Read it in The Brooklyn Rail!
A DePaul MAWP alum wrote a book! And it comes out this month! Wow, we are so thrilled to celebrate Zhanna Slor and her debut novel, At the End of the World, Turn Left.
If you missed our alum profile of Zhanna, be sure to check it out here.
After I (hello, English Grad Assistant speaking) sat down over Zoom with Zhanna, she graciously sent me an ARC of her book. DePaul biases aside, I was hooked from the very first scene and its engagingly raw writing. Well, really, I knew I would like it after listening to the book’s playlist (linked on her website). When I sat down to read, and read and read some more, the following chapters affirmed my prediction.
The novel follows Maria (Masha) Pavlova as she returns to Milwaukee at her father’s request when her sister, Anastasia (Anna), goes missing in 2008. The book covers their family’s various experiences as Jewish Russian immigrants coming from 1980s Soviet Ukraine, and when we meet Masha, she’s returning to the U.S. after finding a home in Israel’s Orthodox community in her early twenties. While Masha searches for Anna, now 19 years old, readers see the sisters’ stories unfold in the past and present as they both search for their identities—what does it mean to begin childhood in the USSR and then live in the U.S. as growing adult women? We see their relationship with Riverwest—their adolescent home of vibrant color, grit, and drugs. As both Masha and Anna find themselves away from home, they learn about who they are as immigrants, daughters, Jews, sisters, Americans, Ukrainians, and women. We see them wrestle with a tension of knowing how much their parents had to sacrifice for them, feel the pressure to make it all worth it. While each family member is connected to each other, they each have their own cultural and home experiences, lending itself to gaps of understanding between generations that are explored throughout the novel. We see how each navigates the tension of then and now, of who they are, who they were hoped to be. and their connections to their homelands.
This literary mystery/thriller is captivating from the beginning with an intriguing plot and question over Anna’s disappearance, but I also kept reading for the characters themselves and their relationships with each other, themselves, with leaving, and with all the places of home. I’m truly grateful for the chance to read a story that gives insight into another multifaceted experience of what it means to go missing and come back.
Professor Michele Morano will be joining Zhanna on April 23rd for a virtual conversation. Click here for more information about the event and registration.
Follow her on social media here:
Diversity Can Exist in America, and In Romance Novels Too
By Morgan Kail-Ackerman
Contributor to The Underground
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang is a 2019 contemporary romance novel book that is sure to melt your heart, and keep you excited the entire time. Although this is the second book in the series, you can follow characters and plot without reading The Kiss Quotient, the first book in Hoang’s universe.
This beautiful love story is a modern Cinderella retelling, but this time the story is told with diversity and equality. It follows Esme, a Vietnamese woman, who is given the opportunity to live in America by Cô Nga, the mother of our romantic male hero, as long as she tries to seduce Khai into marriage. Khai, on the other hand, is dealing with the death of his best friend, Andy. As someone who is told over and over that he cannot feel emotions due to his autism, Khai believes he has a heart of stone and blames himself for Andy’s death.
The Bride Test has a perfect balance of everything you will want. It is a well-written story, gives fully dimensional characters, and keeps you interested with every page. On the whole, it is a romance novel that makes you fall in love with these characters, root for their relationship, and believe in everything they are fighting for.
In addition to being a solid romance novel, the story pushes diversity in the romance genre. Both of the romantic leads are people of color, and one is not American. Throughout the novel, Esme speaks in Vietnamese or choppy English. In fact, the last line of the novel is in Vietnamese.
The book also features a positive, well-written representation of autism from Helen Hoang, who is autistic herself. We learn from and support Khai as he figures out his autism and emotions. Esme is likewise not well-educated, and spends parts of the novel trying to find herself while seeking higher education. These aspects are not generally seen in a mainstream romance novel, so Helen Hoang’s novel brings a gorgeous new story to the landscape of the modern romance genre.
Nevertheless, The Bride Test can be a little predictable. It is a Cinderella-retelling and the plot is straightforward, so maybe that is where the predictability lies. Yet it is a positive predictability. You can guess where the novel is going, but that does not mean you will not enjoy the ride.
If you are looking for a contemporary and diverse romance novel, look no further! The Bride Test is for anyone who is looking for a beautiful and sexy love story.
By Olivia Muran
Contributor to The Underground
On Friday, September 27, DePaul celebrated Banned Books Week by hosting Books on the Chopping Block, a live performance by the City Lit Theater Company. The event kicked off at 1 p.m. in the John T. Richardson Library on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. Banned Books Week is an annual event hosted by the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association. The event raises awareness of the censorship that seeks to dull the intellectual flame of readers across the nation. Regarding the dulling of said figurative flame, the theme of the event this year was “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark,” urging everyone to “Keep the Light On.”
