Dear John Green, Please Be My Best Friend

I don’t know if y’all know this, but I’m a bit of a Nerdfighter. I especially love John Green’s books. ALL OF THEM. The title plea is indeed a genuine request (although in the event that I did meet John Green, I’d probably nervous-vomit, so that could hinder the whole best-friend thing). Um. Anyways. This is more of an author post than a review of just one book.

Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005): This was actually the penultimate John Green novel I read. Nothing about this book is¬†compressible, but I’ll try to succinctly summarize for you poor fools who have yet to read it. Miles Halter, who’s kind of obsessed with last words, goes to boarding school and falls for elusive yet perfect Alaska Young, who of course is taken. So he becomes her friend and gets caught up in the crazy web that is Alaska’s life. To say more would spoil the plot. But this book…how can I review it without spoilers?!?! It’s poignant, funny, smart, and wonderfully written. What more could you ask for in a book?

An Abundance of Katherines (Dutton, 2006): I was originally drawn to this book because, hey, it has my name right there in the title! Then, because of the rainbow of silhouettes on the hardcover. Then, all the math and graphing and footnotes turned me off before I even knew who John Green was or that he was made of awesome. Then, I totally lied about having read it to impress a group of friends (hey, I picked it up and flipped through it!). THEN, an ex-boyfriend used the principle against me after we broke up, “graphing” the decline of our relationship. Then I read Katherines again, to make sure I still could without throwing it at a wall. Turns out I could, and it’s a wonderful novel. Colin Singleton, child prodigy, takes a road trip with his friend Hassan. They end up in Middle-of-Nowhere, USA, to see the alleged tomb of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, where they meet Lindsey Lee Wells, and end up getting some work and a place to reside in Gutshot, Tennessee. All the while, Colin is struggling to develop a formula that will accurately predict the curve of any relationship, because he has just been dumped by a girl named Katherine for the nineteenth time. No spoilers, go read the book.

Paper Towns (Dutton, 2008): This was the first John Green novel that I read in its entirety, a few years ago, and I honestly haven’t read it since. I don’t know why; I remember loving it when I did read it. But, I do own it, and I’m going to re-read it starting today. Quentin Jacobson has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar forever. Then they pull an all-nighter. Then, suddenly, she’s even further away than before. The novel chronicles Q’s journey to track her down through clues. Great novel, I don’t know why I haven’t picked it back up. ūüė¶

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Dutton, 2010; with David Levithan): This is the last John Green book I read in my sit-down-and-read-all-John-Green-books-except-apparently-Paper-Towns quest. I love it. Apparently, other people don’t. Which is weird to me. Because I love it. Will Grayson and Will Grayson have lived their lives without knowing that there was another Will Grayson, close in age and relatively close in distance until they happen to meet one night in Chicago. They both change after meeting each other and some awesome stuff happens. I don’t get why some people think this is John Green’s worst book. Mostly because I can’t name a book I think is John Green’s worst book.

The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012): This book. You guys. This book. I love it (call me redundant, it’s true). So, fifteen-year-old Hazel Grace is a cancer patient and considers herself a side effect. Then she meets Augustus Waters, who is not a side effect. They do adventure stuff. This is probably my favorite John Green book. If I could only recommend one John Green book ever, it would be this one.

Guys, I like John Green. A LOT. In a non-obsessive way. Mostly. ūüėČ

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Why I Won’t Buy an E-reader

I have nothing against e-readers. Nothing at all. They can be very lovely. However, I will not buy one for myself. My reasoning is a bit complex and multi-faceted.

1) I have an iPhone, and can download most e-readers as apps. In fact, I have a Nook from Barnes and Noble as an app. And I’m fine with that.

2) I love books. I love cheap, beat-up paperbacks that tell a story that you find in used book stores. I love fancy, shiny first-editions of your favorite author’s newest book that you pre-ordered. I love lining up all of the books in a series and having them all look uniform. I love faded print and yellowing pages. I love it. I love all of the physical qualities of a book. I’d hate to lose that to an e-reader.

