You Are Healed!

Back in the mid to late 80s there was this channel that would play religious ‘talk shows,’ usually with women who put their make up on with a trowel and had high hair (the bigger the hair, the closer to God) and a husband already sweating two minutes into the beginning of the show while walking through a crowd. I confess that during bouts of insomnia, (yes, 10 year olds can get insomnia; they can also remember where their mother hid the huge bag of Skittles at 3am) I would watch these shows just to see the sweaty dude go to a line of people anxiously waiting to be healed by the power of this man who was a direct conduit for God.

Even at the age of 10, I could spot that split second dismay in the ‘you are healed’ faces of the people, like they were thinking: This dude just punched me in the forehead. And then the look of acceptance: Well, it is almost a direct healing from God and it takes my attention off the drag queen up on the stage in the pink and red sequin jumpsuit so….okay. I feel the same way about figure skating. It’s a beautiful sport, an elegant and intimate dance of two bodies that know each other so well. But I only watch it hoping one of them will fall and slid across the ice on their butt.

I never said I was a good person.

I almost skipped Stephen King’s book Revival, published in 2014, because I didn’t want a doom and gloom angry God book but after the first couple of pages I was hooked. Duh. It’s Stephen King. Oh, my apologies. I know I wrote my last post about Stephen King but the man delivers and when he promises to make you forget reality through his writing, he means it.

Charles Jacobs is a new minister in town. Everybody loves him and his wife and his son, especially a young man named Jamie Morton. But Charles Jacobs’s wife and child die in a tragic car accident and Charles denounces God and all religions and is basically run out-of-town for his blasphemy. He spends years honing a side-show gimmick until something happens that makes him regain his faith and he becomes a faith healer. You see, all his life he’s dabbled with electricity and is harnessing it somehow. How very Tesla of him.

Jamie Morton is all grown up now and a musician with a nasty heroin habit. He meets up again with Charles Jacobs who uses his weird electrical gift to cure Jamie of his drug habit. But Jamie notices that he has certain side effects: sleepwalking and jabbing sharp objects into his arm as though doping again in his sleep. Jamie begins to investigate all of the people that Charles Jacobs has ‘healed.’

It turns out they’ve all had bizarre side effects from the electrical cure. Some have killed themselves or others. Just as Jamie is cutting ties with Jacobs, Jacobs informs him that Jamie’s childhood sweetheart Astrid is dying from terminal cancer. Jacobs says he’ll heal Astrid if Jamie helps him with one last big electrical experiment. Jamie agrees and Astrid is healed. By now Jamie knows that Jacobs isn’t to be trusted and is probably more unhinged than anyone thinks.

What Jacobs wants to do is harness a massive surge of what he calls ‘secret electricity.’ He’s going to bring about this dose of electricity via a lightning rod and he’s going to zap the electricity from the rod into a terminally ill woman named Mary Fay. It works but not in the way Jacobs hoped. Mary Fay is cured, but she is now a conduit for the Afterlife. Jacobs and Jamie discover there is no heaven, no reward for having lived a kind and good life. Instead, there’s a placed called ‘The Null,’ a dimension where dead humans are forever enslaved by insane creatures right out of an H.P. Lovecraft book. One creature in particular is the most powerful, called Mother, and she now inhabits the body of Mary Fay, breaking her body and turning her into a monster.

Okay, the rest I have written down in my notebook and when I got to the part explaining about the ending I thought: I like my readers, all two of them, and I’m not going to spoil the ending. But even after finishing the book I had to go have a nap and a Bloody Mary (not in that order, I’m not that talented).

Revival isn’t just about losing faith and regaining it. It’s about what people become once they lose or regain faith.

I also think it should be a cautionary tale not to mess with electricity or you’ll end up summoning a demon bent on destroying the world.


I was going to write a blog about Stephen King’s book The Shining versus the Stanley Kubrick 1980 movie adaptation of the book, but time got away from me. Not because I’m busy. Because I rented the newest version of the movie IT and then I fell asleep (not because of the movie but because of who I am as a person) and then had to begin it again and this blog is already getting away from me and that usually doesn’t happen until the second paragraph.

