longer sustain life. The remnants of humanity live in a sealed dome; to leave this Pod is to enter the airless wastes, wherein nobody can go very far because, obviously, bottled air will only last so long. Even within the Pod, there are societal divisions; the upper levels of society (Premiums), who can afford sufficient oxygen, never have to worry about counting their breaths, but the lower levels, Auxiliaries, must make do with thinner air. The government who runs this dystopian world is called Breathe, and they control the lives of everyone who lives on this terrible vision of a future Earth. Naturally, in a dystopia where we have an oppressive regime, there will also be a resistance – this book is no different. The Resistance want to try to repopulate the planet’s surface with trees (they were all cut down, which led to the oxygen deprivation in the first place), but they are thwarted at every turn by Breathe. What happens, then, when a desperate Resistance fighter meets an idealistic young Premium and his best friend, an Auxiliary girl with aspirations to become a Premium herself, and all three are ejected into the airless wastes?

There’s a lot of good stuff in this book. The whole set-up of the world lends oppressive urgency to proceedings, which makes the plot zip along pleasingly. The horrors of slow suffocation are described, and we are left in no doubt as to what the people of this world are risking when they mess about with their air supply. Several times, as I read, I felt compelled to take a deep breath, just because I could. Oxygen never seemed like a luxury until I read this novel. I really liked Alina, the Resistance fighter character – she’s hard and flinty and resolved, just as she should be, and I also liked Maude, an elderly woman eking out an existence in the Outside with a long and dark past behind her. I enjoyed the SF elements – the solar air tanks, the ‘zips’ (robotic search-and-destroy units which detect body heat), and the well-imagined stratified society within the Pod.

However, I had issues with Bea (the Auxiliary girl) and Quinn (the Premium boy), mostly to do with the love story between them, which felt flat and uninspired, and also – if I’m being honest – unnecessary. Also, a lot of the time, I was confused as to whether Bea or Alina was narrating (the book’s narration hops between these three main characters, but Bea’s voice and Alina’s are similar enough to blend together at times.) Bea is a good character, but her devotion to Quinn was a little irritating – that said, as a teenager I often mooned over wildly inappropriate boys, too, so I can’t judge her too harshly – and Quinn, to be fair, does show a reasonable amount of character development as the book carries on. He’s still a bit of a blockhead at the end, though.

I thought the end of the book went a little too quickly, and things were wrapped up a little too well – but a sequel is imminent this year, so I’ll hold judgement till then.

‘Breathe’ is a reasonable dystopian thriller, but there are plenty of those already out there. However, there’s nothing like ‘The Weight of Water’ in the world, at least not that I’ve ever read. I’d recommend both books, but maybe read ‘Breathe’ first. I’m just sayin’.

Happy weekend, amigos. Go! Read!

Wednesday Write-In #40

This week’s words were:

blogging  ::  redhead  ::  golden days  ::  explain  ::  storm

 

Posted February 20
Best Days of Your Life? Yeah, Right!

Okay, peeps. Hold tight. It’s been one of those days again. Batten down the hatches, whatever that even means.

School! It should be banned! Right?!

And, by the way, if my gran tells me one more time that I’m living through my ‘golden days’, the best years I’ll ever have, I think I’ll literally swing for her. Literally. Ugh! I don’t know what sort of school she went to back in the seventeenth century or whenever, but if she had to cope with what I have to cope with, on a daily basis, she’d probably just crumble right away. She’d end up like a little pile of dust on the pavement, and the rain would wash her down the drain. Gone, end of, dead.

But that won’t happen to me.

So, anyway, she started her usual nonsense again today just before lunch (if you’ve been here before, you know who I mean, so I won’t waste blogging space by naming her again), her stupid hair and her stupider earrings wobbling up the corridor towards me. Her ridiculous shriek of a laugh sounded even more like someone smacking a cat off a wall than normal. I mean, seriously!?! Why am I the only one who notices how irritating she is?

Oh, yeah. I forgot. It’s because I’m the only one she makes a show of, day after day. After day.

Anyway, I just put my head down and hoped to sneak past. She was surrounded by her usual crew, and they were all hanging off her every stupid word, so I thought I’d make it.

Wrong.

One of them – I’m not sure who – stepped into my way, and wouldn’t move. Whenever I tried to get around her, another one of them would box me off. We probably looked like we were dancing, or something, to someone who didn’t know any better. If only.

‘Oh my God. Guys, do you get a smell? Like, an unwashed sort of smell? Like, dirty clothes and stuff?’ she said, sniffing the air like some sort of rabid, eyeshadow-wearing dog. ‘I wonder what it is?’ All around, her cronies starting throwing up suggestions. Sewers, said one. The gym, said another. Someone wearing dirty socks.

‘No, that doesn’t explain it,’ she said. Then, she turned to me, and pretended like realisation was dawning over her big, thick head. ‘Oh, now I get it! It’s the stink that hangs around the flats. That’s what I’m smelling!’ She smiled down at me, but it wasn’t a friendly smile. It was a smile that tells you how stupid and small and ridiculous you are, and pretends to be nice about it.

Then, she reached out a claw – I mean, a hand – and she patted me on the head.

‘Maybe you should go home and ask your Mummy to show you how to wash properly,’ she said. ‘You do know you’re supposed to wash everywhere, right? Not just the places people can see?’

I felt a growl start deep in my stomach, and I wanted to clench my whole body up into a huge fist and just pound her into the tiles. She knows about Mum. Of course she does. Everybody does! Then, it was like the inside of my nose was on fire. I swallowed, and the hot pain travelled down my throat and into my lungs. I wanted to puke, but I didn’t.
I let the pain give me an idea, instead.

‘I’ve always wanted to be a redhead, like you,’ I said, taking in her long, loud locks. ‘Is your hair – you know – real?’

‘What are you on about?’ she said, with a frown. I’d been counting on taking her by surprise – so far, so good. She stared at me with her cow-eyes, and before she could laugh again I took a jump for her and grabbed a handful of that stupid hair, and pulled as hard as I could. She didn’t know what to do besides yell her head off. I yanked my fingers right into her scalp, and when I pulled my hand away a load of her hair came with it, and it was like there was a storm of red-gold mist, all the way up and down the hall. Her mates just stood around gaping like a bunch of goldfish, keeping well out of range of my fists.

It. Was. Brilliant.

Yeah.

But who am I kidding. You know I’m lying, right? What gave it away – was it the concept of me taking any sort of initiative, that word Mrs. Willoughby loves to bleat on about in Business Studies, or was it the idea of her mates standing around and just letting me hurt their precious goddess? I bet, as you read it, you were thinking ‘What a sad little loser, lying to herself on her own blog which nobody ever even reads, anyway.’

Gran always says, when I try to talk to her about this stuff, that walking away with your head held high is better than fighting back. Turn the other cheek, and all that. I’m not so sure. What does she know about anything, anyway? She just doesn’t get it. Not at all.

Sometimes, you know, I really wish Mum would just find this blog, that she’d just Google my name and find it. And that she’d read it, and come home.

Whatever, right? It’s ridiculous. I know.

She wasn’t able to cope with me when she was living here, so why would she care now? It’s not like a stupid blog can bring her home, but there’s always a chance. Isn’t there?

Anyway, so, goodnight. Goodnight, Mum. Goodnight, whoever.