At DePaul, four members of the City Lit Theater Company performed selections from the Top 10 Banned Books on 2018’s list, including the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The list also featured many children’s picture books, such as Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner and A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss. In order to make it on the Banned Books list, these titles must have multiple formal complaints or ‘challenges’ filed against them in an effort to remove access in libraries and schools nationwide. Six out of the ten books on the list were banned because of LGBTQIA+ content, while others were banned for addressing teen suicide or political viewpoints.
The performance selections featured a mix of comedy and serious content. Many of the passages read showcased the importance of the book at hand, advocating accessibility as well as removal from banned lists nationwide. For example, the number one challenged book of 2018 was George by Alex Gino, which tells the story of a transgender character during adolescence. The passage performed at DePaul showcased the book’s child-like innocence of George’s experience, though the topic is controversial among certain book communities. As a result, Gino’s George has been banned, challenged, and relocated from libraries and schools.
The Top Banned Books list serves to call our attention to the censorship that books face when the content presents controversial topics. By filing formal complaints, censors restrict access to diverse communities and decide which books can and cannot be read. In turn, participation and awareness of events like Books on the Chopping Block during Banned Books Week continues to defend these restricted books and works to “Keep the Light On” when “Censorship Keeps Us in the Dark.”
By Caitlyn Ward, contributor to the Underground
Clay Jannon, hit with the hard times of the recession, has been shuffled away from his life as a San Francisco corporate drone and has been plopped right down into the tall and daunting aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Working the night shift, Clay soon discovers that this strange and dusty store is more curious than he could ever have imagined. The customers are few and far between, and while there are some random passers-by, there is also a small community that frequents the store often. These eccentric customers borrow from a mysterious, and quite tall, section of the store, habitually checking out large and strange volumes that Clay has been warned not to read. As it becomes more evident that these regulars belong to some strange kind of book club, Clay’s interest in these bizarre volumes grows. Succumbing to his suspicions, Clay engineers an analysis of the bookstore and the behavior of its clientele. With the help of his romantic interest, a data analyst for Google, his roommate, a special effects artist, and his best friend, a successful designer of a “boob-simulation software,” Clay sets out on a quest to discover the secrets that lie far beyond this bookstore’s walls.
In a world where the book is threatened by advancements in technology, the author, Robin Sloan, takes on the intersection between old and new media. Sloan crafts a warm and enjoyable novel, while also raising questions about the power that books and technology contain in today’s society. He does this by bringing these issues to attention, but never pushes these thoughts rudely to the head at the expense of the story. Sloan creates a quirky constellation of characters, such as Clay Jannon and Mr. Penumbra himself, as they work together to solve the 500-year-old puzzle that lies within these peculiar texts. The many references to technology places the novel firmly in the present day. Although Clay and his friends encounter setbacks, they live in a world that provides the answers in one simple Google search. Sloan seamlessly marries these new ideas of technology with old-school paper and ink and the cleverness of it all makes the story hard to put down. By creating a novel that is simultaneously a love letter to books, a meditation on technology and its limits, a mysterious adventure, and a requiem, Sloan is able to tackle the cohabitation of old and new media in today’s world. Rendered with irresistible language, interesting characters, and dazzling wit, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore creates an intriguing world in which you have to enter, and will not want to leave.
by Erin Roux
To find one’s “song” or way of life is a journey. It is to make sense of the past and to find a way to heal. It is to stay in a house for people who come and go. It is to look toward the future and to “figure out the secret of your life on your own”, as the play tells us. Written in 1984, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone takes place in 1911 in post-slavery America and shows small pieces of the lives of the African-American people who come and go through a Pittsburgh boardinghouse owned by a stern, yet charitable couple, Seth and Bertha Holly. The Theatre School is performing this provocative work, written by August Wilson and directed by Phyllis E. Griffin, from November 6th through November 15th, 2015.
The majority of the show takes place in a modest kitchen and living room setting, offset by various scenes that we understand, as the audience, to take place outside. Above the audience hangs a clothesline, seemingly meant to bring the viewers into the scene as opposed to remaining on the outside. It’s as if we are invited into this boardinghouse. While the entirety of this play takes place in the house setting, the audience is taken to different times and places through the stories told throughout the play.
Storytelling in this play provides for an interesting dynamic. Just as the setting invites the audience into the lives of the characters, the stories invite the characters into each other’s lives. Stories about guitar contests, “shining” men and beautiful women like “water and berries” uncover the complex pasts of the characters we see on stage. This play illustrates the connections between past and present through these stories, allowing the characters to make sense of their lives as well as a way to heal from the hardships of the past.
The boardinghouse is a place of stability and connections in a time of constant movement and confusion. It is a place where people are “bound together” as opposed to being “bound up”. It is where people are allowed to reflect on the past to then look toward the future. It is a solid home for the fluid and searching vagabonds.
