I started off 2013 by re-reading two Tamora Pierce quartets. My friend Mark is reading all of her Tortall books over on Mark Reads, and last year I read along with him as he read Song of The Lioness, but I kind of ended up racing ahead. Tamora Pierce was my first true obsession – I first read the Lioness/Alanna books nearly 20 years ago. They were a gift from my ex-stepmother, who had given the books to all the important young women in her life, her nieces and god-daughter and then later, me. When she first brought me them to read, they were not in publication – they went out of print in the 1990s and came back in a few years later, maybe the very late 90s or early 2000s. She lent me all the books once, and was able to track down the first and fourth of the Lioness books in print in England. When she couldn't find the others, she took her niece's copy and recorded the entire thing aloud, the two middle novels, on cassette tape for me, and sent them to me from England. To this day, it's the most thoughtful and loving thing anyone has ever done for me. I still have the tapes, and I really want to get them made into MP3s.
Tamora Pierce's books, her characters – they forged me. Harry Potter, a few years later, brought me into fandom and things like that, it changed my life, but Tamora Pierce books made me who I am. I don't think anything will ever feel as mine as her books are, especially the Tortall books (though, in some ways, I find the Emelan series cleverer and more pithy.) They would be my specialty subject on any game show. I've always been incredibly possessive over them and this world – like they're the one thing that, if a film adaptation was made, I'd be like “wait, wait, wait, hold the phone, this is NOT OKAY, wait, I need to be involved in every aspect of this, I need to be the casting agent, I need to play Alanna, nope, NO ONE CAN MAKE THIS RIGHT EXCEPT ME.” They are my home. I cannot count the amount of times I have read them – I am on my third copy of the Alanna series – the first has fallen apart, and the second is on the way. They fostered a lot of other interests in me, like real-world medieval history and weaponry, and I'm sure that Alanna being my major favourite fictional character from age seven made it so I never even considered or doubted that there was anything a little girl could not do.
When I stayed with Anna, my ex-stepmother, in London a couple of years ago, I visited her while she was house-sitting for one of her nieces, who is, I guess, a few years older than me, in her 30s. I was staying in a spare room or study that contained a lot of books, and I saw, in her shelves, that she had the Beka Cooper books – Tamora's latest series, published in the last three or four years, which is a Tortall prequel series. This made me so incredibly emotional – I've never met this girl, this niece, but she had the books, Anna had given her the Alanna books as a young teen and she, like me, has kept Tammy all her life, she's kept buying the new releases, she's kept caring, well into adulthood. This surprised me, and meant so much to me. I've rarely felt so connected to someone, and this is a girl I'd never met or even really seen a photo of. I just saw those recent copies and knew she'd taken the same path as me. It was a really special experience.
One great thing about Tammy is that the books never quite feel the same – as I've grown and changed, I've viewed the books and various characters differently. The Alanna series used to be my world, and while it is always going to be the most special to me, I can look at it objectively now and see that it's quite rough and simplistic. I can see the restrictions put upon her by publishing as an unknown author in the 1980s, I can see the inconsistencies that are ironed out in later series set in Tortall, even in things like dialogue, slang they'd use. That is not to say that it doesn't still mean the world to me, because it does, they do. The characters in those books... are my friends. I can visualise them better than any other fictional characters, and I love them. I just wish that they could have been given the same opportunities, of length and progressiveness, as her later publications, in the 1990s/2000s. Like, my god, as an older reader, the canonical subtext between Thom and Roger is... almost painful, and it would be so cool to see those books exploring the full potential that they could have had. But they were an author's first work, and in the 80s, and at a time when it was hard enough to get a fantasy book taken seriously, especially one with a girl protagonist. Oh well. They're still great, they're still an amazing adventure and they're still my world. Hogwarts is for all of us. Tortall is for me.
The second series set in Tortall, around 10 years after the end of the first, is Daine's series, The Immortals, and that was the first thing I read in 2013.