Come along with me on another adventure of “What Did I Just Read?”

I’ve read The Shining 3 times. I’m not bragging. I just have a hard time remembering books I’ve read a long time ago. But I did reread it just for the pleasure of it. And because it’s one of my favorite King novels.

Picture it: Jack Torrance, recovering alcoholic (one of the scary ones with anger problems), is looking for a new start not only for himself but also for his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny. He thinks he’s found the perfect job at The Overlook Hotel in Colorado. During the brutal mountain winters (where the hotel, while mesmerizing, is pretty isolated) the place shuts down for a few months with just a caretaker to look after the enormous building. This is Jack’s chance to make up the past year of horrible behavior to both his wife and son and a chance to work on his play without distraction or interruption. He hears a story about a former caretaker years go who went stir crazy one winter in the hotel and killed his wife and children. The isolation, Jack is told, sometimes gets to people. But like with any new beginning, Jack Torrance believes he and his family can get through anything, even being cut off from civilization by enough snow to make you think it’s the apocalypse, the snowy version.

His 5-year-old son Danny has….special abilities. His parents don’t realize it because it’s 1977 and parents aren’t into hovering over their kid’s every move. Nowadays, they’d shove Danny on a reality show or have him hosting a version of Antiques Road Show where he describes the ghost hanging out with the ugly vase from someone’s attic. But in 1977 Danny’s parents think he’s a quietly imaginative kid with an imaginary friend named Tony. Sure, it’s great when a 5-year-old has an imaginary friend but when a 40-year-old woman has one they up her medication.

On The Overlook’s closing day Jack and his family get a tour of the place and meet Dick Hallorann, the chef. He takes one look at Danny and knows he has special abilities. He begins to talk to Danny telepathically. While Danny’s parents are busy looking around, Dick tells Danny that he’s one of the rare people who has a gift called the shining, he can see and sense things others can’t and will have visions of things to come. People hear the title The Shining and they forget it’s actually a good thing, the ability to shine. Dick is leaving for Florida but tells Danny that they have a special connection and he knows the hotel is one huge haunted place and Danny is going to see some seriously screwed up paranormal stuff. But if Danny needs him all he has to do is use the shine to call to him and Dick will rush back to the hotel.

So everybody leaves on closing day. Jack and Wendy and Danny spend the next few days exploring their new surroundings and everything is good. Until the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel find out just how special Danny is and are drawn to him. Thinking back, I don’t remember any nice ghosts that befriended Danny. The Overlook Hotel has a salacious past full of murder and mayhem and the dead have never moved on. Danny doesn’t say anything about what he’s seen because he knows the job is important to his parents and he hasn’t seen his father this happy in a long time.

But that happiness doesn’t stick around. The Overlook can’t get its possessive claws into Danny because of his gift but guess who it can possess? Yep. Jack Torrance. He’s having trouble writing his play (thanks to the hotel distracting him) and cabin fever is beginning to unravel him. After a fight with Wendy, Jack makes his way down to the bar where all the liquor had been removed on closing day (wouldn’t do to have a drunk caretaker stumbling about) but is now fully stocked with a bartender on duty named Lloyd.

The ghosts begin to spill out of the woodwork (Jack was warned not to go into room 237, never go into room 237 because horrible things happened there and damn it, there he is going into room 237) and drive Jack into an insanity there’s no coming back from. The ghosts of the hotel want Danny because of his shine. Lloyd urges a very drunk Jack to kill Danny and Wendy. Once you’re dead in the Overlook, you never really leave. Or is that the Hotel California? In any case, Jack is fully under the hotel’s powers and goes after Wendy. Danny, meanwhile, is giving his new buddy Dick Hallorann a telepathic SOS loud enough to almost make his head bleed.

And then…and then…well, if I tell you what happens you won’t need to read the book and I wouldn’t have done my job of getting you into the library, excited about being terrified to death by Stephen King’s writing. The Shining was King’s third novel and in my opinion one of his scariest, not just because of a hotel full of ghosts reliving their deaths but because of what isolation and inner demons can do to a person whose only goal was to start fresh. Read this book if you want to see the gradual unraveling of one man driven insane by an isolated hotel. Read about a mother trying not only to keep her child alive but also herself as her husband loses his mind. And then there’s Danny, who shines the brightest.

