Book Review & Author Interview: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey

sisterpact

Who holds your secrets?

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Plot Summary:

Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.
Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.
But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

Grade: A

Review:

Full disclosure: I was attracted to this book for all the wrong triggering reasons. A little backstory: Much like the protagonists Allie and Leah, as teenagers, my cousin Melody and I also had made a “pact” to bail out if life took a turn that we couldn’t handle. Flash forward to 2013, and Melody bails out in the worst way possible but also breaking the pact that had made where we would’ve made the decision together. Now, six years later, I am still trying to figure out what I could’ve done or said to make her not wish to want to go. In a way, in these six years, I’ve tried to experience all the things that I knew Melody wished to experience or travel to places she would’ve wanted to. In other words, I’ve tried to live for both of us.

My first book from Stacie Ramey was It’s My Life, and despite the protagonist having cerebral palsy, it wasn’t as dark or heavy as The Sister Pact. There was a stark contrast between the two novels. In It’s My Life, Jenna had to deal with a chronic illness, however, she had a loving family and friends. But in The Sister Pact, the protagonist Allie has to deal with a highly dysfunctional family and awful friends that betray her. What I’m trying to say is, this book was very, very dark.

Ramey doesn’t sugarcoat anything and instead depicts grief and depression in a very realistic way. At times, Allie’s pain is so palpable and visceral that you can almost feel it as your own. I found it to be a very powerful and moving novel. Which seeing that it was this author’s debut novel to boot, she really came into the writing scene with a serious bang.

And although the subject matter of the novel is extremely dark (suicide, depression, drug abuse) it isn’t dreary for the sake of being so. You understand why Allie makes the bad choices that she does. But ultimately, she finds the strength to want to live, even if her older sister Leah, whom she looked up to, isn’t there with her anymore. The end was uplifting and hopeful. And in a way, it made me feel a little hopeful about my own grief over my cousin’s death.

I recommend this for anyone who wants to read a novel that discusses serious topics and has some real feelings.

Short Q & A With the Author:

Jenna and Allie have dramatically different families. One is very loving and supportive while the other is highly dysfunctional. How do you think their families contributed to your protagonists’ personalities?

I think that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, Allie has to overcome a lot of things. Her sister’s suicide. Her parents’ divorce. Her feeling that her world is unraveling. We understand that her family’s struggle has contributed to her issues, but we also see that she’s undergoing complicated grief which is a type of grief where Allie feels slightly complicit in her sister’s death in addition to everything else and she’s not coping well. But we don’t really blame her because it’s really too much for her and that’s what makes it so empowering to see her crawl out of it and find some hope.

As for Jenna, she has tons of support, but she’s stopped believing in herself. She’s given up on herself and haven’t we all done that at some point in our lives? Her family’s support is constant and wonderful, but it’s also something she’s trying to break away from in order to take the next steps in her life. All teens go through this. Jenna struggles with how to accomplish this in the wake of her disability. Some people have described her as self-pitying, but I don’t buy that. I believe that wish-fulfillment fantasy that she has of being a better version of herself is very typical and her response to the limitations of her body is very believable and deserves our witness, not our judgment. Just my opinion.

In both novels, the protagonists are academically smarter than the classes they decide to be in for themselves. Jenna decides to take easier classes because she is absent from school a lot due to her condition, while Allie decides to take lighter courses because she’s distraught over her sister’s suicide. Do you think this was a subconscious effort for both of them to control one aspect of their lives since they had no control any other way?

Yes. They each try to control their lives in any way possible. Teens have a ton of pressure on them these days (I mean they always have but now we expect them to be little adults from the time they can talk and make decisions).

For Allie, some of the adults in her life are trying to ease her burden, although interestingly enough, her parents do not share this viewpoint. They keep looking for reasons to believe Allie is ok and they look to her progression through typical milestones such as graduating on time and staying focused on getting into a high-pressure college as a means for evaluating her condition. I believe they should, instead, as her guidance counselor suggests, take time to heal, but when bad things happen, we tend to want to get back to business as soon as possible. It’s the wrong way, in my opinion.

As for Jenna, she is definitely trying to flex her decision-making muscles here. It’s not a good decision to go into lower classes, and she regrets it, but sometimes we have to allow ourselves to make bad choices in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. She’s always fought as Daddy’s little warrior, but now she’s trying to work out who she is now and, more importantly, who she wants to be.

What was your inspiration behind both novels?

