End of Year Reflection

When I first came into high school, I was nervous but also ready to take on my classes. I was expecting high school to be completely different than what I experienced before, but what I’ve found is that it’s not that bad and I look forward to the years to come (especially graduating, because then I can be done with public school once and for all).

Overall, I am a more confident in the work that I produce, and through getting a larger workload, I’ve gotten better at managing the work that I get

Extracurriculars made the year more enjoyable, as I joined the debate team this year and had a pretty successful season considering I just started. After science club ended early on in the year, after a lot of problem-solving, it will most likely exist next year. Extracurriculars not only gave me a new community of people to interact with, but helped expand what I was already doing in school.

GHEnglish class has been fun as the dynamic between “gifted” students is much different than in your typical honors class. Through it, I’ve become a better writer and became more aware of my surroundings. Unfortunately, I didn’t “figure out who I was” or “find myself,” as, I’ll be brutally honest here– I don’t think a 9th grade English class will help me find who I am, as figuring out your identity takes years of thought and self-reflection, not just studying about philosophers.

For next year, I hope to get better at not procrastinating, as one of the worst parts of this year has been me not getting enough sleep at home and falling asleep in school. Despite my procrastination, I’ve always managed to get my work done before it was due, thanks to my extreme anxiety about all things school-related. I don’t want to say that I hope to be more nonchalant next year, but in the long run, the experiences you have (like hanging out with friends, spending time with family, going outside, doing extracurriculars, etc) are more important than whether or not I studied or my math test. I doubt teachers like to hear that or want me to say it in this essay but… it’s true.

Overall, I am happy with the things I accomplished in my first year of high school. For the years to come, I aim to challenge myself more with the things I do and push myself with my work. I will also continue updating this blog throughout the next year. Thanks!

 

About Me

My name is Taja, and I am an honors student at Perkiomen Valley High. I am 15 years old and have since grown into a determined leader. I am known for being passionate about everything I do. In my free time, I enjoy making art, playing piano, interacting with my community, and traveling- that way I always have an opportunity to push myself to see new places and experience new things. In school, I have an interest in STEM and hope to study it in the future. I also participate in the school’s Debate Team as well as the Science Research Club, both of which have allowed me to go to numerous competitions all through the year. While I am only a freshman, in the coming years, I strive to push myself further and achieve great things throughout my high school and college career.

 

Thanks!

To navigate my blog, click the “blog” section for a list of my most recent posts, the “portfolio” section for a collection of my best works, and the “books” section for a series of book reviews.

The Darkest Minds Review

“Did you know…you make me so happy that sometimes I actually forget to breathe? I’ll be looking at you, and my chest will get so tight…and it’s like, the only thought in my head is how much I want to reach over and kiss you.”

-Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds

I promised myself I would stop reading YA Dystopian books, as I was starting to lose my faith in them, but when everyone kept telling me to read Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds, I decided to give it a try. This dystopian thriller book is about a girl, Ruby, who mysteriously gains powers on her tenth birthday due to a strange illness that has killed most of America. This leads her parents to lock her in the garage and send her to a detainment camp, where she spent most of her childhood. She is labeled “dangerous” and escapes the camp with a few of her fellow detainees. She then falls in love with the boy who saved her, works through internal issues, saves the world… blah blah blah.

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While my hopes were high for this book, it really only solidified how much I can’t stand YA Dystopia. And it’s a shame, because that’s basically the only YA genre anymore (except for horrible sappy romance). Almost every single author likes to jump on the YA dystopian craze, from “The 5th Wave,” “The Mortal Instruments,” and “Divergent.” It’s like all of these people just tried to recreate The Hunger Games but they obviously couldn’t. And really, check the Goodreads synopses for these books by clicking on the links I provided because they are painfully similar (here’s the one for The Darkest Minds as well).

The whole plot of the book is annoying and blander than grits on top of untoasted white bread. The “dangerous” teens get locked up in a government camp after getting sick. I mean, really? The ONLY teens who survived a plague get locked up? Trust me, I know our government can be stupid but… really? Every single YA book has to contain some crazy oppressive government. Every. One. It must be a lot of weight on the main character Ruby’s shoulders to be the only teenager who recognizes the problems with an authoritarian government. Not only that, but they just put up with the government’s abuse… they ALL have powers, and they all have the ability to make all the government guards at the camp just… walk away. But they never do that because they are poor little helpless kids waiting for their savior.

