Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Sister's Keeper: Designer Babies & the Right to Choose

The craze over "designer babies" has created quit a stir in the scientific world. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the term, "designer babies" are genetically modified embryos, which are free from disease and imperfections. These embryos are created by doctors and parents, taking the most wanted qualities from both parents and implementing them into an embryo. Parents are able to choose the sex, hair colour, eye colour, height, etc. of their child, impregnate the female using IVF and nine months later, the perfect human being is born. Scary, isn't it?
Sometimes this so-called "gene therapy" is necessary in order to reduce the risk of genetic illnesses that a child can contract through both biological parents. But the case of Anna Fitzgerald, a thirteen year old "designer baby", is different.

Anna is the main character in Jody Picoult's novel "My Sister's Keeper". In short, after Anna's older sister, Kate, was diagnosed with leukemia in toddlerhood, and her younger brother Jesse was not a genetic match for a bone marrow transplant, the Fitzgerald's thought they were going to watch their daughter die. That is...until they came across gene therapy. Through the elimination process, Sara Fitzgerald was implanted with a genetically modified embryo, a child created unnaturally that would be the perfect match for Kate's blood type, bone marrow type, etc. This child is Anna, who was given life in order to be a living organ supply for her sister. Whenever Kate needs blood, Anna is poked with a needle. When Kate needed bone marrow, Anna was sent into surgery without hesitation. Well, now Kate needs a kidney, and if she doesn't, she will die.

The book begins with Anna as the narrator, she is requesting the right to deny surgery in order to remove one of her kidneys, which would be given to her sister. Anna is fighting for rights to her own body, she wants to be emancipated from her parents. Throughout the novel, although Anna narrates most of the chapters (each chapter is narrated by a different character with a different viewpoint), she never discusses WHY she wants the freedom to choose whether or not to give her sister something, a kidney or whatever it is, that could save her life. The reader doesn't find out until the end that Anna is fighting for her right to choose because her sister doesn't want the kidney. Kate is tired of fighting leukemia, and knows that her parents wouldn't allow her to die without a fight. In the end, Anna is doing what her sister requested, she's not going to save her life because Kate doesn't want to be saved.

I have to tell you, the end of this book is the saddest sequence of events I've ever read. I finished this book on the train home from Toronto. I had just say goodbye to my boyfriend for the next 2 and a half months and I wasn't crying because I left him (sorry hunny), I was crying because of the ending of this book. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say this- the bond between siblings is unbreakable. I know that I would do anything for my sister, but I'm not sure if I would have the courage to watch her willingly lose a battle to cancer like Anna would. For a thirteen year old, she knows much more about herself than most people learn in a lifetime.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bella's Choice in Eclipse: It's a little harder than you think.

Book #3, Eclipse, offers something to the reader that the first two books did not; you have to choose a side. Are you on "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob"? I'm sure you've seen the t-shirts being sold at different stores in the mall, but which one do you pick? Here are a few pros and cons in order to familiarize yourself with each side

Join the Vamps:

- Edward is super hot! Actually, he may be extremely good looking, but his body temperature will not leave you burning up. All vampires have skin that is stone cold, but they are pretty delicious eye-candy.

- Edward's English is impeccable. Born in the early 20th century, Edward has been able to pretty much master the English language. Not only is he easy on the eyes, but his sentences will melt you into a puddle of mush. Maybe it's just the Engligh major in me...

- Vamps take pretty awesome trips- including Italy by the way. They also drive pretty sweet cars- porshe anyone? Living the life of a Cullen has its definite advantages in the material world.

- The love story. Need I say more?

You might want to stay away if...

- as we see in New Moon, sometimes it's hard to stay a vegetarian vamp all the time, especially when you are still new to temptation and how to control your cravings. At the beginning of New Moon, Bella gets a paper cut and the youngest, most inexperienced Cullen, Jasper, has a fit when he smells the blood. Feeling that life is unsafe for Bella, the Cullen's decide to move and they take Edward with him...OH NO I've said too much!

- you DO NOT want to piss off the Volturi. The Volturi are described as the leaders of the vamps, they are the equivalent of the Italian Mob. It's not easy getting on their good side and if you get on their bad side, be-friggin-ware.

