Book Review – ‘Freakboy’ by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

A queer book in prose!

Freakboy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Poetry, Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 448

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From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In Freakboy’s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

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Freakboy’ kinda didn’t go anywhere – but that matches the aesthetic of some forms of poetry, or a story told in verse, they are about a moment, a feeling, not a story.

Some of the formatting of the pages was interesting. Like stanzas posing a question forming a question mark on the page. Or the shape of a bowling pin when the character is at the bowling alley.

I’m not a big poetry reader. I usually avoid it. But this kind of poetry was okay to read. Though I did stall at the beginning of the novel a number of times, and even stopped around the 80 page mark to read another 2 books before picking it back up again. I think it took a bit for my brain to kick into gear with this style of writing to follow the three different perspectives and grasp the narrative.

We don’t get much character development – it’s more of a snippet in time. We follow Brendan as he starts to explore his gender identity; Vanessa – the least interesting character – just struggling to hold on the Brendan as he pulls away; and Angel, a transgender female at the Youth Centre who reaches out to help Brendan… and has many flashbacks of her past. And that’s it. It doesn’t really go anywhere.

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This also reads as a book written by a cis gendered person. Like they are using it to educate other cis gendered people. Which is not a bad thing. It’s executed pretty well and I’m all for representation in literature. But there is a big difference when it comes to the soul and tone of the novel in relation to its authenticity. Own voices novel are much more nuanced, and the characters are about much more than just their gender identity. To further is argument the author mixes up gender identity with sexual identity, and uses the incorrect pronouns throughout given that it is told in past tense and should reflect the protagonist’s genuine gender expression. Big, obvious things like that would have been second nature to an own voices author and avoided in the narrative. But everything is a learning curve, and who knows it may be intentional to reach a larger cis gendered audience.

The prose does feel denser than regular contemporary fiction – as with most poetry – and rich with symbolism. ‘Freakboy’ may look like a long book on the outside, but this is poetry, there are less words to a page, more space to shape the stanzas on the blank surfaces, so it will feel like you’re flying through the novel if you’re not stopping to ponder and resonate with the words too often.

It’s a good book to read in that it is accessible. You don’t have to be a big lover of poetry to understand ‘Freakboy.’ It is simple in its themes and message. It represents a marginalized community beautifully. So while I have strong opinions about some of the content, ‘Freakboy’ is breaking through some walls and giving a voice to people who previously had little to no representation. I guess this is a tentative recommendation from me. I value the message, the representation, but don’t quite gel with the delivery.

Overall feeling: Torn between two worlds

Freakboy Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Freakboy Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Highway Bodies’ by Alison Evans

A zombie apocalypse Aussie style!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, LGBT

No. of pages: 376

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Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

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Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.

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Once I got into ‘Highway Bodies’ I could not put this book down – I stayed up until 3am to finish it, and every tap, scratch, and spook noise from outside my widow and I’d freeze like I was living in a zombie apocalypse too. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia for over 7 years, it was great to recognise many of the landmarks referenced in this novel. And it was additionally a breath of fresh air to read a story where cis, straight-gendered people were the minority. ‘Highway Bodies’ has a lot going for it.

Told in three alternating perspectives from differing groups of teenagers as they witness the initiation of a viral outbreak from a meat processing plant, turning the population into flesh eating zombies. One of the narratives in particular is expressed in dialect slang – which is jarring at first – I didn’t like it so much, but then as the novel progresses and you get used to it, it really shines through and separates this perspective or Eve from the other two. Eve is transgender and flees from his home after his father turns and attacks Eve’s mother and brother. There is a lot of gore in ‘Highway Bodies’ think ‘The Walking Dead’ starring a diverse group of teens.

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleDee leads the second narrative, a member of a rock band renting a house in the countryside while they practice and write new songs. Dee identifies as bisexual and we see many expression of genders and sexuality in her bandmates and throughout the novel. After the power cuts off and they cannot access the internet or get cell service they venture into town to find bodies everywhere, the whole town slaughtered. It doesn’t take them too long to run into their first zombie.

JoJo is our final non-binary protagonist, one of a pair of fraternal twins from a previously abusive home. Their mother is a nurse and after she returns to work and does not return home, JoJo and sister Rhea sneak to the hospital to investigate. Finding their mother, turned, and amongst a horde of caged zombies from a military presence.

After that things really to go hell in a fight for survival: from the zombies, the elements, and other survivors.

It took me a bit to click to what was going on with the switching of narratives in the beginning, it’s not until 50 pages in that you get a sense of the rhythm of ‘Highway Bodies’ and after that the pace and tension keep increasing right up until the end. I enjoyed Alison Evans writing style much more in this novel than I did in her debut ‘Ida.’ ‘Highway Bodies’ has a gruesome realism befitting the dystopian landscape. I found myself invested and caring about these teens plight. The conclusion is a bit of a one-two punch, but satisfying.

