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Citrus Fruits

Book Reviews

DC Pride Comic #1
Written by Marc Andreyko, Danny Lore, Steve Orlando, and Mariko Tamaki
Artwork by Stephen Byrne, Trung Le Nguyen, Amy Reeder, and Lisa Sterle
DC Comics, 2021
84 pp. Paperback

The June 8, 2021, 84-page introduction to the DC Pride series titled as such, is an anthology of multiple LGBTQ+ characters within the DC comic universe. Written by Steve Orlando, Mariko Tamaki, Marc Andreyko, and Danny Lore with art by Trung Le Nguyen, Stephen Byrne, Amy Reeder, and Lisa Sterle, the compilation of short stories and character artwork offers a dedicated space to witness 9 new stories centered around characters such as Batwoman, Aqualad, Midnighter, Extrano, Alan Scott, Renee Montoya, Future State Flash, Pied Piper, Obsidian, and more. Along with that comes the official comic introduction of Dreamer from CW’s Supergirl onto the DCU, an impressive pinup art gallery of re-imagined characters, and six profiles of DC TV characters and their actors.

Throughout the anthology, readers are given a compelling, character-driven presentation of the various characters finding or solidifying connections to their sense of self and how they interact with others in their worlds. Batwoman and Aqualad offer us insight into characters trying to control and remold themselves while allowing themselves to find their strength despite not having that control. Similarly, people like Harley Quinn are shown putting to words the internalized sense of oppression that prior relationships have had on shaping the apparent eternally non-serious aspect of their personalities, continuing to provide depth to already complex characters. From Alan Scott, we are even confronted with a man who came to personally understand himself as a part of the queer community during prohibition, not feeling able to come out until recently because his existence was political and how that impacted him. From all of these stories, we can see different ways people can come to terms with who they are and how they proceed to respond to that.

The comic also offers insight on how characters deal with their own principles and how they coincide with their place as hero or otherwise in their universe. Pied Piper is confronted by Drummer Boy who wants to stop a wealthy landlord from wiping out poor and gay neighborhoods for his own gain, while feeling that the wealthy Pied Piper, an apparent hero, does nothing. With that, he begins to re-evaluate how he can go back to fighting things like that which he originally stood for, despite his new position, while also convincing Drummer Boy there are other options. Even Dreamer in her introduction struggles with her knowledge of the future because of her powers and what she is meant to do with that information. These characters signify an internal comprehension of how they wish to stand by their motivations and principles and what it means for them to do so, a narrative I am frequently drawn to.

While heavy-handed at times, often using phrasing that seems to hammer in the fact that this was a Pride edition of this comic that was released during Pride month, the stories still stand to offer something for readers to connect to that is trying to make itself more prevalent within the mainstream. It is notable however that these are established characters whose stories are a part of their pre-existing universe, and while it is not impossible to read without it, it does appear to be written for those who have some background knowledge on the characters and the DCU in general.

This collective demonstrates a sense of self-love in how these characters become who they are. How they understand their actions, where they choose to change themselves, and what they make hold firm within their beliefs indicates where they stand with themselves. Overall, the various stories offer a space for not only the characters to come to terms with parts of themselves, but for their readers to possibly see parts of themselves in parts of popular culture, something I appreciated as a member of the community myself.

-Essence Saunders
  California State University, Stanislaus

Girl on the Line 
by Faith Gardner
HarperTeen Publishing, 2021
352 pp. Hardcover

Girl on the Line by Faith Gardner is a non-linear story about a seventeen-year-old girl’s experiences before, during, and after her attempted suicide. Gardner, a musician as well as an author, has published numerous short stories and two books prior to the one reviewed. Girl on the Line is an emotionally charged exploration of young Journey’s mental struggles and inner turmoil as she is diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. Characterized by the ecstasy of hypomania and despairing depression, the narrator’s reality shifts with her intense emotions. Journey’s “big emotions,” as she calls them, have always been written off as dramatic behavior, needing attention or having a big personality. Her moods worsen when her parents get divorced, her academics predict that she will not be attending college with her friends, and as she processes the trauma of a recent car accident.