- be prepared to engage in war with other vamps, especially those like Victoria. To sum up, Victoria is introduced in Twilight, where her lover, James, tries to kill Bella. Edward retaliates and kills James before James kills Bella. Now Victoria is looking for revenge and wants to kill Edwards lover just as Edward has killed her lover. Also, beware of newborn vamps, those who don't quite know how to be discreet in a world full of fresh meat. The war scene between Victoria and Edward in Eclipse is pretty intense and is a highly recommended read.

Looking for fun in the forest? Join the werewolves for a howling good time:

- Werewolves have an average body temperature of well over 100 degrees. They are also warm, plus they have beating hearts unlike vampires. You could say that werewolves are definitely more human than vampires because they still breathe, they still eat and sleep and do much of the same things as humans do.

- You could be imprinted- legends say that each werewolf has one soul mate, and once a werewolf sees his/her soul mate, they are bonded for eternity. Imprinting can happen at any time, with anyone. Quil, for example, is one of the werewolves in the series. He's imprinted with a girl named Claire. The only problem with this relationship (non-sexual) is that Quil is approximately 16 years old and Claire is about 2 years old. This creates quite a problem now, but, since werewolves don't age, Embry has to wait until Claire reaches his approximate age in order to start a romantic relationship with her.

- The main purpose of the pack is to keep those who are good, regardless of demographics, safe. Werewolves will protect the innocent, it is in their nature to take care of the safety of others.

- The importance of family is a major priority for werewolves. Not only do they keep strangers safe, but their families and the pack are the most important people to them. The pack sticks together.

Stay away when things get heated...

- at the beginning of phasing, werewolves sometimes have trouble controlling their ability to turn from human to werewolf. There are people who have learned the hard way in the series, where, for example, Sam (the pack's Alpha) phased while is girlfriend was standing too close, which resulted in her entire right side to be permanently scared in what appears to be giant scratch.

- the Alpha is the leader at all times. Sam's job is to give direction, give orders and keep the pack united. If he says you fight, then you fight, regardless of whether you think it's right or not. This type of authority can sometimes create problems among pack members, but obeying the Alpha comes before disagreement.

So which side would you choose? I guess it doesn't really affect your life, since vampires and werewolves are supposed to be mythical creatures. But use your imagination and put yourself in Bella Swan's shoes...what would you do? We all know she has already picked Edward, but is it the right choice? Through reading the books, we know that she truly does love Jacob, and it seems as though as some points she seems torn between which side of her heart she should follow.

I really can't say for certain that Bella has made the right choice. Can you?
Pictures courtesy of

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! The Smoking Gun uncovers James Frey as a liar AND Oprah is not impressed.

After writing my post on A Million Little Pieces, I came across a few websites recommended to me by a good friend, which state that James Frey is a fake, a phony...James Frey elaborated excessively on his life story in order to become a best-selling author AND made Oprah Winfrey look really, really bad. This shocking information came forth by The Smoking Gun, where this article told Frey's readers the truth about his book.

The act of lying is bad enough on its own, but when lying is coupled with sympathy-seeking and money-making, then we've got a BIG problem. Oprah's Book Club 2005 chose A Million Little Pieces as one of four books of the year. Oprah raved non-stop about this book and James Frey. She publicly admitted that she cried when she read parts of the story and feels both sympathy and triumph for James Frey. When she debuted the book on her talkshow in 2005, she stated that, she "couldn't put [it] down...a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it's so real...After turning the last page...You want to meet the man who lived to tell this tale." Little did she know that James Frey would be uncovered as a liar only a short year later.

In my opinion, Frey's justification in fabricating his life story to sell books is because:
1) he knew it would make him money
2) he was looking for his "15 minutes of fame" by gaining the sympathy of a nation

After the truth of his book was publicly stated, James Frey was scrutinized as being a liar. Frey performed an unethical act when he allowed this book to be published as a true story and knew it was fake. I still stand by the recommendation to read this book because it can be used as a teaching tool for non-alcoholic-non-drug-user-non-criminals. I read this book because I wanted to learn something, and you should do the same. Enter a world of misery and count your blessings at the end of this book and forget about James the end, he's just a liar with a lot of money.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Addiction For Dummies: A Million Little Pieces teaches the average person about the horrors of 'I need it'.

James Frey spent 6 weeks in rehab, where he battled his addiction to both alcohol and crack. His recollection of his attempt to get clean is the most raw, unsugar-coated, "take-me-as-I-am" piece of the writing I have ever read. A Million Little Pieces allowed me to enter a world that I had no idea existed, especially in this type of severity. I have no experience with addiction and abuse, nor can I fully comprehend the intense need of something rather than simply wanting it.