The Immortals Quartet:
1. Wild Magic
3. Emperor Mage
4. Realms of the Gods
I realised on this re-read that my perspective on these books has changed the most out of any of Tammy's quartets. The format of them is quite different – both Alanna's series and Kel's, the next one, cover long periods of time – around ten years in total, each series. They're a pretty specific formula. The Daine books cover short periods of time – once a year, we drop into a specific adventure or conflict that covers a few weeks of Daine's life, rather than following her over the entire period of those four years. I found on this re-read that I actually really like this aspect, the close, fast-pasted, detailed coverage of a specific event rather than the vague coverage of four years in one book with a few main highlights. It is a lot more in-depth and interesting. I also liked Daine a lot more than I ever have before – I always loved her powers, naturally, but I don't think I much liked her for herself, I found her a bit tedious, and looking at her now, that's really changed for me. I – and I think this is an age thing – am also now obsessed with Numair. I used to not really notice him that much, and was never moved by his relationship with Daine. He, on this re-read, became my favourite romantic character of Tammy's. As a younger reader, I was a bit weirded out by the eventual Daine/Numair romance. It seemed strange to me, not inappropriate exactly, but not realistic and the age-gap put me off. I think this is because I was too young or immature, because now, at someone closer to his age – I'm seeing him not as a odd teacher figure, but as quite a sweet boy – which he IS, I just didn't realise that when I was 13. He's a total darling, and I love him, and I now see him as younger and more relatable than I ever did before.
As I mentioned, my attitude towards Daine herself has also completely changed – I don't know why, or what changed, because it isn't as if I haven't read the books a lot, it isn't as if I read them once at 13 and once now. But something shifted for the better, and I now adore Daine's series. I've always loved Kitten, and I love what we see of Thayet, Jonathan, George and Alanna in this series, the progress of Tortall in the ten years since we left them. I love Maura of Dunlath. I love Kaddar – Emperor Mage has always been one of my favourite of Tammy's books, no matter what I thought of Daine I always found that story one of the best. And I always liked Rikash, but on this re-read, my liking of Rikash turned to full-blown favourite character obsession. I love every single word he says, I love what he represents, how he changes Daine's perspective and prejudices, and I actually put off finishing Realms of the Gods because of how much I knew I was going to not handle his death scene. I'd read it many times before and never been desperately hurt by it, but I knew this time wouldn't be the same – I know the books almost off by heart, and I remembered what Daine's inner thoughts were, and I knew it was going to wreck me, and it did. It was awful. It is awful. It is the worst death in any of her books, like the most viscerally, emotionally, painfully written for me. More than Alanna losing Thom, more than Liam, more than the little boys in the Trickster books. Daine staring at him getting killed from afar, screaming without realising it. “It was her voice. If she screamed loud enough, long enough, he would live. She hadn't realised that he meant something to her. She hadn't realised her was her friend.”
Jesus fucking Christ, right?
The Protector of the Small Quartet:
5. First Test
8. Lady Knight
Kel's books have always been a solid favourite for me, because they take that original structure of Lioness – page and squire training, knighthood, and then out into the world – but they totally flip it around, showing the developments in the system since Jon became king – first and foremost, of course, the fact that Kel is publicly training as a lady knight, as opposed to Alanna's disguise. There are many other changes to the structure, the training processes, and I love all of them. I love all of Kel's friends, especially Neal, Owen, and Merric. The stuff with Joren and his gang is so exquisitely messed up. Lord Wyldon is one of the most interesting and complex of all Tammy's characters, and I love how much he comes to love Kel, and how much she knows it, despite the fact that everyone else thinks he is unfair to her. All their scenes together, where they have this unspoken understanding, they just pretty much all make me cry. They are wonderful. I also, of course – of course – am absolutely in love with what happens to Kel as a squire, that Raoul picks her and that we get a whole thick novel – Squire is one of Tammy's longest novels, and one of my very favourites (apparently it's Tammy's favourite, of all her books, too) – of amazing Raoul antics, he's one of my utterly most beloved from the Lioness books and I love who he has become while remaining his gorgeous, jolly, cheery self. Kel's relationship with Raoul is one of my favourite things in all literature.
I love Cleon, I love Dom – Kel's fickleness with her crushes frustrates me a little, and I feel really sad for Cleon about how serious he is about her – I'd take him in a heartbeat - but I have read Tammy's take on this, and I respect it and appreciate that not every one of her girls ends up with a true-love ending. When Kel's series ends, she's really only on the start of her path, and while I'd love to see what ends up happening to her in the long run, I like the ending of her series. Kel's character is probably my favourite out of any of Tammy's Tortall girl-heroes – even though I grew up with Alanna as my idol (just like Kel did,) Kel's sense of self, her control, and her general personality is one I really admire and respect. If I could be like any of those girls, I would want, the most, to be like her. I can't wait for more books on her, which apparently are coming, from the point of view of her own first squire.