Her mother takes her to a psychiatrist, a medication prescription doctor, where a series of “One through ten how like you is ____?” statements leave her with a Bipolar diagnosis and a lingering feeling of being dismissed and without agency over her mental health. While already struggling to maintain her grades in school, her new medication leaves her spacey and disinterested in her education. She feels directionless and fears that her best friend will quickly forget her once she goes to college, and Journey is left at home doing nothing of note. After breaking up with her boyfriend, when Journey does admit that she is suicidal, she attempts to take her life. Journey regrets her actions, feels immense shame, and notes that the people in her life read every emotional conflict as a sign of another attempt.

Journey misses a decent amount of school but tells the administration that it was mono. The academic counselor, worried about her academically and emotionally, calls her in and suggests that she go to middle-college, a program that lets someone take college classes for both high school and college credits. He states that she is not challenged, which is one reason why she offers such little effort in her work. She does go, and she reconnects with an attractive woman she had run into briefly when training to be a crisis-hotline volunteer. Etta, an openly queer woman, is the first person Journey really connects to after her attempt. Journey is attracted to Etta and knows that she is bisexual, but her “big feelings” and the shame of her mental disorder convinces Journey that she would be more of a burden than a partner.

The narrator’s experiences and inner dialogue are exemplary of a young person with Bipolar II disorder. In addition, Journey’s struggle to be heard and understood both as a teenager and a person with serious mental health struggles reflects common occurrences. Oftentimes people feel misdiagnosed as a psychiatrist appointment deals more clinically with a disorder rather than emotionally, like with a psychologist (therapist). Like many people who take medication to manage their disorder, but especially true for people who are Bipolar, it is easy to believe that one is “better” and no longer must take medication that often has side effects. It is beneficial for those conversations to happen, as medical professionals know that their patients are “better” because medications normalizes their moods; yet Gardner demonstrates that this information is not shared until after it becomes a problem, and her medical characters explain it in a dismissive “this should be obvious” manner.

Journey’s story is messy; she is traumatized by several events that have left her feeling worthless and simultaneously “too much.” She struggles with intrusive thoughts, a voice that is her own that pushes her to hate herself but learns from therapy that she can speak back to that voice and develop realistic coping mechanisms. Journey refuses to “let” herself go down the same path that led to her attempt, but the internalized shame from past actions does strain many of her relationships with friends and family.

In many ways, Journey is very self-absorbed. She has internalized so much shame, feels misunderstood by neurotypical characters, and is still in a state of recovery/adolescent development that limits her ability to read other people accurately. She pushes Etta away convinced that she is the problematic “crazy” girl. Etta stumbles upon Journey at a busy intersection, revealing that she suffers from severe anxiety. This revelation connects the two, and Journey lets herself show someone else her emotions.

Gardner does not wrap up the story neatly, but this reflects how mental health works. Journey does find professionals who listen to her concerns and provide explanations for the treatments they suggest. She is not sure that she is Bipolar, but she does accept that her brain works differently, and she can consult other people to help her live a stable life. At times, this novel is hard to read. Journey does have a lot of feelings that are hard to process, both for herself as a character and the reader as the observer. Those who experience suicidal ideation and/or intrusive thoughts will empathize with the young narrator, but it could stir uncomfortable feelings and memories. Gardner does not include detailed intrusive thoughts or actions, allowing the reader to understand Journey’s mind without vicariously experiencing it.
 
- Jacklyn Heslop
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Film Reviews

Luca (2021)
Directed by Enrico Casarosa

Creating a professional animated film during 2020’s quarantine is an unprecedented task. The idea of working on a project of this scale from home alongside 63 animators, individual voice actors, and communicating through emails and Zoom is a difficult one to grasp. Regardless, Pixar’s Luca is the product of said experience, given no release in theaters and only available through Disney’s streaming service, Disney+. Despite its bleak circumstances, Luca is a surprisingly revitalizing film that diverges from Pixar’s usual works and instead embraces its simple theme of seeking acceptance—both from one’s family, but also of one’s own identity and their relationship with the society they live in. 

