|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Good Girls" by Isabel Yap (5386 words)
A story about two women, or perhaps two girls, who have been sent to a "Good Girl" retreat to learn how to be good girls, this is a story filled with darkness, violence, and mental strife, and yet for all that it is also a story about friendship, a story about being yourself, about not being shamed by your conditions. In many ways I read this as a story about being secure in who you are, even the parts of yourself that aren't considered normal or right or good. The good girl treatment that the main characters are sent to seems to be a place to try and shame girls out of serious mental issues. Depression and other non-neurotypical behavior that isn't looked on as good in their culture. It's a way for parents to believe they're helping their kids without really doing anything, without facing the uniqueness of each of the girls. They're just supposed to get better from journals and sharing and running laps. Of course, in the group is Kaye, a girl from Manila who is also something else. Who must detach into a sort of wandering creature that feeds on babies in the night. And her and Sara, another girl at the good girl training, become friends, discover that they're not exactly all that different. They are who they are, and it's the rest of the world that doesn't really understand them, that doesn't try to give them an alternative other than "just be good." So it's a very interesting and layered story, and I liked how it treats the two characters, not as broken or evil or even as victims to their natures. They are simply people, people who live with some different circumstances. And it's disturbing and dark but it also feels real. Feels accurate to their situation, with no easy answers. So I'm going to say that this story is definitely good, but not "good." It's an amazing read, but not at all neat or tidy. It's challenging. Now go read it.
"In the Rustle of Pages" by Cassandra Khaw (3964 words)
This is a beautiful story about a sort of contagious architecture, starring an old woman and her husband who are dealing with his progressing disease. The love between these two characters is so strong, the loss they face so staggering. Really, if you feel like having a good cry, read this story and be prepared. Because it shows so succinctly how people dismiss the elderly, wanting to make them convenient when, like in this case, the older characters lead so much richer lives than their younger relatives. That their strength to keep going is so unbelievably deep. The idea of a disease that turns people into buildings is great, is disturbing a bit but with an other-worldly beauty that really works. That Li Jing, the main character, is immune, is interesting because of how the disease becomes valued, where she is more pariah because of her lack, and yet there is magic to her, an ability to shape the way the disease can progress. So in this case she can control how her husband will become a building. Can help him become exactly what he wants to be. To have to deal with the rest of her family, who believe they know what is best for him and yet don't seek his input on what will be done to him, is a bit difficult to read, because it seems so real, and there is a sense that the young are always complicit in the pain of the old, complicit in their pain because they want things to be easy, want that convenience and lack of worry. But worry is what is required. Especially with this couple, they don't want to be their family's problem at all. They want each other, and they manage to hold on, manage to make something for themselves. And even though the ending is a bit heartbreaking, it also shows Li Jing's strength and love. She remains, and she refuses to relinquish her agency. A great story.