It’s My Life was actually the first book I ever wrote even though it was the fourth book I sold. I really wanted to tell the story of a girl who has a disability who gives up on herself and then has to work to find herself again. It was important to me that she has a fully supportive family, because I wanted her struggles to be with herself and how she sees herself. While I do not have cerebral palsy or a mobility disorder, I have struggled with invisible disabilities my entire life. I am the youngest of very capable older siblings and have many times felt lost in my life’s course, even while having my family’s support and love and, like Jenna, I’m still trying to figure out who I am supposed to be.

The Sister Pact was based on a few different things, some easy to discuss in this space, some harder. Mostly, I wanted to write the story of two groups of people who both had the same intent-save Allie-but were in complete opposition on how to do that. In this case, it’s kind of Allie vs her parents and even though both sets of people want Allie to heal, initially they don’t understand the other person’s intentions and methods so they work in conflict with each other. It was really an experiment and I’m glad it worked out that both groups could work together. I also wanted to show how mental health issues can look completely different from what we might expect in this case, Allie’s sister is super successful, all the while she’s battling consuming depression, as is Allie’s mother. I wanted to show how we try to act like everything’s ok when it’s all falling apart. Also, I wanted to show sisters who are so close they tell each other everything, except any of the important things.

Are you currently working on a new project?

I am currently writing a retelling of a Yiddush Fairy Tale. It’s a lot of fun.

*Thank you so much to the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Poetry: Not Missed If Not Departed

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The bathwater is turning scarlet red.

I wonder what you will think

when you will find me dead.

Never would’ve missed you if you hadn’t left.

Never would’ve loved you if you hadn’t said goodbye.

But very soon you will wonder why,

you abandoned me here to die.

One of these days,

One of these days.

The scent of blood lingers in the room.

Will my death bring you possible doom?

Never would’ve been obsessed if you hadn’t left.

Never would’ve loved you if you hadn’t said goodbye.

But very soon you will wonder why,

you abandoned me here to die.

One of these days,

One of these days.

This scalding blanket of vulnerability

Is giving me more security.

Never would’ve adored you if you hadn’t left.

Never would’ve loved you if you hadn’t said goodbye.

But very soon you will wonder why,

you abandoned me here to die.

One of these days.

One of these days,

You will miss me.

***

Did you enjoy this poem? You can find this poem and many others in Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken

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Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess

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None of us can understand what’s going on in another person’s life from the outside looking in. No one can really see the quiet you carry, unless you let them.

Release Date: March 5, 2019

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Price: $11.12 (paperback)

Publisher: North Star Editions

Plot Summary:

Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behavior toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine—until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights.

Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams . . . all while keeping her past hidden.

But some secrets won’t stay buried—especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?

Grade: A

Review:

From the acknowledgments, the reader soon learns that the author herself, much like her character Victoria, was put into Foster Care in Nevada (although unlike her character she was much younger, at 12 yrs. old). I think this is why she’s capable of giving one of the best and authentic novelizations about how the foster care system works and how the kids who end up in them are treated by their foster parents and social workers. Unlike other books that I’ve read about foster care, the protagonist Victoria doesn’t end up in it due to an unexpected death, but rather because her own father delivers a lie about her to cover up a very scary truth about himself and what he did to his daughter. Some of you may imagine what that ugly truth could possibly be, but I’d rather keep this review spoiler free, besides, Victoria doesn’t fully reveal all the details of that fateful night till almost halfway through the novel.

Victoria’s journey was very heartbreaking, but I loved how the friendships in this novel were top-notch. I’m kind of over novels or films always depicting female friendships as being petty and mean, and I love how Christina was so full of love for Victoria and stuck by her through thick and thin. Even her boyfriend, Kale, was a gem, who truly loved her despite the odds being against them. What I loved about this book is that all the characters were layered so even people you may have perceived as awful when you first encountered them, turned out to be better people, and those that seemed okay at first were revealed to not be so. Again, this book isn’t for the faint of heart because of the subject matter that is very trigger-worthy so tread lightly if you’re someone who’s easily triggered by the following topics: sexual assault, abuse, suicide, and self-harm, as those, are only a few things that are mentioned and played out throughout the novel.

