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[personal profile] helloladies
We're happy to welcome back [personal profile] owlmoose to Lady Business to share a guest review about The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal, a story set in the Spiritwalker universe, and jointly told by Kate Elliott (writer) and Julie Dillon (artist), who recently won a Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist.







For years as she grew out of innocent childhood and into budding womanhood, Beatrice Hassi Barahal had imagined a kiss. In a secret journal she wrote about her heartfelt longings and intimate adventures.

Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, the journal did not remain secret.

You can read it now. And you won’t be the only one who did. (source)


One of my favorite things about Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy (which I co-reviewed with Renay) was the strength of the friendship between the protagonist, Cat Barahal, and her cousin Beatrice. I loved how their relationship both drove the plot and provided the emotional core of the series. Along with the fantastic world building, Cat's relationship with Bee is my strongest driver to recommend these books to people. When I discovered that Elliott had written a short story from Bee's perspective, and that it had been published as a chapbook illustrated by Julie Dillon, I jumped at the chance to read it, and I was not disappointed. Read more... )
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[personal profile] helloladies
We're excited to present a guest post about Final Fantasy X-2 from long time friend, [personal profile] owlmoose! Read on to find out why Final Fantasy X-2 is an awesome game experience and why you should definitely check out the new Final Fantasy X/X-2 remaster!


The following is a discussion of the videogame Final Fantasy X-2 from a feminist perspective, revised from a post I wrote on my journal in February 2011. Although I've attempted to make it accessible to general audiences, it does contain spoilers for FFX-2 as well as Final Fantasy X, and assumes a passing familiarity with both games and the Final Fantasy franchise in general.

Rikku, Yuna, and Paine


Final Fantasy is a videogame series published by Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft), one of the titans of the Japanese role-playing (JRPG) genre. As of this writing, there are fourteen main numbered installments, many of which have sequels and spinoffs. However, the main titles are not connected to each other in any way, save a few similarities in theme and naming conventions. Each main title is set in a completely different world, with new stories and new characters, and stands alone from the others. Final Fantasy X (FFX), the tenth main title, was first released to much fanfare in 2001. Although not universally beloved (get any two Final Fantasy fans in a room, and they will have different and often directly opposed opinions on which game is the best and which the worst), it was well received by both fans and critics overall, and it remains popular enough that it was remastered for the PlayStation 3 in 2013. It also inspired something that no other Final Fantasy game had, up to that point: a direct sequel. That sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 (FFX-2), was released in 2003, to a decidedly more mixed reaction. Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
cover and summary )

I love when my social media folks give me surprise recommendations that I love. Pretty sure I owe [twitter.com profile] fozmeadows for this one. I had completely forgotten about this book until her recommendation.

This book reminded of of all the contemporary romances I read as a teenager with bonus SF elements. These Broken Stars is the first book in the loosely connected Starbound trilogy. Tarver, a very young war hero who earned rank through military action and Lilac, the daughter of the head of LaRoux Industries, get thrown together when the spaceship falls out of hyperspace.

They're saved by Lilac's rebel engineering skills and their escape pod rams into a unknown planet. Tarver and Lilac, at odds due to Lilac's determination to be an asshole to all men because of ~mysterious~ reasons she convinced will save their lives, have to survive and seek out rescue. With their communications systems destroyed and hoping for a miracle, they make their way to the utter wreckage of their spaceship on a terraformed planet that shouldn't even be there. They handle the wildlife, the weather, Lilac attempting a multi-day hike in heels, and also Lilac hearing eerie voices. Best camping trip ever!

For some reason I thought there was going to be more romance-in-space happening, but it's not really in space. Space is just the glue that sticks Tarver and Lilac together and hurtles them toward their ~destiny~. This reminded me of a wilderness adventure story. There's a lot of roughing it, a lot of walking, tons of post traumatic stress, and disembodied voices in the shadows. It was probably only scary because I find woods inherently terrifying at night, but yeah, I totally turned on extra lights. I learned my lesson from House of Leaves.

75% of this book is angst. The majority of it comes from Lilac, not Tarver, who is pretty well-adjusted and calm until the last quarter of the novel. Congratulations, book! You surprised me. Tarver and Lilac were a great match. I was rooting for them for the very beginning, through all the snark and yelling and wild rescues and slow development of trust. I didn't expect to like Tarver, because I am coldhearted and unyielding to the boys and men in YA fiction a lot of the time because I find them unbearable. But he was really fantastic, a solid support for Lilac. He never attempts to undermine her or make her feel broken or useless.

Although I liked Lilac's sections of the book more than Tarver's, the quick hits of the interrogation between the alternating chapters were where he really shines. The book really subverts the insolent, asshole trope by showing us Tarver when he's presenting a front to the world, and then showing us the Tarver who just wants to keep himself and Lilac alive. They're both hugely self-sacrificing. It's pretty adorable.