The three things holding me back from awarding a perfect score for this novel were the fact I didn’t know what was going on initially with the switching of perspectives. Maybe some chapter titles to let the reader know whose story we were following would have been helpful. The other was the affirmation of gender pronouns to be used when characters were introducing themselves to each other. I get the practicality of it, but in the setting the dialogue did not feel natural and true to the characters… but it is only my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a more intimate setting, or a correction to make this scene feel more authentic. And finally, though there is romance in ‘Highway Bodies’ it wasn’t given enough time to develop to a point for me to really get into the couplings. They were cute and I was rooting for them, but it missed some angst or something.

I have to applaud the representation in ‘Highway Bodies’ it helps raise awareness and give a voice to minority groups. I’m enjoy experiencing a world through the eyes of someone other than a straight white cis-gendered protagonist.

I liken this to Mindy McGinnis ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ it has the same level of brutality, a survival story – and as such is mostly predictable. You want the protagonists to stay alive and make it to the end of the novel; but the journey there has many unexpected turns. ‘Highway Bodies’ is one of my most favourite zombie apocalypse reads to date. And I can’t recommend this enough.

Just some trigger warnings for younger readers for assault, violence, gore, murder, and you know general zombiness.

Overall feeling: Aussie Awesomeness!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ by Jeff Garvin

Living in the grey.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, LGBT

No. of pages: 335

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The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

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This was a difficult book to read. Not because of its writing style or plot, but because of its content. Bullying is a big thing for me. I don’t like it and it triggers strong reactions in me. I experienced many of the challenges our protagonist Riley faced, and other challenges he faced in this story are completely alien to me. But the bullying and assault thing… I just wanted to grab a taser, jump into the world of ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ and zap all of those horrifically behaved teens. Such a satisfying image in my mind of those bullies twitching on the ground and wetting themselves *rubs my hands together in evil glee* How human beings can treat one another at times is simply unbelievable.

This novel deals with some amazing issues around identity and orientation. Even themes of gender roles. I loved the philosophical discussion that ran throughout the course of the story. At times my head hurt for Riley and the struggles he faces. ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ has a great deal of information for any reader who relates to being in the grey parts of the gender spectrum, or whomever wants to learn more about the concept. It really was an eye opener. But I think that this aspect was part of the story’s drawback. Some of the narrative felt forced or guided by the hand of the author to illustrate an important aspect of being gender fluid. The novel gives full exposure to the gender expression dial, and as such, loses a touch of realism.

As a former high school teacher and someone involved with the LGBTQIA+ community; having spent years at university studying psychology and using those tools in the workplace to help youth, the situations and topics in ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ are invaluable, but at times felt like tools to bring light to a perspective or issue. So it’s got me juxtaposed between applauding Jeff Garvin approaching this subject matter, and wincing at how some parts of the story don’t feel authentic to the narrative.

I also didn’t get that emotional punch I was waiting for towards the end. Something about the conclusion felt somewhat… clinical rather than passionate.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Riley’s arc over discovering who he is and coming out against adversity makes for an interesting read. I especially enjoyed how he made new ride-or-die friends in Solo and Bec. Their trio of friendship really drives this story.

I also appreciated the roles Riley’s parents play, as well as that of Riley’s therapist. They all added support and safety for Riley to begin this journey of self-discovery that we don’t usually get to see in YA. Though I think the trend is starting to change as older opinions fall out of favour to be replaced by inclusive (woke) attitudes.

I can’t say I got any surprises from this read. I predicted the storyline within the first five pages, but the beauty of ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ comes not from a derisive plot, but from the themes and content. It ‘opens up a conversation.’

Jeff has some great wit in the narrative, and I found myself wishing for more. I also was hoping for more angst. Though he can really build the tension like nobody’s business, seriously, I felt my muscles coil up and they did not release until I finished the book. I don’t think I’ve experienced a read quite like this. So top notch in tension with his writing style, but a tad dry; I feel a bit more humour would have livened it up more. But who knows – that may have been intentional to highlight the seriousness of the themes posed in ‘Symptoms of Being Human.’

Definitely something I’d happily recommend, I’m glad to have had the experience.

Overall feeling: I feel like and intellectual now.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Ida’ by Alison Evans

‘Sliding Doors’ meets Blake Crouch’s ‘Dark Matter’ buy YA with diverse characters.

Ida Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 246

From Goodreads:

How do people decide on a path, and find the drive to pursue what they want?

