Joshua Medcalf: Reflecting on the Purpose and Structure of Modern Education

Joshua Medcalf is a former soccer player at Duke and author of “Chop Wood, Carry Water.” In this podcast, he shares his opinion and experiences on the education system, and how he would like to reform it.

Listen to the podcast here!

Education: A Status Check

Medcalf’s current assessment of our school system is that it is in need of dire help (true). He says that right now, students and teachers are only concerned about what’s happening right in front of them- what tests do I have? What homework do I need to complete? Am I prepared for the midterm? This kind of teaching, Medcalf says, damages the natural process of learning. In order to actually learn is to live in the moment and gain experiences, because while you might forget how to solve parametric differentiation problems, experiences will stay with you long after you graduate. And the most important thing of all is your product: how will you leave an impact? Will you change the world? Will you improve the lives of those around you? All of these points are paramount in crafting the perfect education system, Medcalf says.

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Student or Robot?

I think a few of Medcalf’s ideas are great and should definitely be incorporated into the school system. For example, his class is mainly about going out there and getting your own experiences, and then using those experiences as a foundation for your education (instead, say, a textbook, being your foundation). This is especially important because I feel like the do-or-die way that school runs right now robs kids of experiences- students literally never have time to do anything because they’re too busy making up a story for English about that time they Definitely, Like, Climbed A Mountain Or Something And Then Learned About The Importance of Friendship. Knowledge and experience should always go hand in hand. But on the contrary, these exact ideas are the ones that scare me.

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I think a balance of both “taking risks/being left on your own” and “staying in the safe lane” would be the most beneficial for students (or at least for me). Guidance is important in education- I know personally when teachers just throw work in front of me and force me to teach myself all the material, I get very frustrated and give up. Their class is not the only class I take, and while I would love to work on what they give me, I simply cannot complete things without guidance and then be expected to pass the end-of-unit test.

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Even if one TRIES to make a gradeless class or a self-taught class because studies say it’s beneficial, certain aspects of the school system will always be there. They will always be required to input some sort of grade, give us tests, and make us prepare for standardized tests. And if that’s what the education system is always going to be like, then yes, I want to conform so I can ultimately get good grades. It’s not good to set your students up for failure by not teaching them anything. This is where the balance comes in- let your students take the reigns sometimes and explore their interests. If they fail, help them get back up, guide them through the process, rinse, repeat. If anything, my 10 years of schooling has taught me that there IS a way to be a good teacher and prepare your students for the “real world” while also offering a useful, stimulating, and challenging class where students can experience things for themselves- teachers just need to find that balance.

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Rule #1: Don’t Demean Your Target Audience (I thought I wouldn’t have to say this…)

A large part of the podcast is how the evolution of technology has shaped the experiences of the youth. The fact that both Medcalf and Wettrick just categorize an entire generation into mindless zombies who just stare at their phone all day is ridiculous. Adults in general are so quick to demean the generations below them because they think they know best. They call us “soft,” “lazy,” “entitled,” you name it. “Well, when I was your age, I was destroying the economy and the housing market, I didn’t have any time to frolic around on my phone and eat avocado toast!” Sentiments like these only hinder society’s progress. After a quick Google search, I found a myriad of ways in which Millennials have been shaping the world as we know it (note to Boomers and Xers: Google (link here) is a great tool! Now you can check if the outlandish things you’re saying are actually true before you write another vacuous opinion piece!). For example, millennials are starting businesses at much younger ages than their Boomer counterparts (27 to their 35). They’ve also lead the way in societal changes like the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, pushed for granting citizenship to unauthorized immigrants, raising the minimum wage, advocating for diversity in the workforce, and so on.