Excuse me, I have some other writing to take care of. All work and no play make Jennifer a dull girl.

Lullaby and Goodnight, Please Don’t Torch Me While I Sleep Tonight

In the wake of the last month and a half of sexual assault and sexual harassment stories surfacing (and what a tsunami of a wake it’s been) Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and his son Owen King dovetails with these current scandals almost too well. The book itself is not a study in men vs. women but an unveiling of humanity’s war on each other. Does that make sense? Good. It did in my head anyway.

In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia (yeah, I was a little shocked that it wasn’t set in some quaint little Maine town where sewer clowns and rabid dogs reign supreme) an eerie, almost ageless beautiful woman (you ever notice it’s never some plain woman rolling into town to upend everyone’s lives?) arrives in town. Her name is Eve Black and she’s about to turn tiny Dooling inside out.

A strange plague has swept across the world. Women are falling asleep (sometimes in the middle of walking, driving, or eating dinner) and a peculiar gauzy cobweb of a cocoon spirals out from their skin to wrap them head to toe. These women aren’t dead but deeply asleep. Females in all corners of the world are succumbing. And the women of the Dooling Correctional Facility for Women begin to fall asleep one by one.

Sheriff Lila Norcross is running on fumes the first day that women begin to fall to the sleep disease. She’s been called out to a trailer meth lab where one of the dealer’s heads has been rammed through the side of the trailer, sticking out like some deer head mounted to a wall. A nude woman at the scene named Eve Black, a serenely beautiful (but non psychopath looking naked lady to be sure) takes credit for the deaths of two drug dealers and is handcuffed and peacefully gets into the back of Sheriff Norcross’s squad car. The woman unnerves Lila in a way that she doesn’t understand.

Dr. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband, is the senior psychiatric officer at the Dooling women’s prison. Once Eve Black is settled into the prison (the labyrinth of the justice system is kinda skipped since everyone’s panicking about women falling asleep and men being left on their own to freak the floob out), Clint studies the strange woman. Now, reader, you know and I know that this Eve Black is a supernatural creature with designs of her own. But it takes the people of Dooling a little longer to catch on that she’s a part of the chaos that the sleep brings. Eve Black is able to fall asleep and wake up again without the cocoon growing from her face to wrap her body.

Frank Geary, the local animal control officer, has a volatile temper that frightens his estranged wife and his 11-year-old daughter. He’s not violent towards them but his anger is still terrifying. When the poop hits the fan and his wife and daughter fall asleep, Frank decides to take charge. By then almost all the women in town are asleep except for a handful who have access to meth and speed to keep themselves awake for a few hours longer. One of these women is Vanessa Lampley, Officer of Corrections at the women’s prison and the 2010 and 2011 Ohio Valley arm-wrestling champion. When she’s first introduced you don’t think she’s going to be a fairly major character but then the Kings surprise the heck out of you by giving her more air time, so to speak.

In the meantime, the women who fell asleep “wake up” in a Dooling that is deserted. There are no men, just the women who fell asleep. They begin to build a small but thriving society. None of the women know how it’s possible that they could fall asleep and wake up in a new Dooling to start their lives over again but they’re happier than they have been in a long while. Time passes much more quickly in this new place. But as New Dooling is getting settled some women start to disappear.

Back in old Dooling there are reports of men trying to wake loved ones in their cocoons. One news broadcast shows a man ripping away at the cocoon around his wife’s face only to have her rise up like a zombie berserker and tear into him. Men who had once been terrified of their female family members falling into a deep slumber (and many men who are blights upon society and don’t much care for women or will never admit they’re afraid of women) begin torch brigades. Yes, that’s exactly as it sounds: all over the world men are burning women in their cocoons. And Dooling is no different. People begin hiding the wrapped bodies of their loved ones in attics and basements to keep them safe.