In short, Luca is a coming-of-age story that follows a young sea creature named Luca as he branches out from his family. When on land, Luca can take on a human form, allowing him to pursue both his curiosity of the human world and the friendship of Alberto, a sea creature who is a self-proclaimed expert on humanity. The simple goal of obtaining a Vespa, a moped, drives the two boys to join forces with the human girl Giulia to beat Ercole, who serves as the main antagonist, in the Portorosso Cup Triathlon. All the while, Luca must avoid being taken back home by his parents and avoid being exposed by the townspeople as a sea monster. 

Pixar’s animators and artists capture a vividly bright summer scene of iridescent scales, corals, and kelp fields. The film is set in Italy, made obvious from not only the Italian words chipped in by the humans in Portorosso, but through the architecture and soundtrack. Rich strings and accordions accompany scenes in powerfully effortless fashion. The music not only sets the location in a gentle way but the period as well, which appears to be the late 50s to early 60s. The sheer amount of texture makes the film’s style akin to a storybook, which has been carefully balanced between realism and the expressive touch of an artist. And unlike many films in Disney’s and Pixar’s line-up, the introduction of the protagonist is not done through narration, but through his duties and way of life. Nothing else quite concisely explains the sea creatures’ view of the surface than the first exchange between Luca and Alberto. 

When Luca first experiences the surface, he is thrown into the pebbly shore in a panic. Amused, Alberto states, “First time?” To this, Luca responds, “Of course it is; I’m a good kid!” Through the implications of Luca’s words, in a mere ten minutes Luca establishes the views of the protagonist’s family, and in another five they offer the motivations and personalities of the main characters, Luca and Alberto. In this way, the audience is treated with respect and is given creative freedom on ideas about this world, encouraging imagination not only after the film’s runtime but even during its first scenes. This places the audience’s expectations in a fascinatingly unknown place and is the film’s greatest asset in making the story engaging. 

The most captivating part of the film is its emphasis on acceptance. Not only does Luca strive to be accepted by his family, but by Giulia and her father, Massimo, for different reasons. Luca wants to be accepted by his mother for his love of the surface, but also to be accepted by the surface as a sea monster so that he does not have to live in fear. It is no mistake that this compelling desire is often said to parallel the struggles LGBT+ youth face, but this story is clearly one that can be relatable to first-generation college students, refugees, and people with disabilities. By the end, it feels as if Luca and Alberto have gained a wealth of friendships and found new people to call family. Luca’s grandmother Paguro captures this idea perfectly in her last line, “Some people, they'll never accept him, but some will, and he seems to know how to find the good ones,” extending Luca’s experiences into one that mirrors the audience. 

A common complaint of Luca is its lack of drive and complexity compared to Pixar’s other films. In other works from their line-up, every scene has a clear purpose and every character detail is meant to serve the plot. In fact, Pixar has changed directors on films in the past for this reason, a prime example being Chris Sanders, director of Lilo and Stitch, being removed from the project Bolt. Extra details such as Luca’s interest in astronomy and school, the existence of Massimo and Giulia’s cat, Machiavelli, and Luca’s grandmother’s short stories about the surface, truly serve no purpose other than to make the world feel more immersive. In this way, the film indeed sticks out as a Pixar movie that feels more like a call to Studio Ghibli's Ponyo and Porco Rosso rather than a carefully formulated plot designed to make the audience cry. A much more valid complaint is Luca falling into the pitfall most Pixar’s films fall under—a contrived splitting of the main characters before the finale. The unrealistic and immature conflict before the finale in Luca is made more bearable by the youth of its characters, but frustrating nevertheless. Thankfully, the film’s end is strong, if a little rushed, due to all of the characters’ development getting just enough of a satisfying conclusion. 

Luca is not without its flaws and is not strictly what one comes to associate with Pixar. Despite this, it feels as if Pixar needed this break in their expectations. Not every Pixar film needs to be a nostalgic masterpiece that forces you to undergo a deeply emotional experience. It is refreshingly unambitious, entertaining without feeling unnatural.