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Speaking of YA stereotypes, every novel contains these “class separations.” For example, “districts” in the Hunger Games, “factions” in Divergent, etc etc. In The Darkest Minds, it’s…colors. Based on the type of power that you have. And there are government-issued labels that shows everyone what color you are, eerily similar to Nazi concentration camp badges. And of course, our lovely protagonist is ~the most dangerous color~. But she hates that fact and continues to whine about it for literally the entire book. Even though she could use it to break everyone out of the prison. Does she have any characteristics other than being annoying? Not really. 

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Then they try to make a strong female character, but the issue is, there’s so many of these same characters that it just gets awful to see another one. Read my new book, where ANOTHER quirky teenage white girl with ~special powers~ and unique eyes saves the world! And she’s the only one who can do so! Yes, really! I will then be hailed as the ultimate feminist on my countless Goodreads reviews.

 

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Can you tell the difference? I can’t.

 

I know there is one question on your mind: seriously? Can a girl really save the world? Well, don’t worry, there is a guy who has to save HER first. In this case, Ruby falls in love with him on a road trip away from the camp (note: the road trip is literally the entire book. But don’t worry, there are also 18 car crashes because the plot has to contain SOMETHING, right?). Thank god there is a strong, level-headed male character to help our female protagonist along!!!!

 

But wait… what’s this? That’s right, it’s ANOTHER hot guy! How will our protagonist decide??? How will she remember that she has to save the world if she’s so distracted trying to choose between two macho men with amazing jawlines?????? Flip the page for a mandatory bonding session in which the female protagonist gently wraps the man’s wounds as he winces (maybe an even inappropriately timed kissing session if you’re lucky). If I could summarize this book’s romance in a sentence, I would use Avril Lavigne’s legendary song Sk8er Boi: “He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious?”

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The only thing that made me give it two stars is because the first 20 pages were good. I mean… that’s enough, right?? But this book reminded me of everything that is wrong with YA fiction and just… the world. The ENTIRE book was a boring road trip. It didn’t beat out Divergent in terms of YA stereotypes, but it was pretty close. Please enjoy these twitter accounts that personify horrible YAs.

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“Typical YA Heroine”: https://twitter.com/typicalyahero?lang=en

“Dystopian YA Novel”: https://twitter.com/dystopianya

 

Edit: I just found out that they are releasing this book as a movie in 2018. I literally cannot escape Hollywood’s death grip.

The Wrath and the Dawn Review

“She was a dangerous, dangerous girl. A plague. A Mountain of Adamant who tore the iron from ships, sinking them to their watery graves without a second thought. With a mere smile and a wrinkle of her nose.”

-Renee Ahdieh, The Wrath and the Dawn

I came to read The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh after a few people recommended it to me, and after it was on the New York Times Bestsellers list. While it has fantasy and thriller-like elements, it is primarily a romance based on A Thousand and One Nights. This ancient folktale is about a wife who realizes that her husband will murder her by morning, so to try and delay it, she tells him stories for 1,001 nights.  While this story has been retold hundreds of times, I thought that The Wrath and the Dawn gave a fresh new take on it that I enjoyed.

In short, The Wrath and the Dawn is about Khalid, a young king, who brings a woman home every night only to kill her at sunrise. When Khalid kills the main character Shahrzad’s friend and cousin, she decides to take revenge on him and volunteers to marry him. When night comes, Shahrzard tells Khalid a story and says that the only way he can hear the end of the story is if he lets her live until the next day. In a sort of Stockholm Syndrome case, the two slowly fall in love as the book progresses.

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The prominent themes throughout the book deal with love, and redemption, which are all closely related. Love, of course, because the two characters go from wanting to murder each other to falling in love, and redemption because of how much the characters change. Throughout the whole book, Khalid seems mysterious and has a “secret” he won’t tell anyone, and he finally opens up to Shahrzad and begins his character arc. And even though Khalid kills Shahrzard’s friend, he still goes through a “redemption” in her eyes.

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In conclusion, I thought it was a relatively good book and it kept me captivated from beginning to end. The way the author wrote the dialogue between Khalid and Shahrzard as well as the general descriptions were very thoughtful and detailed. All of the side characters really add a uniqueness to the plot. Of course, there were some problems with it. For example, she came to avenge the death of her friend, but ends up falling in love with her murderer after a few nights which is just…strange. But I guess love stories are just like that. All in all, I would give it 7/10 stars! I’d recommend this to anyone who likes to read new takes on traditional folk tales or someone who just likes a good love story.

*note: the book also has a sequel, The Rose and the Dagger (which I plan on reading sometime).

Romeo and Juliet Tarot Cards

For this final Romeo and Juliet project, I drew my inspiration from traditional tarot cards, which are used by fortune tellers to predict what will happen to a person. In tarot cards, the simple details are the most essential parts: a snake can stand for revenge, a star stands for guidance, and fire stands for destruction. I decided to do tarot cards as one, it gave me room to be creative and interpret the characters/events as I imagined them, and two, it allowed me to add symbolism and depth to the characters. Below are my reasonings for why I did what I did.