The town of Dooling is falling into two different factions. One consists of Clint Norcross and a small band of men who want to protect the prison’s sleeping women and Eve Black because she is undoubtedly the catalyst for the slumbering women. The other group is made up of Frank Geary and a rag-tag bunch of idiots who shouldn’t be allowed scissors let alone guns. They make their way to the prison when they hear there’s a woman there by the name of Eve Black who may be the key to the disease. They’re not going there to have a friendly chat with her or sell her some Time Life books either.

Sleeping Beauties is not an anti-male or anti-female novel. In fact, it embraces humanity in all of its ugly and wonderful ways. Some of the characters, like Frank Geary, aren’t pure evil. Frank’s a father who will do anything to keep his little girl safe. Clint Norcross had a rough upbringing in foster homes where the adults would make the children fight for a milkshake. He’s not completely without shady machinations in this book but that’s exactly why it’s a fantastic read. There is no clear-cut good and evil. There is only human and slightly less human.

If you want to read a book that defies all your ideas about good and evil and makes you think about what you would do in a given situation, take a peek inside Sleeping Beauties. You may find yourself on both sides of the equation.

Except for those meth heads. Nobody’s on their side.

Rolling in the Deep

Sometimes I can be quiet. I can hear my boss laughing as I type this because according to her, I’m the giggler and talker of my group and you know what? She’s right. I’m a goofball and I like to make others laugh, which in turns gets me into trouble.

But there are times when I shut down, go still on the inside, and just listen to everything going on around me. A co-worker sneezing or shuffling papers, the tinny muffled sound of music through earbuds, a muttered phone call. Sometimes I’m quiet so I can hear what people really aren’t saying when they talk. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

In Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish, Suzy Swanson is one of those kids who just knows a lot about everything: the sleep patterns of ants, how many different kinds of jellyfish there really are out there (it’s a terrifyingly amazing amount), and that jellyfish don’t actually have hearts even though if you look at one long enough it seems to pulse as though a heart beats within. What Suzy can’t explain is how she lost her best friend Franny. She lost her twice: once to the popular group of girls in school and then a second time when Franny goes swimming in the ocean and drowns. After Franny’s death, Suzy shuts down and refuses to speak, the intensity of her grief overwhelming. She’s convinced a type of jellyfish caused the death of her friend, that although Franny was a strong swimmer a jellyfish stung her out in the water causing her to drown.

The breakup of their friendship was an eerily familiar one: Franny began changing and wanted to be a part of the popular girls in middle school while Suzy stayed true to herself and didn’t find the idea of changing herself for other people an option (note to self: always find the Suzys of the world to be friends with). When they were thicker than thieves, Franny told Suzy that if she EVER started acting like one of the airhead popular girls Suzy had her permission to do basically anything to wake her the hell up and return her to normal. During the next few months as Franny became more enmeshed with the popular kids, Suzy tried to go along with her: sitting next to Franny at the popular table and spouting off scientific facts (which I found utterly fascinating and I would love to sit beside her at lunch and learn stuff but I’ve heard it’s a little creepy for a 40-year-old to sit with a kid and talk about life).

But Franny becomes embarrassed by her friend’s brain and the things she says. Eventually, Suzy no longer sits with them at lunch and Franny avoids her and finally they’re no longer friends. Suzy comes up with one hell of a slap in the face to wake Franny up to show her she’s being a clone like the rest of the girls but it backfires. And then that summer, Franny drowns and Suzy thinks a certain type of jellyfish is the culprit. She becomes so obsessed with the idea that she makes a plan to travel across the world to meet a jellyfish expert, a man who had been stung by the deadliest jellyfish and lived to tell the tale.

I don’t really know what to tell you about the lesson of this book. People change? Yeah, they do, sometimes in unfathomable ways. To say the lesson of this book is “It’s okay to be yourself” is too simplistic. Instead, this book is about childhood friendships: ones that aren’t as immortal as we think they are. For every cause we come up with to figure out why a friendship ended, there are a dozen more whys that will never be answered. Grief isn’t owned by grown-ups alone. There is no monopoly on sadness. Children grieve and children shut down and children seek answers. If you want a book that’s all happiness and sunshine and everything ends up alright, don’t pick up this book.  But if you want to go on a girl’s journey of grief, guilt, and finding bravery in knowledge, check it out.