But despite the dark winding tunnel that we find ourselves in with Victoria, there’s some light at the end. And that light, that hope, is what makes this novel absolutely stunning.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and North Star Editions for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Throwback Thursday: The Virgin Suicides

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I have a confession to make. As a teenager, I was utterly fascinated by films or literature that explored the themes of suicide. In fact, it was so much my focus that even my poetry reflected that. Now, perhaps at the time, I was guilty of glamorizing a horrific act, in part because at the time I saw it as a solution to my teenage depression and a manifestation of trying to get people to understand how serious my inner turmoil was (and not be blown off as simple teenage angst). This is why books and films like The Virgin Suicides hit home, especially when the youngest sibling, Cecilia tells the doctor after a suicide attempt gone wrong, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year old girl.” And that statement was the crux of both the film and novel.

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We, the audience, never know what it means to be a 13-year old girl, especially since the narrator of the story is an older male reflecting back on his youth and his fascination with the five beautiful sisters. The film was Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, and she did a stunning job at demonstrating the male gaze (cause after all the book is written by a male who’s trying to understand teenage girls). When we all know that the only way to truly understand a teenage girl is to have been a teenage girl yourself.

The film depicts how the neighborhood boys elevated the sisters (especially Lux played by the superb Kirsten Dunst) to an almost saintly level. They can’t understand why Cecilia wished to die, nor do they understand why sisters followed suit soon after in the most horrific ways.

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The Lisbon sisters are never allowed to simply be girls, which means that they, like other girls that have come before and after them, have always struggled with this dilemma where girls aren’t allowed to be real people. That they must fit into someone else’s idea of what they should be (their parents, society, etc.). and that ultimately, it’s that wanting to break free from that saintly ethereal mask that is pinned so aggressively upon them that breaks them in a way that no one will ever comprehend. When Lux tries to break out of her good-girl box and has sex with the school heartthrob Trip (Josh Harnett), the consequences are exceptionally dire, and ones that many teenage girls can relate to.

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What spurs the demise of the Lisbon sister isn’t their sadness, but rather they choose death because they see it as the only vehicle to freedom. They couldn’t be free to be themselves, they had to live up to the expectations that were thrust upon them, and in an act of rebellion, they eliminated themselves as a way to not conform. And sadly, that is something that many teenage girls relate to, and why teenage me only saw death as a means to escape as well.

Men that watch the film will never understand the motives for the girls’ suicides, as the boys in the movie never do. But the girls in the audience know why. Because obviously, the men in the audience have never been a 13-year old girl. But us girls have been and although we can’t condone the act, we do understand why.

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Suicide Has Escalated Because Americans Are Depressed

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Suicide Can Be Preventable If We Know The Warning Signs

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.

  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

  • Talking about being a burden to others.

  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

Suicide has been on the rise in the past ten years. And it’s no surprise that that is the case when 1 in 4 Americans are depressed. There’s a myriad of reasons why more and more Americans are depressed, whether it’s for the lack of stable employment, unstable relationships, and debilitating debt. In a world where success is measured by your bank account, it’s obvious that the average person nowadays feels like they’re severely lacking.

But what about celebrities who seem to have it all? Why are suicide rates rising in their circle as well? Because depression is a serious illness and often not one that people are readily willing to admit to having or needing help. And often, when they do go to doctors for help, they are merely prescribed anti-depressant after anti-depressant, that often, one of the side-effects of said anti-depressant is suicidal thoughts.

What actually needs to find out the source of their unhappiness, and only then can a true recovery be accomplished. Medication may help alleviate symptoms for some, but it’s only with the help of other people and your own can you overcome depression and the feeling of unworthiness that comes along with it.

But while suicide rates have increased over the years, the ones who are the most at risk of committing suicide are white males by 84%. A study has shown that just this past week with celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committing suicide, has increased suicide across the states by 25%. Now experts are afraid that suicide contagion may cause those individuals that have been contemplating suicide to take the so-called plunge. Suicidal thoughts may increase when you see celebrities taking their own lives, as it has individuals experiencing a greater sense of hopelessness, thinking that if a celebrity who was living their best life committed suicide, then how could they ever achieve happiness themselves, and thus see suicide as their only way out.

Mental Health conditions and depression aren’t the only reasons people are seeking suicide as a solution to their problems. People experiencing relationship problems and loss of a loved one are at a greater risk, along with those that abuse alcohol or drugs. Stress is also a major component, whether you’re experiencing stress due to employment (or lack of one), money, legal, or housing issues are also at risk for suicide. Not to mention stress due to physical health conditions.

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So what can we do to help?

  1. Don’t leave that person alone.
  2. Separate that person from anything that might harm them.

If you or someone else is thinking about suicide, there is help!

The suicide rate in the United States has seen sharp increases in recent years. Studies have shown that the risk of suicide declines sharply when people call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

There is also a crisis text line.