Section One: Characters

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Romeo and Juliet: I

The focus of this card is Romeo and Juliet kissing on the balcony as they did in the book. I wanted to make this card relatively simple and free of any intricate details, as the main focus should really just be the characters. I added some symbolism in the colors of their clothes: Juliet’s dress is red (the Capulet color) and Romeo’s shirt is blue (the Montague color). However, I also added in some hints of purple, which happens to be the color you get when you combine red and purple. It was meant to symbolize how their love brought the two houses together (well… eventually). The roses that surround them are probably the most symbolic part of the card. Roses stand for beauty and love, but in tarot cards, when you consider the thorns, it stands for how to achieve new hope, we must first endure the sting of the thorns. It also shows how we have to appreciate beauty before it’s gone. Romeo and Juliet had to die before their families could come together, so I thought the rose would be a nice way to express that.

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Mercutio: II

I based Mercutio’s card off of three things: his Queen Mab speech, his characteristics, and his role in the play. For Queen Mab, I tried to make the background like it was “dreamy,” with his “head in the clouds,” as his rant about dreams before the party was his longest and one of the most important lines of speech. There are also six dominoes behind him, with the first one knocked over, and the rest are falling. This symbolizes how his death was basically a tipping point: once he died, it lead to everyone else’s deaths (six of them), hence the dominoes. He is also holding two swords because he was the type to fight before he thinks, especially when he took up that fight with Tybalt. Around his shoulders, he’s wearing the …things… a joker would wear around their neck because he was one of the few consistently humorous characters. They are red to signify his connection to the Montagues through Romeo.

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Tybalt: III

Tybalt is arguably the most hot-headed character in Romeo and Juliet. From the initial brawl between the Montague and the Capulets, to him raging when he sees Romeo at the ball, to Mercutio’s death, he is constantly looking for a fight, so I based the card on that. First, the two clouds above his head- first, clouds mean a message from the divine. Knowing that, a crown means judgment: basically that all those who sin will ultimately have their final “judgment” (which is appropriate, as Romeo kills him). There’s also a diamond, which stands for money but also greed (as he only wanted to avenge the Capulet name). Fire stands for two things: destruction (which Tybalt certainly caused) and the measure of one’s purity through their actions, which goes back to the whole divine message. I also just had to add a cat, because Mercutio is constantly called the Prince of Cats. Finally, the symbol behind him is the symbol of chaos, except made out of knives.

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Benvolio: IV

Benvolio’s main role in the play was to act as a peacemaker. While he might be unsuccessful, he is always trying to make peace between the Montagues and Capulets (especially in the beginning fight scene), so I based my card off of that. His clothes have mostly purple tones, which, again, is red and blue combined, or the two families coming together. The two stone columns are meant to symbolize strength and finding a middle ground. Numerology is actually very important in tarot cards, so I paid close attention to the amount of a certain object I put on the card. There are also olive branches behind him, which universally signify peace. He’s also holding an ankh, which is an ancient Egyptian symbol of life and prosperity, which is at least what he tried to achieve. The two sunflowers at his feet stand for looking away from the dark things and instead towards the light.

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The Nurse: V

While the Nurse does not have as many speaking lines as the previous characters, I thought she was definitely one of the most important characters in terms of Juliet’s character and how the plot moves. I always imagined her as this little old nun, so that’s how I drew her. It also appears as if she’s in a church. Both the stained glass and the two columns (like Benvolio’s card) behind her have hints of both red and blue. This was meant to symbolize how she was committed to the Capulets, but since she was so in love with Juliet, she still helped with her affair with Romeo Montague. This ties into the meaning of the stained glass itself, as it stands for how our mental vision can change according to our perception. Because she works for the Capulets, she should by extension hate the Montagues, but her perception changes since she loves Juliet who loves a Montague. She’s also holding a book with the pages flying away, which represents her old memories of Juliet and how they’re drifting away from her because of death.


Section Two: Themes

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Love At First Sight: VI

Love at first sight is one of the main and most prevalent themes of the book, and it’s what Romeo and Juliet are remembered for. In this card, they are the main focus, and all they are looking at is each other. Drawing away from the whole red=Capulet and blue=Montague thing, their clothes are red because red is generally symbolic of passion, desire, and love, which is what Romeo and Juliet experience. I also added two arrows, which stands for how love is often represented by Cupid and Cupid’s arrow in the book. They meet on an eye, which I added mainly because of Friar Lawrence’s quote: “Young men’s love then lies/ Not truly in their hearts,/ But in their eyes.” In the background, there is a sun in the middle of them, which in tarot cards stands for new beginnings, and going full force into something, which is certainly what Romeo and Juliet did.

