August 06, 2018

A.S. King: "Glory O'Brien's History of the Future"

Title: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: A.S. King [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2014
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Visionary novel that managed to anticipated the 45th U.S. Presidency climate. Quirky, deliciously caustic lead.
Cons: The premise is very far-out. But more notably, there should be no place for "sluts" in a self-professed feminist book.
WARNING! Suicide is often mentioned or discussed. There's talk of sex, though the actual thing remains offscreen. A gruesome picture is described in detail.
Will appeal to: Those who can go along with weird premises. Those who like honest characters with a dry sense of humour. Those who are worried about the current state of the world.

Blurb: Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities - but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she's never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person's infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions - and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women's rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she'll do anything to make sure this one doesn't come to pass. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I'm sure that, had I read this one a few years ago (when I was less woke), I would have given it 4 full stars at least. Because I can relate to Glory, up to a point - the point where you feel like an outcast, but kind of enjoy the feeling because you secretly think you're better than most people. I used to be a closeted adolescent with zero friends, which turned me into a very much closeted middle-aged woman with almost zero friends. But here's the thing - I can still relate to Glory, only in a much less judgmental way. So here's the story of how I didn't gave this book 4 stars.

LET'S GET REAL

If not for that certain thing I've already addressed in the Cons section (and on which I'm going to comment more extensively in the next paragraph), Glory would be a relatable character - because, even if you're nothing like her, there's something liberating in a teen who takes no shit from the world and is able to see its faults AND to comment on them with a sharp, if dry, humour. Also, she's looking for answers about her mother's suicide and how it affected her life, and she doesn't know what to do about her future (which most teens, and even adults, don't either - except, most of the times, they go through the motions). And...as much as the author underlines her faults, Glory's friend Ellie is a well fleshed out character too, and if we can't actually relate to her (or we try to convince ourselves we can't), there's a lot of truth, but no actual malice, in her being oblivious to other people's (namely, Glory's) issues, or her inability to see the bigger picture - like about women's rights and feminism ("It's over. We got what we needed. We don't have to fight anymore."). Also, the "friends by necessity" dynamic is well explored in the novel, and much more nuanced that you would probably expect. [...]

A BRIEF STORY OF THE S-WORD

Now, I have to make an introductory remark before I address my issue with this novel. I don't believe in casual sex. This, of course, goes both for men and women. And I totally get Glory when she points at the objectification of women by way of commercials and ads, and I get that she rebels to it completely avoiding certain products or behaviours. But this is a slippery slope, because who gets to say what's the right way to be a woman? Like, if I put make-up on my face, it's not because I'm dolling myself up for men. There are things I care about because they define ME - not because society expects me to embrace them. There are lots of other things I avoid (in true Glory style, I'll admit), and I used to think I was a better person (woman), for that, but I can see now that I was arrogant and patronising. I'm honest - I'm still struggling with those things. Maybe I always will. But at least I can see now that I'm not the one who gets to decide what's right and what's wrong and to give labels accordingly. So, though I don't believe in casual sex, and I think first times (and second, and third) are important (again, BOTH FOR WOMEN AND MEN), and though I can see that Ellie's taste in men is poor at best and she's far from empowered by her sexual experiences, I can't condone Glory's calling her a slut in her own head. At least twice (thrice?). In a supposed feminist book, too. There are toxic women, as there are toxic men. You get to call them on their behaviour. But the s-word should NEVER EVER be used by any woman around another representative of the female species. It's just not cool anymore. (Hey, attempt at humour here. When was it ever?).

...AND TAKE ACTION

As far as the magical realism/visions of the future go, some other reviewers have commented that they both are a bit extreme. Now, the part where the girls are drinking the bat's ashes is definitely weird, but it did intrigue me far more than it grossed me out - of course, or I wouldn't have read this book in the first place πŸ˜‰. As a plot device, it's as good as any, at least if you go for the weird and the unexpected (which I do). And the future Glory sees is, indeed, extreme, but a lot less far-fetched than one could have thought before the U.S. elected their 45th President. In my Goodreads pre-review for this book, I joked that the author herself must have drunk a petrified bat, because who could have seen such a disaster coming for real, even in 2014? Of course, King seems to only take into account white women here (there's not a single POC in the whole book), and one might argue that in the future she paints, black ones would probably get the even shorter end of the stick. But in the nightmare Glory sees, there not seems to be any stick left around at all. And as far-fetched as you may think King's patriarchal AND dictatorial future is, remember - it always starts with the little things. So, as a reminder of that and a call to action, with all its faults, this book delivers πŸ™‚.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Contemporary/Contemporary with a Twist books click here.