But stay out of the water. Those things without heartbeats might seem otherworldly in their beauty but they pack a wallop to send you into the deep, never to come back.

The Red Estate

When people call me a writer I get uncontrollable giggles, like when I’m walking around the grocery store and find that aisle where a weird guy’s been hanging out for fifteen minutes belting out The Best of Celine Dion even though there’s no Muzak playing. Or when someone gets on the elevator with you at the hospital and they immediately open up about their upcoming hemorrhoid surgery.

I don’t consider myself a writer. At all. It makes me feel like a fake even though I spend a couple of hours writing every day.

In Lauren Karcz’s The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, Mercedes Moreno knows exactly what I mean. She’s finishing out her senior year in high school and not sure if she even considers herself an artist or not because she hasn’t created anything since her last piece won first place in an art show. She’s in love with her best friend Victoria, her grandmother has had a stroke and is dying in a hospital in Puerto Rico and her mother leaves, sending back word that while sitting at her mother’s bedside she saw her hand move. Mercedes knows this is wishful thinking because things do not look good for her grandmother whom she and her sister Angela are close to, having spent whole summers with her.

Rex, their landlord and next door neighbor, checks in on them and feeds them. One morning, a piano shows up on their front lawn. Her fourteen year old sister Angela has always wanted to learn how to play the piano (me too if just to annoy my brothers by playing Chopsticks for three hours straight). Mercedes and Angela haul the piano inside and make room for it. Soon, Angela can barely be torn away from it. Mercedes is trying to come up with a painting that rivals her award-winning Food Poisoning #1 (that title alone is a winner with me) but she’s feeling less than artistic as she waits for news from her mother about their grandmother, deals with her unrequited crush on her best friend who will be auditioning for Julliard (and no doubt getting in because she’s that good of a ballet dancer) and wondering what she’s going to do with her own life after high school.

Go to art school? Go to a local university? She sees her future as pretty grim, never leaving home and “playing” at her art, never seeing her best friend Vic again (or even acting on the chance that there might be more to their friendship). Life, as Mercedes knows it, feels all lived up and worn out. Until Rex announces that he has a new renter, a young woman named Lilia Solis. “She’s a painter like you!” Rex announces (insert slow eye roll here). Since Mercedes and Angela are on their own, Rex invites them over to eat and get to know Lilia. Mercedes is taken with her at first sight, this woman who’s only a few years older than Mercedes and a painter, living her life exactly the way she wants.

Lilia shows some of her work to Mercedes and says there’s this building called the Red Mangrove Estate where many artists rent space to work: painters, musicians, anyone who needs a place to unleash their creativity. I like that idea. I normally write sitting in the middle of my bed with my writing music on shuffle and then spend 45 minutes changing songs because that song doesn’t fit with my current mood of writing and then I scrap writing altogether and watch Netflix. Mercedes goes with Lilia to the Estates. She hears bands in other rooms rehearsing and looks through partially open doors snatching glimpses of other writers in the throes of creation: that place all artists go to where time has no meaning and they often look up and breathe deeply as if they’ve been underwater and now have to resurface.

The ten foot thick steel door in Mercedes’s head that has been holding back her art creaks open and she begins to create losing time, losing herself, and losing her worry over her grandmother. Her head becomes clearer. But like most obsessions that seem fantastic at first, the Estate begins to take on a life of its own. It’s all Mercedes can think about. She unthinkingly takes Vic there one day, even though outsiders and hangers-on are not allowed. She kisses Vic. She kisses the best friend she’s in love with.

But she soon finds that the Estate is truly a world of its own, a different one. There’s the life lived and created in the Estate and there’s the world outside of it where Mercedes didn’t kiss Vic. These two worlds begin to perilously overlap, especially when Angela, who has become an amazing piano player, goes to the Estate and begins playing with a band who wants to take her on tour. Meanwhile, the news from Puerto Rico is not good. Their mother spends every minute in the hospital with their grandmother who is in a coma. She is slipping further away by the minute.

Mercedes must decide what to do: continue living two lives with one in the Estate where she can create mind-blowing art or come back to the real world and continue trying to create while secretly thinking she has not a talented bone in her body.  In the end, she makes a choice that ripples through many lives, changing her own future.