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Fate: VII

“Fate” cards are common in tarot card packs, so I drew my inspiration from the traditional fate cards but packed in a load of my own symbolism. I’ll work clockwise around the card. The cloud again stands for a message from the divine, which is commonly associated with fate. The two angel wings in the cloud represent “rising up to heaven” which… many of the characters end up doing. The moon then deals with new stages of life but also power- the moon has constantly guided humans and it even controls the oceans. Fate is also a kind of power that is completely beyond our reach. The ocean in the middle of the card symbolizes an extreme amount of depth and mystery. I based the hanging stars off of a quote Romeo said early on in the book before the party: ““I fear…/ some consequence yet hanging in the stars…/ By some vile forfeit of untimely death.” So, I literally drew hanging stars. Even throughout the book, Romeo constantly mentions stars as some kind of fate, like when he learns Juliet is dead and he says “I defy you, stars!” Next, the ocean’s vastness shows how we can’t really control everything in our lives, which is a defining factor of fate. I mainly added the ocean because of the quote: ““My bounty is as boundless as the sea,/ My love as deep; the more I give to thee,/ The more I have, for both are infinite.” The sunset stands for new possibilities and new things on the horizon, although they might be unknown. This really symbolizes how Romeo and Juliet went into their affair blindly and without much direction. The lion on the bottom is a paradox in tarot cards- both a savior and destroyer, just like Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. While it brought their families together, they now have to deal with knowing that their hate killed the two lovers. The fortune ball by itself universally stands for fate and looking into the future, but I also added smoke going around it because of the quote “Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs.” The “smoke” of Romeo and Juliet’s love basically blinded them from being able to see the future, in which they would die. Finally, the two hands reaching out to each other is supposed to be a play off of Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam, except with Romeo and Juliet. The fortune wheel behind them is common in fate tarot cards. It is divided into nine sections, which happens to be the number of fate. Written on them are Viking symbols, starting clockwise from the top of the left hand, they are: constraint, separation, partnership, joy, possessions, the self, wholeness, fertility, and gateway. They all stand for different aspects and themes of the book.

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Hate and Revenge: VIII

Hate and revenge is one of the main themes of Romeo and Juliet, and other than fate, it’s the main driving force of the death of six characters. I tried to keep this one simple and uncluttered. The crest in the middle is the combined crest of the Montague and Capulet families shaped into a heart, which obviously represents Romeo and Juliet’s love. The background is black because black is associated with death and evil. The blood dripping on the top stands for the “bad blood” the two families have with each other but also the blood that was shed because of their hate. The snake on the bottom is a universal symbol for revenge.

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Youth and Age: IX

While often overlooked, youth and age is a major theme in Romeo and Juliet. The two kids, Romeo and Juliet, are in a conflicting battle with their parents, whether it be Capulet forcing Juliet to marry Paris, or just the general hate the parents foster between each other. However, the two kids in the book lack that kind of hate, and it shows the contrast between the two themes. The children’s lives are eventually sacrificed to their parent’s hate. While the skull in the middle stands for age, it also stands for humanity’s mortality and how not everything can be forever. The skull shows how all things eventually change, for the better or for the worse. The flowers growing out of the skull are meant to represent the “youth” side- while the adults nurture them, they still grow up to be independent from the adults’ beliefs, just like the flowers are. The infinity symbol, or the lemniscate in tarot cards, symbolizes how things are forever. While on one hand, it may be a good thing, it is also a sign that the consequences of our actions can be infinite- for example, the hate that the “age” side had, had infinite consequences on the “youth.”

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Death: X

The final tarot card of the set is death. Death is constantly in the forefront of the play, and it is always being foreshadowed in some way or another. Eventually, six characters all die. The empty hourglass in the middle basically means that “time ran out,” hence the roman numerals. The bottom of the hourglass is a poison vial, which Romeo used to commit suicide. The roses enveloping the poison again stands for how we must endure the pain before we can get to the good things, and it shows how while everyone in real life might have been opposed to Romeo and Juliet’s love when they were alive, they are together in death. The upright cross stands for when they were alive, while the inverted cross stands for when they died. The hands at the bottom are similar to how the hands looked in the fate card, which was meant to symbolize how their death was all fate.

 

Overall, this project was very enjoyable as it was fun to explore the characters and the play while doing art! Hope you enjoy, leave some comments if you wish.

Special thanks to tarotteachings.com that helped me understand the meanings behind tarot cards.