07/14/16

Thoughts on GIRL IN PIECES by Kathleen Glasgow

girl in pieces
I read a lot. (That’s a fairly well-known fact, especially if you check my Goodreads profile and see how many books I read in a year.) I read many different genres–fantasy, contemporary, dystopian, science fiction, literary, even some memoirs and non-fiction. I read pretty much everything.

But there’s this certain kind of book that I’ve always gravitated towards.

The “sad” books. The “hard” books. The books that push us to read about pain and grief and suffering and healing–the kind of books that make us sit in un-comfortability and force us to feel. The books about addiction, about screwing up, about depression, about self-harm, about abuse.

The thing about books like these is that they aren’t fantasy. They aren’t made up. Sure, the characters may be, but that plot? That idea? That topic? That’s not made up. That’s real. That pain? Real.

Growing up, I’ve been blessed to not live through that kind of pain, but I’ve always read books about it. These books made me realize that everyone has their own kind of pain, their own demons, their own daily struggle. Whether it be a parent’s divorce, a guilt that you can’t shake, a friend who you’ve been trying to let go of for years and just can’t. These books made me realize that all of our pain is valid and real and that we’re not alone.

Girl in Pieces reminded me of all of this. It reminded me of why I fell in love with Jellicoe Road six years ago, why Wild Awake still gets me thinking, why What We Saw made me understand in a different way. It reminded me why we all read–we read to understand. We read to understand people’s lives, to understand our own, to get a telescope into a new dimension we ourselves don’t experience. We read to feel. To feel deeply and fully and without questions.

And these books? These “hard” books, the books that break us apart and leave us in a puddle of tears, begging the characters to heal, and aching to know what their lives become? These books are vital. These books change people’s lives. These are the kinds of books we have to read. These are the books we should give every teenager to remind them that they aren’t alone, that there are hundreds of people out there just like them. That they can heal.

Charlotte Davis is a girl with a past. A past filled with a father in a river, a mother with a palm on Charlotte’s cheek, a best friend who doesn’t want to feel anymore. A past with a home under an overpass, a past with glass shards and skin, a past with Frank who takes so much and gives nothing in return. Charlotte is, in many ways, broken. She’s what people would call broken, a girl who will never heal. Except Charlotte wants to heal. She wants to get better.

And Girl in Pieces is her story. Her story of pain and relapses and trying to get better and having all the wrong people in her life, but maybe a few good ones. Her story of drawing and washing dishes and getting her first apartment and stumbling through her life, searching for a new story.

Girl in Pieces is a book I don’t think I’ll ever forget, because it made me remember that we’re never alone. Not really. We may feel like we’re the only ones in the darkness, stumbling around for a light, but there’s always someone there, standing next to the switch, just waiting for us to ask them to turn it on. It made me remember that we all have our own Mikey, Blue, Linus, and Tanner. Our own Alice. Our own Casper. Our own Evan, our own Ellis.

Kathleen Glasgow has written a book that feels. It understands what it’s like to be human, to suffer, to want to heal, to struggle to keep it together. It understands what it’s like to start over, to find new friends, to find the good in people. It is real.

Girl in Pieces is a song I never wanted to end.

07/10/16

Applying to College – Part Three: Pre-application prep

collegeapp3

This is part two of my “Applying to College” series! I hope that these help some of you in your college search and process. If you missed part one or two of this series, check them out here: my experience applying to college and finding the right school.

Note: I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form. My advice may not get you into your dream college – it’s just what worked for me!

test scores

There are two main college entrance tests in the US: the SAT and the ACT. To apply to most colleges, you have to take one or the other, or some combination. I took both, but only ended up using my ACT scores, because they were better than my SAT.

My recommendation: look at the schools you’re applying to. Some schools require SAT Subject Tests along with an SAT score, while some require only an SAT and an ACT. Some require an ACT with Writing. Some will let you sub the SAT Subject Tests for ACT with Writing. It’s all confusing and different, but look and see what you’ll need to apply. And then prepare for those.

If possible, get all of your standardized tests out of the way in your junior year. Senior year is beyond busy with college applications, school, and life in general, and the last thing you want to do is study for the SAT/ACT. So, get those study books and go after it.