This book is either doing some really fascinating things or else I am just reading too much into the narrative, as I am wont to do when I latch on to something I love. The amount of parental control here is scary. Lilac's friends are people set by her father to watch her or bodyguards hired to protect her. Her freedom is limited, even among so-called peers, and the autonomy is nonexistent. There's a scene in the beginning of the book where Lilac, spurred on by her flock of friends because she knows they'll rat her out, viciously cuts Tarver down for daring to want to spend time with her. And perhaps it would be less affecting if I hadn't been on the receiving end of that sort of peer pressure, where there's something you want to do, someone you want to reach out to, but social necessity and severe personal consequences won't let you. Hello, all the cute girls I could have been making out with over the years! I'm sorry I was a dick to you just because my friends didn't like you/were scared of associating with lesbians. D:

light spoilers for book undertones/bad guys )

The book also raises the question I hated most from my philosophy classes about what makes a person the same person they were before some kind of catastrophic event — their body or their memories. I had so many screaming debates with friends about this with diagrams included (and at one notable debate, when a professor joined our discussion, called him a pretentious gasbag...yeah, I'm super classy). We were totally those annoying freshman having loud philosophical discussions about the integrity of memory, how energy couldn't be destroyed but only redistributed, and what cloning really means for personhood in the middle of the cafeteria or library lobby. I wish I could give this book to my younger self; she would have obsessed.

Definitely a fun, thinky ride. I'm a little disappointed that the next book in the trilogy is about a different set of characters, but I will hope for a tiny cameo/name drop from the authors just so I know Tarver and Lilac are doing okay (THEY BETTER BE DOING OKAY, AUTHORS.).

I want there to be fanfic of Lilac getting hired by a rival industry to build sexy interstellar ships and teaching Tarver how to hotwire hotrod spaceships. Can that be a thing now? Because I'm so there.

Other reviews )
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[personal profile] renay
cover of Fortune's Pawn


Devi Morris isn't your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It's a combination that's going to get her killed one day — but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn't misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she's found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn't give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

If Sigouney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you'd get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy. (source)


Holy fuckballs, friends, I love Fortune's Pawn. Read more... )

Other Reviews )
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[personal profile] renay
Raven render in bold black strokes of a paintbrush with a glowing red center.


"There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark's Eve," Neeve said. "Either you’re his true love…or you killed him."

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore (source).


Seriously, screw this book, all its feelings, its twists that gutted me, and its characterizations that made me want to rip my heart out and chuck it across the room so I could just stop the misery. Fuck this book for having, apparently, three follow ups, the second of which only came out this September. My rage over the fact that I'll have to wait yet another year for more after The Dream Thieves is eclipsed only by my love of these characters as they find each other, discover one another's secrets, and begin to tie themselves together with friendship and magic. Read more... )
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[personal profile] helloladies
Charlotte, Lizzie, Lydia and Jane. /


Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice posted weekly on Youtube. The story is told primarily through vlogs posted by Lizzie, but over time the show has come to include vlogs posted by side characters, vlogs featuring the entire cast as well as several social media outlets such as Twitter. It's fascinating to watch the story be brought to light in a completely different way. For more basics about the story so far and how to get started, check out posts by Iris and Chachic, as well as Ana, before diving into the non-spoilery discussion Renay and Ana had about the series below. Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
A grayscaled image of a girl in a vibrant blue feathered mask staring out at the reader


Karou is an art student with blue hair and a penchant for drawing monsters in her sketchbooks. She lives in Prague, and divides her time between school, her best friend Zuzuna, trying to avoid her lousy ex-boyfriend, and her adopted family — all of which are represented in her sketchbook: a gallery full of chimaera. They're fantastic and unbelieveable, part human and part beast, but very real. She doesn't know who she is, but she often wonders about her past and her future when so much of her life is running errands through doorways that lead all over the world to collect teeth for her adoptive family of chimaera, specifically Brimstone, the closest thing she has to a father. When she steps through the doorway to Marrakesh on a regular trip, everything she knows about herself, Brimstone, her family, and her life changes.

The middle of this book was like a doorway, in fact, and when I stepped through my first reaction was "WTAF?" followed by: I AM DISAPPOINT.

I really considered making that my entire summation of my feelings on this novel, then decided it would be a waste of a chance to make Ana gleeful if I didn't share my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thoughts regarding this story (you're welcome, Ana). This book was like a great date that's going well. Everything is flowing, conversation is good, there's a subtle attraction and maybe you're thinking of how low your condom supply is. Then something terrible happens and you end up going home alone because of bad touch or the realization that maybe you don't really want to date a self-proclaimed hoarder or [insert nightmare scenario here]. And also, it's raining. And maybe you left your cellphone at the bar accidentally and then your wallet gets stolen and it's just utter crap and you feel cheated and the entire universe sucks. Spoiler goggles equipped — let's proceed into the abyss of my sadness.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
cover of The Witness showing a forest stream with a small waterfall


It's stopped surprising me that the things to snap me out of reading slumps continue to be the books and authors of my childhood. There's something about picking up a familiar author that takes me back to my bedroom, the rolling waves of my waterbed, the lamp burning until two in the morning, and all the comfort and security I felt back then. I don't feel judged. I don't feel like I'm not going to get it. I don't feel the weight of the entire genre hovering over me, judging me for not having read all books that led the author I'm currently involved with to their stories. Even when I dislike the book the familiarity of the story and the characters make me feel welcomed home. Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
plain white and gray cover featuring a girl in a green dress pressing against a glass bubble she's encased within


Matched by Ally Condie: Cassia trusts the Society to make good decisions for her: what to eat, what to read, how to care for herself and who, ultimately, she should love and marry. When the Society matches her with Xander, a childhood friend, she's sure that he is her ideal match. She feels lucky to know her Match. Later, she attempts to learn more about Xander, and instead of seeing his face on her screen she sees the face of Ky Markham, a boy on the edges of her social group. The Society tells her this is an isolated incident, a breakdown in the system, and to focus on her future with Xander. Unfortunately, spurred on by doubts laid by her grandfather and her own curiosity about Ky, Cassia can't help but wonder about paths she might take without the Society to guide her way. She can't help but wonder about a future, not with Xander, but with Ky. She can't help but wonder about a future with the luxury of choice.

