Author Archive : Abby

Ronit & Jamil… & my disappointment

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I usually don’t write about books I didn’t love. I get very uncomfortable using my (modest) platform in a negative way, or even a less than positive way. But I feel like I need to make an exception in the case of Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin.

I was so excited about this book. The subject matter spoke to me on so many levels that I was almost bursting at the seams when I got it.

Ronit & Jamil is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (get it?) set in present-day Israel. In this version, the star-crossed lovers are an Israeli daughter of a pharmacist and the Palestinian son of a doctor. And the whole story is told in verse or poems written by the protagonists.

I want to be clear: I didn’t hate this novel, I was just disappointed with it.

I wanted Ronit & Jamil to be amazing. I wanted it to move me and make me think. Sadly, it did not.

I mostly just felt that Laskin was hindered by the narrative structure she chose. The subject matter is so dense and so charged that a series of poems felt like a disservice. There is only so much a person can related in 14 lines of rhyming couplets.

I also felt, too often, that Laskin’s personal voice and politics weaseled their way into the text, making it difficult to believe the characters.

But I think the thing that was most upsetting to me was that it was clear in the writing that she was not actually from the region. She did a lot of research, that was evident. But you could tell she didn’t really know. It was in little things. It was in Ronit only knowing one Israeli singer, and it being the one who sings in English. In was in Ronit living in Ma’ale Adumim and saying it’s in the West Bank (regardless of whether it is or not, no one who lives there would say that). It was in Jamil quoting classic Muslim poets but no contemporary ones. At a time when so much emphasis is put on diversity in publishing, on authors of colour writing characters of colour, it felt out of place to have an outsider write something that requires an insider’s understanding.

I felt that Laskin skimmed the surface of a subject that deserved much more. Her book left me starving for more and I am eager to find it. We need more stories like these, stories that acknowledge the difficult reality we live in but recognize the glimmer of hope. But we need these stories to dig deep, to go the extra mile and represent the issues, we can’t just slap flowery language on the ugly bits and call it a day.

So no, I didn’t love Ronit & Jamil. But (!!) I urge you to read this book. You can do it in an hour (though that is another issue I have with it). Read it with an open mind and then please tell me what you think. And if you feel so moved, do me a favour and write your own version on our Write It blog because we need more stories about this and things like it.

Why I keep participating in NaNoWriMo even though I always fail

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I’m sure you’ve all noticed that it’s August. Which means that it’s the last month of summer (good news in my book but I know I’m not in the majority here). It means the TSRC party is coming up (BTW have you signed up yet? You really should).

For me, August also means that Camp NaNoWriMo just ended.

If you don’t know what that is, allow me to explain. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, proper occurs every November. As the title suggests, the goal is to write a whole novel in one month. Camp NaNoWriMo is an extension of this that takes place in July, but the goal is the same.

People have been extremely successful with NaNoWriMO. I’ve heard E. K. Johnston and Rainbow Rowell (both of whom I love beyond words) praise it and the work they results they achieved while participating. And so I was inspired to try.

To date I have taken part in NaNoWriMo and it’s ilk a total of 4 times. And, as the title of this post implies, I have technically failed a total of 4 times. So… you know… every time I did it.

But come November I will be taking part again. Any here’s why:

It’s an amazing experience regardless of the outcome. I don’t want to get all mushy and clichéd and be all “it’s not the destination that matters but the journey,” but in this case (for me) that’s actually true. So while I never actually reached my goal, I learned a lot and achieved a lot. And at the end of each month I had written a lot, and there was more of my work than there was before. And that’s something.

This year’s Camp NaNoWriMo was the best yet. Yes, I “failed” again. My goal had started at 50,000 words, and I adjusted it to 20,000 halfway through (because 50,000 words in one month is insane and I am an awe of anyone who can achieve that) and still only wrote 10,000.

But at the same time, I wrote 10,000 words of a novel that I’ve been tinkering with for the last 10 years. That’s almost 2 full chapters that a month earlier only existed in my brain. I roughly outlined my entire novel and half of it in detail.

So while technically, I only achieved 50% of my goal, I actually managed so much more! So basically, I no longer think about it in terms of failing. It’s not just about the goal, it’s about the process and the work and the thrill you get while you’re writing.

Now, why have I just spent all this time praising my achievement? Well, because I think everyone who has ever thought about writing anything should try it out. And I know that a lot of you have. There’s time, you have until November to make up your mind. You can write whatever you want. It can be as private or as public as you want. You can keep it in a drawer or publish it on your blog, our Write It blog, on SELF-e or on Wattpad (like me). It’s completely up to you.

As for me, I just wanted to challenge you to take a leap with your writing. And no worries, I’ll remind you when November draws nearer.




Get Gloomy

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I know it’s exam time and everyone’s stressed and miserable, so I thought I’d share something fun with you guys. And I figured since misery loves company I’d share the best, most miserable thing I could think of… a card game.

I’m sure you’re wondering how a card game can be awesome, fun, hilarious and miserable all in the same time, so let me explain.

This is not just any old card game. This is Gloom: The Game of Inauspicious Incidents & Grave Consequences. (BTW, did you know you can check out games from the library now?)

Gloom combines character cards, action cards and storytelling, and in a wonderfully gloomy twist the winner of the game is the person with the least amount of points.

So how do you play?

Each player gets a family of characters (five character cards per family). All the characters and families are unique and weird and wonderful, but my personal favorite Dark’s Den of Deformity, (for no other reason than I used to want to run away and join the circus…though maybe not this circus). You decide who goes first by determining who has had the worst day.