On re-takes: From what I’ve learned, taking the tests more than two times isn’t worth it. Statistically, on the third try you’ll in fact do worse than on your first and second tries. My scores, for example, went down between my first and second try.

On tutors: I had an SAT tutor through my school, and they taught me so many things about how to take the tests. If your family can afford it, I’d definitely recommend getting a tutor to help you through the process. Otherwise, get some study books and force yourself to study on your own. You got this!

AP tests

Another common thing people think about pre-college is Advanced Placement testing. I took eight AP classes in high school (ouch), and I don’t regret taking them.

Personally, I get no “credit” at Barnard for any of my APs. I can place out of an entry-level class in government, but that’s it – I don’t get credit for that class. (Every college is different on what credits they’ll take, so it’s definitely something to look into.) So, even though I don’t get a lot of credits for my APs, I’m still happy I took the classes. Why? Because they challenged me. I had to work harder, study more, become a better writer and a better student.

If you can take APs, I would highly recommend you do. They’re worth it, even if you don’t take the AP tests (which are optional!) I didn’t report my AP scores to any of my colleges, and instead told them I’d taken the classes and the grades I got. So don’t stress yourself out on the AP Tests and beat yourself up if you don’t get all 5s. Colleges will still take you.

recommendations

A big element of college applications is your recommendation letters. This is another element that is different at each school, so look into what your schools require ahead of time. Some require two core teachers, some don’t care, some want one math, one science, one humanities. When selecting your teachers, I strongly suggest picking teachers who know you in some way, if possible. I chose teachers who had led clubs I was involved in and knew me in and out of the classroom. If that’s not an option for you, pick teachers who you feel can talk about all the amazing qualities you have–not just the teachers in the hardest subjects that will “look the best.”

Give your teachers about two months do your letters – I asked my teachers in the beginning of September to write me letters for a November 1st deadline. Send them a resume so they know a bit more about you, and then send them a thank you note for writing you a recommendation. These things take time and imagine how many letters your teachers have to write. A lot.

 save some money

This sounds weird, but if you can, save some money for applications. It gets expensive fast and having some cash to pay for application fees, sending your SAT/ACT scores to colleges, etc. is a really great cushion to have.

07/6/16

Applying to College – Part Two: What’s the right school for you?

collegeapp2

This is part two of my “Applying to College” series! I hope that these help some of you in your college search and process. If you missed part one of this series, check it out here: my experience applying to college.

Note: I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form. My advice may not get you into your dream college – it’s just what worked for me!

defining “the right school”

No person’s college choices are going to be completely the same. Every person has different interests, priorities, comfortabilities, and goals that will influence the kinds of schools they pick. This means every person has their own “right school.”

So, what is a “right school?”

A “right school” is a school that when you visit, you can see yourself walking the campus, hanging out with friends, studying in nooks and crannies. It’s a school that gets you excited. It’s a school that fits YOUR wishlist. A “right school” is, essentially, the school that is “perfect” for you.

One thing I really want to emphasize is that everyone’s wishlist and “right school” is different. I want to encourage people to not apply to schools just because all of your friends are – I did this and regretted it because I didn’t actually want to go there. Instead of picking schools based on what other people want, find the schools that appeal to you.

how to find your “right school”

There’s no easy answer to this, but the basis of it is a lot of research. I talked about in my experience post how much time I spent researching schools, and I’m so thankful I did. It’s incredibly important to know your options, to know how many schools are out there. There are hundreds and thousands of schools in the world to choose from, each with unique programs and advantages.

One of my favorite places to research schools was using The College Board‘s search tool. It’s fantastic – you can refine your search based on location, your test scores, the size of the school, etc etc. Then, add them to your list and keep going back and looking through your choices and adding more.

the importance of a wishlist

Most college search engines require refining the terms. You have to choose where the school is, for example. So, before you go onto these search engines, sit down with a notepad and think about the following questions – and don’t think about money:

  • Where do I want to go to school? (City, state, part of the country, out of the country?)
  • How far do I want to be away from home? (think about driving/flying time!)
  • Do I want a co-ed school? Or a single gender school?
  • What kind of location do I want – city or more rural, or somewhere in between?
    • If in the city, do I want a formal campus or an “immersed” campus? (ex of immersed: NYU, George Washington University)
  • How big do I want the student body to be? Small, medium, or large? (Small = <2,000, Medium = 2,000-15,000, Large = >15,000) Most state colleges are in the Medium to Large category.
  • Do I want a private or a public college?
  • Do I want a religiously-affiliated school?
  • Is there a particular program I’m interested in doing in college that needs to be at my school? (Ex: Engineering = a good engineering program is a must.)
  • Are there any preferences about student body I want?
    • Ex: ratio of male to female students, percent minority, etc