The farther away from this story I get, the more I am torn. There should be a word for a book that is both predictable and pedestrian, and yet somehow still compelling. I picked it up on a whim at the library when they didn't have Under the Never Sky (HEARTBREAKING), remembering that there was some kerfuffle about it and some other similar book, plus that it had sold for some ridiculous amount of money and I wanted to know what in the world publishers were throwing their money at these days.Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
cover of Chime featuring a pale, blonde girl with dark eyes on a root-filled sepia toned background


I purchased Chime last year after I read Ana and Thea's review. Immediately after, meaning I closed my browser and we went to the bookstore and I bought it right off the New Young Adult shelf. Their review is wonderfully concise. I agreed with them for the most part, although in different ways. To orient myself, a few things that pinged me from their review. The rest of this post is vaguely spoilerish if you want to go into the book knowing very little:

Read more... )

Ana, I meant to read and review this for your birthday, and managed it a month late (still counting that as a success). There aren't any concrete thoughts here, but I would love it if, as I've seen done you do before when others have had trouble finding their voices about a book, you would join me in the comments and ask me all the questions and we can have a long chat and it will be exciting and illuminating (everyone else can come, too!). ♥ I will preemptively warn for rampant spoilers in comments.

Other reviews:
things mean a lot, The Book Smugglers, books i done read, Janicu’s Book Blog, skygiants, yours?
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[personal profile] nymeth
cover image for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
There were three gods once.

Only three, I mean. Now there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. They breed like rabbits. But once there were only three, most powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn. Or light and darkness and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance. None of that is important because one of them died, the other might as well have, and the last is the only one who matters anymore.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is narrated by Yeine Darr (or Yeine Arameri), who at the age of nineteen is summoned by her powerful grandfather to the imposing city of Sky, the centre of the political world. Yeine’s home, Darre, is seen by those in charge of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as a land of hopeless barbarians, and possibly of secret heretics. Her mother, Kinneth, was one of the Arameri, the elite family in whose hands power is concentrated; when Kinneth turned her back on her family to marry Yeine’s father, the whole of Darre fell in disgrace, and the economic repercussion of the Arameri’s ill will are felt to the present day.

The summons from Sky comes shortly after Kinneth’s mysterious death,  and one of Yeine’s reasons for going is to try and find out who wanted her mother killed after all this time – and why. But when she arrives, her grandfather, Dekarta, informs her that he’s formally naming her one of his heirs – which means that, along with two unknown and possibly murderous cousins, she’s now in the line of succession for the throne.
MOAR words )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
Cross posted from Bookgazing to dangle the shiny directly in front of Renay


In her review Nic from Eve’s Alexandria says that ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ narrative is ‘neither as fragmentary and unreliable, nor as conversational’ as the first lines of the novel had led her to hope. The novel opens by thrusting the reader into the distant, distressed perspective of an unnamed narrator:

‘I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I don’t know who I am anymore. I must try to remember.’
and for the next two pages a sense of confusion continues to interject itself, no matter how solid a narrative the speaker tries to construct. The narrator identifies herself, elaborating on her precise lineage and the several different names she can be called, but this is preceded by the words ‘But I forget myself. Who was I again? Ah, yes.’, a phrase that signals the narrators struggles with a mind that is wandering for some reason. Although, after the first few pages the narrator turns to telling the story in a linear fashion, without many further interruptions, these early pages do set up certain expectations of further, messier disorder as the novel’s action and emotion becomes more intense.

These expectations are never fully met as this disordered and raw (although still artistically controlled) narrative strand is spread almost too regularly through the novel to stylistically reflect a significant amount of pain and confusion. The narrator, quickly introduces herself as Yeine ‘daughter of Kinneth’, she is from the tribe of Darre and she is the granddaughter of Dekarta Arameri, who we later find out is the leader of the family that rules N K Jemisin’s fantasy world. She then goes on to roll out her story, in a mostly linear past tense narrative that is interrupted at intervals by Yeine’s present tense voice (sort of, there’s a surprise concealed in this element of style that I won’t spoil, because it is really interesting to discover as the novel progresses). Yeine’s less controlled side only interrupts when events in the linear narrative have reached a natural break point in the past narrative, which makes the moments when the more chaotic narrative breaks through feel too ordered by the authorial hand.

It could be that this ordered insertion of a more mysterious, chaotic narrative is a structural indication that Yeine is a mentally strong character. Throughout the novel Yeine is shown to be a strong character and perhaps her strength extends to an exertion of control over the bubbling forces inside of her, which allows her to keep their narrative disruption to a minimum. Perhaps she proves her strength by reaching set points in her narrative before allowing a less ordered train of thought dominance. Still, considering that ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ contains central themes of madness and epic disorder I was expecting a bit more stylistic roughness, such as phrases butting in to the nice neat mapping of out memories, especially since Yeine’s present state has been established as ‘broken’ and disorientated.