9. Playing Beatie Bow
Playing Beatie Bow is an Australian children's or young adult book, a short novel about a 14-yr-old girl called Abigail who lives in The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney city proper. She slips back through time to the same area in 1873, where she is – seemingly by accident or coincidence – taken into the care of the Bow family. It turns out that she was actually drawn specifically, and ties into a Bow family prophecy in regards to protecting their slightly psychic and healing Gift. I picked this up again (I had read it several times when younger) because I was thinking about it, and about the Rocks and the settlement of Sydney. It gives a fairly detailed description of the Victorian working classes and slums in Australia and I bet they make kids in school, age around 12 learning Australian history, read it for that cultural reason. It's well known and was recently reprinted in a line of Australian classics along with Seven Little Australians and Picnic at Hanging Rock. This book was written in the late 70s, published in 1980, when the author herself was in her 60s. I looked this up because it sort of seems to suffer for that – the dialogue in the book's present day, in 1980 or wherever Abigail starts out, is so unrealistic – not just dated, but really, really unrealistic that a teenager would have spoken like that. It has the kind of dialogue that you only really ever see written, like really prosy? It's especially noticeable when Abigail is speaking to Natalie, the four-year-old girl who she babysits. I don't know if the writer had ever met a four-year-old girl because no child, no matter how smart, would say lines like this – or have thoughts like this – at age four. They just wouldn't.
Oddly, the stuff in 1873 is more realistic, though the family she stays with are immigrants from Orkney so a lot of their speech is written as dialect. The book, of course, features young love in the shape of Judah Bow, the son of the family who is one of those lovely, good, golden characters who you can't help but adore. Abigail comes into the past a cynical, sour thing, furious about her parents getting back together after her father had left the family years earlier, and comes back all softened and considerate and changed, of course. And she finds Judah, again, in a way. As I mentioned, the modern parts of this book are not the best-written thing I've ever read, but I would always recommend this as a book to someone who wants to know more about Sydney, because it is a really great portrait of the Victorian times here and the Rocks is a really interesting place.
I've been waiting for this book for a long time – a very long time. Since Wentz first came onto my horizon, in around 2005 – at this point he had already published The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, I believe – it was known that he was working on another book, at the time entitled Rainy Day Kids. This project disappeared, and he even told fans that he didn't think it would ever actually happen, but around a year ago – seven years after I first got involved – he started hinting that this thing was actually happening, posting a photo of a few draft pages. This absolutely stopped my heart, because Wentz's writing has always been what primarily drew me to him. I love the way he writes – in lyrics, but in broken poetry and prose as well. I'd go as far as to say that I was a fan of his before I was a full-on fan of the band's – I followed his blogs regularly before I actually knew the band that well, I was absolutely, absolutely in love with his words first. I have followed all his blogs since that time – the public ones, like on FOBRock, Buzznet or FBR, and the secret blogspots as well, of course, like nohartandsole, stagecoaches, and some that came before, though I now find I can't remember the earlier URLs. I think he even still had LiveJournal, as well. One of my favourite things about being a Fall Out Boy fan is hearing a new album and recognising lyrics – phrases, metaphors and such – that are fragments of old blogs, things I had read before and taken to heart, posted right as Pete was feeling them and offered up to the small congregation of those who always knew where to find him, the ones he left “breadcrumbs” for. So even though we have the wonderful fact that Fall Out Boy are now touring and recording again, I was already satisfied, prior to that announcement, just that we would be getting Pete's book.
Oddly enough, it wasn't quite what I expected , but perhaps what I should have. Gray is billed as a novel, and I knew it was going to be about a boy in a band on tour, and in a tumultuous relationship. However, for some reason, I expected it to be, well.. a proper novel, not something actually based on himself. Maybe because he's moved on so much in his life, through marriage, fatherhood, divorce, lowering his fame level, and becoming stable in love and life. I honestly thought he wouldn't want to revisit all of this, I thought he was writing something dramatic, yes, and based on feelings, yes, but this thing is not a novel, it's practically a memoir. Now, I don't claim to know the private goings-on as this man, but he has always been open and public, if you knew where to keep tabs on him, and the fact is that I recognise most of this story. I expected him to put across his opinions and feelings – his uncertain relationship with fame, things about mental illness and medication, and his experiences with love, but into a genuinely fictional story. Gray can only be called fiction in the loosest sense of the word. The protagonist, himself, is never named – it's in the first person – and the girl is never named, but if you know Wentz, you know who she is. The story covers the band's progression, and his love life, from prior of the recording of TTTYG to sometime after the recording of FUCT. So many facts are the same – locations, events, time periods, even the exact locations of the studios where both those records were made. Even people's actual names – not many characters are named but one who is, a crew member of Fall Out Boy's, goes by a famous nickname in real life. That nickname is changed, but his real given name is mentioned and is the same in the book as it is in real life. Patrick's in the book, though is referred to as Martin – as in Patrick Martin Stump.