There are no scenes where you are taken out of the immersion and think, “Oh, this is the scene that’s meant to be the tear-jerker.” If an analogy could be humored, Luca feels like the flashback-inducing and nostalgic ratatouille served to the food critic, Ego, in Ratatouille. After so many complex—some incredible, some bad—dishes, the simplicity and care put into Luca is exactly what makes it such a genuine and sincere film. As a result, Luca is well worth the time and a testament to what can be created even during times of unbelievable difficulty.

- Sarah Wagner
University of California, Davis

Skater Girl (2021)
Directed by Manjari Makijany

This summer saw the release of Skater Girl, a film directed by Manjari Makijany that follows a young girl in a rural village in India as she discovers the beauty of skateboarding and experiences the difficulties of trying to set off on her own path. Described as a coming of age story by its producers Manjari and Vinati Makijany and Emmanuel Pappas, the narrative weaves together themes of family, confidence, and the importance of stepping into your passions. 

Set in a remote town, the movie introduces the audience to Prerna and her younger brother as she pulls him to school on a pull cart she created that bears a striking resemblance to a skateboard. In the following scenes, viewers soon understand the obligations she’s under; she must take care of her family and her home, helping alongside her mother. There’s tension though because she is also required to attend school by the local teachers, despite her father’s disapproval. 

While we see Prerna struggle with pleasing her father and fitting in with the other students, viewers meet Jessica. Working in London in marketing, she has taken time off to visit this small village where her late father was born and then adopted as a young boy. Jessica hopes to understand more about her father and heritage. 

Prerna and Jessica soon meet, and Prerna is amazed at how free and independent Jessica is. At the same time, Jessica understands the pressure Prerna is under to please her father and his traditional views for his daughter. Jessica is pleasantly surprised to see the pull cart Prerna created and decides to post a video of them playing with it on her social media. Her post draws an old friend Erick to the village who happens to be a skateboarder. Pretty soon, Jessica and him have bought and assembled skateboards for the children in the village. 

This act of kindness leads to a bigger one; Jessica organizes the creation and building of a skate park for Prerna and the people in her village. Jessica is moved by the joy that skating brings to the children, and she feels even more connected to this place that was once her father’s home. The movie does an excellent job revealing the tension between the children’s happiness that they feel while skating and the rigidity of the village’s traditions and parents’ uneasiness. There are shots showing children playing and ruining property or household items and students skipping school to skate. The village leaders and Jessica come to an agreement; as long as skating does not interfere with their education or with other people’s property, they will be allowed to skate at the skatepark. 

The story’s main focus is on Prerna and her struggle to grow into her own through skateboarding. The sport is an outlet for her, one that allows her to do something she loves and enjoys. It makes her feel free. This is significant because she has lived till now under the weight of her father’s expectations to help at home and to marry the boy he will eventually choose for her. Skating gives her something all her own, something she chooses to do because she loves it, not because of someone else’s expectations of her. By the end of the movie, Prerna has grown in her self-confidence and decides to compete in the skating competition against her father’s wishes. Her parents also realize her passion for the sport and feel proud of who she has become. 

A majority of the movie is spoken in Hindi, with a small portion in English. This makes the movie a more honest and authentic representation of Indian culture. The music also includes tracks by partners Salim-Sulaiman, an Indian composing duo. The heartfelt scenes with the children and exhilarating montages of skating are reflected well in the film’s music score. Rachel Sanchita Gupta also does a fantastic job portraying Prerna in her debut film performance. Viewers looking for a heartfelt story about a girl finding her place in her family and her world will enjoy this film immensely. It leaves the viewers with a sense of pride and encouragement seeing Prerna prioritize her own happiness and do what brings her joy despite the expectations of those around her. 
   