However, like Nic, I found myself easily won over by Yeine and the reader barriers my expectations might have erected were knocked aside as I spent more time reading about her. Yeine is kind of amazing. Soon after arriving in Sky she discovers that it is her destiny to die in roughly a week and nothing can save her. At first she is devastated and spends a day crying for herself. She then goes on to make an alliance with the gods enslaved by the Arameri, searches for her mother’s killer, uncovers a lot of secrets, schemes to improve Darre’s poor economic situation and finds the time to form meaningful relationships with people and gods. The inclusion of her tears allows the reader to feel a level of emotional realism which makes Yeine’s later actions even more heroic, as she overcomes fear and sadness that could have understandably left her unable to act. When she arrives in Sky she’s the warrior girl who has come to avenge her mother’s death and that sounds like a kickass character description, but by the end of the book she has done so much more alongside that.

The catalyst for her story is the kind of geography spanning, detailed family politics than I adore (as long as I can keep everyone’s names straight). Yeine’s mother, Kinneth, became estranged from her biological family, the ruling Arameri, when she left their home in Sky (a crazy balancing act of a palace in the clouds that overlooks a city of the same name) to live with her lower class lover. Sky, rules the entire Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, including Darre, Yeine’s father’s homeland. Kinneth was recently murdered and Yeine assumes her grandfather Dekarta was behind the killing.

Even though the gap between Kinneth and Dekarta’s original rift and Kinneth’s death is rather large Yeine is aware that no one puts the Arameri family in the corner and stays alive. At the beginning of the novel her mother has been dead a month and Yeine has just been summoned to Sky to meet her grandfather for the first time. She goes, giving up her claim to the leadership of Darre’s matriarchal society, simply because ‘one does not refuse an invitation from the Arameri’, a comment which immediately shows the uncontested power of the ruling family and the fear they inspire. She also hopes to get close enough to confirm her beliefs about Kinneth’s murder. If she can make an opportunity, she plans to avenge her mother by killing her grandfather. That is just the tip of the crazy complicated familial relationships that Yeine has to deal with1.

Although Yeine is the narrator, the central character and such a different kind of female character (she describes herself as ‘short and flat and brown as forest wood’ and was brought up in a matriarchal society that casually derides masculinity) it is disturbingly easy for my thoughts to focus on the male second main character of Nahadoth, because he is explosive and alluring. Nahadoth, is a god who was defeated by his brother Itempas, imprisoned in human flesh and forced to serve the Arameri. He is spectacular, with all the flashiness and destruction that word implies, while Yeine’s greatness is simply human. As a god of immense power, who enjoys killing and desires seeks revenge he is a deliciously sinister character, who is bound to catch any reader’s attention, while Yeine spends the novel learning to achieve her aims through subtle political machinations. In an interesting reversal of traditional gender types Yeine is the one in control of her emotions. She is by no means schooled into hardness, but she handles herself in a compact, quiet, effective way most of the time. Nahadoth on the other hand, constantly vibrates with dangerous emotion. He is a pretty special piece of negative character creation and it’s hard not to get caught up in gazing at his brightly coloured sparks.

I don’t want to put all the emphasis on the flashy male lead and the romance, because Yeine’s individual journey is the heart of this novel. However, ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ is undeniably a fantasy novel with a romance at its centre. The relationship between Yeine and Nahadoth, which begins with Yeine plunging a knife into his chest after he has chased her through Sky, progresses as Yeine performs a delicate dance of intellect around a psychopathic character with a soul like a dark well. Eventually their relationship becomes romantic. I know this sounds like a bad idea out of the ‘every girl loves a psychopath’ worn out drawer of misogynistic paranormal romance plots. Luckily the novel contains space for Yeine to notes the crazy dangerousness of Nahadoth, even as she notices her attraction to him. Yeine has some control over Nahadoth, which makes her superficially equal to him and her personality is solid enough to counter him sometimes, but I was pleased to see that Yeine is never allowed to be certain that she can keep him from hurting her. Their relationship is written with a full awareness of the power imbalance that necessarily exists between even the strongest woman and a paranormal lover.

The narrative also has Yeine set up her own safety barriers, even as she slowly grows closer to him, because she’s aware he can never be trusted while she is human. At first Nahadoth is that guy you don’t want to let anywhere near your favourite lady character (even though he is undeniably fascinating) who supernaturally breaks into Yeine’s room, but as his relationship with her develops he becomes more careful to encourage her to find ways to protect herself from him. He does this without removing her agency to choose a relationship with him. Their romance becomes a co-operatively shaped partnership where each person tries to do as little damage as possible to the other, but it never compromises the discomfort the reader feels at such an unequal, dangerous relationship by slipping into idealistic simplification.

Even the sex scene, which is glorious and edgy and glorious again, is under cut by fear and uneasy amnesia when Yeine awakes, reminding the reader that nothing is pure, or easy about this relationship. The narrative always encourages the reader to fear Nahadoth’s touch on Yeine’s skin, until Yeine gains a state that will make her as equal to Nahadoth and as safe from him as she can ever be. The result is a slippery beast of a romance, which confronts the culturally dominant idea that romantic feeling should blot out any reasonable objections to a potentially disturbing relationship.

