I Have A Problem With The Nation’s #1 High School

Folks, my mind. Except also about college. New Year’s post to follow, sometime Soon™ not that long after the actual new year.

Just Angela Things

While this post features TJ, it is by no means specific to TJ.

Almost two years ago, I graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. In another two years, my younger brother will do the same.

Me and TJ, we’ve got history. TJ is where I had my first slow dance, learned to drive a car, and once got chased down the chem hall by an eleven-year-old supergenius with a roller backpack and the blessing of Satan. TJ also happens to be Newsweek’s #1 high school in the United States of America. I know, right? You’d think an institution like that would learn to keep its child prodigies in check.

Anyway, I have something to say about this school:

Something is wrong.

Something is very, very wrong.

And it’s not getting better.

Flash back to my freshman year. I’m volunteering at Techstravaganza, an annual STEM activity fair for elementary-…

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I Have A Problem With The Nation’s #1 High School

Leisure Literature: Legend

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

This year, I attended public school for the first time and was incredibly disappointed. We read a whopping total of four books throughout the entire year. In response, I have pledged to read fifty books of all varieties this summer. I have already been through a few, which I have chosen not to write about here, but Legend by Marie Lu was so good that I feel as if I have to record my feelings about it.

What made this book so great is its incredible character-driven nature, paired with a stunning plot. I knew it was going to be good when I was already asking lots of questions and in love with the characters by page 11. Day and June are both very clever, resourceful, and in the book’s own words, perceptive, and it’s such a pleasure to read. I enjoyed the fact that they never display a superiority complex or show any intention to suppress their cleverness’ full potential, but own the fact that they are smart and use it to their every advantage. As a result, throughout the book, they keep uncovering the things they don’t know, and the knowing reader is never waiting for Day or June to figure out ‘what’s next’. What astonished me is that the plot always kept going, even after they make the supposed biggest discovery at that plot point. This made the whole story very realistic and the characters more life-like, since they seem as intelligent as people are in real life.

Some high points:

  • Day is just straight-up flirtatious, which gives both him and the author an attractive boldness.
  • The moment and situation in which Day and June first meet was triumphantly impressive; it just made me feel very joyful.
  • Even though the protagonists are very smart, have many tools, and plenty of information, the antagonist still seems insurmountable. I think this is notable because it is often times the case in books of this type that the protagonists are disadvantaged in some way, which gives the antagonists their grip over the protagonists, but in Legend, they have the resources and the antagonists still feel impossible to get.
  • It made me cry! Physically cry–at a certain event occurring during the climax of the book. I think that’s impressive.

Some low points:

  • Some of it was predictable. I guessed three major reveals before they happened (which I will not detail for the sake of spoilers). Given, I didn’t guess all of it, but I could anticipate the general point.
  • I don’t know how to feel about intelligence and capability being measured in a test, and especially that a perfect score represents extraordinariness. At any rate, the author had to create some device to quantify this, and it did the job solidly.
  • Three tropes I didn’t enjoy were the Jameson character (especially the gender), the Kaede character, and the government/power factions and the question of the ambiguous goodness/evilness. This falls in with The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, Red Queen, and so on, but at least this was a character-driven book, so the faults in the plot are outshined. The redeeming attribute of the factions is the apparent historical basis, which is intriguing, but was not discussed a lot in book one.
  • Although I understand their age for the sake of the points about their extreme intelligence, I think Day and June’s age dampens the realness of the romance in the book; they seem young.

A couple of personal notes:

  • Even though Day and June are both endearing, I was drawn to John the most and his older brotherly character. Perhaps I liked him that much only because his personality reminded me of a friend of mine with the same name, but altogether he was still my favorite.
  • There was a lot of physical wounding in the book, but to my surprise, it was effective and felt necessary to the setting. I like how the author didn’t leave it out for the sake of complications, yet didn’t add it in light-handedly or carelessly. It was a lot but it was handled well. The only thing is I’m unsure about the rate of healing that happens.

In all, Legend had me recommending it before I finished it, reading it straight through without stopping, and raving about how good it was afterwards. It is a captivating read and I highly recommend it.

