Book Report: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


I remember reading this in college and not liking it. This time around, I savored thhe delicious language and diction and descriptions. It’s like a beautiful but ominous watercolor. Offred’s world is so full of longing and loneliness that everything -because it’s unavailable to her- becomes a vivid romanticized version in her mind.

Synopsis: Faced by an infertility epidemic and plummeting birthrate, the government is overthrown by a (violently) orthodox religious sect where the patriarchy rules and traditional gender roles are strictly enforced. Fertile women become reproductive servants for high-ranking men and their barren wives. Other women become econo-wives issued to lower ranking men, and some become household servants or work the fields. Every woman wears a colored uniform to denote her position.

Characters: It’s hard to talk about the characters when individuality is strictly forbidden. The story is told through June, who is taken from her husband and daughter and processed as a Handmaid. Issued to Commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy, June is renamed Offred (Of Fred) to honor the patriarch of her post. She tells her story of her old life and her current life with The Waterfords to remind herself she is a person, or at least, she was. She speaks to an unnamed “you.” She says this makes her real, like writing in a diary. There must always be an audience for a story to be told. Her strength is almost unbearable as she holds onto hope and sanity, as she endures constant trauma and fear in her environment. Offred made me wonder what I would do in her situations. I wanted to be different. I want to be able to say I’d never be her, but… she wanted to say that too. That’s what makes it such a disturbing read.

Purpose as Identity
In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are defined by their ability (or inability) to produce children. That’s it. Women who can’t produce are sent to “the colonies” where they perform hard labor. Some lucky ones become housekeepers for the families in power. Everyone is issues a purpose and a uniform that decides who and what they become. Individuality is a risk. Anyone who doesn’t fit the mold is killed as a warning to all others.

Ruled by fear and violence, society submits to survive. How much is Offred… are women willing to give up to live in this new society? And is the life they’re living worth the sacrifice? What if they organized and fought back?

Questions to consider:
Who would you be if your life were reduced to one true purpose?
If things are better for some, but worse for others, are things really better?
What would you do if you witnessed gender or racial discrimination?

Book Report: IT


Synopsis: IT weaves across parallel stories – one in 1958 that follows and one in 1985 (even the last numbers of the years mirror each other). In 1958, 7 misfit tweens form an unbreakable (and necessary for childhood survival) bond over their common encounters with a strange shape-shifting monster and their isolating social identifiers: Bill stutters, Ben is fat, Beverly is poor and abused, Richie is weird, Mikey is black, Stan is Jewish and Eddie is an asthmatic hypochondriac. This “Loser’s Club,” as they call themselves, spends most of their summer trying to avoid a roving group of bullies- Henry Bowers, Belch, Victor Criss and Patrick Hockstetter are the most vicious and violent group of troubled youth I think I’ve ever encountered in truth or fiction- who are out for their blood. The Losers realize there’s a monster killing kids, including Bill’s little brother, in their hometown of Derry, Maine and resolve that it’s up to them to destroy It before It uses It’s mind-bending and shape-shifting abilities to lure more children to their deaths.

When they defeat It, they take a blood (and sex?) oath that if the killings start happening again they will all return and defeat It again. The 1985 storyline introduces us to the 7 heroes as adults and brings them back together to face/process their childhood nightmares and defeat Its final form – a giant spider from space – for good.

There are so many characters in this story. SO MANY. There were whole sections written from the POV of townies who never appeared again and literally didn’t matter. Most of the boys were pretty generic boys. I was as incredibly irritated by the literal spelling out of Bill’s stutters and Richie’s character voices as I was grateful for them. Those idiosyncrasies helped me keep at least those two apart, but disrupted the story for me. Stan and Eddie could have been the same person. Mike had entire (unnecessary) chapters on Derry history and aside from being the anchor that called them all back, served very little purpose. I get that 7 is a powerful number, but I could have done with fewer protagonists.


LIC has a lot of It streetart

The monster was more of comical character than a scary one. It took on silly forms – a clown, a teenage werewolf, a giant eyeball – and popped out of toilets and drains. That’s pretty classic comedy. It was often described in gory detail, but more in a gross-out way.

The bullies – particularly Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter – were the truly scary and dangerous threats. Detailed descriptions of the physical pain Henry inflicted on the Losers and Patrick’s explicit, deliberate murder of multiple animals over the course of a whole chapter were absolutely HORRIFIC.

Particularly how our realities change from childhood to adulthood. Imagination creates a magical and powerful reality as children, but adult reality took their power away. They forgot each other and their own pasts. Patrick believed he was the only “real” person in the world, and killing reinforces that. When IT manifested as creepy little things – like blood in the sink or a beetle in a fortune cookie, the other members of the Losers have to agree it’s real. If it’s not real, you can’t see it and if you can’t see it, you can’t beat it.

While power was never strictly defined, the power of belief was strongly present. As kids, the Losers created magic to chase off the monster because they believed it was possible to defeat. They believed each other. They believed what they saw and that solidified the monster into a tangible shape. Power of friendship was the key to their success. They didn’t remember why or how, but they all returned to Derry when called, aside from Stan who killed himself. They all stood behind each other every step of the way, even when they terrified to near insanity.

Questions to think about:

  • Where does power come from? What IS it? What gives you power?
  • At the end, the adult Losers start to once again forget Derry and each other, but Ben and Beverly run away together. Wouldn’t they forget each other too?
  • What the FUCK was up with that 11-year-old girl explicit sex scene? I couldn’t even get through it. I was so uncomfortable.