Those are just some examples, but a lot of things will probably arise as you develop a list! Another thing I really suggest everyone look into when they are looking at a school is how many of the students commute. If you’re living full-time at a school and most of the student body leaves for the weekend, then that may make acclimating to a school harder.

After you make a wishlist and look at schools you’re interested, I really suggest visiting a couple of your schools if you can.

college visits

I think one important thing to know about visiting colleges is that you don’t have to visit ALL of your schools. I think a lot of people have a tendency to do this, when it’s not necessarily the best use of their time. Before applying, I recommend looking at where a lot of the schools you’re considering are

If you’re applying to mainly out of state schools, I recommend looking at where a lot of the schools you’re considering are located and seeing if you can make a trip and hit three of them in one go. Visiting a school can definitely make a huge difference in whether or not you apply, but it also isn’t the be all end all. If your family can’t swing visiting schools away from home, check out some colleges that are just a road trip away! Go to a variety of sizes, locations, and types if you can. Even if they aren’t the schools you’re planning to apply to, it can give you an idea of the kind of school that you feel most comfortable in.

If you’re applying to schools in-state for the most part, take advantage of that if possible. Go on a road trip with your family and visit some schools! While you’re driving note how long it takes to get from place to place – this may make a difference later in the process.

When making college visits, here are some tips I have for you:

  • Go to the school’s website and register for a tour! This is a great time to ask questions and see the campus.
  • Do some research on the school before you show up and have a couple of questions prepared to ask your tour guides.
  • Ask to go to places you’re interested in visiting! (My request = the library.)
  • Check out the area around campus. See what there is to do, how you can get around, etc.

compare

When it comes down to refining your list, compare your schools. Think about what you like in one school and what other ones have that opportunity. Get the best list you can and love all your choices!


Next up in this series:

  • Pre-application preparation
  • Applying
  • Results
  • Making a decision

If you have any questions about my process or anything along the way, feel free to comment down below, send me an email (willasramblings@gmail.com), or a tweet (@WillasRamblings) and I’ll be happy to reply.

07/1/16

Applying to College Series – Part One: My Experience

collegeapp1

As most of you may (or may not) know, I’m heading off to college at the end of August. I’ll be packing up and flying to New York City, where I’ll be a freshman at my dream school, Barnard College in Manhattan. Since I’m at the end of the college application process, I wanted to share everything I’ve learned from the past almost three years of work that has brought me here by doing a six part series on applying to college.

Note: I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form. My advice may not get you into your dream college – it’s just what worked for me!

Today, I’m starting off with what my experience was, and what my background was going into this process.

meet willa: the dreamer and planner since birth

I’ve been dreaming of college since I knew what it was. So, this means that I’ve been thinking about where I want to go since I was just as young. I looked back at my application to my middle/high school the other day, and in my letter, I wrote about how I wanted to go to Columbia…and now I’m going! But, this also means that I put a lot of thought and planning into my college application process. Looking back, I think it was the reason I was so successful in my application process.

I went to a public all-girls school for 6-12th grade, and my school focused heavily on college preparation. I was blessed to go on college visits from the time I was eleven until I was seventeen, touring various campuses all across Texas and Louisiana. I also had a college counselor and a scholarship coordinator in addition to my regular counselor, so I had tons of support and guidance throughout this process. And I was so, so, so lucky to have them. I’m going to share some of the tips they shared with me throughout this series as well!

Both of my parents went to college, and I have an older brother who is also in college right now. This means that in my family, it was never really a question of whether or not I’d go to college (if I wanted to, of course). It also means that I have parents who have a background in the process, even though it’s incredibly different now than it was when they applied.