Strangely enough, I’m still debating whether to continue reading the trilogy, since the first book is a lot to live up to, and the conflicts implied by the first book don’t seem as interesting, but at least Legend looks to be a bought-book on my shelf, a high honor.

Leisure Literature: Legend

Spasmodic Baking: Meringues

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

I recently had that arbitrary itch I get to bake, so here I went again. It was my friend’s birthday, but there was another friend who needed a pick-me-up, and in general, giving food to friends is fun. So there I went.

Many years ago, I tasted hard meringues at a party, and I fell in love (they are kind of magical, aren’t they?). I decided to try to make them myself for the next party I went to. It was a disaster. I didn’t bargain for how much time it actually takes to make, wasted a horrible amount of eggs whipping non-pure egg whites, and ended up with rather skimpy, half-wet sugar-things to take the party. I forgot about meringues after that.

For some reason, as is happening to me recently, this random memory popped back into my head with no particular evident stimulus, but it’s nice to know that my brain still remembers treasurable things even if I can’t remember them. At any rate, I decided to make meringues.

The four things you need to know about making meringues are that they are very low cost in that barely any materials are required, very high cost in that a lot of time must be invested in order to make them, the instructions NEED (in all caps) to be followed to a T otherwise you won’t have meringues, and that they are tasty beyond belief.

The ratios I report are for a large party amount of meringues (I believe I gave ~4 each to around 12 friends; some got more than 4 (birthday and such) and I made two sizes, small and large), but if you want less, just reduce the number of eggs and sugar proportionally (3 eggs -> 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs -> 1/2 cup sugar, etc.).

What you need:

  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • a beater
  • two baking sheets
  1. Separate the egg whites into a mixer bowl. You MUST not have a TRACE of egg yolk, or they will not whip right. If you are not confident about your ability to crack eggs safely, crack them into a separate container first and then add them to the bowl. (Unfortunately, I was too lazy and wasted two eggs cracking them straight into the bowl; I got a bit of yolk and had to start over.)
  2. Beat the egg whites until you have soft, stiff peaks (raising the whisk(s) out will make little points that slowly fade instead of slopping like liquid).
  3. Add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time, completely dissolving the sugar in before adding more. Once all the sugar is used, make sure the mixture is smooth and not grainy.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix in.
  5. Line the two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Here you have an option to use spoons to put balls on the sheets, or pipe the meringues on. I chose to put the mixture in quart-size bags and pipe with just a simple infinitesimal corner cut off. If you want to be more fancy, you can do a big star piping tip.
  7. You can really pipe in whatever shape/size you want! I just made traditionally-sized ‘dollop’ things with their little Hershey Kiss-style pointy top. Something else you can do is mix in food coloring to do more than just the regular off-white color. As mentioned, I piped out of quart bags. I had to use two, and I colored each a different color.
  8. Now, with the oven at 225, put the sheets in for around 90 minutes. You are drying the meringues, not baking them. Make sure to give them all the time they need. Simply because I was paranoid, I stayed near the oven the whole time. Once they start showing signs of crack lines, or generally being dried out, you can turn off the oven. Leave them in there for another 15 minutes or so to continue drying and cool a bit. You need to have complete patience here.
  9. Once they’ve been out of the oven for 5 minutes or so, they should come off the parchment paper well.

If your meringues start browning in the oven, that’s your option–whether you would like browned meringues or not. If you don’t want brown meringues, turn the oven off if you’ve fulfilled most of the 90 minutes. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure what to tell you–my meringues did not brown, and neither was I going for browned.

In terms of storage, I decided to go for in plastic bags in the fridge overnight. I think really anything would be alright, as long as they’re protected from moisture. Even if they are, I believe they can be re-dried.

I made my own instruction set by combining previous knowledge and the best advice from approximately four internet recipes and two book recipes. If you would like to make variants or just need general comprehensive meringue advice, this recipe was very elaborate.