This book begins with James' awakening on a plane with no recollection of how he got there. His mouth tastes like blood, he has holes where teeth used to be, he smells like vomit and urine. He is 23 years old. His parents take him to rehab, where his first few days are pure hell. He has an extremely difficult time at the beginning, both emotionally and physically, where his body is adjusting to functioning without drugs or alcohol. He is often sick to his stomach and has trouble keeping his temper in check. Throughout the book, James has ups and downs, where following the rules is difficult but making friends seems to ease his tension. He meets men from all different walks of life...dealers, judges, athletes & average-joe addicts. James even meets a woman, Lilly, who is an addict and prostitute, and falls in love with her. James leaves rehab as a free, sober adult and has been clean for nine years.

James speaks in the first-person, but there are no paragraphs discussing anything except his thoughts and reactions. The reader is never allowed to leave James' mind. I think using this form of writing style compliments the content and goal of the book. James' personal struggle is being used as a form of therapy in this book and I think the directness and openness conveyed through this writing style suits the goal that James has set for himself. Here is an example from the book, pages 43-44

Hi, Mom.
I hear her call my Father. My Father picks up the phone.
Hi, James.

Hi, Dad.
How are you?
All right.
How is it there?
It's fine.
What's happened so far?
I'm being detoxed and that sucks, and yesterday I moved down to the Unit and that's been fine.
Are you feeling like it's helping?
I don't know.
I hear my Mom take a deep breath.
Anything we can do?
I hear my Mom break down.
I listen to her cry.
I gotta go, Dad.
You're gonna be okay, James. Just keep it up.
I listen to her cry.
I gotta go.
If you need anything, call us.
We love you.

Based on the content and subject matter, I would never read this book again. I think the reader really only has to read it once to get the full picture of James' struggle. The content is heavy and sometimes very draining on the reader, so one time is definitely enough.

I recommend reading this book because although the average person reads and hears about addiction, we really have no idea what it does to people and their families. This book allows non-addicts to feel the pain of needing something so badly that life just cannot continue unless that need is fulfilled. I cannot empathize with James, but I can certianly sympathize with him. I, along with other readers, congratulate him on his success.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow": Read it to the kids before bed.

Do you ever have trouble sleeping? Read Washington Irving's, "The Legend of Sleep Hollow" and you'll be out like a light in about 4 sentences. I read this short story for my American Gothic class, but I was already familiar with the legend from the movie, "Sleepy Hollow".
In 1999, Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" was the talk of my seventh grade class. Christina Ricci was super popular from previous films such as "Casper"(1995) and "The Adams Family"(1991) and Johnny Depp was just starting to come into my fantasies as a twelve year old kid. I definitely snuck into this movie with my five dollar weekly allowance.

10 years later, while sitting in American Gothic and reading the syllabus, I got so flustered when I saw that we would be reading the actual legend, the story of where it all began. Even without Depp, I was still anticipating the legend because it's part of the American gothic genre and its probably "dirty-your-pants" scary.

Well SUPRISE! the short story was terrible! It wasn't scary, it didn't make me jump, or cringe, or sleep with one eye open. In fact, it had the opposite did the same thing that warm milk had me sleeping like a baby. First of all, Ichabod Crane is such a little social weasel, trying to win the heart of Katrina Van Tassel so he can have a piece of her family fortune. He's described as scrawny, awkward and a social outcast. The Ichabod in the film had much more dignity and definitely more sex appeal. In the short story, Katrina Van Tassel is described as an overweight sow who is a spoiled brat and loves to indulge herself in the finer things in life. Yet, in the movie, Katrina is voluptuous, sexy and mysterious. Second, the setting of the short story isn't described as being horrifyingly dark and mysterious in the short story. It simply states that people from Sleepy Hollow are isolated from others and the women love to gossip. The film captures the essence of Gothic Literature perfectly, where every scene is dark, forests are creepy and everyone is as pale as vampires.

This past weekend "Sleepy Hollow" was on TV and, believe it or not, I had to pull out my old Barbie night light from seventh grade just so I could get a little shut-eye.
Check out the film's trailer at
Photos courtesy of

Friday, February 27, 2009

Team Edward: Twilight Series' Second Book, New Moon, doesn't create the same emotional response as the others.