Ida struggles more than other young people to work this out. She can shift between parallel universes, allowing her to follow alternative paths.

One day Ida sees a shadowy, see-through doppelganger of herself on the train. She starts to wonder if she’s actually in control of her ability, and whether there are effects far beyond what she’s considered.

How can she know, anyway, whether one universe is ultimately better than another? And what if the continual shifting causes her to lose what is most important to her, just as she’s discovering what that is, and she can never find her way back?

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The main plotline of ‘Ida’ is extraordinary. I love a good multiverse theory in my science fiction. The biggest drawback, however was the narrative. There are many characters/situations introduced that are not resolved: either in a way that they are meant to be left open, or something to give the story more gravitas. It left me feeling unsatisfied upon completion of the novel.

But what ‘Ida‘ has going for it, apart from its concept, is the diversity of characters and the depiction of the multiple universes – how one small decision can dramatically (or minutely) change your life. It is a great theme, but is never really explored to the fullest extent. I feel like the narrative was a stream of consciousness playing with the concept of the multiverse, but ignored the science and the implications. I really needed something to ground it in the narrative. The constant jumping around into different states did not help either. I was disorientating… which would have been fine if it served a purpose for the story, but ultimately, went nowhere like many of the plot points.

What ‘Ida‘ does is open the mind up to a great many possibilities. Starts a conversation for this universe. Almost like it is the pilot episode of a television series, or the start of anthology. Other versions of yourself with their own motivations, gaining the ability to switch between realities, working against you. Finding a near perfect version of your life. The promise of becoming an agent for a mysterious organisation policing those with the ability to travel time and space… all the seeds are planted, but many fail to get explored other than a cursory mention.

Ida Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The crux of ‘Ida‘ is about her journey to fill the missing void in her life by switching realities, instead of becoming the change she wants to see. That is itself, pretty poetic, but is lost amongst a jumbled narrative. It’s such a shame for a novel with such strong themes, fantastic science fiction concepts, and wonderfully diverse characters (though they need to be explored and developed more) that I didn’t get my wish fulfilment. However, this is Alison Evans first published novel, and given the potential and strength of her ideas, I can imagine amazing stories yet to come with experience.

I absolutely adored that this was set in Melbourne, Australia. A place I like to call home. There really isn’t enough Aussie representation in mainstream YA fiction on the international stage, and I can see Evans becoming a breakout author real soon.

I have already purchased another standalone ‘Highway Bodies‘ – a zombie tale, so we’ll see how that story impact me in a future review soon.

All in all, ‘Ida’ was not a bad debut, but there are so many more novels out there that have executed this concept much better. I’d recommend it for the character study, not as a science fiction novel.

Overall feeling: whaa-whaa

Ida Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Ida Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

#BQ Freakboy Authors Note by Casey Carlisle

Starting on my first novel told completely in verse – it is so totally out of my comfort zone but am glad for the experience so far. This Author’s Note (from ‘Freakboy’) at the beginning grabbed me – with the current debates on glbtqia+ rights, transgender issues at the forefront and the concept of gender being deconstructed in a social setting (and clashing beliefs with religions,) I’m kinda interested to see where this book will go and what questions it will raise…

What was the last book that you read that challenged mainstream perception?

Book Review – ‘Final Draft’ by Riley Redgate

What I thought to be a cute contemporary turned out to be writing motivation.

Final Draft Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 272

From Goodreads:

The only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced—by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed.

At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval. Soon Laila is pushing herself far from her comfort zone, discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, temporary flings, and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity—but rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.

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I was most impressed with the writing in ‘Final Draft.’ And also the inspiration for writing… not to mention life affirming themes of living and identity. This novel truly left me revived. Riley Redgate managed to drag out the feels and has turned me into an instant fan.

Laila has some great character development, a diverse protagonist facing some truths and realities through the prism of her writing, fear, and eventually loss. For a goody-two-shoes teen Laila could have been laconic and uninteresting, but Redgate let the main character’s imagination and narrative shine through, adding a dynamic to the writing style that had me captivated.

It was great to see Laila challenge herself and explore without judgement shine through in the narrative, or from her peers.

There were a few brief moments were these inner lamenting’s dragged a bit, but on the whole, the pacing of ‘Final Draft’ is excellent and I completed the novel in just two sittings.

With many themes popping up in this coming of age contemporary, there really is a lot going on, a lot to hold your attention.

Final Draft Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

On a personal note, I maybe wanted a touch more humour… there was plenty of sarcasm, like an insult comic hiding in the wings, which was amusing, but not really my speed of entertainment. And even though I appreciated the ending and symbolism of those final paragraphs, I couldn’t help feeling like I wanted something more… romantic. In a rom-com sort of way. Sheesh, when did I become so sappy and derivative? But it is what it is.

The secondary characters are just as interesting and nuanced as our protagonist and I couldn’t help feeling that I wanted more of them. This is a double edged sword: one side being the cast was intriguing enough for me to keep reading and get invested in their arcs; and the other side of feeling like there was a missed opportunity and not really fulfilled upon completion of ‘Final Draft.’

I loved the family dynamic, Laila’s parents were present but not smothering. Her little sister Camille represents the doting sibling, just wishing to be included in everything while also carving out her own separate journey into adulthood. Their relationship was adorable. I can’t help but wonder why a more typical sibling rivalry/bickering was not included to make it realistic… but I guess that would have interrupted the tone of the novel.

Predictability for ‘Final Draft’ went out the window. I started to think this contemporary was one kind of story and then it turned out to be something completely different. So I can’t say I guessed to where this novel was going other than some sort of coming of age, write your own novel plot. It is that in spirit, but not in the most literal interpretation. Redgate’s writing style was simple and sophisticated. I was supremely jealous of her sentence structure and word usage. It makes me want to pick this up again and use as a study guide.

Definitely a novel I’d recommend to everyone – especially if you love contemporaries or envision yourself as becoming a writer.

Overall feeling: Pow! Bang! Boom!

Final Draft Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Final Draft Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mental illness in writing

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

It might be a point of difference, a plot point, but mental illness in YA and literature can help save lives through education and lifting the veil on depression and related conditions. Before the person suffering takes drastic measures of their own…

I have a (secondary) character in one of my WIPs who suffers from depression, it provides one of the main characters in the story with motivation and characteristics important to their arc. However, while taking a break from framing out the second half of the novel, I jumped on social media for a nosey and catch up with friends. Two things happened that have me questioning my mentally ill character… first, a teenage girl in my family circle dealing with her own mental illness and a ton of online bullying; and secondly, the suicide of an idol. Part of the contributing factors leading him to his death were the continual hate he was getting online – he never felt good enough.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

It really hit home. I truly don’t fully understand what it is to be depressed enough to take your own life. I’m much too proactive and positive for that. It must be such a desperate and lonely place to be. And I wish others did not have to experience such a painful and debilitating emotion.

Professional psychologists attribute some of this to a chemical imbalance in the brain, as well as finding the coping mechanisms to train your thought patterns… it all sounds so clinical in the face of such a devastating state of mind.

I know there is no easy fix for something like this, but I always wonder why the two people mentioned above in particular don’t take some control of their exposure to the hate? Granted, they are the victims, and by right should not have to limit their activities. But why in the heck don’t they just delete all social media accounts? Or block the trolls? Online haters feel safe in anonymity; and the numbers and reach of these kind of people are incrementally greater online. Why not just switch off, unplug, and concentrate on you. On what you can control?

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI understand asking that of today’s youth would be like removing a limb – but wouldn’t you rather value your mental health than put up with idiots and haters? It has become such a huge problem that we are dealing with since the growth of online communities. Depression, anxiety, and bullies are a dangerous mix – it can lead to suicide, substance abuse, or fatal retaliation. Thankfully there are ways to deal. Help lines, organisations, peer counselors, teachers, parents, friends, doctors, mental health professionals. While life online has exposed people to more hate, it has also connected us to real help. Plus, we can control what we are exposed to with security settings, blocking profiles, reporting abusers to moderators. It’s not a hopeless situation. And seeking help online isn’t as difficult as reaching out in person. There is no shame or embarrassment.

I feel like including characters in my writing, and reading about them in fiction, can help educate people about this issue in an informal and personal way. I may not fully understand the things that go through someone’s head suffering depression, but with some research maybe I can help a reader feel like they are not alone, show them ways to handle these strong feelings, and seek out the help they need? Some of the novels I’ve read have certainly educated me in handling grief, bullying, depression, and anxiety. It’s also shed light on other mental illnesses and disabilities and how individuals cope with them in their lives, like bipolar, schizophrenia, being on the autism spectrum. When I was a child, things like this were taboo. Never mentioned. But what I see today is that dealing with mental illness doesn’t have to be struggled through alone. People can overcome the difficulties. And it’s more common than you think.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

It hurts my heart to see such a dark side of humanity laid bare when I think of those driven to take their own lives from bullying and hate. We don’t need to do that to each other. And to anyone surrounded by shadows and clouds, feeling worthless and alone – don’t believe those feelings. Don’t give in. You are a special, unique individual. A part of what makes this universe tick. Even though these words are coming from a complete stranger through a screen of some kind – you are loved.

 

And there is help.

 

Please call for help.

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.