A Fresh Perspective: A Review of The Mists of Avalon

The legend of King Arthur and the Round Table has been told many times. Over the years, it has been rewritten as the story of an injured American trying to modernize medieval England, turned into a comedy starring shrubberies and flesh wounds, and adapted into fantastical role-playing games. This year has seen a reboot, The Kid Who Would Be King, which features a twelve-year-old schoolboy who awakens the evil sorceress Morgana Le Fay in a game of make-believe. Still, not much has been told about the women of King Arthur—the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters who watched the story unfold. In her high-school series The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley explores the famous legend from a new point of view.

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Harmless, Harmful: A Review of Othello

They had me cornered–two adults sitting on the ground, and my friend in between them. I gave them all a bewildered look and sat heavily on the ribbed metal bench.

The man asked the dreaded question. “So, where are you from?”

I wanted to run away screaming, certain I would be here for hours. “Well,” I said tentatively, “I’m Italian-German on one side, and–or, well, I suppose more like Italian-German-American, since—” I broke off. They were nodding at each other in satisfaction.

“We knew you were American. You have the accent,” said the man sagely.

I glanced at them helplessly. “But . . .” I had an accent, but it definitely wasn’t American. “But, ah, I’ve never lived in the US,” I said. They just blinked at me. Inside, I sighed. Why did they assume—even invent—so much based on race?

“You still have an American accent,” said my friend, and I nodded weakly. What harm could it do?

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#WisdomForFuture: A Review of A Civil Action

On Friday the fifteenth of March, Greta Thunberg proclaimed another #FridaysForFuture—a day when students skipped school to protest for responsible energy usage and a cleaner, greener planet. I watched videos of thousands of students out on the streets, holding up signs and shouting things like “You’re killing our lungs!” The same day, I accompanied a friend as he passed out flyers at our legislative building. It was easy to believe that we could have some impact on what lawyers and legislators decided. And yet—what if you were the only voice? Would you be lost in the opposition?

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Late-Night Education: A Review of Little Soldiers

I sat in the back of the classroom, sketching the enormous vase of flowers in front of me. A girl walked in and looked over my shoulder. She was maybe eight years old, and Asian—probably Chinese, since they taught Mandarin as well as art here. After a few minutes of conversation, the girl announced, “I bet my parents are stricter than yours.”

“I bet they are,” I said blandly.

The girl blinked. “My mom,” she said, unfazed, “made me stay up and study for a test that the teacher didn’t even tell us about.”

I gave her a second glance. She was an eight-year-old living in the United States. What kind of eight-year-old would study for a test? Just how different was the Asian method of education from the American way?

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Forced Survival: A Review of Pride and Prejudice

What are basic survival needs? Food, clothes, shelter—these seem obvious; they have been so for centuries. But what about survival in a world slightly different, survival in a world of complicated social rules and hierarchies—what else would we need besides food and shelter? Perhaps we would need money, an education, good connections. But what if there was something more, something that would make the difference between living comfortably and scraping by; what if the last element was a profitable, well-negotiated marriage?

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Soft Bullets: A Review of The Woman in White

The girl held her Nerf gun close to her chest. “It’s not fair!” she hissed at me. “I got that girl, and she’s still shooting!” Suddenly she stood and began shouting. “Hey! I got you! You’re dead!”

I waved her down.

“But it isn’t fair,” she protested, huddling under the protection of the table.

“No one’s playing by the rules here,” I said impatiently. “‘Fair’ doesn’t matter.” I studied the soft foam bullet in my palm. Was the world even fair? I loaded my gun. Did we impede justice, or did it support it?

I shot, and missed.

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That Table is a Stage: A Review of Alexander Hamilton

My friend and I clambered onto the picnic table. The damp wood felt unsteady underneath me; I shifted my feet. Then, flashing my friend a grin, I began to sing: “Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?

That depends. Who’s asking?

And so it continued—us standing on the picnic table, singing as loud as we could, and the other campers staring at us with slightly horrified expressions. Hadn’t everyone gotten over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical? No—we would keep the flame burning. I loved Hamilton because it brought the Founding Fathers to life. So when I received a request to review the book behind the musical, an irrational fear clutched me: what if this book put Alexander Hamilton, who had become so real to me, back into a coffin?

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Inside and Out: a Review of Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces

I knelt by the scattered makeup tubes which lay heaped on the floor, picking them up and putting them into their proper places. They were only props for a sketch we were performing, but the other girls with me were examining them expertly.

“Do you wear makeup?” one of them asked me, twisting a perfume bottle in her fingers.

“No,” I responded simply. I don’t, and I don’t particularly care.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” my friend said earnestly from behind me, “You would look really pretty.”

“I’m not pretty enough already?” I gasped in mock horror. The girls laughed, and that was that.

Later that night, the conversation came back to me. I wondered at the silliness of it. Why this fixation with outward beauty? Don’t our actions speak for themselves?

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche, written by C. S. Lewis. Orual is the ugly daughter of the King of Glome. Her beautiful half-sister, Istra, who is also called Psyche, is one of the people Orual truly loves. But Orual’s heart breaks when Psyche is tied to a tree on a mountainside, as a sacrifice to the goddess Ungit, who according to legend will devour Pysche. As Orual grows, her grudge against the gods deepens, the injustice of it torturing her day and night.

Orual is haunted by her ugliness throughout her life. Her father calls her a hobgoblin, and she never denies it. But as she grows older, she becomes more self-conscious. When she becomes queen, she dons a veil and does not take it off for decades. Eventually, Orual’s ugliness begins to affect more than just her face. As her grudge grows and her loneliness deepens, she realizes something terrifying: she is ugly—inside.

Orual discovers the error of her ways only days before she finally dies, in the form of a vision. In the vision, she is put on trial before the gods. She realizes that her grudge, which embittered her throughout her long life, was childish and sullen. To find beauty, she must look beyond the face. Beyond the hair, skin, lashes—beyond the physical. Mortals will only accept one with a truly beautiful face; the gods will accept one with a beautifully true soul.

Till We Have Faces is a singular novel. C. S. Lewis’s signature honesty and thoughtfulness make it heartbreaking and thought-provoking: a testimony of the difference between outward appearance and inward beauty.

High-school historical fantasy, ages 14+

You can buy this book here.

Little Hungry Pizzas: A Review of Ready Player One

Ready Player One - Gate

I found myself staring at the words INSERT COIN. I clicked the button. I was playing Google’s Pac Man doodle, and as the game started, I maneuvered the little pizza around hesitantly. I lost. I played again. I lost. I played again. Seized by a mad determination to win the game, I played for over half an hour until I won. What if the world was like a video game? I wondered, grimacing as the words GAME OVER appeared again on the screen. What if the world was a video game?

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