3) I have relationships with books. They get tear-stained and worn and, if I’m reading it for school, marked up. They get hugged close to me in emotional moments (Harry Potter 7, anyone?) and thrown at walls when I get angry at them. If you cry onto an e-reader, it’s bad. You can’t throw it, that would be really bad. And if you hug them close to you, they’re just cold. And I think that’s my main problem: the electronic age can be so cold and impersonal.

I prefer letters to emails, real hugs to video chats, and print books to e-readers. Call me a stodgy traditionalist, but there it is.

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“I don’t want to be nine years old forever.”

Cat’s Eye
Margaret Atwood (1988)

*NOTE: This review probably contains some spoilers. Read the book. Please.*

I read this book on recommendation from another book blog, the Insatiable Booksluts (do I follow partially because of the name? Yes). Their review (which you can read here) popped up in my inbox one day and I wanted to read it. So I found a copy and sat down with it. And, yes, since it was Atwood, it took a while. And, yes, it was emotional and painful and more than once I cried a little. But I never wanted to put it down.

Any girl, or any parent of a girl, knows how terribly cruel girls can be. We get catty, we get nasty. We do more damage than a quick brawl could accomplish, and we leave longer-lasting scars. The psychological torment girls inflict upon each other stays around for a long time. And Atwood understands that perfectly.

We are brought into the life of painter Elaine Risley as she returns home for a retrospect in her honor. But as she returns to her childhood stomping grounds, she is firmly planted on memory lane, bringing the reader with her. The caustic adult Elaine is starkly different from the innocent, blunt Elaine of youth. She is wiser and more bitter than nine-year-old Elaine, who befriends the ultimate frenemy, Cordelia. She is more jaded than high school Elaine, who suddenly has all the power in her friendship with Cordelia. And she’s more mature than college and art school Elaine, who cannot seem to help needing to be needed.

When nine-year-old Elaine is befriended by Cordelia, it turns sour quickly. Elaine becomes the punching bag of the group, and doesn’t know better than to put up with it. She knows that it hurts, and she knows that this is not how friends treat each other, but they need her for this. And what she doesn’t know is that she doesn’t have to fill that need. So she quietly bears the burden of being bullied. Until one day when Cordelia and the other girls take it too far, and Elaine’s mother springs into action, telling her daughter that she doesn’t have to be Cordelia’s friend. Elaine finally understands and befriends a nicer, quieter girl at school, leaving Cordelia behind.

In high school, Cordelia transfers to Elaine’s school and the two become friends again. But now it’s Elaine who has the power in the friendship. She is a plastic, for lack of a better term. And Cordelia is now the one to follow behind.

Finally, in college, art student Elaine pushes Cordelia, who is now a second-rate actress, firmly away. Elaine lives her life, but is permanently affected by her earlier years with Cordelia (which she can’t remember). She still needs to be needed, as proven by her relationship with her playboy of an art teacher. And when that fire burns out, she is left with wild, glamorous Jon, who becomes her first husband. Finally, after he cheats on her, she takes their daughters and leaves, eventually marrying Jon’s polar opposite, mild-mannered Ben.

Which brings us to the final bits of Elaine’s memories. She goes to visit her dying mother, who is cleaning house, and finds her old cat’s eye marble, which she used as a shield of sorts against Cordelia’s cruelty. Her mother reminds her of the torment she suffered as a child at the hands of Cordelia, which Elaine had previously forgotten. She returns to the school and begs the memory of Cordelia to let her go, to let her live.

This book was hard to read. I’ll admit that. It was emotional. But it was well worth it. I got chills when Elaine returned to the grade school playground as an enlightened adult. I sympathized when I saw the recurring desire of Elaine’s to be needed. I cried when nine-year-old Elaine was so desperate for control over some of her pain that she took to peeling the skin off of her feet at night.

I will be reading this book again. And I’ll probably cry again. But this has got to be one of the best, most insightful novels ¬†I have ever read.

 

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My Favorite Book Ever?

Hey, guys. So, um, Madeleine L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time has been on my mind lately for a few reasons.

1) I was asked on a lit class application to name my favorite book of all time. I don’t have one. But under pressure to name one, I’ll always say A Wrinkle in Time. Why? Because I’ve read it so many times I can recite large chunks of it and give disturbingly detailed synopses of the rest. Because I bought the audiobook on a whim years ago, and it’s still the only audiobook I can listen to. I literally fall asleep to that audiobook, narrated by the author. Because despite scientific advancements, I still automatically say the fourth dimension is time and the fifth, a tesseract.