These are really fun to make and so enjoyable to eat. They can be very eloquent, or just a fun party dessert. Since I had very little homework that night and had the time budget to spend on this, it was so worth having some myself and giving out smiles to some of my friends as well. Perhaps I’ll do it again soon.

Sidenote: impatient, forgetful me did not take pictures. Hopefully you know what they look like; if you don’t, the internet is always there for you.

Spasmodic Baking: Meringues

Leisure Literature: All the Bright Places

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

Another book recently topping the charts, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven was the next story I decided to read recently. The story is centered around two high school seniors, one who is fascinated by death, and another who is trying to repair her emotional state after losing a loved one. The two meet each other for the first time on the top of the school bell tower, neither supposed to be there, both contemplating the jump.

Finch is a charismatic guy who thinks in a very unique way. Any ideas that flow out of his head go onto sticky notes and pasted up on his bedroom wall. Sometimes guitar compositions come out of nowhere. He enjoys thinking about death, but he swears to himself and the reader that he would never actually kill himself. He also flips personalities whenever he wants, changing into different versions of himself. Sometimes that version of him skives off school when he feels like it, with no regard to consequences. One version of him leads him to paint his bedroom walls a different color of his own volition.

Violet starts out far less strong than Finch. She has a cliche storyline that isn’t begun any better than normal; her sister has died and she’s trying to cope with it. As a result, she is very depressed. She has not been in a car since the accident, and she’s stopped writing (something she used to do with her sister and enjoyed very much).

Finch starts to fall for Violet, and she resists his incredibly flirty advances at first because she feels too broken and not repaired enough for someone else. This was also another huge cliche no-no; the guy tries to help repair and comfort her because he fell in love with her, and in the end that’s what pieces her back together. It was done realistically, but it didn’t completely convince me it was a cliche done well.

Although I didn’t relate to either Finch or Violet, their situations were conveyed well enough that I felt like I understood both of them. The one feeling I did share, though, was something Finch details as he starts to like Violet. He knows he’s been trying on all these different versions of Finch all the time, and they’re probably not the real him. But now, he doesn’t know what version of himself is the real version. This especially troubles him as he wonders if Violet likes the real him or just some version he has on that he doesn’t realize isn’t real. I can understand this feeling a lot.

The supporting cast in this book, including the parents, sisters, and school friends, were enjoyable. I appreciated that they were real people taking a normal, realistic role in a real story, rather than just side pieces, additional characters the author wanted to make up, or devices to the main characters’ stories. They had their own stories and those intersected with Finch and Violet’s stories the way they just happened to.

On the twist ending that I will not spoil: I personally did not see it coming, and I enjoyed that, because you hear the story from Finch’s head, his perception, and how he thinks about things, rather than a more objective outside reading on the situation. It really made me sympathize with Finch rather than expect any ending coming. I was rather oblivious to it, but perhaps that is just because of where I come from and what I am personally unfamiliar with.

On the flip side, because the author was cleverly hiding the ending from me the whole time, the middle went swimming and sagged a little bit. Since there wasn’t any apparent resolution or point to the events going on in the story in the middle, it became a little bit uninteresting. At one point it was very hard to continue on reading; I really had no idea there was going to be a resolving ending.

Other things: shoutout to bookmobiles, and the ending was eerily reminiscent of Paper Towns. I could call it out for copying, but it’s not copying; I guess I was just disappointed to read super similar plot points in different books.

Something super cool that I found–Violet and Eleanor’s website as described in the book was actually created to simulate it having actually happened and being “real”. Here it is. The posts stop just as abruptly as they were stopped in the story.

This book has a film adaptation coming out in 2017 starring Elle Fanning. Other than the director, further information has not been released. Niven will be writing the script, but otherwise we don’t know much about it yet. Perhaps this is just my muckraking paragraph since I really don’t believe in movies after books.

Leisure Literature: All the Bright Places

Leisure Literature: The School for Good and Evil

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

I guess I follow New Leaf Literary in enough places to have their books and their promotions leaking through to me more frequently than others. So, I heard about The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani enough times that it sounded cool enough to read. The world is built around kids being taken away to school to graduate as either fairytale princesses and princes, or storybook villains.