Each tenant of the boardinghouse is African-American and is searching for something, be it laughter, love, or a lost wife, each being representations of certain values held during this complex time in American history as well as of values we hold today. Proprietor Seth Holly, born in the north to a fairly stable household, is proud of his boardinghouse. He wants stability and to simply stay afloat financially and doesn’t understand people who don’t follow this way of life. This solid character provides the boardinghouse for the tenants and a setting for the play itself. Bynum Walker, a spiritual man known to “fix things” and “bind people together”, is looking for a “song” by which he can live his life. Herald Loomis, a mysterious man with a bright daughter has a dark past looking for his wife whom he hasn’t seen for several years. Though each person is looking for something different, each is looking away from the past and toward the future, while making sense of the present, going as fast as their legs and spirits can take them.
Heartwarming scenes juxtaposed with intense monologues and inevitable truth make up this emotional and thought-provoking show, all performed by a brilliant cast. It is an excellent representation of the healing powers of the arts and writing; this play reflects the boardinghouse in that it is safe place to touch on difficult memories, a way to make sense of the past, and a means in which to heal to continue the journey into the future. Anyone looking to see incredible talent, have a closer look at a confusing time in American history or someone who wants to “find a song from the pieces inside of you” is absolutely encouraged to come and see this show.
On the Fullerton Stage through November 15th at The Theatre School at DePaul. Tickets available here.
Student Review: DePaul Students’ National Poetry Month Reading 04.18.13
by Anne Malina
On Thursday evening, a group of DePaul seniors were invited to read their poetry to an intimate audience at the John T. Richardson library in the Lincoln Park Campus in honor of the 17th annual National Poetry Month. National Poetry Month is a celebration of poetry that lasts for the entire month of April which was established by the Academy of American Poets. The idea behind it is to expand the attention of people and the media to include poetry as a more appreciated art form. The Academy of American Poets aims to increase the prominence and accessibility of poetry in our culture through this expansion.
There were about 60 people in attendance at DePaul’s National Poetry Month reading—more than twice the amount of previous years. The presentation began with a musical performance by Cameron Shenassa who shared some pieces from his original rock opera which he is currently working on. The poets who read were as follows: Marie Conlan, Emma Cushmanwood, Sergio Garcia, Rachel Harthcock, Al Prexta, Cameron Rizzardini and Katie White. Each poet read for about 5 minutes and each one captivated the audience within that short span of time. Although poetry is not as popular in its most basic form these days, usually passed over for its musical counterpart, these young writers proved that words do not need melodies to fully express raw emotion. They truly captured the essence of National Poetry Month and provided a delightful and entertaining evening for all those who attended.
About the Writer:
Anne Malina is a freshman at DePaul, double majoring in English & French, from Berwyn, IL.
What do you get when you cross “Soy Sauce,” two slackers, a ghost dog, and shadow people? You get the horror/comedy masterpiece, John Dies at the End by David Wong.
David Wong is the pseudonym used by Jason Pargin, an Illinois native. He is the chief editor of the humor website Cracked.com; a site that introduced me to more of his work.
I first came across John Dies at the End when I was a student page at my local library. I was shelving books in the fiction section, when I came across a very peculiar book cover. The edition that my library owned had a dismembered arm with bright green nail polish on the fingernails. The back cover showed the where the arm had been severed and had the synopsis scrawled on a piece of notebook paper. I remember reading the summary and thinking, what the heck is this? I thought it looked like some crazy train wreck of a novel that someone wrote trying to be “original.” Even though I wasn’t very convinced, for some reason, every time I passed that section, I looked to see if it was still there, hoping that I might eventually check it out.
Months later, after I had quit my job and gone to school, I had some free time and could not decide what book I wanted to read. I wanted something original that had to do with magical creatures or the paranormal. I remembered that odd book I had seen while I had been shelving. I checked it out from the library over winter break, and was sucked into a world unlike any other I had ever seen.
Enter David Wong, a slacker who works with his best friend John at the local video store in his small, unnamed Midwestern town…or at least that’s how it used to be…when things were normal. David is sitting down with a journalist in a small restaurant discussing the peculiar events that had happened recently involving missing people, demons, and a mysterious drug called, “Soy Sauce” that allows one to see the paranormal.
Unfortunately, I cannot divulge many details on the incidents that occur involving David and John, a dog named Maggie, and some really bizarre creatures. What I can tell you is this: if you want a morbidly hilarious jaw dropping horror farce, this is a book for you. Pargin does a great job creating a secret world within a world that we think we know. At times, this book is confusing, but if you keep plugging along, it’ll be worth it. There were so many times when my jaw dropped and I thought: did that really just happen? Are you kidding me? Jason Pargin creates a universe unlike any other that I have ever encountered. His descriptions make you feel like you are with David and John experiencing the disgusting world that the “Sauce” allows them to see. I could not put this book down. I had to know what happened next and was even yelled at by family members to put it away…Oops.