2) As mentioned before, I listen to the audiobook every night as I fall asleep. It’s familiar, and it’s like a bedtime story, with the benefit that I already know the end, so I needn’t stay awake to hear it.

3) Mainly, though (and this is causing extreme levels of jumping-up-and-down, squealing-like-a-schoolgirl joy for me), I’ve been thinking about A Wrinkle in Time because the fiftieth anniversary of its initial publication is upon us, and they’re releasing a NEW COMMEMORATIVE EDITION. In case you didn’t catch that, A NEW COMMEMORATIVE EDITION, guys!!!!!!!!!

This excites me to no end. I have not been this excited since I went to see RENT live–two years ago.

As I mentioned earlier, A Wrinkle in Time is my default favorite book. I first read it in the fourth grade, undoubtedly due to pressure from my mother, an avid reader and teacher. I think I had a library copy. In fact, I’m pretty dang sure it was this edition:

That’s right, I remember the edition.

So, fourth grade puts me at…nine? Ten? I didn’t fully grasp the concept of the tesseract (not that I do now), nor did I fully understand the Mrs. W’s, IT (a giant brain? Huh?), Camazotz, The Happy Medium, Aunt Beast…well, about half the book sailed over my precocious little head (“How can they be STARS? What’s a happy medium?”). And, looking back, I’m pretty sure I skimmed most of the section on the planet of Ixchel.

But I loved Meg. I loved that someone clumsy and snarky (I hit my “teen” attitude early) ¬†could be a heroine. I loved that she was tough and got in fights to defend her honor and her “dumb baby [brother’s].” I adored Mrs. Whatsit’s eccentricities, Mrs. Who’s quotes, and Mrs. Which’s commanding drawn-out speech. I liked the precocity of five-year-old Charles Wallace, even when he sat in the kitchen in his “faded blue Doctor Denton’s,” his feet not touching the ground. I especially liked that Calvin O’Keefe, the big athletic star, was, in all honesty, kind of a dork.

Well, I checked that book out of the library so often, I might have thought I owned it at one point. Until I got my own copy a year later, after recommending it eagerly to my stepmother. That was also the year I bought the audiobook, both this edition:

Well, okay, I think I went through two copies of that edition. I read it so often, carried it with me to so many places, that it got a little…well-loved (re: beaten). So I probably went through two copies, grasping a little more each time (Although I still didn’t really get what the heck a happy medium was).

And then in eighth grade, two things happened at once. (1) My boyfriend told me that it’s called science FICTION for a reason (I may have cried a little), and (2) I loaned out my copy of A Wrinkle in Time to someone whom I never saw again.

So, in the middle of ninth grade, I went to Target and bought myself a shiny new copy. This  one.

Yeah, it’s a little bruised, a little bent at the corners, maybe even a little water damaged. There are scuff marks on the edges. It’s well-loved. And I can still recite large passages of it.

Of course, several re-reads after that first time in fourth grade, I understand more. I’m absolutely blown away by L’engle’s creatures on Ixchel, who intimately know the stars and the sun without seeing them, who encourage Meg to think of what things are, rather than what they look like (major theme alert!). I’m amused by the wordplay concerning the Happy Medium (remember when Meg’s brother Sandy tells her to “use a happy medium, for heaven’s sake”?), and I cheerfully report that I now understand the concept of a happy medium. I recognize Mrs. Who’s need to quote because it’s so much easier to use other people’s words, and I see it in myself (by the way, my favorite Mrs. Who quote? “‘Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point.’ French. Pascal. ‘The heart has its reasons, whereof reason knows nothing.'” p42). I admire Mrs. Murry’s dedication to her family and her husband, and her willful ignorance of small-town gossip.

One passage that has always struck my fancy is the passage in which Calvin decides to quiz Meg to test the limits of her genius, and quickly discovers that the limits are clearly drawn. And Mrs. Murry helpfully supplies, as only a mother could, that Meg still plays with her dollhouse. It’s sharply written, and who is this girl that can rattle off Einstein’s equation and what it really means, but can’t tell us who wrote Boswell’s Life of Johnson, because she isn’t any good at English.