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Hoards of youth today have such creative imaginations and a pure drive to make the world better, and we need to foster this within our school system and allow it to grow. If we give kids a good learning environment and an opportunity to explore their interests, there is no doubt that they will all achieve great things. Will they cure cancer or colonize Mars? Maybe, maybe not. But don’t yell at that kid who draws all over his notebook in class- give him a computer and he’ll become a web designer. Don’t punish the outgoing kid who loves to talk and talk and talk in class- give her an outlet and she’ll become a famous writer.  Our youth WANT to change the world- we just need to give them a chance. While each generation might have had their downfalls, they also all contributed their own unique and important things to the world- that is undeniable. However, we, as a society, cannot brutally dismiss our youth because they are the basis for the generations to come.

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All in All…

This was overall a rollercoaster of a podcast- I wholeheartedly agreed with some things Medcalf and Wettrick talked about, while other things were outright insane. For example, one point that really sums this up is when he talks about how privileged and lucky he is to be white with money (and named Josh) because it opens up a lot more opportunities for him than if he were a person of color from a low-income community. Which is completely true. Yet, ironically, he doesn’t take the opportunity presented to him. If you have a privilege and can use it in a positive way, then take it. What he did by throwing away his education in its final phase is, quite frankly, extremely selfish and brainless. And, I quote, “Move your family to Africa, move them to the Philippines, go somewhere where struggle is a daily part of their existence instead of trying to manufacture opportunities for that to take place in your daily environment.” (around 15:15) What??

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When I first heard this, I honestly had no idea how to respond, but I’ll try… if you are blessed with opportunities to make your life great, then by all means, do it! Go to school, get a degree, get a job, change the world! Why not? I’m going to be brutally honest- going to Africa or the Philippines isn’t going to make up for your white guilt. Appreciate what you have, make the most of it, and if you still feel that guilt, then use your education to better their situation, instead of looking at struggling communities like you’re window shopping for the “perfect life experience.” You shouldn’t need to exploit those who are worse off than you just to put your life into perspective. Experiences will come to you through your education and through your day to day life– going out and saying “I’m going to look for an Experience™ today!” completely defeats the purpose. Education is an amazing way to not only better your own life, but the people around you, and ultimately leave an impact on the world– so while you should never stop pushing for change, also appreciate the education you were given.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

                                                                                                                         -Albert Einstein

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Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Final Project on Hero’s Journey

     Group Members: Jeremy Kohn, Stephanie Land, Matt Tremba, and Connor Roop


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The Pre-Process

     From the beginning of this project, our group was very certain in what we wanted to do. We felt that a game board would best represent how the Hero’s journey works: hitting all the steps, going on adventures along the way, and eventually restarting. Not only was it a way to clearly explain the Hero’s journey, but we could be creative with it as well. We designed it after Candyland (pictured below), with different blocks to land on and different adventures in each section, as well as game cards that tell you things like “you’re doubting your adventure, move back 4 spaces” or “you met your mentor, take another turn!” We also decorated the board with aspects of Haroun, which I’ll get into later. 

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Symbolism & Drawings

            My group member Jeremy and I decided to split the board between the “ordinary world” (left) and “fantasy world” (right), just like the Hero’s Journey is split up. I wanted to include symbolism and characters on my side of the board. So, I split the middle of my side of the board between the happy-go-lucky land of Gup and the dark, depressing land of Chup. The sides of the board also correlate with the steps: Haroun crosses over onto the land of Gup, meets his allies and enemies in both gup and Chup, and goes through an ordeal and seizes the sword in Chup, and so on. On the tests, allies, and enemies section, I drew Mudra the shadow warrior, as he is first thought to be an enemy but ends up being a crucial ally. For the approach, I drew Iff, Butt, and Haroun staring into the distance at the dark ship, deciding on whether or not they should risk their lives and go there. For the ordeal, I drew two hands sword fighting to symbolize the war. Finally, for seizing the sword, I drew two things: one, Kahani turning again, and two, the two sides of the moon combining again. Apart from specific parts, I also put Haroun and Iff peeking out from the top of the board. However, my favorite part of the board was the sea of stories. I drew the different “strands” of stories in the sea as colored strings intertwining, and at the bottom, I drew the “pollution” coming from the land of Chup and combining with the stories. In the corner, I drew a book with the pages flying away, and each page is losing more and more words, until the entire page is just blank. This was symbolic for Khattam-Shud and how he wanted to get rid of all the stories on Kahani.