There were so many things I wanted to know. Does John really die at the end? Will the shadow people take over our dimension? Does the journalist believe David’s story? These questions and more are all answered in the novel. Don’t forget the most important question that still remains: how come you haven’t read it yet?
About the Writer:
My name is Gabriella Zeller, and I am a freshman English major at DePaul. I am from Peoria, IL, three hours south of Chicago. I love to write short stories and hope to go into editing/publishing one day. I believe that to be a good writer, one must be an avid reader. Reading is an important hobby instilled in me at a young age by my family. I enjoy reading all types of books and here are a few of my favorites: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Starter for Ten by Andrew Nicholls, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Steig Larsson.
DePaul Alum (MAWP ’09), Rita Leganski wrote a short story for Professor Dan Stolar’s fiction class back in 2009. The story was turned into a novel that was acquired by Harper Collins. The book, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, a magical realist tale in the Southern Gothic tradition, debuts tomorrow, February 26th!
It was selected as the “March Indie Next Pick” by Independent Bookstores (American Booksellers Association) and as the “April Next Pick” by Indigo Bookstores in Canada. It’s been named an “Adult Book for Teens” and is listed in Academic One File. Furthermore, Library Journal included it as one of the seven debuts to watch, and Doubleday acquired rights to put it out in hardcover as a “Book of the Month Club” selection.
Rita will be doing a reading and book-signing at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville this Wednesday February 27th at 7:00 p.m. Anderson’s is located at 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL.
Professor Christine Sneed‘s new novel, Little Known Facts, appeared in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. If you’re interested in more about the novel, she received acclaim from NYT reviewer, Curtis Sittenfield. He writes that her work is “Impressive. . . hypnotic. . . hard to put down. . . . Little Known Facts is juicy enough to appeal to our prurience but smart enough not to make us feel dirty afterward…. Sneed is such a gifted writer… Her depiction of both proximity to celebrity and celebrity itself had me totally convinced.” Congratulations, Professor Sneed!
Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild
by Nick Scully
If you’re like me, you made a plan about a month ago to try to watch all the films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. If you’re really like me, you’ve only seen a couple of them and the big night is creeping up faster than you thought possible. Maybe you’ve started going through your “To Watch” list and have started crossing out those movies you hadn’t heard of, or don’t consider to be serious contenders. I’m here to tell you to put your pen down; do not cross Beasts of the Southern Wild off of your list.
It centers on the story of a little girl named Hushpuppy and the small bayou community called “The Bathtub,” a poor town on the outskirts of civilization. Everyone in the town is close with one another, and they celebrate the fact that they don’t live on the other side of the levy, despite their obvious struggles to survive. Hushpuppy believes that the world works in harmony; the animals that she cares for speak to her in codes. The childlike imagination through which Hushpuppy views her world is one of the most gripping points of the film. When a giant storm comes through and almost everyone evacuates, the few left behind—including Hushpuppy and her father, Wink—must band together to survive the floodwaters and protect one another while remaining independent from the rest of the world. It incorporates a wide range of allegories and blends between fantasy and reality—which quite frankly, I still haven’t figured out. Nonetheless, it is an emotional tour-de-force that doesn’t shrink back from the uncomfortable, but retains the heart and love that can only be found in the innocence of childhood.
The movie originally only played film festivals and is the first feature film by BenhZeitlin, who is nominated for Best Director this weekend. The cast of Beasts were not trained actors, which surprisingly makes for very convincing performances all around. But the obvious standout and driving force behind the film is the now nine-year-old, Quvenzhané Wallis (pronounced: kwuh-ven-jah-nay). Wallis lied about her age in order to audition for the part (she was only five), and she was six throughout the majority of filming. There has been much buzz about the fact that she is the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, but she is the youngest person ever to be nominated for any major award at the Oscars when you consider age during filming.
The utter force behind Wallis’s acting is incredible; I guarantee that you’ve never seen a person so young with as strong a screen presence before. She’s so direct that it all seems effortless for her, and yet you can’t help notice the pain and rage in Hushpuppy’s eyes. All at once, you can see Hushpuppy’s fear of losing everything she knows and her defiance against the forces that change her life. This kind of raw talent isn’t something one comes across every day. I doubt this movie would have been so well-received without her.
So while Beasts should be at the top of your list for its magic and its heart, you should definitely watch it if only to see Quvenzhané Wallis in her breakout performance as one of the youngest and most courageous heroines of the year. In any case, this is not the last time we will be seeing her on the big screen—and I would not be surprised in the slightest if we will be hearing a speech from her on Sunday night.
About the Writer:
Nick Scully is a senior Creative Writing major from the Southside of Chicago. He loves movies and television, and watches too many shows to keep up with; luckily, reading and writing have always had a huge impact on his life, and both help him to stay well-rounded.