- Hannah Neeley
California State University, Stanislaus

Music Review

BE (2020)
BTS

BE (2020) is BTS’s first self-directed album. The self-proclaimed pandemic project focuses on the struggles the band felt throughout COVID-19. Without shying away from their personal struggles and our globe’s collective strife, the album asserts we can find togetherness and love within the distance. "Telepathy" and "Stay" are both timely and timeless songs about long distance relationships. Both songs are about loving others in times of distance, while at the same time emphasizing finding self-care in those relationships. In this way, the album as a whole situates itself as a proclamation of self-love and an encouragement to its listeners to embrace self-love and self-care. 

"Life Goes On," "Fly to My Room," "Blue & Grey," and "Dis-ease" all focus on finding love and acceptance without hiding from the darkness. These songs demonstrate that self-love comes from self-acceptance by showing the vulnerability of the members facing their doubts and insecurities and finding love and acceptance through this process. “Life Goes On” captures the dual nature of that phrase. Life going on after a disaster is a positive thing, but it also can be difficult. When pain comes, sometimes you want the world to stop just for a moment so you can catch your breath. The song captures the dual effect of this by acknowledging the difficulty of keeping up with life during times of difficulty while also reassuring their listeners that it’s okay to slow down, take a breath, and remember life does indeed go on whether you run through it or slow down and walk at times. To drive this point home, the second song on the track right after “Life Goes On,” “Fly to My Room,” features Jimin and V’s cool vocals accompanied by an uplifting synthesizer that reminds the listener of the importance of taking alone time in their self-care regimen. The next song on the album takes a more vulnerable approach. It begins with a light acoustic guitar followed by V’s strong vocals crying out, “Where’s my angel?” (BTS 0:15). This song deals with the isolation that often accompanies melancholy. This song demonstrates, however, that while these feelings are valid and you should nurture yourself when you feel isolated, you are never alone. The song is a reminder that there are others who feel similar and who care about you. “Dis-ease” is, unlike the previous songs, deceptively upbeat. The groovy, hip-hop song innately engenders dancing while discussing the complexities of “uncomfortable happiness” (BTS 0:16). Here they acknowledge that sometimes the very thing that makes you happy can be exhausting and taxing. The song also asserts that while we may seem like we are happy to other people, sometimes we are hiding behind our outward performance of happiness. It also examines the complexities of feeling down even when society deems that we should be content. Overall, the song proves that our emotions are always valid. Without invalidating any emotions, the song also, due to the intoxicating beat, proves that there are happier days ahead. 

While BTS’s “Dynamite” did attract much commercial and critical success for the band, initially it does not seem to fit into the album BE. In an album that promotes self-love and acceptance, their first song all in English feels oddly out of place. The album feels as if it should naturally come to a conclusion after the seventh song on the album, “Stay.” However, “Dynamite” ends the album with a complete shift in tone from the previous seven songs. It is also the only song on the album in which the members did not participate in the writing process. You don’t have to read the names listed after the lyrics to feel the change in tone and mood. In an album that praises self-love and acceptance, “Dynamite” feels like a performance. However, watching the music video that accompanies the song makes you realize that, while BTS did not actually write the music, it did not stop them from bringing their own personal and unique talents to the song’s final conception. “Dynamite,” becomes a fun reminder that there are many different forms of self-love. While acknowledging your hardships, vulnerabilities, and self-doubts are an important part of learning how to love you for who you are, dancing around to a catchy summer beat that makes you feel good and forget your worries is another valid form of self-love and self-care. BTS, therefore, demonstrates through “Dynamite” that it’s okay to relax and generate your own joy in whatever form that may take. 

The most poignant demonstration of self-love in this album, however, is in the skit. The skit acts as the emotional fulcrum for the album. It ties together the mood change from the first three songs to the last four songs. The skit ends with RM asking in Korean, “Is this not what happiness is?” (BTS 2:55). While the skit itself is a recording of all seven members discussing the news that they are the number one artist in the Billboard Top 100, the listener does not get the feeling that the “happiness” RM is referring to here is their award. Rather, the album and the skit assert the opposite. While it’s incredibly thrilling to be awarded for your hard work, the album recognizes that work, even the work you love enough to, as Suga says in the skit, devote the rest of your life to, often can produce negative emotions regarding your self-worth. The album rather asserts that true happiness comes not with commercial success, but doing what you love with the people you love. 