One thing about this book is that the cover and the matter and a lot of how it is sold seems very MG. Perhaps the concepts in the book are MG, and you can argue the whole thing is MG, but the sophistication of writing and the overall style of the story felt more YA to me. I am technically “too old” for MG and me reading it would just be completely for fun, but this book wasn’t like that, I felt like it was worth it for me to read.

Probably the most attractive thing in this book is the worldbuilding–I love good worldbuilding. The idea of a school which trained kids to become people from fairy tales and legends sounded attractive enough to almost singlehandedly convince me to read the book and learn more about how the school worked. The mechanics of the architecture and the creatures of the world did turn out quite interesting.

I enjoyed that the author had a clear vision about the point of the story, where it was going, and the distinct personalities of the characters. It was exciting throughout and engaging, and felt worthwhile afterwards, although it lacked that inexplicable ‘wow’ factor at the end, nothing that really left me awed. The school was pretty cool, but it didn’t blow me away like I had hoped.

Each character was very well-implied; I got a very good sense of what they were supposed to be like and the important traits that defined them (and the details that went along with that personality). What they wanted was clearly defined, and there was a lot conveyed through how they interacted with other people. However, I never really got to know them on a personal level–this is okay, writing a story for the reader to spectate rather than get involved in, but of course, it’s less attaching.

Some things that didn’t work so well: Sophie was cast as a stereotypical blonde princess, but she started to get so stereotypical she nearly wasn’t an actual person; it would have been more believable if she was a really girly human rather than a idealism made to fit the stereotype. The first twist in the book is unfortunately a large selling point, so wherever you read a synopsis, or the book matter, it is already spoiled. Perhaps that is okay, to use it to capture attention, but then of course it no longer shocks you or has the same ‘ooh, twist!’ effect; it is instead an ‘I was sold this, now I’m expecting it’ plot point. There are also a couple other cliche twists that were added in the middle (which I won’t spoil), which weren’t done so well.

A random note: I really appreciated that the author of this book was a POC male. Perhaps this is some sort of non-equality-ist of me to differentiate based on race or gender but there truly aren’t a lot of writers like him in this grade level and genre. In the end, writing is writing no matter who the author is or what they are like, and he centered this story around girls’ perspectives without making me notice or complain. Well done, Mr. Chainani. Or if he or the reader wishes me to be more ‘PC’, no extra applause at all.

What was most important overall was that I enjoyed the story–the characters, the mechanics, the ending, the plot–and that it didn’t feel like it was for nothing (like Carry On did, for example). If you think you’d enjoy this genre, I would recommend it. I am going to be checking out the next books in the series soon and continuing to read this story.

Leisure Literature: The School for Good and Evil

Spasmodic Baking: Simple Sugar Cookies

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

A couple weeks ago now, it was my grade’s turn to help bring snacks to youth ministry. Normally, I would be one of those majority who doesn’t make any effort and just comes and enjoys the snacks, but for some reason I felt like I should bring something, and then of course I was baking.

I really wanted to bake, but it was already giving of more time than was comfortable. So I decided to make the simplest cookies I could. Like it-can’t-get-any-easier than this simple. Google found me this. Off I went.

A disclaimer note: Of course, as it is with most “super easy” recipes, beware, tis only so for those who know how to bake. ‘Beginner’ and ‘easy’ are very separate, and personally, until I gained some experience baking, any recipe advertised as ‘super quick’ or ‘easy’ wasn’t actually. You may bumble if you’re not familiar with basic baking things, but you can ask someone. Hopefully your mom knows.

Ingredients (all things I wanted to already be in my kitchen, and were):

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The only ‘difficult’ thing here is the creaming step, and I’ll say what I’ve said before: room temperature butter is very important. If you must, you can soften it in the microwave for a bit beforehand.

The oven goes at 375 F.

  1. Combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar in another bowl.
  3. Beat the egg and vanilla into the butter/sugar.
  4. Blend in the dry ingredients bit by bit (not all at once).
  5. Roll into little balls and bake on ungreased foil for around 10 minutes or until golden. The tops will crack open prettily.
  6. Once they come out of the oven, let them cool on the sheets for a bit (this is important or they’ll come apart) and then let them cool more on cooling racks.

