As part of my #LateAThon challenge, I tackled The War Blog by Glen Sobey. I had this on my to-read shelf and decided to give it a go. I was so excited about it, but ultimately I ended up being so disappointed and even angry at this novel…
Title: The War Blog
Author: Glen Sobey
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Published on: December 27th, 2018 by Black Rose Writing
Page count: 314 pages
Content warnings: sexual assault, child sexual abuse, use of toxic/illegal substances, domestic violence, homophobia — nothing graphic, overall
s y n o p s i s
Crystal Rose and her brother JD have been living with their grandparents for as long as they can remember. Both their mom and their dad, Maya and Eugene, were addicts who decided to leave the children behind and head out on their own. Crystal has never forgiven either of them, but when she finds out that her mother had been raped in high school, she declares war on the world — a world of sexism that systematically puts girls down. Through her songwriting and blog writing (with the help of her best friend, Kato), Crystal starts a movement from Alaska that soon spreads to the whole country…
Disclaimer: I have received a review copy of The War Blog from the author and publisher through NetGalley. All reviews are my own.
Note: Because this is a review copy, the quotations I include might not be final and they may change when compared to the final edition of the book.
🌻 this is a spoiler-free review, don’t worry! 🌻
If I am being honest, I cannot recommend this book. I did not enjoy it and I think there were some parts that are problematic. But I want to start out my review with the good things/what I enjoyed. It’s the least I can do for an author who started this novel during NaNoWriMo!
🎸 The author’s intentions were good!
I tip my hat to the author. It’s not easy writing a novel, to start with. The number of hours put into writing and editing and rewriting and re-editing are astounding. And I would say even more so with a topic like this! So, after reading the author’s note at the end of the book, I’m giving him all the credit for having had the initiative to write about this topic AND for making his dream of becoming an author come true.
It is clear that Glen Sobey is a feminist. You will see how this turns into a critique later on in my review, but for all intents and purposes, this is a great thing! Through Crystal, he makes it very clear that he does not stand for the “patriarchy” or for the objectification of women. It’s important to have authors with these views writing literature for children, I think. Especially when the main character is a girl and, I’m guessing, most readers will also be girls. I hope it makes them feel empowered and worthy.
🎸 The Alaska Native representation is interesting!
I couldn’t really understand if the main character was an Alaska Native (my best bet is that she wasn’t). But I know that her best friend, Kato, definitely is! I really liked his character, to be honest. He is a woke™ character who even runs a blog to raise awareness for the native populations. Through his blog posts and interactions with other characters, a lot of issues about the native population are raised. I think this was done perfectly. I definitely have not read anything from the perspective of Alaska Natives, so this was very refreshing!
“How many of your aakas and aapas had to leave the village to go to high school? (…) How many of them told you stories about being punished for speaking their language? (…)
They were forced to leave the village to go to school where they were told in a hundred ways that their culture was inferior, something they had to leave behind. They missed whaling season when they were at those schools. They missed all the festivals. When they came back home to the village, they couldn’t help but believe their culture was inferior. When they tried to be Native, they felt out of place. When they tried to be white, they couldn’t quite fit in, especially when they say signs on many buildings saying ‘No Dogs, No Natives Allowed.’ (…)”
Secondly, part of the novel (at least the last quarter) is set in a small village in Alaska. Crystal and JD didn’t grow up here, though, but their parents and grandparents had a great connection to it. In this village, native traditions are much more alive than they were where Kato and Crystal grew up. We get to see several traditions come alive right here. From communal meals to whaling and butchering the whale for the feast, as a reader, I feel like I learned a few things about Alaska Natives.
“White people always claim that Natives can’t hold their liquor. ‘Why can’t they drink a little wine or a beer and not get staggering drunk?’ they ask. Why? Because liquor was never a part of their culture before whites came. Liquor was introduced at the same time they lost faith in their own culture. Liquor has always been an escape, never a social activity.”
🎸 There is also some disability representation
It is hinted several times that JD was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Because of this, he has learning disabilities, coupled with some mobility issues as well. Although he doesn’t resent his parents for it, Crystal does — one more reason for her to wage a war with the world. What I liked about his character is that at no point is it hinted that he is lesser than any other boy his age. Sure, he has trouble in school, but he is great at a lot of other things. This is also the first time that I read of a character born with FAS, so that was interesting.
🎸 The family element was lovely
Kato’s family has always been dysfunctional, so Crystal and JD’s grandparents took him in and raised him practically like their own kid. I really liked this element because it showed how much the grandparents cared for not only Crystal and JD but also for the community as a whole.
So, if I liked all these things, why am I rating this book only two stars? Well, let’s get to the part where I talk about the things I did not like.
🎸 Constant objectification of every girl
Like other reviewers have pointed out, for a book that tries so hard to pass down the message that objectifying girls’ bodies is wrong, there sure was a lot of objectification. I cannot tell you how many times a girl’s boobs or ass was described. I’ll be surprised if you tell me that half of the women and girls mentioned in The War Blog didn’t, at one point, have their bodies described in a creepy way. Even more shocking is the fact that I know Crystal has small boobs, yet I have no clue what her hair or eyes look like. They might have been described once or twice, but the boobs part was repeated over and over again, so much so that that is what I remember about Crystal.
🎸 So much slut-shaming…
If there was a competition of slut-shaming other girls, then Crystal would be the ultimate winner. She was so adamant on fighting for women’s rights, and yet she would call girls who had sex with guys sluts. I hated this contradiction so much, mainly because I see it all too often in some so-called feminist circles. How can you fight for girls’ rights and, at the same time, shame them for their own choices?