I had tons of support in my journey. But I think that success in college applications are about more than who you have cheering for you – it’s about you and the kind of work you put in.

building my wishlist

My idea of the kind of college I wanted to go to has evolved so much over the past eight years. For a long time I was completely against going to an all-women’s college. I wanted to go to a giant school. I wanted that “college experience” that you see in movies – of big schools, football games, the whole nine yards. But, there are a few things that didn’t change when it came to my wishlist: a big city – particularly NYC, and out-of-state.

When I hit high school, I started really narrowing down my wishlist. At the time, NYU was my number one school. The idea of being so in the city was so appealing to me, and I thought that it would be an incredible place for me. By this time, I’d completely thrown small towns out of the question, after multiple visits to small-town Texas schools. I also decided I didn’t really want to go to UT. (My reason: I HATE THE COLOR BRICK THEY USED FOR THE ENTIRE. SCHOOL.)

When I was a sophomore, a girl I swam with at my school freshman year was starting her freshman year at Barnard. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the school, and the more I talked to her about it, the more I thought it may be a good fit for me. So, the summer after my sophomore year, I went on a life-changing trip to Barnard, where I did a week-long summer intensive. I took a class in Modernism in New York City, I lived in a dorm (I had a horrible corner dorm), I had a roommate, I used communal showers (they’re not that bad, I swear), and I ate cafeteria food. I had my class in Milbank Hall every day, and I spent my afternoons doing my homework in Butler Library on Columbia’s campus, or on Barnard’s lawn, or in my dorm room. I went shopping in the city with my roommate and got milkshakes and cheesy fries at ten at night from the Seinfeld diner. It was heaven.

I came away from that week sure that Barnard was the place for me. Gone was NYU and the idea that I wanted an “immersed” campus (my term). I decided a big school was not for me, so out went state schools. I decided I could do an all-women’s campus, but it had to be in a big city. I also decided that a liberal arts education was a priority to me.

And that became my wishlist (plus some other things):

  • in a big city
  • small campus
  • liberal arts-focused
  • small to medium student body
  • coed or all-women’s
  • strong study abroad program
  • small student to faculty ratio
  • academically stimulating

picking my schools

I applied to nine schools. I had one in-state safety, and the rest of my schools were out-of-state. I applied to seven colleges on the east coast, one on the west coast. My in-state school was that only one that was public.

It turned out that my wishlist really narrowed down my choices. Fun fact: most liberal arts colleges are not in big cities. So, rather than googling “liberal arts colleges,” I went city by city. I thought about where I’d love to live: NYC, DC, Boston, Philadephia, and I went city by city, finding liberal arts colleges nestled in the city, or a very short train ride away. I was diligent, and I only put schools on my list I could see myself at – schools that got me excited. Once I had a list of about fifteen schools, I took this list into a meeting with my college counselor, who basically told me, “great list.” He took a few off the list and added two. (I later took one of them off.)

From there, I whittled it down even more. I knew I didn’t want to apply to more than ten schools, so I was brutal. I narrowed it down to the following list:

  • Barnard College
  • Boston College
  • DePaul University
  • George Washington University
  • Lewis & Clark College
  • Northeastern University (my top choice for the fall semester of senior year)
  • Simmons College
  • Wellesley College
  • University of North Texas

applying

I slaved over my applications. I picked the teachers I wanted to write me recommendations, and I brainstormed my essays for hours. I wrote, rewrote, and cried a bit over my personal statement. (Seriously – I rewrote that thing an upwards of twelve times.) All of my schools except for two had multiple supplemental essays, so I knocked those out one-by-one and edited them for hours.

I applied to every one of my schools Early Action except for Wellesley, Barnard, and GW. This meant my applications were sent off by November 1st. Those other three were done by January 1st.

Then I waited.

results

I heard back from all of my EA schools in December, which is both frightening and fantastic. I got my first acceptances that month and I was so, so excited. I got into Simmons, DePaul, UNT and Lewis & Clark, and I got waitlisted at Northeastern and Boston College, which broke me a bit. Waitlisting = you get rolled over into Regular Decision and are considered again.

So I wrote Letters of Intent to Northeastern and Boston College, got another letter of recommendation from someone outside of school, and sent those off in February for Regular Decision consideration.

Regular Decision came out in March during my Spring Break and right after. It was tumultuous and crazy and a whirlwind of emotions. It was two weeks where I was constantly refreshing my email and drove home every day praying I had an acceptance letter in my mailbox (two of my schools notified by snail mail).