There’s one part of the book near the end that blew my mind but I’m not into spoilers (thanks Internet for ruining The Walking Dead for me; yeah, I’m still bitter about that) so I won’t mess things up for you, reader. Let’s just say author Lauren Karcz weaves a tale full of Florida heat, cigarettes chain smoked, the NEED to create bursting through every vein and nervous system, and family. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is about who we are and what we think we will become in the future. But of course, unless you’re psychic (if you are you should have seen this next sentence coming) you have to let life be lived as it unfolds.

Now, I gotta boogie. I have a favorite cardboard box in the driveway I like to write in. What? It’s all I could afford.

Intergalactic Fantastic

If I heard music beamed to earth by an alien civilization, my first thought would be to whip out my phone and try to look it up on iTunes. Actually, my first thought would be ‘I really need a change of underwear.’ Also, I think if there is intelligent life in the universe and they’re driving along enjoying the cosmos, when they see Earth they’d hit the door lock mechanism and beat feet on out of there.

In Ryan Gebhart’s Of Jenny and the Aliens, the people of Earth have sent messages into outer space to see if anything would answer back. Ten years later, something does. (Seems about right. Takes a dude about ten years to text me back.) Derek is a high school senior living with his single mother. On the night the alien message, in the form of music, is heard on Earth, Derek goes to a body painting party to celebrate because hey, what else are you going to do when you hear music from another world? You go to a party, get blasted on booze and whatever weed is floating around and hope someone there is drunk or stoned enough to take you home.

At the party, there’s talk going around that the aliens might invade and everyone’s imagining alien enslavement. Except for Derek. He doesn’t give a toss because Jenny, a girl he’s had a crush on for years, is at the party. And walking around topless. I’m not talking strutting about in a bra. She’s in full skin mode and poor Derek, being a 17-year-old boy, has no idea how to not openly gawk at her. She’s talking to him, paying attention to him when he thought she didn’t even know who he was.

Short story long, they walk to her house where she puts on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Derek loses his virginity to her. Derek’s immediately in love and starts imagining their life together. After she falls asleep, he walks home deciding to stop by a local river. Derek lies down on the riverbank and looks into the sky but something else catches his attention. There’s someone on a tiny island hiding behind a tree. He sees a hand with horrifically long fingers splayed out against the tree trunk. And then he sees a baby deer and he thinks he’s still just a little drunk and makes his way home.

When he gets home it’s five in the morning and his mom is still awake. She’s glued to the TV where there’s a breaking news alert that NASA discovered a link in the alien music. It’s a video. It shows a planet that is remarkably like Earth but a little bigger. The camera pans to show strange animals as big as elephants grazing in a cornfield. They’re a cross between dinosaurs and something with feathers. The video shows a run down ranch house. The camera spots someone (something?) on the porch. It’s a small being with grey skin with mottled patches of color everywhere. It has large eyes and two slits in its face where a nose would be. It appears to struggle to speak. It says it enjoyed the music we sent out and hoped Earth liked the music he sent back. But God oh God, it has rows and rows of sharp shark-like teeth. Why so many nightmare teeth?

After seeing the alien, the world goes into chaotic survival mode. Everyone heads to the grocery store to stock up on supplies, thinking that at any moment flying saucers are going to drop from the sky and start in on the anal probing Olympics. I think my first instinct would be a healthy spike of fear but hey, at least the music they shared with us wasn’t Kanye West. I think that right there would be cause for an invasion.

Derek isn’t worried about the possible alien invasion because he just lost his virginity and is in love. He’s thinking Jenny might be in love with him too. But there’s something a little broken about her. Last summer her brother, a Navy SEAL, was killed on a mission in Raya. She and Derek become almost inseparable for two weeks. He takes her to the river after telling her about the strange noises and long fingers he’d seen by the trees. He tells her to get her camera out and start taking pictures. He swims across the river and is cracked on the head by the alien he saw a few nights ago.