Now, I understand that Crystal is also criticizing these girls for submitting to the will of boys. She sees that it’s not them who decide to sleep with guys, and so she calls out their behavior. But I know that she cannot accept the fact that a girl might want to make that decision for herself. Of course, I’m not talking about the underaged girls here, but about consenting adults. Can Crystal really not fathom the possibility that women can enjoy sex just as much as men can? Or that they would want to wear makeup and dress up for themselves?
🎸 Crystal was so condescending and holier-than-thou
This point is somewhat related to the one I made previously, but I feel like it needs its own category. Crystal, as a character, acts like everyone else’s decisions are wrong and only she is in the right. Reading about this from a first-person point of view is annoying enough, but add to that the fact that this behavior is never contested and that the character never grows to see another point of view and you have a book just too frustrating to read.
I believe Crystal has every right to contest her mom’s decision to abandon her, keep using drugs, and neglect her children. However, Crystal goes on to criticize in a very mean way other characters and the choices they make. They are none of her business and she could point them out in a less harsh tone, if she is to point them out at all.
🎸 Very patronizing tone… It’s not really Crystal speaking
Remember how I said it is very clear that the author is a feminist with all these beliefs? Well, it is very, very clear that this is the case. When Crystal is talking to the young girls around her, she does not sound like a teenager at all. She is supposed to be 17, but she sounds like she’s at least 40. This made the character not believable at all.
And this is not only awkward to watch when Crystal is talking to younger girls. She patronizes these young girls, but she also treats girls her age as if they are stupid and don’t not any better. The way Crystal talks to almost everyone around her is so painful to read. She sounds like an odd mix between a Jesus-reincarnate, a 40-year-old person, and an awful 90s infomercial (think, “Do you have back problems?!?! Then try this!!!” or the Flextape ads). It does not sound like a teenager at all! And when a YA novel has a problem capturing a young voice, it’s in deep, deep trouble…
🎸 Complete disregard for boys’ feelings
I want to start talking about this point by saying no, I am not a “but not all men” or “all lives matter” person, nor am I a meninist. Not that this would matter at all for my review, but I don’t want to be discredited solely based on this point I’m going to bring up. Which is, in trying to be so in line with feminist thinking, Glen Sobey lets a couple harmful things slip by.
The image that Sobey paints of men is so ridiculously dark it even stops being believable. All men are, with only a very few exceptions, abusive and harmful trash. I don’t understand what was the point of having virtually every boy nasty in the story. Is it believable? Probably not. While I was reading the novel, there seemed to be only three kinds of characters: the male trash, the female slut/ignorant woman, and Crystal. Something is very wrong here if we only have one virtuous character…
But returning to my original point, it seems that the author paints his male characters as inherently evil and denies that they could go through any negative experiences at all. In this book, men are evil and do evil things, but bad things don’t happen to them. Am I the only one who is seeing something very wrong with this? Just take the quotation below as an example:
“I could not imagine one guy criticizing another guy’s pecs or biceps. Girls objectified girls almost as much as guys did.”
Ummmm, not true? Since when do male bodies ever go uncriticized? If it were so, wouldn’t we have a lot more obese or very skinny men on book covers, movies, tv shows, ads, and so on? This was one of the things that irked me the most. Almost every male character in this book is completely flat and pretty much irredeemable.
🎸 How unrealistic the blog & songwriting aspects are
In this world, Crystal Rock, an unpopular Alaskan girl in high school, somehow manages to get thousands of people to spread her message. It happens in the first few pages, really, and no one acts too surprised. Crystal records a few songs, writes a blog post and BAM! She’s famous in her town and all over the state (and country!), it would seem. If music and blogging were that easy, then everyone would make it.
What makes Crystal different from every other person in the world, musically- and blogging-wise? From what we can tell, pretty much nothing. Her message is not revolutionary nor is she the first to start a movement like this. It just feels so silly that this girl from a small town in Alaska would garner this much attention in such a short amount of time.
Also, the novel opens with Crystal singing for the whole school and people, in the most part, are reacting like she’s a superstar. Maybe my high school experience was completely different from hers, but I just don’t understand why she is so successful! We’re not told any long road that Crystal has to tread to become a good singer and songwriter — everything is just thrown on us like being successful is something we’re not supposed to question.
🎸 How freaking intense and nasty everything is
Now, I understand that my experience growing up in a European city that ranks very highly in the safety polls is different from Crystal’s experience. And that there is more crime in other places than where I live. But oh my god is every town and city described in the novel super intense!
Literally, virtually every single female character we meet has either a) been raped, b) been molested as a child, c) done drugs, d) gotten pregnant as a teen, e) been harassed on the street. Being a woman is not an easy job, but every single female character being assaulted in one way or another? Come on, that’s not realistic. Even if the statistics cited in the book — that rape is six times more prevalent in Alaska than in anywhere else in the country — I’m not believing this story.
I’m not putting the statistics into questions, just pointing out that not every female character in this village needs to be raped for the reader to get the point. At times, I was just rolling my eyes at how unbelievable and how somewhat insensitive this book was. We, as readers, can only deal with so many women being raped and beaten before we start suspecting this is all happening just for pure, odd enjoyment…
That’s my review of The War Blog. I’ve read many bad reviews about the publisher, namely that it’s just a vanity trap for aspiring published authors… A lot of the issues I had with this book could have been solved with a good content editor, I believe.
What did you think of the plot? Would you pick this book up?