I was incredibly, incredibly lucky with my decisions. I didn’t think I would get into Barnard, Wellesley, or GW, and Northeastern was a maybe. But, somehow, I got into every one of my schools, including my Waitlist schools, which actually made my choice so much harder. I think this is mainly because the schools I picked were mostly not reaches for me – in fact, about half of my schools were safeties, and the rest were possibles. I was really realistic with my strengths and weaknesses when it came to picking my schools, and knew that I was not going to get into “Ivy League” schools, so I didn’t apply.

deciding

This was one of the easier parts of the process for me. I looked back at my list and scratched any school that didn’t give me enough financial aid (which was a huge part of my decision), or a school my heart wasn’t 100% in. That left Barnard and Wellesley, and from there, it was just a choice of NYC or Wellesley, MA?

And that was easy.

Barnard all the way. <3


So that’s my application story! I have five more parts to this series that will be coming out over the next two-ish weeks covering different parts of the process:

  • What’s the right school for you?
  • Pre-application preparation
  • Applying
  • Results
  • Making a decision

If you have any questions about my process or anything along the way, feel free to comment down below, send me an email (willasramblings@gmail.com), or a tweet (@WillasRamblings) and I’ll be happy to reply.

06/27/16

Londons, Magic, and Coats | The Shades of Magic Series

shades of magic banner

Not too long ago, I gave into my long time desire to read A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Schwab writes both adult and YA (under the name Victoria Schwab for YA), and I’d heard nothing but incredible things about her work. I was in the mood for a fantasy, and while I was at BookPeople browsing I stumbled across ADSOM on the shelves…and totally caved. A few weeks later, I dove into the book and barely came up for air. I was immediately pulled into the story and fell head over heels in love.

Novel: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab | Goodreads
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

Things I loved about ADSOM in a bullet-pointed list, because otherwise I’ll get too rambly:

  • The world building. Like holy WOW
  • Kell, aka smug and hilarious and caring and loyal
  • Lila, aka my dream BFF because she’s so kick-butt she gives Feyre (A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas) a run for her money
  • Sassy Rhy who I would like to meet Rhys of A Court of Thorns and Roses please
  • Evil Holland + the twins
  • Kell fancy-schmancy coat that I would like to borrow please and thank you
  • The magic that Schwab wrote about with incredible finesse. I was continually in shocked by how detailed the magic was, since commonly in fantasy the magic is discussed in this very conceptual way. Schwab, though, describes her magic like it’s tangible and real – making the world building even better.
  • All those Londons that are creepy but cool
  • The plot constantly kept me on my toes!
  • Started slow but got so fast-paced mid-way through (aka my favorite pacing)
  • that slow-burn romance though

Things I wish were different:

  • nothing
  • (possibly longer because I didn’t want it to end)

Conclusions:

  • GIMME GIMME GIMME MORE

So I naturally went out and bought A Gathering of Shadows about two weeks later, because my soul had to recover before I could put it through book two. And oh my word it somehow got better ???

Novel: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab | Goodreads
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 23rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift – back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Things I loved about AGOS:

  • it was set almost entirely in Red London! (I love me some Red London)
  • Lila got her boat! Lila was a pirate! Lila got even more kick-butt! Lila also made many questionable choices! Lila made me very anxious but I survived!
  • Kell got a little bit angsty and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also, coat got more intense and I cried a little bit.
  • Rhy got more time and omg I love him
  • Alucard!!!!!!!!!!! aka a pirate turned totally amazing magician who I’m in love with as well
  • (basically I love everyone????)
  • THERE ARE MAGICAL GAMES
  • lots of fun new magic is discussed and it somehow got more vivid and beautiful?
  • my ship sailed and I died a bit inside
  • Victoria Schwab joined my top 10 authors list after two books which is a feat in of itself
  • that cliffhanger split my soul into seven pieces and the Horcruxes are on different pages of the book

Things I wish were different:

  • I missed all of my Londons 🙁

In conclusion, I’m in love with this series and my heart will not be whole again until A Conjuring of Light comes out nExT yEaR and between now and then I will be eating my feels and crying in bed.

V.E. Schwab, I blame you.

((Also who else wants a book with Rhys + Feyre + Lila + Kell because I’m so up for this.))