I See Reality is a collection of 12 short stories about real life. These heart-pounding stories ask hard questions about a range of topics from sexuality and addiction to violence and immigration.
Rating for each of the stories (with potential spoilers):
Three Imaginary Conversations With You by Heather Demetrios — 4/5 stars
This follows Jessa’s imaginary conversations trying to break up with her abusive boyfriend.
“I’ll open my mouth, but the words won’t come. Despite everything, I won’t want to break your heart. And I won’t want you to break mine. I just want us to … drift away from each other. I’ll wish there didn’t have to be words. Or that you, for once, could be the one who has to say the hard thing.”
This was a really hard read for me. Both emotional and physical abuse are topics that I find really difficult to read about. And Heather Demetrios definitely made me feel a lot while reading this short story. I felt both pain and pride and sorrow while reading from Jessa’s point of view— and I’m really glad with that ending.
A truly strong start that stayed with me till the end of the collection.
The Downside of Fabulous by Kristin Elizabeth Clark— 2.5/5 stars
We start out in Mr. Megars’ class, where Chris confides to the reader that he has a crush on Tom Waters. And Liz (his best friend and confidant) doesn’t believe him when he comes out to her.
To say that Liz really, really bothered me would be an understatement.
“What am I doing here, trying to assert my … gaytivity? And who the hell does Liz think she is to question me? I wrap the cord around my controller and slam it down on the TV stand.
“I wanted you to know this thing.” I raise my voice. “This one really important thing about me. I didn’t realize I’d have to pass the gay SAT to get your tiny mind to accept it!”
And since this story focused a lot more, in my opinion, on Liz rather than developing Tom and Chris— I ended up feeling underwhelmed.
I didn’t care for what Liz thought he should do to get Tom to notice him. And, frankly, she can stick her opinions and unasked advice up her ass.
Everything just went downhill after that, which really disappointed me.
The Night of the Living Creeper by Stephen Emond— 3/5 stars
The opening paragraph to this one was fantastic:
“A warning to you, dear reader, this is a terrifying tale, a scary story, a haunting hullaballoo. Should you frighten easily, please turn back now. But for those who can’t deny their curiosity, what’s so grave that you should shut this book and place it on the shelf, you ask? Why, it’s a story about a creeper, of course.”
This tale is told from the point of view of a cat named Skittles, who’s observing her dorky, innocent human. For the purpose of this story she calls her Fairy.
The haunting ghostly creeper tale begins when Fairy and her friends decide to play an odd little game involving questions and answers, inappropriateness and giggles.
The conversations they had with one another tried to answer really important questions, but it felt a bit preachy and nonsensical. I didn’t feel like I was listening in on a real (and crucial) conversation, rather more like the author found a convenient way to drop information on sexuality and creepers.
But it did include illustrations, which always cheers me up.
Makeshift by Kekla Magoon— 3.5/5 stars
“I still can’t believe any of this is happening. It doesn’t feel real.”
This tale opens with Kayse and her mother who have just moved into their new apartment in Harlem, New York. And the topic of domestic abuse was touched upon in a very resonating way.
“It’s temporary, I remind myself. We’ll only be here a little while. He’s going to have to pay her alimony, eventually. Or child support. He has to, right? They were married my whole life. He’s my dad, for Christ’s sake.”
I do wish that this story would have been longer, but other than that Makeshift really harrowed me.
“It’s only temporary. The bruise. The fear. The dent in our force field. The world outside doesn’t matter. Tomorrow doesn’t matter. Mom is here, and that’s more than nothing. For tonight it’s just the two of us, inside this wrapping paper bubble.”
Things You Get Over, Things You Don’t by Jason Schmidt— 3/5 stars
This follows the aftermaths of a school shooting. The events that were described felt a bit rushed, so I couldn’t fully understand what was happening until it happened. But I definitely had to take a breather after this one.
Coffee Chameleon by Jay Clark— no rating
This started out from the point of view of an addict. But it didn’t pull me in at all.
Hush by Marcella Pixley— no rating
Hush kind of creeped me out, so I gave up with only a few pages left. Also, the fact that I had no idea where it was going didn’t really help.
Blackbird by Trisha Leaver— 2/5 stars
Lilly is part of the tech crew for her upcoming high school musical.
“I knew every word to the song Rachel was belting out, could hit every note, transition seamlessly between breaks. Two years ago, that would’ve been me out there, anchoring the chorus. Two years and four schools back, that was me.”
But ever since her brother intentionally killed a girl, she’s been hiding in the shadows.
“I’d learned that trick a long time ago. Keep people out, make it clear you have no interest in talking to them, and they will leave you alone. Blissfully, agonizingly alone.”
Blackbird started out interesting enough, but I really, really didn’t appreciate the girl-hating in this one.
And it also had some insta-love, but at that point I didn’t even have high enough expectations to care.
Gone From This Place by Faith Erin Hicks— 3.5/5 stars
Faith Erin Hicks is one of the reasons why I picked up this collection. And it did not disappoint. I loved both the art and writing.
It was a really short story with a sweet ending.
The Sweeter the Sin by Jordan Sonnenblick— 3/5 stars
We follow David’s love-hate relationship with Elizabeth from freshman to senior year. To be frank, I wasn’t expecting to like it, but The Sweeter the Sin was a quick and compelling read. (Even if I didn’t really understand what was happening towards the end.)
The Mistake by James Preller— 3/5 stars
The Mistake follows Angela’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. The tale is told from both Angel’s point of view and of her boyfriend’s, Malcolm.
The premise of this story really had me from the beginning, but unfortunately the writing wasn’t really to my liking. It felt like it was trying too hard to be poetic. There were also random poems thrown in that I didn’t really care for.
“Then you appeared, then you appeared …
I wasn’t unhappy
Wasn’t happy neither
Aimless you know
A sail in any old wind”
But I really liked Angela and would’ve loved to have gotten more from her point of view.
“Oh Mal, can’t you see? I am the poem.
I am strong, and brave, and beautiful. And though my bones feel heavy, and my heart aches, I will be the one who writes the next verse.
I am the one who decides.”
The Good Brother by Patrick Flores-Scott— 3.5/5 stars
This story describes the process of immigration and its unfairness towards two brothers.
“José, you crossed four days too late to be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”
And when the hearing doesn’t go in José’s favor, his twin brother Javier (who took his place in court) gets deported to Mexico.
“You got blinders on, Jos.
I know that’s what it takes to succeed in this country. Narrow your vision so you don’t see the shitty mess this place is. So you can believe in right and wrong … good and bad. Justice. And you can chase the fantasy. I’m sure that can actually work, Jos … if you got papers and parents who got papers.”
This story, in its short amount of pages, really punctured me. I have to know more about what will happen next for José and his family.
To sum up, some stories really resonated with me and some didn’t— but that’s why I love reading anthologies. And I See Reality was no exception.