I also recognised, while reading, just like when listening to a FOB album, many passages from old blogs, many of his prosier writings, where he'd actually write in paragraphs or tell stories about himself as opposed to his more poetic, lyrical posts. As I said, this really surprised me, purely because I just didn't think he'd ever want to go back to this place, this headspace. Once I established that yes, we are going to this place, I settled in feeling deeply attached and deeply unsettled, because ten to one odds, most of the terribly harsh things I was reading had really happened – and most of these things were things our protagonist was doing, not things being done to him. We've always known how dark and unstable he was, always, but there are some scenes that were startling even to someone who has known just how fucked up Pete was, who had read those old blog posts that he'd post in the middle of the night and delete in the morning. Following the story closely, I knew what was coming – his suicide attempt in February 2005 – and when that didn't happen, I soon realised where the “novel” aspect of Gray comes in. Pete seems to have taken his own story, been an honest as possible, and then given it a completely different ending: ultimately more tragic, but maybe one he found easier to cope with, maybe one he would have preferred. He doesn't kill himself off, don't worry, but he certainly addresses that idea that, honestly, if you haven't felt, you haven't had a bad break-up – the idea that you'd rather someone you loved was dead, you'd rather they left you without it being their choice, that it would be easier to cope with than the pain you were putting one another through on a daily basis.
11. Struck By Lightning
I haven't seen the film of Struck By Lightning yet, and I will admit that I found it a little bit odd that he was even putting this out as a novel – a bit sell-outy, even, like he just wanted another book out at any cost. However, after reading it, I established that he'd actually – as the film's scriptwriter – taken the opportunity to go further into his characters, perhaps inner thought processes that he was not able to portray in the film. I don't know how much of that kind of thing made it in, like if the main character, Carson, had a lot of inner monologue, but if he didn't, the novel tie-in is, though quite simplistic, definitely a really great, and deep, resource for someone who enjoyed the film. The book also includes the entire literary journal that Carson produces, the writings of all the students that he blackmailed, and that was, I felt, an important experience, insightful and sad, which is something that Carson realises himself. Chris Colfer also, just like he did in The Land Of Stories, makes sure to have his character repeat, in passing, his negative ideas about fame, about pedestals of celebrity, and about the bad behaviour of fans. In TLOS, it's just one character tiredly mentioning dealing with the responsibility of the public eye, but in SBL it is slightly less subtle, because Carson is opinionated and scathing about everything. But yeah, Chris really isn't shy about his distaste for a lot of celebrity and fan behaviour, and it feels like that, if he can't outright tell everyone off, he uses his creations to put his opinions across and teach or guide his fans about how he feels on the subject. I was mostly unmoved, emotionally, by reading this book – I enjoyed it, but quite absently – until quite near the end when Carson discovered exactly what had happened to his Northwestern application. I was so furious and disgusted, like I literally went cold, I felt like a fist was gripping my heart, I was so angry on Carson's behalf. It really took me by surprise, how much righteous fury I felt, I think I said out-loud “wow, that is fucked up.” Anyway, I'm keen to see the movie, and I'm interested to see how much of the inner thoughts expressed made it into the film in some form.
12. How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less
This is a graphic novel that I looked up and purchased after I saw Amanda Palmer looking for recommendations of books about Israel to read before she goes there for an event later this year. Several people recommended this and I had never heard of it. I've only read one or two novels set in Israel before, and seen one film. I'm going there in May on what will be my seventh or eighth visit overall, my first visit in nearly ten years, and my first time alone, not with my dad and younger brother. For those who don't know, my background is Israeli – my dad is from there, and all of his family live there – his mother, sisters, and my two older half-brothers, though both of them lived in Australia for times as teenagers/young adults. The reason I live here, and that he lives here, is because my mother was a control freak, but that is a long story for another day. Israel has always been a fixture in my life, since before I knew its position on the world map, the conflict, etc. It was where I was taken on holidays, to see family, and most of my memories are of the beach, riding bikes around my grandmother's kibbutz, my dad showing me all the places he'd done metalwork, flea markets, being bought new clothes, a particular type of strawberry ice cream, apartments with tiled floors in every room, and lots and lots of cats and dogs – everyone in Israel has a lot of pets, and all I wanted as a child was animals all the time. On the kibbutz, even, my dad's best friend from school ran a small zoo, where she had a tame meerkat, and lemurs and spider monkeys. That's my Israel. I knew nothing about the conflict, about Palestine, about why people might be anti-Israel, or any of that.