 

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The early stages of the product. 

Self-Assessment

          The product overall was very satisfactory. Throughout our research, we learned about the different stages and the different versions of the Hero’s journey that exist, as well as the stories that apply to it. Once we learned about the Hero’s journey, it really opened up my eyes- I can now spot the Hero’s journey in most fiction books I read, even biographies. And the best part was that we created a tangible product to show what we’ve learned. Learning feels much more satisfactory when you can hold the knowledge in your hand than when it’s crammed into the back of your brain.

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If I had to rate us on the designs specs rubric, I think we most definitely hit the requirements for “make it beautiful, poignant, relevant, and unique,” and the “Surfer on the Sea of Stories.” We worked to make our project as unique and creative as possible while still describing the process of the Hero’s Journey as it related to Haroun, and I believe we were successful. The other groups also did a great job at relaying their information back to the class- I especially liked how the different skill sets of each group resulted in many unique projects. 

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While the Hero’s journey might be a lot more simple and “clear” than, say, allusion or allegory, it provided a lot of insight into the book itself, especially towards the question of “what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” The Hero’s Journey showed how Haroun progressed and grew as a character through meeting his mentor, deciding to go on an adventure, being tested by man and nature, failing, and eventually coming through in the end. Once a character goes through the Hero’s Journey, they gain knowledge and experience that fundamentally changes who they are as a person. So, the Hero’s Journey answers Haroun’s question: once he embarked on this fantastical adventure through the land of Chup and Gup and literally living his fathers stories, he learned the importance of friendship, family, perseverance, and yes, stories.

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If you haven’t already, head over here to view all of the posts I made on Haroun and the Sea of Stories!

-T.M.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Khattam Shud (Final Post)

Final Thoughts

             As Haroun and the Sea of Stories comes to a close, we say goodbye to all the colorful characters and dramatic plot. The novel ends on a quick, harsh note, after the war. This was actually a shocking aspect of the ending for me: the entire novel had been building up towards a war between the Guppees and Chupwalas, the war itself was very abrupt and more like an impromptu comedy skit than a war. I assume it is because Rushdie didn’t want to glorify war, and show that no matter what side of the war one is on, they will always look foolish in the end– this is just one of the many ways throughout the book that he slyly makes fun of the Western World.

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Happiness is a Social Construct

            Well… not really, but it’s true to a certain extent. The main point that the ending of the book revolved around was the true meaning of a “happy ending.” Haroun wishes for a happy ending for his city, and while he notices that they are happy now, nothing has truly changed- the happiness is only superficial. The following quote by the Walrus expands on this point:

“Happy endings must come at the end of something… If they happen in the middle of a story, or an adventure, or the like, all they do is cheer things up for a while” (202)

           Rushdie uses this point to show that there is really no such thing as a happy ending for a story. Haroun’s father got his storytelling abilities back, Haroun’s mother came back, their city is happy again, and the Guppees won the war. Despite all of this, the book leaves you feeling empty and melancholic at the end. But this is not truly the ending to Haroun or Kahani’s story: happiness, in the end, is short lived, just like sadness is. No one’s story will ever end.  

We also discussed this for most of our group’s Socratic seminar: we eventually came to the conclusion that happiness cannot be given, but it must come from within. This is why Haroun was genuinely happy when his mother came back, because it was what his adventure was driven by, but his city was only “fake” happy- they might have been laughing and dancing in the rain, but nothing changed at it’s core.

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So… What’s the Use In Telling Stories that Aren’t Even True?