In her review Nic from Eve’s Alexandria, explains that the book loses her when the romance between Yeine and Nahadoth ‘overwhelms the rest of the plot and characters’ and ends asking rhetorically ‘where did all the court intrigue go?’ Despite being desperately engaged with the romance in this novel, I agree with Nic that something central to the political plot falls down a hole, as the romance is reaching its climax. Yeine’s initial motivation for forming an alliance with Nahadoth and the gods who live with him, isn’t an offer of protection from them. They can’t keep her from dying. What they can offer her is a chance to triumph as she dies, by winning a contest to be named Dekarta’s heir. To be honest I’m not entirely sure how they were meant to achieve that, as it’s my understanding that she knows they need her to lose the contest, so she’ll be given the chance to access a vital artefact that will set the gods free, but I might be misunderstanding. Anyway, the gods take no action to help her take Dekarta’s position. Towards the end of the book it’s like Jemisin remembers that plot strand needs to be tied up, but Yeine winning doesn’t fit with her plot resolution, so Yeine just says it doesn’t matter anymore. Um. Obviously it’s a pipe dream for Yeine to be named heir, but she is such a persistent, principled character I was surprised she didn’t at least push the gods as much as possible until they tried to act, or admitted there was nothing they could do. It’s a bit of an inconsistency and suggests that the romantic storyline became so dominant that Jemisin simply ran out of room to develop this part of the political plot.

Rich, emotional fantasy novels like ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ give someone like me the chance to splash around indulgently in the artistry of darkly beautiful pain with very little guilt, but it’s not just a personal art/emotion kink that led to my satisfaction with this novel (although, wowsa). There’s a complexity to the novel’s presentation of the world that shows just how many ways of viewing the world there really are and the impossibility of establishing definite, eternal, standards of moral judgement. Alternate ways of thinking and being are acknowledged as characters experience the fluidity of their sexuality, or love people they never thought they could. Yeine has multiple sexual partners and at no point does the romantic storyline turn into a binary love triangle with all the ramifications of anxiety and shame triangle set ups are usually accompanied by. She just sleeps with someone and cares about them, sleeps with someone else and cares about them too in a different way. Emotional paradoxes are set up. Yeine’s relationships with a couple of the other gods like Sieh are full of conflicting emotions that really push readers to think outside traditional paths. Mothers both love and hate their children. Forgiveness is offered to people who have done very little to deserve it because forgiveness can’t be earned, but then forgiveness is held out of reach because sometimes it has to be earned. Love is love, is broken, is mad.

I need awesome characters with insight, emotions and all sorts of moral compromise to make me feel synchronised with the beating heart of a book. ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ couldn’t have provided any better than Yeine, Nahadoth and the cast of sly, sympathetic, damaged family members who surround them. Is it any wonder I bought the second book in ‘The Inheritance Trilogy’ the day after I finished it?

1 It’s interesting to think how often epic fantasy takes the domestic familial relationship and politicises it, cross pollinating the two elements that lit-fic often uses to define what is good and what is great. Epic fantasy often manages to allow the ‘small scale’ family stuff to combine with the ‘big scale’ political stuff, without anyone even noticing. Interesting, right? Thanks so much for giving me a copy Meghan :)

Other Reviews

Eve's Alexandria
Medieval Bookworm
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
The Booksmugglers
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
[personal profile] renay
This review first appeared on subverting the text in June 2010.


cover of Ash by Malinda Lo with a dark-haired girl in a white dress curled in a ball on dark grass


My feelings about this book are complicated, to say the least. "My feelings are complicated" is the shortest way for me to write how I feel. Once I start to unpack it the words do not stop. They keep flowing, like a rampaging river, covering small towns, washing away tons of SUVs and flooding all your Farmville plots. Yet I will soldier through!

This review is about my feelings, friends. Beware.

You may have surmised from my less than gleeful first paragraph that this review isn't going to very many positive places, which is a fair warning to back out while there's still time! I have a problem with this book. It almost upsets me to write it. I wanted to love this book. I wanted to love this book and cherish it and hold it to my chest and write lots of girlslash for it! Yeah! Retelling of Cinderella where girls make out! I was in love with the premise the first time I heard about it. Jodie bought this book for me so it's EXTRA GUILT that I didn't set it on fire with the power of my undying devotion to it.

Of course, this book had to face my pulsing love for Ever After in a grudge death match. Ever After was the Cinderella story of my teenage years and the older I get the more I imagine it's going to be the measuring stick forever. Snark! Subversion! Sass! If I had been a contender, Henry would have been out of the picture. But they were pretty awesome together: I GUESS!

screencap of Henry and Danielle from Ever After in firelight


Confession time: girls making out and romance between girls and girls having sex and being totally hot and romantic and loving and whatever else they are does not ping me most of the time (unless we want to get TMI about Renay's Sexual Preferences and maybe we can save that for another entry). I feel very guilty writing this and I will be unpacking this more later. I will probably always feel guilty, especially when I weigh my free time and go read about the dudes making out instead of possibly being disappointed (again) by girl-love stories. Fiction about girls kissing doesn't do it for me very often. I can live with that. It is disappointing, but what can you do other than lie to yourself about your preferences (and everyone knows that is not cool)?

BUT WAIT!

Something like Whip It slams into your world and you sit up and go, "wow" when Bliss and Maven are on the screen together. I pinged hard and there's barely any fanwork for it. It's a live-media fandom and my brain balks at even trying to write for it, but seriously? It's asking for it:

screencap of Maven and Bliss from Whip It! in front of lockers


Slight derail, sorry, but it's worth it. MAKE OUT ALREADY. Oh my gosh.

When I examined my reaction to Ash and my preferences, I came to a conclusion. The culture I grew up in has conditioned me in ways I am not aware of to skip the tickets to the girls kissing train and maybe that's why my reaction to this book is less "throw it at all my friends and demand they read it" and more "....what?" However, allow me to discuss why the book initially failed for me until I started examining why.