I love this book. So so so so much. And will I be buying a fiftieth anniversary commemorative edition, meant to usher in a new generation of readers?

There’s no question.

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And Now I Share My Thoughts on Popular YA Fiction

I try not to give reviews on things EVERYONE is talking about. But I feel the need to get one thing out of the way: Twilight. Okay, two things: Twilight and The Hunger Games.

Hey, I’ll admit it: I went through the Twilight phase in seventh and eighth grade. I wanted to be Bella Swan just like every other pre-adolescent girl around me. In fact, my best friends and I went to the release party for Breaking Dawn. I grew out of that phase. It got old. Really really really old. Like, geriatric and wrinkly. Assisted-living-old. Get the picture?

Now, I’m sure Ms. (Mrs.?) Meyer was not initially trying to create a sell-out of a franchise. However, by the time the third book had been released, she probably changed her mind. Remember, I did love Twilight. I would defend it like I now defend my love of Joss Whedon’s work. But I look at these novels and think, Why are these popular? Remember my scathing criticism of Stepmother? Yeah, that pales in comparison to how I feel about the Twilight saga. I feel that these books are poorly written, weakly constructed, and nightmarishly characterized.

Point: Bella Swan is written in a bland way that makes her perfectly relatable to any adolescent girl who wants to be the heroine. Where’s the fun in a heroine who has no individual personality? There’s nothing memorable about Bella except that she b*tches about everything, and she does really stupid things.

Point: The adults are either living in blissful (and willful) oblivion, or they’re really really really stupid. For instance, Charlie Swan, chief of police in Forks. How did he earn this title when he can’t even keep his own DAUGHTER from jetting off to Italy after a suicide attempt and he can’t manage to set up some sort of cautionary protective measures when there are MONSTERS attacking his town? I would not put my safety in this man’s hands. And who the heck lets their teenage daughter treat him the way Bella treats her dad? That girl needs a time-out.

Point: There are very few LIKEABLE characters. Alice is kind of¬†my favorite because at least she doesn’t take sh*t from anyone. But everyone else, I kinda wish they’d all go cliff-diving like Bella, but with more fatal results.

Point: The novels do not display a healthy relationship. Forget the fact that Edward is, like, seventy-something years Bella’s senior and a deadly creature of the night. He doesn’t respect her. He’s patronizing, kind of standoffish, and can be menacing. This is not okay. Ladies, take note: If your boyfriend treats you like Edward treats Bella, dump his butt. You’re better off single. And didn’t he basically bribe her into marrying him? Shouldn’t marriage be¬†an act of love?

Point: This is a terrible franchise. See above points.

The Hunger Games trilogy, however, I supremely enjoyed. Yeah, okay, Katniss¬†occasionally p*sses me off, but for the most part, I love this series. I truly want¬†Katniss to win, I want the guy to get the girl, the love triangle doesn’t make me want to hurl, I cry when characters meet an unfortunate end (if I liked them) and cheer when they succeed. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy is an enjoyable reading experience in which I partake again and again.

Point: Katniss has actual struggles. Guys, her dad died, her mom is sick, her family’s poor, and she has to illegally hunt to provide for her mother and sister. And then her sister basically gets volunteered for death, and her best friend might be kind of in love with her, but she has to fake being in love with another guy with whom she may actually be starting to like. PLUS, she fights her own battles. Girl’s got some guts. She gets up off her rear and fights.

Point: Our hero is funny, charming, and can go out in the sunlight without looking like Tiffany & Co. Peeta¬†is one of the good guys. He rarely (if ever) talks down to Katniss, and when he gets mad at her, he still pretends he’s her beau in the public eye so as to not throw them both under the bus. He’s also, you know, human. Big bonus!

Point: The battles are exciting and not all the same. Each battle has me feeling the urgency that comes in fighting for one’s life without a trusty backup team who can really do all the fighting for you. Enough said, no?

Point: I love the cast of supporting characters as much and sometimes more than the main characters. My favorites are Cinna and Rue. Especially Cinna. I kind of constantly want to give Cinna a hug.

