adam parrish, army of one

⚠️ This contains implicit references to child abuse and potential spoilers for The Raven Cycle and Call Down The Hawk.

A week ago, Scholastic dropped the first eight chapters of Call Down The Hawk

I read it on the way to my brother’s graduation. 

I’ve been a human bleeding heart since. 

Reading The Raven Cycle in high school was one of those guilty pleasure things that wasn’t guilty at all, just pleasure so overwhelming it felt more like sadness than happiness in those teenage days my emotional range was limited to nostalgia and melancholy. With this, TRC has the distinction of being the one phase that transcended my senior year of high school and extended late into my freshman year of university. Not quite bridging the gap between the two, because I was determined for there to be no bridging whatsoever, but I’ll get to that later. 

As with HQ, personal memories attached to this book series have miraculously survived the effects of time and too many vocab words crammed into my head overnight. As inconsequential as everything attached to my memories of sports anime, but this time all weirdly specific and intimate. Where the feelings attached to sports anime, for all their intensity, were vague and unnameable, the tiny bits of memories that return to me at the mention of TRC are pinpoint in what they bring back. 

March Break 2015: urged by impulse to run to the library across the street and borrow Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves after one too many posts about it on my Tumblr dashboard. Impulse, or perhaps just eagerness to not be at home with my father without school as an easy reason. Ironic, because Adam Parrish would have a similar problem in the first book, but I didn’t know what I’d signed up for back then. 

Winter 2015: spending my spare period alone with my outdated Kindle, cross-legged on the floor outside the school chapel, my back to the tiny square of land that passed for our Peace Garden. Shivering, because I was stubborn about reading with an uncomfortable coat on, and having to swallow around repeated lumps in my throat as I read Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It’s my favourite of the entire series, easily, undeniably. I try not to think too much about why. 

Spring 2015: hopping onto the escalator at Main Street Station with a friend, fresh from our impromptu trip to my favourite public library branch and nursing the embarrassment of not being able to afford even the softcover TRC books from the indie bookstore down the street. The last book had been due to come out in September back then, a release date that had felt far away when I still had a month before I graduated high school. When we got to talking about another friend’s October birthday, I remarked, “By the time her birthday comes around, the Raven King would be out. That’s so far from now.” 

Then, Spring 2016: pushing off studying for my Philosophy exam to read The Raven King, determined to finish in one sitting after the release date had been pushed back from September to April. 

I hadn’t touched the series since, though a part of me had been meaning to do a reread since the TV show announcement dropped, purely because the sudden way the news exploded over Tumblr reminded me how much I treasured the series at seventeen. (And how obsessively, by extension, I listened to “Youth” by Daughter.) I knew reading TRC had been escapism in every sense of the word; even now, I don’t think I’ve felt quite as lost in a world, quite as willing to be lost, quite as desperate to be lost, as I did reading this series and throwing myself into the lives of its main circle of protagonists. 

But last weekend, unable to shake off the Call Down The Hawk excerpts, I sat down and dug out my copies. The deja vu of laying them all out on my bedroom floor pulled a memory back to the surface: that Winter term, I had forgone one textbook so I could save my financial aid money to finally buy the first three in hardcover. I could have saved a lot more buying them in softcover, but, as much as I’d like to say I did it on behalf of my past self, I’d really just been concerned that the last book would be aesthetically out of place in the complete set when I bought it on its release day. 

Three chapters into a reread of the first book, I learned that I don’t remember the series quite as well as I do buying them. But that’s alright. I hadn’t expected myself to. 

I did expect that a lot of what’s left won’t be pleasant. Half-scenes — ARE YOU LISTENING, GLENDOWER? I AM COMING TO FIND YOU! — that stuck with me because they made me choke up once and still does. Isolated quotes I still knew by heart, provoking the same irrational longing I once articulated in a journal entry in high school. Character introspection that rang true when I was eighteen, desperate to leave Scarborough and start anew in Hamilton, and even truer now.

And then, both best and worst of all, details that reverberated more than I wanted them to because you can never not notice a fellow [redacted] survivor when you’re one yourself. Especially when that survivor is the first character to make you accept entirely that you are also one, and the first to make such an impact because, before Adam Parrish, I didn’t realize I hadn’t wanted comfort over my home life so much as I wanted someone to validate it all for me and point out what had not been normal about my life. My habits, my ways of thinking, my days missing school, my stubbornness about money that my friends in high school did not often understand and likely made me seem ungrateful where I still feel nothing but indebted to them even now.  

Back to the Call Down The Hawk chapters. Or — to be particular about why I’m writing this post at all instead of ranting on a private Twitter account like I always do — Chapter Five. Setting: Cambridge, Massachusetts. Character in question: Adam Parrish, no longer in a threadbare sweater, no longer living in a church attic. The mechanic chic replaced by a dark academia bisexual #ootd, St. Agnes replaced by a Harvard dorm room. 

Add to that my love for him, no less potent than it had always been, no less devastating, no less rooted in a personal history too deep into childhood and too ignored in teenhood that to see Adam live almost the same life is as much catharsis as it is a recipe for lowkey anxiety episodes. 

I’ve had plenty of hyperfixations. I’ve had characters that came with those, a temporary object of my fixation coming alongside the thing I was binging. Bonus points if they have insecurities. Lance McClain is probably the most recent one to be so intense, but we don’t talk about that series anymore. This is a safe space. 