This graphic novel is the direct opposite: it's the true story, or diary, of this girl Sarah, from NYC, who is Jewish by birth but who claims to be progressive and liberal, and apparently being progressive and liberal means being anti-Israel? She decides to go to Israel to sort out her feelings on the situation and see for herself – she goes on taglit, a Birthright trip, which is a program set up by the Israeli government which offers young Jewish adults the chance to visit Israel, for free. Like, they pay everything – international flights, accommodation, travel around in a guided tour. There are all different styles of taglit trips – religious, non-religious, ones from different countries or even niche trips – there's ones for outdoors types where most of the spare time is doing extreme sports, and ones for special needs groups... But the basic structure is a 10-day tour around Israel, explaining the history to young Jews. The agenda, I'm pretty sure, is to encourage them to “make aliyah” - to move to Israel and become a citizen, or at least to feel connected to Israel and to defend it on a world scale. No matter the niche, there are several spots that every tour visits – places like Masada, the Old City in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee, they learn the origin of the kibbutzes, they go to the Negev Desert and learn a bit about the Bedouin tribes. They spend time with young members of the army – army service is mandatory in Israel, you go in between high school and uni. I have never had any desire to do taglit, even though a free trip anywhere is appealing. The author, Sarah, went on a non-religious taglit – I mean, Israel is a Jewish state, so things are historically Jewish, but on a non-religious trip they don't push any religious rules on the group. Sarah, the author, is not shy in portraying herself as going in cynical and argumentative, expecting the whole thing to be sheer propaganda, but then goes through the process of an attitude adjustment, as she meets new people. The group visits places that do seem to push propaganda – the visitor's centre in the Golan Heights, for example, but Sarah is surprised to have this issue addressed by the tour guide as soon as the group gets back on the bus. Her group's guides, who are Israeli Jews, don't shy away from the issues of the country and present a more unbiased view of the situation and the conflict than she was expecting, and even though Sarah has done as much objective research as she can and is prepared to attack at every turn, she finds herself questioning a lot of things. She admits that she came there, originally, to validate herself that Israel was definitely the bad guy, because they are the ones with the power, and that she could go home without having qualms of cutting it out of her life forever. She ends up conflicted about this.
She finds some ingrained prejudice, but also realises she has a fair bit of her own. It was a really good read, and gave me a perspective on why people may actually be anti-Israel. Sarah mentions at some point, that she's felt like that if you're Jewish, you're meant to support Israel no matter what, and she doesn't, so she feels conflicted. I think that I'm probably one of those people, though more out of thoughtless loyalty than Zionism. I look at Israel and I'm a child, saying “but what's wrong with it?” This gave me some idea of why people have issues with the creation of Israel, though it is hard for me to really commiserate. My family were in concentration camps, they went to Israel to be free. My father was born in a holding camp as they waited to emigrate. What am I meant to do with this information? I have bias. I was glad to see that Sarah didn't do a total 180, because even my dad hates the creepy Zionist attitude and is against a lot of current Israeli politics – he loved Rabin, naturally, may his lovely soul rest in peace, and hates Netanyahu. He – and most Israelis I know – also really dislike the Hasidic Jews, mainly for their hypocrisy – they, in our experience, find every loophole to live by their laws and feel superior about it. Like how cutting the hair is forbidden, but it specifies something about shears, electric razors weren't invented in the Bible, so they're totally fine to cut the hair with. So even Israelis have varied feelings about aspects of Jewish culture. There's a pretty big rift between secular and orthodox.