For some reason, I had some really small, tiny cookies because I was far underestimating the size of cookies. I guess I was trying to make as many as possible since the youth ministry is big, but I went too small for a couple of batches. I also had some browner ones and lighter ones; it got really varied because I forgot about one batch in the oven for two too many minutes.

Since I was just bringing it to share, I ended up piling them all on paper plates, and they received a captioning card something like, “Sugar Cookies (small or big, cooked or cooked a little more, solid or cookie cracked, all the same)” (they all did taste the same).

Due to different things, I didn’t come out to have snacks until way after everyone else was released to, but when I finally came out, the cookies were completely gone, plates and all. All I was hoping was people would like them, and it sounds like they were? I couldn’t quite watch them go or see to know, but my friend said when she went to have one they were gone. Left to guess how good they were, I suppose.

Spasmodic Baking: Simple Sugar Cookies

Leisure Literature: Carry On

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell follows Simon Snow in his last year at Watford, a school for magic. A vague, nondescript monster called the Insidious Humdrum is attacking the world, while warring ancient magic families have to be dealt with in the background.

I heard about this recent release sometime last year, pitched as Rowell’s take on the Harry Potter universe. There are some major base similarities between the worldbuilding, but the details get different. The world is also not the focus of the book, it is much more of a character-driven book.

Simon suffers from main character’s weakness, a dilemma I feel many writers (including me) suffer from. Simon lacks depth and connection that some of the other characters foster. It always feels easier to develop and pick out personality for the supporting cast, but it is a greater challenge to define the POV character to the same level.

The other characters are more defined, and therefore more real, yet I never got very invested in any of them. Agatha is not particularly endearing, Penelope is fun but a sort of required Hermione parallel, Baz is interesting technically but doesn’t have a ton of emotional depth.

Overall, the book is engaging, there’s no denying (I didn’t get bored or feel like I wanted to put it down); but it doesn’t seem significant or have a serious point, somewhat reminiscent of a TV drama. The book is enjoyable while you’re reading it, but not really past that.

Some things it does well includes laying out tons of string at the beginning and eventually tying it all together in a way unforeseeable at the beginning (a sensation I really enjoy and appreciate in a book). It also switches first-person point of view between at least 8 different characters, if not more, and does it quite well. I didn’t get too confused, although there were a lot. In general, Rowell really plays loosely with the format of the book and the writing itself, and gets away with all of it, which I find impressive and inspiring.

Another thing which I enjoyed was that there was never certainty as to who really were the ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’; the unreliability of the narrator is evident, but not telling. Following on that note, neither did the book try to convince you one side is good and then guessably shock you to the other side being good, which I appreciated.

Rowell also manages to do some crazy things with her plot and characters, and suspend belief. In retrospect, outside the book, I cannot believe I bought some of the plot points, so I congratulate Rowell on suspending my belief while inside the book.

The plot, on the other hand, while soap opera-level emotionally engaging, seems very melodramatic–designed to satisfy the fantasizing mind.The imagination is cool, but gets vague and a bit swimmy, especially towards the end of the book. I can understand, since my thoughts go there often, but that kind of imagination can really only be understood by its creator; once one tries to convey it to others, it becomes unclear. The ending of the book falls into a cliche category (I won’t mention which, no spoilers), which was disappointing it wasn’t more or something new or stunning, but I understand, the book just needed to end, and the number of things not already done are just getting fewer and fewer.

Overall, it was quite enjoyable, engaging, and fun while it lasted, if romance and fantasy-adventure is your genre. The moment it was over, however, it didn’t seem there was any main idea/takeaway or theme. If you’re just looking to enjoy yourself and lose yourself in a book world for a while, Carry On is that. It’s good and long, but it didn’t leave me feeling awed afterwards or in love with the story or thinking about it. So my recommendation is up to you–weigh whether not having any real gravity is worth the fun while inside the book.

Leisure Literature: Carry On