- Laura Creekmore 
Louisiana State University

Podcast Review

We Can Do Hard Things The Podcast (2021)
by Glennon Doyle

We Can Do Hard Things the Podcast with Glennon Doyle debuted in May 2021 and is a masterclass on self-love. The podcast created by Doyle is a follow-up on plans laid in her memoir Untamed (2020). Untamed inspired people to find their inner “cheetahs,” and its release created a moment of inspiration in a rather dark year. Doyle began a movement with Untamed, and her podcast feels like a natural follow-up. If Untamed peeled back the curtains of Doyle’s life, her podcast completely rips the curtains from the wall. Doyle and her co-host/sister Amanda Doyle do not hold anything back, and the result is powerful yet relatable. Each episode is centered around facing hard things, a mantra from Doyle’s Untamed. Topics covered range from anxiety, sex, addiction, and more. While the topics vary, each episode seems to be woven together with the common theme of self-love creating a season of episodes that feel cohesive. While Doyle’s talent as a writer goes without saying, the podcast highlights her innate ability to connect with people. Each week Doyle and her sister create a welcoming environment with their unwavering honesty. They share their struggles, battles, and fears with their listeners and the result is a podcast that feels much more like a conversation among friends.

While the disarming style of the podcast is refreshing to listeners, its structure is rather familiar. Each podcast opens with an introduction from Doyle, followed by a segment where Doyle and her sister (or any guest) speak, then the show ends with a Q&A portion from listeners. The format eases listeners and creates a familiar environment week after week. If the show has any pitfalls it would be the advertisements. Doyle does her best to weave them into the podcast with her excited take on each one, but they never seem to fit and just seem to take the listener away from the experience. While the format is predictable in a comforting way, the show’s topics are completely unpredictable.

Nothing is off limits; Doyle tackles each topic with raw humility. Doyle and her sister choose to share instead of preach resulting in a podcast that feels like a weekly talk with friends. Like any good friendship, some weeks the conversation is light like in the episode “Fun: What the hell is it and why do we need it?” which dives into the complicated relationship many women have with fun. Other weeks the tone is heavy, yet necessary like “Queer Freedom: How can we be both held and free?” which features Doyle’s wife Abby Wambach who shares the lasting impact growing up queer in a religious family had on her. Of course, the best talks seem to do both like “Silent Sex Queen: Why aren’t we talking about sex more?” which has both hilarious and deep discussions about sex. These talks no matter how personal still feel inclusive.

Doyle and her sister manage to include the audience each week through the Q&A section at the end of each podcast. As each episode ends, Doyle challenges her listeners to do a “hard thing.” The hard thing portion of the podcast shows the connection Doyle has with her audience. Each hard thing is carefully selected and each episode leaves the listener feeling rejuvenated enough to tackle said hard thing. Perhaps what feels most inclusive about the podcast is Doyle’s genuine care for her audience. Doyle is wholeheartedly invested in the well-being of her audience and their relationships with their own selves. She tailors each episode to fit audience needs and she replies to her questions passionately. One season in and Doyle has created not just a podcast but a community. 

​Doyle’s podcast might have been inspired by Untamed but the podcast is for all listeners; Untamed is not a necessary precursor to listening. Doyle’s podcast is entertaining and engaging on its own, but its legacy might lie in the communal acceptance it creates for listeners. Each week Doyle reminds listeners of the power of words, especially hearing one’s deepest insecurities verbalized by others. Doyle’s openness and her sister’s thoughtfulness together give listeners a safe place to unpack struggles that are often made to feel too shameful to admit. The podcast gives listeners a sense of peace with the knowledge they are not alone in their struggles. Doyle does not have an answer for every hard thing she presents, but she gives listeners something much more important. We Can Do Hard Things The Podcast with Glennon Doyle is a true masterpiece in introspection giving listeners a chance to practice the truest form of self-love—self-acceptance.

-Autumn Andersen
California State University, Stanislaus

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