            In my opinion, Haroun’s journey to Kahani is a metaphor for stories in the real world. I broke it down into two main points:

  1. As said above, Haroun’s wish doesn’t solve the deep-seated issues of his town or magically erase all the heartbreak him and his father have endured since his mother left. Instead, it provided everyone with a superficial happiness. While it might not last forever, it still counts for something. This is part of the reason we read stories: to make us feel. Obviously reading a journey about saving the princess won’t make you a hero, but you can live vicariously and experience the pain, love, heartbreak, and fear right along with the narrator.
  2. Before Haroun embarked on his journey, he never imagined something like this happening. Overnight, he saw fantasy lands, creatures, magic, and overall experienced things that otherwise would not be possible in the “real world.” But does this mean his journey is all for nothing? Of course not. What really matters is what he went through and the stories he learned. He learned of the importance of friends and family, perseverance, and the beauty of both silence and speech. These values, not the magic creatures, are what will stick with him until he grows old. The same holds true for stories: It doesn’t matter if stories are made up or 500 years old, because they contain “eternal” truths, which end up enhancing and guiding one through their understanding of their own life. Morals are the most valuable things a reader can take away from a book.

Hero’s Journey

                 I was assigned to read the novel through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, the path that most heroes follow within a novel. The Hero’s Journey is very sequential and concrete, which gives readers little to analyze through this lens. The end of the book saw Haroun hitting a few crucial steps, including “Reward/Seizing the Sword” (when The Walrus gives Haroun a wish, and he wishes to make his city happy again), “Master of Two Worlds” (when Haroun makes Kahani start spinning again and restores peace), and finally, the “Return With Elixir” (when Haroun and his father return from Kahani. The Elixir can either be thought of as happiness, his father’s storytelling abilities, or his mother).

 


Overall, while it was extremely confusing and a little tedious to read at times, Haroun and the Sea of Stories was a fun and sweet book to read. The values that Rushdie managed to convey through a children’s story definitely made an impact on me and how I perceive storytelling. I would definitely recommend it! 6.5/10

-T.M.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories #2

Note: if you haven’t yet read my first post on Haroun and the Sea of Stories, click here.

Since the last few chapters, Haroun is already well on his journey to the magical storytelling moon of Kahani. In terms of the Hero’s Journey, he already received his call to adventure and supernatural aid and has crossed the threshold into the unknown with his mentor, Iff. So far, the book is getting more and more complicated with an abundance of complex characters. In fact, there are, in my opinion, way too many named characters- despite already reading the book, I found myself going back and trying to track who’s who, which made reading a very tedious process.

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Once I learned that Rushdie wrote this book during the time he had a fatwa placed on him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, I saw the political allegories he made deepen even further. To be honest, this ruined the book for me, because one of the reasons I was excited to just read a children’s chapter book was because they aren’t convoluted and they don’t have anything to do with a ~~deeper political meaning~~ (and, let’s be real, politics ruins most good things). Unfortunately, Haroun no longer fits into either of those categories.

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Apart from that, in the actual plot, Haroun, along with Iff and Butt, arrive in the Sea of Stories. In terms of the Hero’s Journey, Haroun is currently on what is known as the “Road of Trials,” which, according to Joseph Campbell, is when “…the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. […] The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.”

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Overall, in the Road of Trials, the hero (Haroun) must face multiple trials, most of which he will fail. When Haroun drinks the wish water in hopes that his father’s storytelling abilities would come back, but ultimately fails, this is one of the many examples of a Trial he must face. The Road of Trials is often not a singular step within the Hero’s Journey but rather a long process that overlaps across the many other steps in the cycle.


Haroun also goes through “Atonement with the Father,” a step in which the hero must confront his father-figure. This happens when the Land of Gup captures his father for venturing into the Land of Chup, which will eventually lead into the war. This plays itself out when Haroun and his father have a talk about the reality of the Sea of Stories, but also the imminent danger they are both in.