We can talk about the okay things: I liked Ash! I did. I enjoyed her ability to be a snark, which she grew into over the course of the book. There's a section at the end where "oh snap" doesn't even begin to cover it. I loved Ash when she found her voice. Loved her.

The world building was...interesting. WHAT FAINT PRAISE! I am trying really hard here, please don't judge me. Is "interesting" a compliment anymore or what someone says when they're like, "I have to think of something kind to offset all this vitriol I am going to unleash!"? It's all I have, Ash herself and the world building, the weaving of the fairy and Ash's reality: well done! OKAY, okay, I should stop trying to force it. Instead, I will quote Ana, who is better at these things than I am:

But let me tell you a little about what makes the world appealing: it has its own customs and traditions; it seems to exist beyond the story. Ash grows up in a remote part of the country, in a forested area where old traditions still live. We're told about the conflicts between older and modern ideas; about rites, festivals and celebrations; about the land's lore and about the truth behind that lore.


Inevitably we come to my biggest issue with this book, which later contradicts something I realized about myself. There is too much cock. HILARITY! I know at least five people keeled over from shock that I wrote that, but stay with me: there's a man in this story and he bores me. He bores me to tears. I was bored by him and his emoface and wah wah wah and oh gosh, can't we just have the girls being awesome together? Every time Ash went back to Sidhean I said, "Please get this het out of my delicious lady time!" It was being used for contrast? I GUESS? Why not have the fairy godmother be the fairy-boyfriend instead, right? Maybe that's where we are with GLBTQ love stories; we have to keep some heterosexual shenanigans in there and not go full-on SAME SEX MAKEOUTS and prove...what? That a romance between two women can't stand on its own, it requires some magical cock?

The longer I struggled with this book, the more I realized what I had expected and wanted was a true girl-meets-girl-cue-the-hearts fairy tale retelling. What I got was half a book about Ash spending lots of time with a dude, or thinking about a dude and a retelling that feels rather pasted on around this inexplicable relationship with a dude who is ME ME ME and oh yeah, ME! It was predictable and not in a good way. Sidhean, I don't like you, at all, and I'm not sorry! On top of the snore-fest of a male love interest (and my confusion on WHY HE EXISTS as a love interest), my dreams were foiled by another love triangle! I could write a book, YA Literature, on your trespasses concerning love triangles. My decision is that most of them suck, they are great big piles of fail and every author in the world thinks they're awesome at them. Meanwhile, back in Reality, most are ill-handled and boring and make whatever romance ends up occurring emotionally unavailable because a lot time was spent doing romantic geometry. I HATED GEOMETRY. That's where I was at the end of this book: picturing myself back in Mr. Norwood's math classroom as he berated me for NOT GETTING IT. Everyone ELSE gets it, Renay. Why are you so dense? You are the only one in the class who does not worship these triangles and formulas! Get with the program. YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE AN F IN YA ROMANCE.

I was happy that the book ended with Ash finding her way, but the journey was heteronormative. A queer character that's not turned into a Gay Plot Point. Awesome. However, when people are going, "GROUNDBREAKING!" and praising a book for taking a different path, I do not open that book expecting Heterosexual Couple Land and for half the book to be defined by straight marriage (regardless of the social commentary) and a dude and that dude's feelings. It's yet another instance of same-sex couples as the special case and girls getting the shaft because of Man Pain, which disappointed me. Blow after blow to my hopes and dreams!

I was disappointed in the romance. There was no spark or life or UST! I am very bitter about the lack of UST. I pined in this book, but it was all wrong. I pined for Sidhean to die in a terrible magical horse riding accident and I pined for more sexual tension between Ash and Kaisa and at some point the pining simply becomes a forest of disappointment, deep and dark and moist with all of my tears.

sob sob sob

I thought about my reaction to this book a long time, because I worried: did I not connect with the romances because my brain doesn't like F/F romance? Am I being overcritical of the ladies...again? A classic case of It's Not You, It's Me? I wonder if I am letting my preferences cloud my judgment on these issues of whether a F/F pairing has enough oopmh and thus is a good pairing, or whether I am simply an unrepentant boyslasher, or if I have internalized a slimy and sexist habit to make me more critical of F/F pairings and stories in general and thus uninterested. Except for some F/F pairings I'm not uninterested and I am left bemused, on my Island of WTF. This book and my failure to love it as I wanted made me consider it. Bring on the guilt!

As I did so, I came to a conclusion that was difficult for me to put into words. The culture I was raised in values heterosexual relationships, and recognizes relationships between two men (whether or not they were accepted although most of the time they were). The one difference I had growing up, while otherwise raised open-minded, was that lesbian relationships weren't generally spoken of. Gay and male? Well, if you have to. Gay and female? Not in polite company! In fact, never reference them at all unless it's a matter of life or death. I have wondered a long time why this was, and what it says about me as a person, and the more I thought about it the last few days, the more I think it's about passion.

One of my issues with Ash is the passion between her and Kaisa I think is sorely lacking. But is it? Or does it only feel that way because it is not a sexual relationship that is defined by penetration? I suppose this is the point where everyone who can't talk about sex without flipping out can turn away, because the more I turned this idea over in my head the more I think this is where my problem with lesbian relationships comes from. A distinct lack of cock to define it!