Book Report: Whiskey Sea

whiskey sea ann howard creel

Synopsis: The Whiskey Sea is the prohibition-era story of Frieda Hope, the eldest daughter of a deceased whore who lives in a small shore town with her little sister, Bea, and Silver, a clammer/fisherman who took the girls in and raised them. Frieda grows up on the sea and falls in love with the ocean and their fishing boat. Desperate to escape the fate that befell her late mother, Frieda breaks with traditional gender roles of the time to become a boat mechanic so she can support her sister’s academic endeavors. When she’s offered an incredibly lucrative job on a rum-running boat, the rewards (and romance?) far outweigh the risks.

Characters: I really identified with Frieda. We’re both tough as nails badass bitches from small seaside towns who are majorly protective of our perfect, gradeful little sisters. Neither of us are traditional women. We’re tomboys, outliers, and dreamers. We both want to escape a small shore town past.

On the other hand, I really despised Bea. She seemed so aloof and ungrateful, lost in her fashion magazines and daydreams without doing a thing to help herself OR her sister. She provided a stark contrast to Frieda- perfectly feminine and diligently fulfilling gender roles around the house. I pictured her singing to the birds and mice like a Disney princess as she went about her chores.

Hawkeye, an older fisherman who skulks around the local bars and docks, presents Frieda with a nemesis, but this relationship is never fully developed or concluded. It’s inferred that he’s Frieda’s biological father, but she never suspects or accepts this possibility.

Class tourism.
The focus of the story centers on Frieda’s unexpected feelings and relationship with Charles (aka Princeton)- a well-educated, wealthy do-nothing spending the summer at his parents’ beach house. Bored little rich boy craves excitement and so volunteers to help out on the rum-running boat Frieda works on. Against the core of her beliefs, Frieda falls for him knowing his intention to leave at the end of the summer and return to his richboy life in Manhattan. Princeton just wants to live dangerously, rum-running for fun, where Frieda and crew risk their lives almost nightly for a chance to escape poverty. This dichotomy creates most of the tension in the book.

Set in the prohibition era, rebellion presents as a major theme across all classes, from the rum-running boats in poor fishing towns to the speakeasies popping up around Manhattan. The country at large was rebelling against what they saw as an illegitimate law. Frieda, triggered by her own insecurities about her mother’s past, rebels against femininity, balking tradition and working hard to become the best, most respected boat mechanic around. She rebels against Silver’s desires for her future and Bea’s hopes for her as well. Her brand of rebellion ends up alienating her from most of society, just like her mother was. And good ole Princeton rebels against the “restraints” placed upon him by the expectations of upper class society.

Questions to think about.
What drew Silver, who was 25 at the time, to take the girls? He spent his life and resources on them and never married. Was he happy with his choice?

Who is Frieda’s father? Presumably Hawkeye as he’s the one who leaves flowers on her mother’s grave. How would that realization impact Frieda? Does she know and choose to ignore it to protect her heart and her hatred?

Book Report: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Memoir is an incredibly difficult genre to write well. It requires a certain level of narcissism mixed with transcendent wisdom that must be shared with the world. Because Tina Fey lacks both of these qualities, Bossypants is a hilarious, relatable look into the unlikely success of one of the funniest women on the planet.


The self-depreciating tone of the book told with Tina Fey’s signature sarcastic wit struck a chord with the insecure middle school nerd of my past. As a (kind of) successful (though far less famous) woman myself, I realized how important that nerd and all of her embarrassing, awkward moments were in forming who I am now. To look back on our past selves and be able to endearingly chide ourselves instead of reliving that embarrassment is an important step in loving yourself. Forgiving our child selves, and acknowledging the strength that pushed us through the mess of adolescence is an indicator of growth. Tina Fey recounts an awkward time in her life where she used her gay friends as props, but selfishly wanted them to stay “half in the closet.” This analysis of her past was no doubt a huge epiphany for her that helped her form stronger relationships and become a better person.

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” ― Tina Fey, Bossypants

Tina Fey also failed a lot. Sometimes her sketches fell flat. Sometimes she didn’t feel like her work was complete when the SNL deadline hit and she had to forge ahead anyway. Her insight on the myth of doneness resonated. There will occasionally be times when the goal changes from finishing to fighting through it and moving on to the next thing. There’s no time to beat yourself up over failures, but there’s immense value in learning from them and applying them to the next sketch.

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.”
― Tina Fey, Bossypants

I also appreciate her openness about doubt and anxiety. No successful woman achieved her dreams without doubting herself along the way. Staving off the “what ifs” that anxiety chronically throws at me is one of my biggest challenges. Tina Fey laid bare all of her doubts about motherhood, comedy, cruises, fame, even her writing and acting abilities. But she never questioned the talent of her team.

I’m sure each of her peers have felt the same doubts, but there was a huge lesson here, especially for women: Others see us much differently than we see ourselves. It’s important to share our perspective with the women in our lives. Fey is hyper-aware of the pressure on women to not only succeed, but “do it all.” I was nodding my head in agreement with her thoughts on older women (especially those who speak their minds) being referred to as “crazy.” Where age = wisdom for men, as women we lose our credibility and relevancy when we’re no longer “hot.” Amy Schumer actually did a hysterical sketch with Tina Fey on this phenomenon:

Reading about the hilarious behind-the-scenes work on SNL and 30 Rock makes me want to watch all of 30 Rock. I think I fell off somewhere around the time the latest season of Shameless appeared on Netflix. Putting together a tv show seems unimaginably stressful, triple that for a live show! My admiration for Tina Fey has grown exponentially.

Her appreciation and gratitude for the people in her life, especially Amy Poehler, inspired me to write love letters to my friends.

Do you want a love letter? DM me your address on Instagram or Twitter and I’ll send you a handwritten note about how much ass you kick.