When he comes to, Jenny is long gone and he’s sitting next to an alien smoking a joint. The alien has on jeans, a sports jacket and an orange turtleneck. He’s short, maybe 4 feet tall. They begin a halting conversation about sports and life back on his planet. The alien’s name is Karo. Lights and sirens are beginning to appear and Karo leaves. Jenny went to the police saying Derek had been assaulted. She captured a good picture of the alien. Derek says he’s fine, just tried to do something stupid like swim across in frigid waters to the small island.

In addition to the alien situation, all is not well in Love Land. Jenny is moody and isn’t as into the monogamous lifestyle that Derek prefers. In fact, she’s messing about with one of his best friends. Heartbroken, Derek wants a way to win her back. There’s a credible rumor that America is about to send 200,000 troops into Raya and it will likely be an all out war. Jenny makes an impossible promise to him. If he can stop the war in Raya, she’ll be his girlfriend. So what does Derek decide to do? He decides to try to get the aliens to help him stop the war so Jenny will be his. I’ve done some truly stupid things to get someone to like me (remember making a crush a mix-tape of your favorite songs?) but Derek is about to go over the top.

Of Jenny and the Aliens is told in a heartbreaking voice of first love. Yeah there are aliens in it, but at its core the novel is about love and the seemingly ridiculous lengths humans go to keep it. If you don’t have PTSD about your first teenage love (I still have fond nightmares about mine), grab this book and listen to the wisdom sung by the universe. Or whatever.

Before and After

I remember going to Planned Parenthood in my early 20s because I didn’t have health insurance and needed birth control pills. Not because I was having any fun with anyone but because my uterus and ovaries were complete jerks and the pills were the only thing that helped. I would sit in the waiting room and play the ‘Which One of These Girls Sitting Here is About to Have an Abortion?’ game. Not in a judgmental way but more like: you do what you have to do while I sit over here with this pamphlet explaining vaginal health with a wonky drawing that looks a lot like the mouth of the monster in the movie Predator.

There was not a lot of eye contact going on in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood but most of the patients were young girls, some nervously tapping their feet while their mothers sat next to them, ironically flipping through a Parenting magazine. Or best friends whispering to each other as they waited. Once, I saw a young man waiting with a girl. He held her hand while looking like he wasn’t old enough to drive. But him holding her hand was a declaration: I’ll be here when it’s over.

In Bonnie Pipkin’s Aftercare Instructions, 17-year-old Genesis Johnson has just had an abortion and goes back into the waiting room to find that her boyfriend, Peter, has disappeared. I don’t mean he was abducted by aliens. While Gen was having their baby taken from her while mellow jazz played on a speaker, Peter took off. Not only is he her boyfriend and supposed to be there for her, he was also her ride. Her cousin Delilah goes to college nearby so Gen heads over there and crashes, waking up to no phone calls from Peter, no texts.

Gen’s mother doesn’t know where she’s at but then again, she rarely cares anymore. Her mom has become a zombie after her husband’s death and Gen’s younger sister, Ally, has been taken away to live with her grandparent’s because their mother can’t cope with life. Gen’s home life is beyond suck city so when she met Peter, she found the love and affection she didn’t realize she was missing out on. He was there when Gen’s mother had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

Peter’s mother doesn’t approve of Genesis and thinks she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, especially because of the way Gen’s father died. Gen’s former friend Vanessa (who’s been after Peter for a long time) blabbed to everyone about how Gen’s father died. Now it seems as if Peter and Vanessa might be a thing. Gen’s life begins to spiral. Now she’s post-abortion, still bleeding, still reeling and not making great choices (then again, what 17-year-old makes consistently great choices?).

Gen goes to a party at her cousin’s college and gets blacked out drunk and meets Seth and they do what humans usually do when drunk: a lot of quality making out and then waking up sick the next morning not remembering how far things went. Don’t worry. This isn’t the usual ‘The best way to get over a man is to get under a new one’ trope. Seth’s a pretty solid dude and a total gentleman. Nothing happened between the two of them but he takes a shine to Gen while she’s not sure what’s going on: if she and Peter are still a thing, if her mom is going to have more breakdowns or if she’s finding her way out of the fog.

Written with a rawness not found in many YA books, Aftercare Instructions plunges into ideas about who we think we are, who we become and who truly loves us.