My Goodreads Quotes

Allison’s quotes

"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Friday, April 22, 2016

YA Tropes I Hate: Angry Girls

Fierce.  Independent.  No-nonsense, kick-butt, and angry.

Sound familiar?

Meet the new generation of heroines: the Angry Girl.  She's a down-to-earth, working-class girl who hates the oppression of the upper class and isn't afraid to stand up for herself.  She doesn't need looks, charm, or luck to get what she wants, and she certainly doesn't need a man to help her get it.

She is, as a stock character, virtually untouchable.  If you criticize her, you're sexist.  If you wish she weren't so aggressive, you hate women.  If you question the need for violence, you're passively assisting the oppression.

Let me, therefore, begin this post with a disclaimer.  I am a feminist, hereby defined as "advocating social, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men".  I do not believe in the so-called Biblical view of subservient femininity, although neither do I discriminate against those who choose to live by this ideal.  I believe myself to be the social equal of a man.  I want to pursue a career as a lawyer and have a family, and I do not believe these to be incompatible.

This being said, I still think that these repetitive, generically Angry Heroines consistently miss something.  And I believe that this actually has very little to do with their gender.

Before I can dissect this stock character, here are what I consider the classic marks of an angry heroine:

1. She's just an ordinary girl.

The Angry Heroine is not pretty.  She eschews makeup, loathes girls who spend their time on needless things like personal hygiene, and would sooner die than wear a dress.  If you use her as a scale by which to measure women, any sort of interest in one's appearance immediately equals sin.

This point bothers me more than the others.  Authors go out of their way to tear down the idea of beauty as value, but it becomes a matter of "Do as I say, not as I do."  In almost every narrative, there comes a time when the heroine must regretfully don a dress and embrace classical femininity, in order to highlight that-- even though physical beauty doesn't matter-- she's still smokin' hot.  But all the while, remember:

She's just

your average


Nothing special here.

2. She's angry.

This seems fairly evident, but I think it ties into an overarching theme of Specialness that, perhaps, factors more into the Angry Heroine than actual anger does.  She is surrounded by weak, passive people who would rather cozy up to the unjust regime than overthrow it.  The heroine's anger-- both at the regime and at her peers-- drives her to the third, final characteristic.

3. She's vengeful.

These last two may seem like the same thing, but compare the definitions.  Angry means "having a strong feeling of or showing annoyance, displeasure, or hostility".  It is an emotion.  Vengeful, conversely, means "seeking to harm someone in return for a perceived injury".  That's right.  The Angry Heroine, at the end of the day, wants an eye for an eye.  She wants to make those who wronged her pay.  She is, in short, a violent person.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, lies my problem with the Angry Heroine, and it has absolutely nothing to do with her gender.  I have a problem with the Angry Heroine because she glorifies violence.  She promotes the idea that, if you think someone's wrong, you can tear them down without mercy.  She is not peaceful.  She is not a diplomat.  She is judge, jury, and executioner.

And she is not only a female character.  Her counterpart, the Angry Hero, pops up in literature all the time: a vigilante, out-for-revenge man who's ready to do things his own way.  He doesn't care who he hurts as long as he gets the last laugh and a dramatic walk into the sunset.  In a way, I am incredibly grateful to the Angry Heroine, whose dichotomy of femininity and vengeance is so controversial, because it is my hope that she will draw attention to a more subversive issue in literature, the Angry Hero.

"But Allison," critics may say.  "It's just a story.  Really all she's doing is promoting the belief that women can change the world."

No.  I believe that men and women can change the world, and I encourage them to do so.  But I cannot believe that being violent simply because one is angry will ever be acceptable.  I believe firmly in soldiers, crusaders, and heroes.  In history there has always been a time for violence, and I see no reason why there should not be in literature as well.  But it should not ever be simply for vengeance, not change.

To which the critics will probably respond, "Sexist."

Ah, well.  You can't win them all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

YA Tropes I Hate

When it comes to literature, I am not a pessimist.  I love the classics, true, but I don't fall into the school of thought that we're never going to replicate them.  Maybe some of the books now aren't Shakespeare, but isn't that sort of the point?  That doesn't make them worthless.

In fact, there's only one YA book I really can't stand.  Unfortunately, it's been written about forty times now.

Here's an excerpt:

Once upon a time, there lived an angry young woman in a post-apocalyptic world that, for reasons never made clear, uses a caste system based on colors or numbers.  (Yeah, I know, just go with it.)  This young woman, who is only a step up from starvation, is so wildly angry with the establishment that whenever she sees someone less destitute than herself, she practically froths at the mouth with rage.

In fact, the only person this girl actually likes is her boyfriend.  He's compassionate but equally angry, and despite the fact that they're both, like, sixteen, they know that each other is The One.

One day, however, the girl's shallow, weak, and personality-less mother, who is always comparing her to her sweet, non-angry sister (I mean, really!), enters the girl in a lottery.  When she inevitably wins, she is whisked away from destitution to the lap of luxury, where she is cruelly forced to hobnob with the very people she hates!

The girl is depressed and angry until, among these glamorous socialites, she meets the boy.  (Not the boyfriend.  This is a completely different compassionate, angry, and handsome young man.)  He's even more angry at the establishment than the boyfriend is (take that!), appallingly good looking, and a prince to boot.  All the other socialites are positively drooling over him, but he, with the impeccable taste of the well-bred, instantly spots the winsome personality and talent that the girl has been effectively hiding from the reader.  Initially, the girl holds out with her self-righteous anger, but finally she realizes that he's different from the rest.  She realizes that he is, in fact, The One.  (Aside from a few self-pitying stabs of guilt, she's forgotten the boyfriend by this point.)

But lurking in the shadows is the Other Girl.  She brushes her hair and washes her face sometimes, which makes her a total attention-seeking (insert derogatory feminine word of choice), not like the naturally beautiful heroine, who doesn't need the trappings of personal hygiene to expose her inner worth.  Through insidious tactics like kindness, sanity, and a complete absence of dramatic breakdowns that the heroine seems so prone to, she seduces the prince, forcing him to wonder whom he prefers: a stable girl from a background similar to his own, or a vengeful psychopath.  (The sheer nerve of him.)

Fortunately for the girl, the boyfriend shows up the palace now, having either smuggled himself in or applied for a job there.  Despite the fact that she no longer cares a jot for him, she runs off with him to get back at the prince.  They inevitably get into mortal danger, and the prince, realizing that true love will always conquer a lack of personality, rushes off to save her.  She drops the boyfriend like a hot potato, the other girl is boiled in lead, and they all live happily ever after.

I can think of at least five books off the top of my head that fulfill this outline nearly word-for-word.  Obviously, there are variations.  Sometimes there isn't a lottery.  Sometimes the girl volunteers herself for the contest, instead of her mother.  Sometimes the boy isn't a prince.  But over and over, those four elements come back: the angry girl, the caste system, the love triangle, and the other girl.  So without further ado, welcome to the new series on my blog, where I explore these tropes.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to flesh out that outline and get it off to a publisher.  There's money to be made!

In other news, my wonderful father is taking me to a Maggie Stiefvater signing later in the month, which will be great fun!  And for those of you who aren't on Facebook, I was accepted to Duke University last month.  That leaves me with a good handful of choices, and I think I've made up my mind... but I'll keep that to my chest for now.  Any news from you, dear readers?  What do you think of these books?