Now that you have your family and you know whose day sucked most the game can begin. On your turn you make two plays, which at face value means you play two cards. The cards you play could be modifiers which effect your Self-Worth (or someone else’s if you so choose), event cards which make things happen, or untimely death cards…I think you know what those do. But what makes your two plays, and the whole game, so great is that you are obligated (and the rules state this) to explain how these things happen.

For example: If on my first play I put down the “was beaten by beggars” modifier on my character Samson O’Toole, The Bearded Man, not only does her Self Worth drop to -15 but I have to explain how she got into that situation. So I would tell you that the beggars came to the circus gates to, you know, beg for food and Samson challenged them to a game of cards and the beggars won which made him really sad because up to that point he thought he was quite the card shark. See What I did there? And if my second play is to put down the “was delighted by ducklings” modifiers on one of your characters, giving a self-worth of +10, you have to figure out how that happened (MWAHAHAHAHA mine is an evil laugh).

The game ends when a player successfully kills his or her entire family and the winner is the player with the lowest Self Worth.

All this to say that this is the BEST game on the planet and if you don’t believe me here is Will Wheaton and friends delightfully torturing characters:

Vaughan Teens Love Reading

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Hey you guys, I just wanted to take a moment and tell you about a really cool event that’s coming up soon, which I am taking part in and you should really come to too. Since I am not the most subtle of people I’m sure you’ve guessed (and the title states) that I am talking about Vaughan Teens Reading.

The facts are these: This even will be taking place on Friday, March 24th, at the Bathurst Clark Resource Library. That’s exactly two weeks from today, friends, make sure you’ll be there. Some of you may be coming with your classes during the day, 11am to 2pm, but if not the day will repeat itself from 2pm to 6pm (it’s like an awesome Groundhog Day scenario).

I know that just me telling you to come by might not be enough to convince you (I wish it would, guys, you can trust me). So now that I’ve gotten through the where and when of it, let me tell you what we will be doing on the day:

Basically, we are going to be celebrating you and the fact that you are awesome readers and people.

But also…

The library has invited two amazing, award winning Ontario authors who will speak and sign books.  So you will get to meet E.K. Johnson, the author of two 2017 White Pine nominated novels:  A Thousand Nights and of Exit, Pursued by a Bear. A Thousand Nights has also won the 2016 Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, shortlisted for the GGs, and is a 2017 Carnegie nominee.

You will also hear from Erin Bow who wrote the 2017 White Pine nominee Scorpion Rules (and winner of the YA Book of the Year award, Canadian Library Association). She has also recently published Swan Riders, a companion to Scorpion Rules. Her novel Sorrow’s Knot won the 2014 Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

And that’s not all!! We’ve also invited the youth empowerment hip hop troupe UNITY to perform for you all. UNITY uses hip hop to improve young people’s lives there by creating healthier communities. Various artists on the UNITY roster will be performing beat boxing, graffiti art, breakdancing and spoken word poetry.

And on top of all that awesomeness, we will have a bunch of other activities throughout the library for you all.

So? Convinced now? Will you be there?

Come on, stop by BCRL on the 24th and release your inner book nerd with us!

Say yes to this!

by  | Category: New Music, Pop Culture
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I don’t think I’ve written about this on this blog before, but I am a HUGE Hamilton: An American Musical fan.

The stage door to the room where it happens

The stage door to the room where it happens


This is not hyperbole. I am addicted. I have proof too. I own the biography (and a book about that time when Hamilton and Burr joined forces on the first murder trial in American history), I own The Hamiltome (or by its other title Hamilton: A Revolution), I watched the documentary on PBS, I’ve seen every #Ham4Ham (one of them live. You can’t see me.. I’m standing next to the person who filmed this but you can hear me screaming.), I own the cast album and know every single lyric (I’m even featured on the Genius page). And then there’s also the fact that I’ve seen the show…with the original cast…twice. The second time was last February, I stood in the freezing cold with a friend for 7.5 hours for a chance to get standing room or canceled tickets. At one point Lin-Manuel Miranda came out of the theater, looked at us like we were insane (which we were) and wished us luck.


Me and Leslie Odom, Jr. (the original Aaron Burr… sir)

But while my experiences seeing the show were magical and I could go on and on about the whole thing, this is not actually the reason I am writing.

What I really want to know is…HAVE YOU LISTENED TO THE MIXTAPE YET?


If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain.  The Hamilton Mixtape is a companion piece to the show and cast album. It features covers of tracks from the cast album, like Regina Spektor and Ben Folds singing “Dear Theodosia,” Usher singing “Wait For It,” Ja Rule and Ashanti singing “Helpless” and Sia and Queen Latifa singing “Satisfied” (if you have to listen to one song for the rest of your life let it be this one…and also watch Jonathan Groff’s reaction to it). The mixtape also includes cut songs from the show, either sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Cabinet Battle #3”!!) or covers (Dessa’s “Congratulations” is amazing). But perhaps the best thing about The Hamilton Mixtape (which is a difficult statement to make because the whole thing is amazing) is the original tracks.

You guys, these tracks are OUTSTANDING! They are poignant and topical and personal… and I’ll stop here, but let it be known that I could go on. My  personal favorites are “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” featuring K’naan, Snow The Product, Riz MC and Residente, and “Wrote My Way Out” featuring Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Aloe Blacc.

Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have a copy of the mixtape yet. But I have put in a request so we’ll just have to wait for it. Until then you can listen to it for free on Spotify. You can also enjoy this special #Ham4Ham from December 1st, celebrating the mixtape and its awesomeness: