Why I read it: That awesome cover and title caught my eye first. Then I saw it was poetry and entered the goodreads giveaway and ended up winning a copy.
Who I’d recommend it to: I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone I would actually recommend it to More on that later.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (2.75 maybe)
The best fairy tales are the untold stories, the ones where the powerless take back their power and emerge as the victors, but not before enduring a long, arduous battle with the self and the world. In her debut poetry collection, ‘She Who Destroys The Light: Fairy Tales Gone Wrong,’ Shahida Arabi candidly explores the themes of destruction and resurrection, unraveling the dark realities of abuse, trauma, heartbreak and the survivor’s convoluted journey to freedom, healing, creativity and self-love. This collection provides an uncensored and raw exploration into the complexities of adversity and agency, offering a rare glimpse of what it truly means to survive and rise again from the impact of emotional and psychological violence.
I’ve been sitting on my review of this book since the end of April, trying to figure out what I want to say about it, and I’m still not sure. But I need to review it before it fades from my mind too much, so I’m just going to jump in and hope for the best.
Like I said earlier, I was taken in by the cover and title of this book, first. I mean, fairy tales? Gone wrong? In poetry?! Yes, please!
And that was the first let down. While I guess some of these might have a touch of fairy tale feel in the darkness of the themes, I was mostly just confused about the subtitle choice after a few pages.
What I expected was something from known (and maybe even lesser known) fairy tales being used in the poetry. But it ended up feeling like the author either had never actually read any of the fairy tales (or seen the movies, or heard a synopsis), or was trying to combine characters and stories. It just didn’t work for me.
I read, and basically have always read, a lot of poetry. I’ve read old stuff, stuff from the last century, and new stuff, and I can’t think of any other time when I felt so confused by what I was reading. I came away from this collection feeling like I’d read something that sounded ok at first, because the way it was written had interesting imagery, a nice arrangement of words, or whatever, but then there’s that “Wait… What?” moment. At which point I would go back and re-read the same piece a few times and gain little or no clarity.
That wasn’t the case for every poem in this collection, but quite a few. Enough so that about 3/4 of the way through, I would have just DNF’d it, except a) it was a copy I’d won, and b) I was participating in a read a thon.
I think the biggest problem for me was trying to figure out how it was inspired by or was incorporating a fairy tale into the poem. Or being confused by things like “The Evil Stepmother” (pg 69) not…being the older woman mentioned. In that particular poem, it’s a mother in law, not a stepmother. And there’s a reference to Rapunzel spinning gold (“Rapunzel,” pg 11).
(Pretend there’s a great “deep breath” kind of gif here because that’s what I’m doing right now.)
Ok… Not every poem is like that, all mish-mashed or whatever. But it happened, and sometimes I never saw any real connection to myth or fairy tale. “Take Me” (pg 112-114) was probably one of my favorites. That one was probably the best example of what I was expecting from this collection (it references myths instead of fairy tales, though).
I think I would have rated this higher (maybe 3.5-4 stars?) if it hadn’t been for that subtitle. I hate being misled by a book description, and I think this would have been better left without the subtitle. I just can’t get past it, and if that’s petty, well, I guess I’m petty.
The poems, by themselves, ignoring the supposed fairy tale connections, were not bad. This was far from my favorite collection, but I did enjoy a few. As usual, there were times when I had no clue what the poem was written about (as in, what Shahida Arabi was thinking when she wrote it), or even a guess as to what it could have been about. There were probably a fair number I interpreted “wrong,” too. Still, I found a few that I liked by themselves, such as “Paper Dolls,” “Leave,” “Memory,” “High,” “Revolution,” and “Evolution.”
Possibly the best thing about this was that I can’t remember it ever feeling repetitive. Even in poetry collections I love, sometimes I notice enough repetition to take away a bit of enjoyment. I get it, themes and such binding a poetry collection together and all that. But sometimes it gets to be a little much. While the pieces in this one pretty much seemed to go together, each poem was a bit different from the others. Not many stood out to me, individually, but not reading about the same thing over and over was nice.
On one hand, I feel like I’m rating this unfairly because I personally didn’t love it. But, isn’t that the point of rating and reviewing? Just because it wasn’t a hit with me, doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it. For anyone who is considering this collection, be warned that a lot of triggering things are written about in here. I can’t remember everything, but I think there should at least be triggers for domestic violence, abuse, possibly self-harm, and probably more. It’s not a light hearted and easy book, and in that way, it does resemble fairy tales. It’s dark, and it was kind of hard for me to read at times because of the subjects.
All of this leads to why it’s hard for me to think of who I would recommend this to. The subtitle is deceptive, it’s poetry (which is something people seem to have very strong feelings about, one way or another), and it definitely needs trigger warnings.
But it isn’t “bad” poetry, if you like poetry and heavy themes. I do wish I’d liked it more, but you can’t love everything you read, I guess.