Pointlette:¬†I’m actually really really pleased with the casting for this movie and excited to see the movie.

I believe my points have been made. Conclusion? The Hunger Games trilogy kicks the Twilight saga’s butt. In my humble opinion.

DISCLAIMER: I in no way mean to offend anyone affiliated with either franchise. I do, in fact, think it takes a monumental amount of courage to publish a series of novels in the face of scorn, and respect Stephenie Meyer for doing so. These are just my opinions on two series of novels about which people talk frequently.

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A “Wicked Stepmother” of the Book World

If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince?
Melissa Kantor

I love Melissa Kantor. She’s one of my favourite YA authors. Some of her novels, like Girlfriend Material and Confessions of a Not It Girl, don’t even sit on my shelf anymore because I read them so much. She has a knack for getting that teen girl voice down and keeping it, something some YA authors have trouble with.

That said, I decided I’d read If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? I love Cinderella as much as any girl, and modernizations of fairy tales fill my bookshelf…and my flash drive. How bad could it be, right?

Wrong. As stated before, I love Melissa Kantor, and mean her no disrespect. But my personal opinion is that this book is better left unread.

Let me start with the meat and bones: the plot. Basically, this plot is as contrived as you can get.
-Teen Girl feels invisible.
-Popular Boy notices Teen Girl, and suddenly Teen Girl skyrockets to popularity.
-Teen Girl develops friendship with Artsy Boy, whom Popular Friends scorn.
-Ex-Girlfriend wants Popular Boy back.
-Teen Girl has family drama, but still fixes it.
-Teen Girl and Popular Boy go to the prom, but Teen Girl doesn’t feel things are right with Popular Boy.
-Popular Boy gets back together with Ex-Girlfriend, and Teen Girl realizes her deep, undying love for Artsy Boy, who is conveniently single now.
-All live happily ever after, the end.
Now, a few plot twists were thrown in. Artsy Boy has a girlfriend when Teen Girl first starts to notice him–and his girlfriend is Ex-Girlfriend’s¬†best friend (read: cronie). And the Popular Friends remain Teen Girl’s friends after her breakup with Popular Boy. Otherwise, this is all something I’ve read before. A thousand times. The second Artsy Boy was introduced, I realized, “She’s going to date Popular Boy (the first guy mentioned) and end up with Artsy Boy (second boy mentioned).”
Another plot bunny (as we fanfic folk call it) is Teen Girl’s struggles with her “Evil Stepmother.” Said stepmother apparently refuses to furnish Teen Girl’s basement bedroom, relegating the room to a dungeon-like status, and then kvetches about the mess in the room. And every once in a while, they shop for furniture. But Kantor keeps revisiting the room issue, and in the words of Alex Day (YouTube series “Alex Reads Twilight.” WATCH IT. Especially if you don’t like Twilight.), “It’s like¬†a subplot, only¬†I don’t really care.” But in the end, Teen Girl’s father and stepmother buy her a lovely easel that she loves and promise a bedroom set soon.¬† And Teen Girl even saves her stepsisters’ butts, so they love her, too. Didn’t see that one coming. *NOTE: Heavy sarcasm.*

