Tag Archives: choice

Making choices

15 Dec

Every once and a while, I notice a theme in my reading, and usually it’s completely accidental. This fall it’s been books (and a few manuscripts) about choice. Which, okay, is an underlying theme in a lot of teen books, since it’s a big teen concern–choosing who to be, how to live life, how to be independent. But my fall reading has very much been about characters whose main conflict is the choice between being true to themselves, following their dream or passion or being in love. I’m so glad that there are these books for teen out there. They are important, because they show that it’s not all about the boy (or girl, if the protagonist is a boy). Part of me wonders if the novels about these concerns lately have been reactions to Twilight, in which Bella does pretty completely lose herself for Edward.

The novels that have struck me most are The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Graceling. I really liked them all for their strong female characters and their approaches to how these young women see their choices. In Disreputable History, Frankie has to deal with getting the guy she’s had a crush on, but him not seeing all of her, seeing her only as adorable, rather than the brilliant, challenging person she is. She has the thought in one situation, reflecting on how she’s proud of herself for confronting someone, “At least I wasn’t someone’s little sister, someone’s girlfriend, some sophomore, some girl–someone whose opinions don’t matter.” And later, “She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be.” In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Mary lives in a world overrun by zombies, where humans are only safe in a fenced off village. But Mary’s heard of the ocean, and believes in it, wants to find it. She, too, ends up struggling with her love for a boy and her wish to see the ocean, to believe that more exists outside their fences. “Ever since that day on the hill, ever since he promised he would come for me, this was always supposed to be our dream, together. It was never supposed to be about having to choose one or the other,” she says at one point. It’s fantastic that teens have strong characters like Frankie and Mary who are confronting these sorts of conflicts, so that readers can see how these young women decide, deal with it. So that they see that being conflicted like that is okay. That they shouldn’t lose themselves for someone else. The only quibble I have is: why does it have to be a choice? Why can’t they be true to themselves and their dreams and have love? Of course, maybe the key there is that neither Mary nor Frankie have met the right guys, the ones that get them, and really see them. Which is part of what I adore about Graceling. Katsa has the same trouble– “She loved Po. She wanted Po. And she could never be anybody’s but her own.”–but she finds a way to have both. She’s able to remain thoroughly herself, but also to love and be loved, however unconventionally.

Katsa reminds me a little of Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet (which have been my favorite books since I was ten) in how she reconciles having her freedom and her love. The Alanna books were among the first of the “kickass girl” books, in which the hero is a girl, not a boy, along with Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. So, twenty-ish years later, and there are many, many more books showing girls as heroes, as strong, independent people. But still facing the same choices and problems. I’d like to think that these days, though, these aren’t feminist issues, but people issues. And I do think there are boy books about the same themes.

What a Good Day!

6 Nov

Kevin Henkes sums up how I’m feeling today best.🙂


30 Oct

Poetry Friday

24 Oct

If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit

you take it off
of course you take it off
it doesn’t worry you
it isn’t your shoe

-Naomi Shihab Nye

Declare Yourself!

10 Oct

Last week, a few of my colleagues and I went down to Washington Square Park with copies of our book DECLARE YOURSELF, stuffed with voter registration forms. We handed them out to the young potential voters heading to and from their classes at NYU.

Today’s the last day for voter registration in New York, and Declare Yourself (the organization) has a list of upcoming deadlines here. You can also submit your own story about voting to their blog by emailing declareyourself@gmail.com.

Obama is like a YA novel.

3 Sep

During dinner with friends last night, I wondered in passing if I like Obama for the same reasons I like YA fiction better than adult fiction. Sure, I was being a bit flippant. But then I thought more about it, and…well…

1. Better edited. (Oh, snap!)

2. Change: YA books are full of change, because teens are full of change.

3. YA books are about taking on the world. Fix it? Change it? At least our part of it? Yes we can!

4. Hope. I’ve always said this is one of the key differentials between adult and YA. YA books need hope at the end, we need a sense that everything the character has been through has lead him or her somewhere better. That we are better for having spent time with him or her.

5. Gets you where you live. YA books are unafraid of using new formats, different structures, and incorporating cell phones, blogging, text messages, email, and tons more ways that young people actually communicate.

6. Not issue driven. Issues are important. You’ve got to know how to handle them. But then you’ve got to be about more.

Why all the Breaking Dawn hullabaloo?

16 Aug

I’m unashamed to admit that I loved Twilight. I stayed up till 4 a.m. finishing it the day I got it back in 2005. Sure, it’s verbose, and not the most elegantly written book, but Bella’s voice is compelling, and there’s something addictive about the love story. I liked that it stayed a very personal story, rather than being about Bella and Edward fighting some Great Evil. Because, let’s face it, a vampire and human being in love is complicated enough without Great Evil looming.

I did have my concerns about Bella. She so readily gives up herself, her loves, her dreams for Edward. I wanted to reach into the story and shake her, tell her that she had to be her own person, too. But even as I wanted to do that, I also thought it was a very honest representation of first love for a teenager, so I could see girls finding themselves in Bella. And Twilight ends on the ambiguous note of her butting heads with Edward over whether or not he would change her into a vampire. Because of the ambiguity, you could imagine for yourself a future in which Bella would find herself again and not let Edward be so suffocating and bossy, in which they would be true partners.

But then, with New Moon and Eclipse, Bella was put in the middle of a choice between Edward and Jacob, her best friend who nurses a crush for her. I was a little irritated that Jacob and Bella had to cross that line into romantic because I thought it would be more interesting if a friendship was represented as just as powerful as a romantic relationship (because friendships are!). I thought that it might be what spurs Bella to stand up to Edward and come back into herself. She needed her friends and her life, and she wouldn’t give them up for him, and they had to learn how to have both. But it became a choice between two romantic loves instead.

So readers went in to Breaking Dawn expecting Bella to have to make the choice–between Edward and Jacob, between mortal and immortal. They were waiting to see how she would do it, and what the consequences would be for everyone involved, and how she would deal with both the good and the bad fall-out of such a hard choice. Someone was bound to be hurt, and there were sacrifices to be made and dealt with. And then…Bella didn’t have to make the choice. Circumstance neatly made it for her. No one got hurt; everyone got what they wanted; happily ever after. I think that’s what has caused the fan backlash. Yes, we all wanted a happy ending, one with hope, but what does happily ever after mean if it hasn’t been fought for? Happily ever after is only satisfying when there’s been work and even pain involved, when the characters have been active in achieving it, when they’ve had to strive, not when it’s been handed to them. (Um, Bella had her backbone actually broken, and then healed by Edward. Metaphor, anyone?)

Another point to consider is whether Breaking Dawn is still a teen book. I think it may have crossed the line into adult. Sure, sure, Bella is still a teenager, but her concerns are no longer a teen’s concerns. Teens are questing–they’re trying to find their places in the world, and make choices, and are going. In Breaking Dawn, Bella’s found her place, and is settled. So, unfortunately, I think that many teens just couldn’t relate to her as strongly anymore.

In the end, this is Stephenie Meyer’s story, though, and she had to write the one she wanted to write. And now that it’s out in the world, readers can decide for themselves whether or not they want to accept it in the way they’ve accepted the previous three. That’s one of the great things about art–we don’t have to like everything, but there are readers (or listeners or viewers) for everything.

For more, here are some of the eloquent, sometimes snarky, and sometimes very funny articles and blog posts about Breaking Dawn that I’ve enjoyed:

Gail Gauthier’s blog
Washington Post Article
Salon Article
An amazing (but quite long), snarky play-by-play of the BD reading experience


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