Relationships between women don't always play into these same power dynamics as M/M or F/M do because often, no one ends up with a cock...anywhere. It is most definitely Not About The Men, in a culture where About the Men is the default gaze for everything and you really have to work to break out of it. This takes it way outside our comfort zones. How do we deal with that? It almost reminds me of how we gender babies with pink and blue — if we can't figure out the gender we tend to get highly uncomfortable double fast and possibly offensive (at least the people around me do). The accepted "normal" of F/M has cock and the "other" of M/M has cock and because of my culture, I have soaked up this "The Almighty Cock!" attitude. Things outside that which do not involve one throw me off, unless those romantic relationships between women follow a specific heterosexual dynamic with a dominant/submissive type (see my Whip It example from above), even if that dynamic changes later. People who write romances between women have to compete not only with heterosexism, but also possibly with the idea that lack of cock equals lack of passion. They have to work extra hard to prove there's some hope for some sexy times later and deal with critics like me being, well, critical over the lack of passion because no one is going to end up with a cock in them somehow! I discussed how relationship dynamics sometimes work with [livejournal.com profile] owlmoose a little:

[personal profile] renay: because we are so in the habit of reading pairings in the "TAKEN" (aka penetrating) romance between women doesn't register
[livejournal.com profile] owlmoose: i think you are onto something, maybe, because we have this concept of women having deep friendships that are not romantic. whereas if men and women have feeling for each other it's read as romance
[personal profile] renay: so people writing F/F have to overcome that
[livejournal.com profile] owlmoose: yeah. when if you compare it to M/M we have less of a concept of emotional male friendship. because men aren't supposed to be emotional about people who aren't either their lovers or their family

Welcome to Horrifying Revelation Time With Renay: Critical of The Girlslash. Next time I see someone who says YA doesn't teach adults anything, I am going to mock them relentlessly on twitter. In one fell swoop, by not loving a book, I have uncovered SEKRITS about myself and my preferences. I am sure I could unpack them even further, but you know, one startling self-revelation at a time. I am exhausted. The patriarchy makes me tired!

eta: I have considered how to approach this from a transgender perspective but I am completely confused on how intersectionality comes into play here. I realize my argument is flawed and I am waving my cisgender privilege everywhere. I welcome being schooled, because it's not that I don't want to learn, it's that I am very confused and how no idea where to go or how to get there.


I think it is important for me to say I enjoyed Ash and Kaisa. I wanted more of everything for them: more time and more feelings and more falling in love and more adventure. Perhaps saying that I wanted more UST/passion is tied up in my skewed view of the world (despite how not-straight I am, clearly it still impacts me) and I have some work to do about my assumptions next time I attempt to read a lesbian romance. Even so, I wanted more of them together and I think this is maybe not an unreasonable expectation based on the flap of the book! This premise was awesome and what was done here for representation of queer characters was necessary, but I expected more somehow, even disregarding their lack of passion (if that's what it was). I am past the need for the heterosexual crutch or foil or whatever it was that happened in the text; even though I am bemused and disappointed in myself, I am still more annoyed about the dude in this book.

In the end, I am cursed by triangles! Math! Always my arch-nemesis, even when it comes to literature.




scan of geometry problem with directions saying Find X with the x variable circled and 'here it is' written beside it

The End


Further reading: on why I am not attracted to women in various media

Other reviews: things mean a lot, Presenting Lenore, The Book Smugglers, Just Add Books, yours?
nymeth: (Default)
[personal profile] nymeth
500 Days of Summer


A slightly different version of the following review was originally posted on my tumblr in August 2010. Also, be warned that it contains spoilers.

There’s something really disappointing about disliking something you were convinced you were going to love, be it a movie, a book, or a new album by a favourite band. And in some cases, for reasons that I hope will become clear as this post progresses, there’s something really lonely about it too.

My issues with (500) Days of Summer go beyond the random sexist one-liners, the fact that it reinforces double standards, the manic pixie dream girl syndrome, or the fact that the story is told solely from a male perspective. I’ve seen the film criticised on all these grounds, and while I think they’re all very fair points, I won’t repeat them here because they’ve been written about extensively by people more knowledgeable and articulate than I am. A quick comment on that last point in particular: I think that yes, we do need more movies from the point of view of girls and women, and yes, the absence of their voices is a problem. But I think this is more of a problem with cinema as a whole than with each individual story told from the point of view of a man, if that makes sense. I could write a whole other post on this topic (ETA: and now I have!), though, so I’ll leave it alone for now. I just hope I don’t sound dismissive of people who get tired of only ever hearing the same old straight white male voices, because as I said, I really do think that’s a very valid point.

But anyway: this movie made me feel cheated in a way that no story had in a long, long time. Obviously the screenwriter sees the world very differently than I do, but that isn’t really a problem in itself, as I don’t need every story I’m exposed to reflect my exact set of values. The problem is that this is also a story that misrepresents and dismisses people like me; a story that only subverts tired old Hallmark clichés on the surface; a story that unforgivably reduces the world’s complexity and the myriad ways people approach romantic relationships to, once again, the same old clichés and stereotypes.

I’m going to assume that anyone who’s reading this has either seen the movie or read a quick synopsis, so I won’t go over the plot. (500) Days of Summer didn’t ever really strike me as an amazing movie, but until the final ten minutes or so, I thought that though it had some major issues I might still like it. All the way through I got mixed signs about how the narrative framed Summer’s position, but somehow I didn’t for a moment doubt that she was not going to be portrayed as a heartless monster in the end. So much for wishful thinking. In retrospect maybe I should have expected it, as the mixed signs and creepy moments really were abundant, but somehow I didn’t see the train wreck that was the ending coming at all.

