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Sunday, December 28, 2008

What I used to read and how I got to here

Just finished reading Caitlin Flanagan's article "What Girls Want" from December's Atlantic Monthly. I'm presuming it's getting a lot of chatter because she tells us, "I hate YA novels; they bore me." And hey, I had my hackles up, too when I read that isolated from the rest of the article. But in the larger context of what she's saying, well, I don't agree with her, but I take her to mean that in her current "reading life" as she calls it, they don't meet her emotional needs, life, whatever. Okay. Like I say, they seem to meet mine. Let's agree to disagree and move on. Because it's the rest of the article that held my personal interest. Essentially six more pages discussing why Twilight is in her word, "fantastic." Lots of talk about Bella's obsession with her potential defiling by Edward and Edward's refusal to defile her and Meyer's sort of retro subversive description of Bella performing housewifely tasks like cooking Charlie dinner. And how one spring afternoon, Flanagan cut geometry to go off with her boyfriend and get some red wine and whatever followed that.

Okay, there's a reason I'm not a college academic and I prefer to teach high school, even if I do have a very expensive and rareified Northwestern English degree and all my profs had degrees from Harvard and Yale and passed all their really cool lit knowledge on to me. So I'll admit the above summary is lazy and too brief. But hey (pointed comment coming) I write YA. I cut out the fluff and get to the meat of the story. Action over meditation. Almost always. Which I think is good. And gets the story going and cuts out twelve pages of meditative longing over some Proustian church spire or whatever. (see, I told you - highbrow education under there somewhere)

But here's the thing. Flanagan talks of the books she devoured as a girl. (and also has some really funny sentences such as the one in which she says of the young women of Gossip Girl, "these chippies could make a crack whore look like Clara Barton." - which really did get me chuckling even I happen to disagree and think that Blair has a heart of gold somewhere under all that La Perla (or whatever it is; I can't afford it so I don't think about it) underwear. And about why girls love Edward.

And it all got me thinking about the books and heroines I loved as a girl and a teen. Which got me thinking about what I write and how my characters live. About what they want and don't.
So here's the thing - I never wanted to be Jane Eyre. I was pissed at Mr. Rochester for not telling her that small little detail about the crazy wife in the attic. I was okay that he was blinded at the end of the book. I always preferred Jo March to fussy Amy or Meg. (I actually loved Beth best, but then she died which seemed rather weak willed of her even though it made me cry) Jo had to settle for the German professor guy because certainly Laurie was never strong enough for her. Which pissed me off in ways I couldn't express when I was eight or nine. I loved Meg in Wrinkle in Time. She was strong and feisty and my kind of girl. I loved the girl in Judy Blume's Forever (sorry I can't remember her name at the moment) because she chose to have sex and then move on from a relationship that was very nice but needed to be over and - gasp - didn't die from it or catch a disease or suffer needlessly and had in fact made sure to go to Planned Parenthood first. Okay, it was all a little clinical at times, but she was a take charge girl. I had no patience for the sufferings of Madame Bovary and whatshername in the Kate Chopin's Awakening or even poor Anna Karenina. I thought Heathcliff was a whiner.

In short - I never ever wanted the guy to save me. Which, I'm certain accounts for me begin on "team Jacob" in Twi-world and not team Edward. And why Anne in my very own Dreaming Anastasia (Sourcebooks, Fall 09!!) is a feisty little sixteen year old who doesn't take much guff. And Ethan in that very same book - not to give away much at this point - might need some saving instead. And why Andy Meyers in the current WIP Cut Back is generally flummoxed by the females in his world.

So I guess my answer to What Girls Want is different than some. This girl wants an equal partnership whenever she can get it. If saving is needed, let the girl save the boy sometimes, too. Or maybe, they can just both save each other.

Til next time...

1 comment:

The Story Siren said...

I happened to read that article too, I really like your thoughts on it!

I'm always excited to discover new YA authors!

Thanks for joining the '09 Debut Authors Challenge!