8 comments:

  1. My mother-in-law read this when she was pet sitting and left a post-it note on the book that said "hmmm, interesting"

    From reading your review - I now that wasn't meant as a compliment lol

    I keep trying King's books but I guess magical realism isn't my thing - or at least in her books it seems to go overboard (for me)

    I just read a similar book with many of the same issues (the S word and how friendships work around it) and I thought the author handled it very well.

    "and I used to think I was a better person (woman), for that, but I can see now that I was arrogant and patronising"

    I love this because it's something I think we all need to work on. Some of it is from reading the same type of tropes and getting bored with it but at other times it's our unfair judgement of how we think *we* would react and put that on others - allowing no room for mistakes - especially with teens.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. I do like some of her books better than this one (because ther's no slut-shaming LOL), but I also understand that the level of magical realism in them is not for everyone.

      Sometimes we live in our heads too much (...I do that a lot because I don't get many chances to socialise). That's probably why we think we're entitled to judge. All these discussions about bookish topics, even the ones I don't directly participate in, do help me being less sure of myself at least!

      Delete
  2. Okay, first of all - as always, I adore your review. Secondly, this part made me respect & like you even more than I already did:

    "I used to think I was a better person (woman), for that, but I can see now that I was arrogant and patronising. I'm honest - I'm still struggling with those things."

    I love that you admit to this - none of us were born "woke" (for lack of better word lol), and I think it goes a long way when we admit to being wrong in the past, or struggling with some concepts in the past/present.

    As for the book - it seems like an interesting concept with an imperfect execution. I'm against slut-shaming in every book, but to see it in a feminist book is especially sketchy. That said, I'm glad this still had some enjoyable aspects!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

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    1. Awww. You made my day! Thank you!

      I still think this is an important book, with "only" a not-so-small fault. I wish that Glory would have realised that slut-shaming is not right, though honestly, I can understand where she's coming from. But having her say something along the lines of "well, Ellie is making some wrong choices, but I shouldn't shame her for having sex and think I'm a better person because I don't" would have made all the difference. To her credit, though, I would probably have thought the same things when I was her age...

      Delete
  3. My first King book was Still Life with Tornado, and it was love at first read for me. I have since read Vera Dietz, Glory, and am almost finished with Ask the Passengers. Her books just work for me. They are usually pretty deep, and leave me thinking about a bunch of stuff, and I guess I appreciate that every now and then. I can see these books not being everyone's cup of tea, because, weird, but I like them.

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    1. I love Tornado, and I Crawl Through It. I'm considering reading Ask the Passengers myself (I suppose you'll have a review up when you finish it?). I agree that her books are always deep (and weird of course - which is why they're not everybody's cup of tea). My only problem with this one was the slut-shaming, though - as I said - Ellie is not level-headed at all when it comes to choosing her boys. But it was cringe-worthy to hear Glory label her a slut.

      Delete
  4. Have you read The Dust of 100 Dogs? Have I asked you that before? It was my first and only A.S. King book, but I've always wanted to read more. It has been a long, long time since I've read it, so I'm overdue for a re-read, but I remember enjoying it. I think there were some things that were off-putting about the story as a whole, but that was maybe the point... I don't remember.

    I think King likes to take risks with her books and address issues not commonly found in YA literature. She pushes boundaries and makes us think about who we are as individuals and as a society. Personally, I don't wear makeup, but I used to. I haven't since I was pregnant with my son and I've felt better because of it. I also haven't worn a bra in just as long, which is so unbelievably liberating. I also know that these are things that are relevant to me as an individual and not woman as a whole. Like you said, it's a slippery slope.

    -- Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. The only books by her that I've read are Still Life with Tornado and I Crawl Through It. I know that 100 Dogs is half fantasy, with all the pirate stuff, so I'm not sure if it would work for me. But I do agree - she takes risks, and her books always make you think. I might read the rest of her backlist one day (except Reality Boy, because I read an excerpt and it didn't draw me in at all...).

      Delete

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