The Twilight series has officially taken over my life. I cannot believe how many times this story crosses my mind in a day. And I have to admit, I actually put off studying and reading for school just so that I can read the series. I truly didn't understand the power of this series until I cracked open Twilight. From then on, I could not get the story out of my head and I have now become an addict.

I have finished reading the second book in the series, New Moon. To me, this books seems to be the transition piece between the first and third books. In the beginning, Bella Swan learns the dangers of being mortal while in the presence of vampires (even though they are vegetarians). Her journey throughout the book is intense, after the Cullen family leaves to protect their identity and Bella's life. She rides a rollercoaster of emotions and finds comfort in a young Native American teenager. Things are going smoothly until, all of a sudden, Bella comes to the conclusion that Jacob Black is a werewolf. Now, werewolves and vampires don't exactly get along, in fact, the history between both mythical monsters is quite terrifying.

While this second book is filled with suspense and awe-struck moments, it didn't have the same effect on me as Twlight or Eclipse, which is the third book I am currently reading. Like I stated earlier, it just doesn't resonate the same emotional response as the others. The book is definitely necessary in order for the reader to move ahead in the series, but it just doesn't compare in emotional arousal to the first and third books. Perhaps the emotional arousal is pretty much non-existent because Edward is missing from a majority of New Moon. Ahhhh, the twelve-year-old girl in me has a human desire to have Edward around...this is quite embarassing but also very true. Bella just isn't herself with him...he's the peanut-buttered side to her PBJ sandwich, he's the salt to her salt-and-pepper shaker set. You can't have one around without the other. Luckily, Edward is back at the end of New Moon, so we shall have to see what happens from this point. Keep reading for the rest of the posts on this awesome series!
Photos courtesy of

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"She don't have to do that shit - She's the Queen's daughter": Partying wasn't safe then, and it isn't safe now.

"The Queen's Daughter" does not have a negative connotation as a nickname, in fact, most people would probably think nothing of a nickname like this. But, for Melissa McCormick, this nickname holds much more meaning than it does for anyone else. She has lived through an experience that every young woman fears...being kinapped and raped in a country that you don't call home. And this happened one a cold winter night in 1976 in Detroit, Michigan, where Melissa McCormick's life changed forever. The content of this short narrative is probably the most heavy and horrifically frightening experience that I've ever read about.

Melissa grew up in the 70's in Windsor, Ontario, with a life much like any teenager. Looking for a fun night out with some girlfriends, she crossed the short distance over to Detroit. Dressed for a night on the town, Melissa and her friends enjoyed bar-hopping and having a great time. Once it was time to leave, Melissa left her friends and began driving back home alone. A flat tire on a busy highway forced her to pull over. With no cellphone and no company, Melissa had no choice but to flag down another driver. A man pulled over to offer his assistance, and while in conversation, Melissa noticed two more cars pull over. A group of African American youth surrounded and beat Melissa's helper and pointed a gun into her back. She reluctantly got into their car and was driven to an unidentifiable house. There, she was raped numerous times by countless men.
Melissa's kidnappers gave her the nickname, "The Queen's Daughter", after she had been gang-raped.
"Apparently the other thing my assailants knew about Canada was that it had a reigning Queen, therefore I was probably the Queen's daughter. I believe that the presumption that I was royalty saved me from having to perform oral sex and God knows what else. Throughout the rest of my ordeal, I was referred to as "The Queen's Daughter" (47-48).

Ms. McCormick's strengh and perseverance allowed her to challenge her captive, nicknamed "Clever Joe", by treating him with respect and acting interested in his life. She asked him questions about his life and learned of common interests that they both shared. Through this civil interaction, Melissa was set free. After endless questioning and police reports, Melissa made it back to Windsor...alive.
Ms. McCormick was able to indentify her kidnappers and most plead guilty to their rape charges.

I had the honour of listening to Ms. McCormick speak about her experience, since she is now a motivational speaker. Her strength was mesmerizing as she explained, in detail, what happened to her that night. Ms. McCormick has been able to rise above this unthinkable act and prove that it does not define who she is. I gained a lot of respect for her, especially because of the strength she showed and with work she has done to turn this negative experience into something positive in order to help others.
I urge you to read this book because, for all Windsorites, it hits much closer to home than you realize. I think a lot of Windsor's youth have a fascination with Detroit nightlife and most spend their 21st birthdays in downtown Detroit. Although this event took place 30 years ago, it still happens to many young people, especially women. It will open your eyes to a world that is, literally, just a stone's throw away from home.