To say that Adam falls within the same category is to do him and myself a disservice. It’s not a girlish obsession. It doesn’t quite fall in the realm of fan fondness. I know. I’ve felt both with ridiculous potency. With Adam, it’s a more personal attachment. Like living by proxy — even if it wasn’t a trailer park I had to move out of, even if I’ll never sacrifice myself to an ancient magical forest, even if I’ll never be in a relationship with a Greywaren and grow up with him as we enter a relationship when we don’t even trust ourselves to be enough and to not hurt the other person. 

All the more hard-hitting, then, to see a tender, adjusted Adam in CDTH. It’s the kind of happiness that feels like it’s breaking my heart instead: to see him asking for help with more ease than before, the transition from calling his boyfriend by last name with friends and by first name in his dorm room. With his group of LGBTQ+ friends, with a significant other he associates with home, with this freedom to admit he wants something even if he hasn’t quite mastered the reflex to stop himself from possibly wanting too much in fear of disappointment. 

An Adam Parrish who is loved, who is thriving, who is recovering. 

CDTH Adam Parrish is an Adam farther down the road to recovery than the version of him in the epilogue of TRK — one of the only scenes I will always be able to quote in full from the series. It’s come back to me multiple times over the years, a random your boyfriend’s beemer slipping in alongside a you made it difficult whenever my thoughts drift towards that direction. I tell my mother nowadays, a joke that holds some wistful truth, that I refuse to see and talk to my father again until I had the safety net of the absolute flex that is a BMW, a prestigious diploma and the civility I never would have associated with the family I — and Adam — left behind. I’m still working on making this a reality. But Maggie Stiefvater wrote this great answer to a question about Adam, and I’ve held it close to my heart since. 

With all this said, the title is also a little misleading, perhaps, because this isn’t just about Adam. I swear. This is about Ronan, too, and my obsession with stories exploring LDRs, even more when the two people in that relationship both have trauma and familial baggage to navigate on top of their own emotions, on top of real estate, and on top of the literal distance. 

I loved Ronan as much as I loved the others, but he, I had the least in common with. Most of me was undeniably Gansey, insomnia and demeanour and hyperfixation and all. The parts that this left behind was all Adam — and Blue’s, too, by extension. Even Noah and Henry, I connected to in some small way. Ronan felt like someone I can never be. Not because I disapprove; I just don’t have it in me to project outwards like he does. 

But talking about the CDTH chapters demands a special shoutout for Ronan. For how deeply he loves Adam, for how much he’s willing to give and sacrifice, for how much more prepared he is to compromise than he was in the original series. 

Since reading the excerpt, I’ve also thought often about Adam and Ronan’s conversation about Adam’s father. I totally agree with Ronan’s disapproval of Adam lying about his family and his background. But have I done mostly the same thing as Adam there? Yes. Not quite as overt, but no more honourable. Two years away from my father now and I’m able to see it with semi-fresh eyes. Do I regret it? Yes. Could I have still done it differently back then, knowing what I do now? No. I don’t think so. I won’t expect it of Adam, either. 

Beyond that, what struck me there was the gentle way their argument reaches a peak and then crashes, so palpably one they’ve had multiple times before, quieting after a decision on both sides that I wouldn’t have expected from their BLLB selves. The simplicity of them seeking comfort through touch after being so touch-starved for so long. The simplicity of Adam falling asleep between Ronan and the wall (a position that, if I was cornered into it while sleeping over at a friend’s or at an AirBNB, always ensured I won’t be able to relax enough to get any sleep.) The simplicity of Adam being proud of Ronan around his friends. The simplicity of his you smell like home, when no other TRC character had been as desperate as Adam was to leave and redefine home.  

That Adam even has a place to call home, and that it isn’t a cupboard of a bedroom in a trailer or a small apartment above a church, neither of which he could populate until it feels like it’s his — I’m tearing up again, wow. 

I almost got a tattoo the day the sampler dropped, straight out of impulse to get something representative of Adam. I reined it in, but best believe I will get that tattoo someday, when I’m more rational and not loopy with the Adam Parrish I’d been given in those excerpts.

Okay, yeah, alright, maybe this is mostly about Adam. At its core, this post is a love letter to Adam Parrish, both as he was in the original series, and how he is in the new one. A love letter to myself, then, too. As I was in high school, in all the ways I felt reflected in Adam. As who I’ve been in the past three years, trying to collect enough money to sustain a life outside of my family home and failing. As I am now, far from being in Harvard but nonetheless in a university that had been my third choice but that I love deeply now. With more LGBTQ+ friends than I could have predicted myself having in high school, to boot. 

Adam Parrish is who I wish I was, who I almost am, and hopefully, if his recovery continues as it is, I’ll end up the same person he will also become by the end of this new trilogy. I trust Maggie Stiefvater. With Adam — with Blue, too, when it comes to writing about living in poverty — I’ve always trusted and will always trust Maggie Stiefvater. 

Being Adam Parrish was a complicated thing, goes a quote in the first book of the original series, a wonder of muscles and organs, synapses and nerves. He was a miracle of moving parts, a study in survival. The most important thing to Adam Parrish, though, had always been free will, the ability to be his own master.

This was the important thing. 

It had always been the important thing. 

This was what it was to be Adam.

This was also what it was to be me. This is what it is to be me. And so this was the moment I latched onto Adam like I’ll never latch onto any other character after him. 

Muscles, organs, I used to think over and over in my Grade 12 English class once I got tired of my pretentious Byron bullshit. Synapses, nerves. I was much more stubborn about free will back then than I am now. Much sadder then, too, much more trapped, much more hopeless and much more pained. Adam has come a long way from who he was in TRB. I like to think I’ve done the same since I was seventeen. 

 A miracle of moving parts, I once wrote in lead pencil on my desk. 

A study in survival.