The book does a good job of portraying two sides to a lot of stories – like the security wall, disrupting a lot of Arab settlements, but reducing the amount of terrorist attacks from something like two per week, to about four a year. At some point, Sarah hears from an Israeli how it is to turn on the radio and know, if there's a happy song on, it's okay, there hasn't been a bomb that day. I've lived that. I literally know what that's like. I've been there when a bomb goes off – everyone in Tel Aviv loses cell reception, did you know that? It's like when you go to a music festival, and everyone is texting each other so the entire place gets messed up signal? Imagine that, except it's everyone checking to see that their friends aren't dead, weren't in that nightclub or that bus. The same person who recounts this also gives an honest opinion on most people's view of sending kids to the army – that no one glorifies it, thinks it is normal or easy, or wants to send their kids. I've been to a few of the places that Sarah goes to – I've been to the Golan, I have a photo lying around somewhere of us on the edge of a minefield. I've been to the Sea of Galilee. Tel Aviv, of course. I've been to several kibbutzes – my dad grew up on one, and I've seen the way they've changed over the past couple of decades, the privatisation. I've been to the Dead Sea, but not to Masada, and one part of Sarah's aggressive cynicism and determination to root out “brainwashing” that actually really interested me was her comparison of the original recorded story of what happened there to the softened, heroic legend that commonly goes around.
Another part of the book I really liked was where Sarah described the Israeli temperament, the blunt criticism that is common – no soft-pedalling. She explains that the upside of this is that any compliments given are genuine, and she says “My gratitude towards this Israeli honesty did have its limits, though to me, it's worth getting offended by someone if it means I can trust their true opinion.” I was raised in an Israeli family, and this trait is definitely something you may recognise in me if you have experience dealing with me. I'm not saying that I don't have some social problems regardless of culture, but if you're sensitive, and find me too blunt and difficult, I do not suggest making friends with Israelis. They can be harsh, sometimes in a way that seems very mean – more malicious than I believe I've ever sounded. But it's all just candid, unfiltered honesty, and they're also very forward, honest and unfiltered in what they do like. It's definitely something that's influenced me and been part of my upbringing.
I've been to the Old City in Jerusalem, to the Wall, to the markets and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but I haven't been to Jerusalem city proper, or to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. I want to go there – though want isn't the right word, I need to go there, but I have never known how I will handle it. I have trouble dealing with Holocaust imagery in general art exhibitions and such – I mean, I'm sure it's no cakewalk for anyone – but alternately, I've read quite a few books – people's biographies from the Holocaust, or Jews escaping it, in the Second World War. If you have ever received an email from my personal account, you'll see the email signature is a quote, “what gives light must endure burning,” which is a quote by Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl is a bit of a hero of mine, he was a Jewish psychiatrist who performed mental health care on other prisoners in the camps with him. Before the war, he set up a program counselling high school students free of charge, and this was credited with vastly decreasing teen suicide rates in Vienna, where he practiced. He wrote many things, including a short but brilliant book called Man's Search For Meaning, which is about his time in the camps and the development of the idea of discovering meaning in all existence, and hence, a reason to keep living. If you are interested in a general Holocaust memoir you could try Night by Elie Wiesel or Elli by Livia Bitton-Jackson. Anyway, the point is, I'm an Ashkenazi Jew and come from a family of Holocaust survivors. I have Holocaust issues. Naturally. I could never, ever visit the actual camps, in Germany, Poland, etc. I have been scared of facing Yad Vashem for over ten years, I don't know how to handle it, who to go with. I didn't know how I felt about going with family or with going alone. What I'd most prefer is to go with a good friend who's more detached than me, who is there to support me, but I don't think that's possible. Naturally, no one is going to come to Israel with me just to hold me upright. So we'll see how that goes.
In May, I'm visiting Israel for the first time since 2004, and I'm going alone. I'll be mainly staying with my family, but I will be an adult tourist, not with my dad and not being ferried around. This is my first chance to experience Israel from my own perspective, and I've been curious and somewhat anxious about it. I feel this inexplicable need to make the most of it, to do and see the right things, to not miss out. I'm only going for about two weeks. My younger brother, since graduating high school, has spent large chunks of time there, like a couple of six month stints. He has been absolutely impossible, I asked him what to do and his answer is to go sit in cafes in Tel Aviv. Now, I'm not exactly a “tourist attraction” type traveller, but sitting around in cafes for six months? Reading this graphic novel was a good experience for me. The author was not scared to portray her own flaws and prejudices, as well as the ones she found in Israel, and was open about expressing her positive experiences and changing point of view. While I don't think I could ever truly empathise with her original determined anti-Israel stance, her story did give me a better perspective and understanding of why people may feel that way and what some of the problems are in a way that actually makes sense. One of Sarah's issues, before she went to Israel, was a lack of objective material about “the situation,” and with writing How To Understand Israel In 60 Day Or Less, she's done a pretty good job at filling that gap in the market. I would definitely recommend this graphic novel to anyone visiting Israel, or anyone who is curious or uncertain about what things are like there.