For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

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Remembering Dolores and the Summer of 1999

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While the majority of the world became a Cranberries fan with the iconic song Zombie, I didn’t become a fan till 1999, when their fourth album Bury the Hatchet was released, preceded by their single, Promises. Something about that angry revenge anthem spoke to me (I was an angsty, angry teen) and I also loved the music video cause the wicked witch of the west resembled Fairuza Balk a little. Someone else who was equally a fan of that album was my cousin Melody.

I remember how she and I would listen to the album and daydream about living in London or Los Angeles. That we felt that maybe, in cities like that, our mutual weirdness would be better understood or at least not scoffed or poked fun at, as opposed to where we lived.

My cousin was a bigger fan than I was, to the point that she said, “I wish my name could be Dolores at least it would be better suited for me than Melody. Do-lo-res…just saying it sounds darkly poetic.”

We’d sing along to Animal Instinct whilst applying makeup and drinking conspicuous amounts of coffee and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Clouds of smoke would circle above our heads as we shared lipsticks and secrets, all the while Dolores O’Riordan’s voice at times aggressive, other times ethereal playing in the background. We’d stroll the cobblestone streets of our small Sicilian town, humming Just My Imagination, and dreaming big dreams. This was before selfies were a thing, so I don’t have photos documenting those moments of us together, but they’ve remained engrained in my mind, milk fresh as though they’ve only happened several months ago, and not years ago. How we’d lie both in bed, our long hair meshing together, her’s bleached blonde, mine strawberry blonde, and how it created the perfect sunset hue, and the notes from the songs would transport us elsewhere, somewhere we were convinced that we’d be better versions of ourselves.

On Christmas Eve of 2013, Melody committed suicide—and although I hadn’t seen her in years since 1999 (I had moved to America and she had moved to Turin), I couldn’t stop thinking of the last summer days we spent together. Of how everything seemed possible—when we were young and fearless. And we didn’t know it then, but maybe, we already were the better versions of ourselves but we were just too blind to see it.

Now, with the recent and unexpected death of Dolores O’Riordan, I can’t help but think about how Bury the Hatchet had been the soundtrack of my last days spent with Melody. And how often, these last five years, I’ve found myself listening to the familiar songs as a way to feel closer to my cousin, as a way to be transported back to those careless summer days.

And now, I’m merely left with the songs and the memories of a summer that’s gone and with it its dreams.

By: Azzurra Nox

Chris Cornell: Black Hole Sun – When the Darkness Swallows You

Many people were surprised this morning to wake up to the news of the death of Chris Cornell, frontman of rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. He was also known for being a member of Temple of Dog, a tribute band dedicated to his late friend Andrew Wood who died of Heroin overdose.

Like, Nirvana, Soundgarden were one of the most popular bands to come out of Seattle in the late 90’s, carrying the torch for the grunge movement. But apart from having the staple grunge growl, Chris was known for his near four octave vocal range and being a prolific songwriter.

His love for music began during his teenage years, when he found a box of Beatles records during a time he was really depressed. He rose to prominence with his band Soundgarden, and gained international recognition with their sophomore album Superunknown, that featured singles Black Hole Sun and Spoonman, which both won Grammy Awards. Superunknown is listed #336 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of all time, while VH1 listed Black Hole Sun as #25 on the Top 100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s.

When Zack de La Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, Chris Cornell was asked to join the band, which soon became Audioslave. Apart from being the frontman for two bands, he was also known for his solo work, especially the song You Know My Name, the song written for the Bond film Casino Royale. His most recent songwriting endeavor was the charity single The Promise written for the ending credits for the movie of the same name about the Armenian genocide.

Chris was touring with his original band, Soundgarden when he committed suicide by hanging himself in his hotel room after a show in Detroit. Although this may have come as a shock to many, perhaps the darkness the singer experienced as a teen may have resurfaced again. Or maybe, like the ancient Greeks, he wished to have a most glorious death, meaning to die right after experiencing one of his best days because who wouldn’t want to end it on a high? The truth is, in these circumstances, we never know why someone decides to take their own life. But one thing is certain, too often the music world is plagued by the darkness that consumes their artists.

But after all that is said and done, at least we’re left with the music to remember these tortured artists by. And I like to believe that maybe they have found some peace in an after world that burns a little brighter than the one they left behind.

If you or anyone you know are feeling suicidal you can seek help at American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or Suicide Prevention Lifelife. You are not alone.

By: Azzurra Nox