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While it is obvious that Gup and Chup are respectively “good” and “bad” in Haroun, Rushdie makes sure that they do not fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum, which is something I found interesting (and also discussed during the Socratic Seminar). Iff says the following about Khattam-Shud:

“[he is] the Arch-Enemy of all Stories, even of Language itself. He is the Prince of Silence and the Foe of Speech” (79). Even though it might seem like the land of Gup is all about the freedom of speech, all that the Gup characters say is essentially nonsense or gibberish. Their constant talk is eventually their downfall, which can especially be seen when they are going to war with Chup and constantly arguing about their plans. Their constant gossip makes their army fall apart from the inside. And while of course Chup is made to seem like the “dark side,” Haroun finds a beauty in the way they communicate, especially the Shadow Warrior they encounter named Mudra. While he might not verbally talk, he uses a gesture language, and the words he does communicate are all purposeful and careful. Rushdie did this on purpose to show the irony in that not all speech is inherently good, and sometimes silence must exist in order to bring meaning to speech.

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In my opinion, all of this relates back to the question Haroun posed in the beginning: “What’s the point of telling stories that aren’t even true?” The greatest books in history like the Mahabharata or Gilgamesh, or works from authors like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Dickens, are all fiction. These authors are not speaking whatever nonsense comes to their minds like the Gups, nor are they depleting the world of storytelling like the Chups. However, the careful and considerate words they’ve chosen have shaped the world we live in today. While they might be fiction, the amazing thing about these stories is that they are always going to be true. Their lessons and characters are eternal and will always apply to society, which signifies the importance of characters like Rashid who keep spreading and telling stories.

First Impressions: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Originally, I was excited to learn that we were assigned a Salman Rushdie book for summer reading. The first time I read a Rushdie book was in third grade: Luka and the Fire of Life (which I learned is actually a sequel to Haroun… oops.). My first impressions of this book were quite similar to with Luka. The writing style is very off-putting at first, and the eccentric fantasy plot is hard to follow at times and can become convoluted– however, Rushdie never fails to create colorful, intricate characters that really come to life on the pages. I really enjoyed reading a fun, short children’s book as a sort of break from all the textbook reading we had to do. And the great thing about Salman Rushdie is he can’t just write a children’s book and leave it at that- there’s always deeper meaning that you’ll only understand when you’re older. Of course, I’ll go more into that in later posts.

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Throughout the book, I’ll be analyzing Haroun (which, by the way, you can buy here) through the lens of the monomyth, otherwise known as the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is used to describe a common narrative pattern in a book’s plot. Below is the cycle:

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And a cute comic that also describes the process:

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For now, I am only analyzing chapters one through three, so of course, the Hero’s Journey plot isn’t very far along. However, one thing my group and I found interesting was the matriarchial role Haroun’s mother, Soraya, played in the novel. She acted as a tipping point for the plot: all was well and fine in Perfectville until Haroun’s mother abandoned them. This is what leads to Rashid losing his storytelling abilities, which leads to Haroun going on a mission to get his abilities back, and so on. This leads us to the question: what really is Haroun’s call to adventure? Is it when he realizes everything went wrong after his mother left? Is it when he realizes on the train that everything is his fault, and he must set out to fix it? Or is it when he sees the Water Genie? We couldn’t decide on an exact answer, but we agreed that it was a combination of Everything Going Wrong that culminated in his call to adventure.

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The role of parents in Haroun brought me upon an interesting line:

“This is an affair of the heart.” (pg. 43)

This simple, sweet line struck me for a few reasons. Once I thought about it, this novel isn’t only a silly fantasy: it’s a love story. But not the Hollywood boy-saves-girl love story: it’s one about the love between a son and his father, and the father’s love for his wife. While there are high-paced adventure scenes, the princess in her castle scenes, and stories about the importance of friendship, above all, it’s about how the son loves his father so much that he’s willing to risk his life just to make him happy again, which is one of the most striking things about Haroun.

Signing out,

T

Note: follow my “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” tag to follow my updates throughout the book. 

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.