And moving on, the characters: Lucy, aka Teen Girl, is every teen girl rolled into one. She’s athletic and artsy, loves her dad and misses her mom, and goes shopping with her friends. I expect to see her in Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video. She’s also unknowingly coy, witty and lovable.
Connor, aka Popular Boy, is the athlete who doesn’t seem like he treats his girlfriend like dirt, but he does, unbeknownst to her or even him sometimes.
Jessica and Madison, aka Popular Friends, have no depth, shop a lot, and enjoy Daddy’s credit card and their cell phones. They shorten words like “whatever” to “whatevs” because it’s obviously too much work to say the extra syllable.
The Princesses, aka the stepsisters, are little brats who end up having a heart of gold. Who knew? (I did, by the way.)
Mara, aka the stepmother, is a fire-breathing dragon who’s apparently hyper-sensitive. Lucy warns us that everything she does either hurts Mara’s feelings or is dangerously close to hurting Mara’s feelings. I’m also pretty sure it says Maura somewhere in the book.
Sam, aka Artsy Boy, is stoic and doesn’t like school events (read: the prom). He nervously asks Lucy to be his girlfriend in the end, and they engage in some witty repartee. *NOTE: more heavy sarcasm*
Lucy’s father is absent or distant, and only cares about his wife. Jessica and Madison have goon boyfriends who enjoy the pleasure of Connor’s company. And I can’t remember Connor’s ex-girlfriend’s name or her friend’s cronie’s.
My problems with this book:
-The “subplot”: NO ONE CARES THAT YOU HAVE NO FURNITURE. STOP WHINING. MOVE ON.
-The¬†language: Note to my generation (sadly): “whatevs” is NOT a word. Nor is “b-t-dubs” a complete saying. “By the way” is also three syllables. Say it.
-The plot: SO CONTRIVED. What, was the idea machine low on batteries?
¬†¬†¬†teen-parent relationship: The way her father and stepmother are written…irks me. Pretty severely. I find them two-dimensional at best. Her stepmother is evil incarnate, not to mention totally unreasonable. And, yes, this is supposed to make me sympathetic to Lucy’s plight, but how am I supposed to sympathise with someone who can’t even seem to try to sympathise with her stepmother? And her father is also painted as unreasonable, someone who doesn’t even bother to pretend to listen to his daughter. Again, this does not make me sympathise, it makes me want to throw the book into my trash compactor. The parents are completely unreal, and it makes their turnaround in the end COMPLETELY unbelievable.

I hated this book. I DO NOT recommend it. Not even to my worst enemy. I felt my brain cells slowly die while reading it. Sorry, Melissa Kantor, but this one was NOT your finest.

Kantor, Melissa. If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? New York: Hyperion, 2005. Print.
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Falling in Love is “forever…”

Forever…
by Judy Blume

I LOVE this book. It’s possibly one of my favourite novels of all time. Judy Blume is a GENIUS.
The novel depicts the relationship between Katherine and Michael, two high school seniors who are in a serious and passionate relationship. Now, this is serious and passionate¬†in the seventies, so it’s a bit different from what we know today. The themes are the same, though.
This is Katherine’s first real serious relationship, and although Michael has not been a monk, he’s dealing with some feelings he’s not familiar with either. The two teenagers fall in love and experience a scary new world together–including Katherine’s First Time.
Yes, this novel deals with sex. The big, scary word that’s only three letters. Michael is experienced, and Katherine wishes she were. They Do It several times in the book, and it becomes less of a Big Looming Thing in the distance, and more of a regular occurrence for the pair.
That’s all I can tell you without ruining the book for you. Read it. It’s amazing.

I bought this book the first time I ever considered sex. It’s a poignant story about a teen girl making an important decision that will affect her life forever. She makes an appointment at Planned Parenthood after her (slightly anticlimactic) first time with Michael, without her parents knowing, and gets birth control. Her twelve-year-old¬†sister explains that “‘Hate’ and ‘war’ are bad words, but ‘f***’ isn’t” (Blume¬†39). Of course, in modern society it is, but that’s not the point. Katherine is very adamant that she needs to be “mentally ready” (Blume 46).
Seventeen year old girls today and seventeen year old girls back when they first met Katherine in 1975 are different, but in many ways the same. Some girls today don’t care, and make it a contest: “Who can lose their virginity first,” much like Katherine’s friend Erica in the novel. However, some are cautious, like Katherine, and want to make sure that they will be in love forever.

And…*SPOILER ALERT*…

And sometimes, it doesn’t last. Just like Katherine, who loses a sense of what she originally felt for Michael after her grandfather dies of a stroke. And when they break up, it’s brutal, and harsh, because they gave up so much of themselves to each other, both physically and emotionally.
And, like Katherine’s mother tells her, “[…] you can’t go back to holding hands” (Blume 76).

This is a book EVERY teen girl who’s EVER thought about having sex should read, because it deals with the emotional ramifications, but doesn’t cross over int the clich√© of dealing with the physical ones (besides the inevitable). However, I did squirm a little, so make sure you or your teen is ready.

xoxo,

The Diva

Blume, Judy. Forever… New York: Simon Pulse, 2007. Print.

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