I really don’t think Tom can rightfully accuse Summer of any wrongdoing – she was completely honest with him about the fact that she wasn’t looking for a serious commitment from the very beginning, and she trusted him to be an adult and actually mean it when he said he was okay with that. The story more or less acknowledges this several times, which was what I was hoping it would do, but then it blows it by presenting her as someone who, as Tom tells her in that cringeworthy final scene in the park, just “does whatever she wants”, with no regard whatsoever for other people’s feelings. This appalled me for several reasons, one of them being the fact that, as this post so well puts it, there are some serious sexual double standards at work here:
If Zooey Deschanel were actually a boy, and in this situation, most people would not perceive her as the problem. She wouldn’t be a monster, a whore, a freak; she’d just be a dude. And she’d get to complain about the clingy psycho bitch she fucked who’s now, like, putting all this pressure on, that bitch is fucking CRAZY, she just hooked up with the girl, she didn’t buy her an engagement ring, etc. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, were he an actual girl, would be getting some sympathy from his lady friends, true, but he would also be getting well-meaning lectures about how Dudes Are Like That, and what did he expect, and he needs to be more cautious about these things and not put out so easily, and has he ever read a book called “He’s Just Not That Into You?” He should read that book. He would be told, to be blunt, that he was the real problem in this situation.
Then there’s also the fact that Tom’s huge entitlement issues are never properly addressed, and are in fact pretty much legitimatised by the ending of the movie. This is extra disappointing because there are so many scenes where the film almost acknowledges them; where it very nearly presents Tom as the huge jerk he often is, only to turn things around at the last moment and present him as the victim of a cruel and fickle pretty girl.

Summer never lied to him, and she doesn’t really owe him anything. No, people shouldn’t be careless with other people’s feelings, and yes, it's unfortunate that he wants more from the relationship than she does. It's unfortunate that their emotional needs and expectations are so mismatched and that he gets hurt, but she isn’t to blame for that. These things happen all the time. The fact that a girl doesn’t love him the way he wants to be loved does NOT make her a heartless monster, and it doesn’t mean she wronged him – just like it wouldn’t if he were a girl and she a guy. I just can’t wrap my mind around resenting people for not feeling about you as you wish they did. Feeling hurt, yes. Feeling lonely and miserable and rejected—of course. But the vicious resentment Tom so often expresses just makes no sense to me at all.

(Also, while I’m at it, why on earth did Summer apologise to Tom after getting mad at him for punching a guy who was hitting on her at a bar, supposedly to “protect” her? She didn’t ask to be protected, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her apologise. What exactly did she do wrong? Does her mere existence mean that she’s to blame when Tom stupidly gets into a fight because of her, in a situation in which she was under no physical danger whatsoever and that she very clearly could handle on her own?)

Even more disappointing than that, though, is the way that the film’s final scenes completely undermine all the character development that took place until then. Summer is a girl who enjoys being independent and who isn’t looking for a serious relationship. This is unusual for a pop culture portrayal of a woman. And even more unusual is the fact that at first the story seems to frame this as – gasp! – a perfect valid position, as something worthy of respect. So far so good. But then Summer meets The One. In fact, before she even meets The One, we see her crying as she watches a wedding scene in a movie. Well, of course. The only possible reason why someone, especially a woman, would reject the dominant relationship model would be because she hasn’t met The Right Man yet. Deep down she’s aching for him and secretly dying to get married. Aren’t we all? As Summer tells Tom in the park in those disastrous final ten minutes of the film, once Prince Charming entered her life she realised that she had been wrong all along, while he, Tom, had been right. Yes, there is such a thing as a soul mate and true love. But the two of them weren’t each other’s soul mates, and that’s the real reason why things didn’t work out. It just wasn’t Meant To Be.

….

I swear, I felt like crying as I watched that scene. I can’t remember the last time a story disappointed me this much. I should tell you up front that I hate the idea of “true” love – the idea that we can only form one real connection in our lives; that we can only be happy with one specific person; that relationships don’t take any work, and if things don’t go well, it can only mean that your current partner is not The One. The whole myth irks me beyond belief. Much to my dismay, in the end (500) Days of Summer reinforces this myth, even as it appears to subvert it on the surface. But this still isn't what bothered me the most. As much as I hate this way of looking at romance, I fully respect people who believe those things, and I can very well see myself enjoying a story that included them if I felt that it came from an emotionally honest and resonant place.

What really got to me was the way the movie presented sceptics like Summer—or me. The subtext tells us that clearly anyone who’s uncomfortable with neatly labelling every relationship is cynical, bitter, immature, and will sooner or later realise that they’re wrong. Why couldn’t Summer have said all those things and meant them? Why did she have to change her mind so completely? You know, the movie could even have ended the as it did, with Summer getting married and Tom meeting someone new, if only it hadn’t framed those events the way it did. It’s perfectly possible that someone who never wanted to get married could meet a person who made them change their mind. That’s absolutely fine, but it doesn’t mean they were wrong before, or that their previous position was immature and silly. Sadly, those final scenes reduce the whole movie to this tired stereotype. The immature one grows up and settles down, and the romantic one is rewarded with Princess Charming. But look, the usual gender roles are inverted! How very original.

This makes me feel terribly lonely, but I suspect that that most people would think that my objections to the movie mean that I’m as cynical and immature as Summer was until she met The One, and that one day I too will grow up and learn better. The thing is, I’m not bitter in the least, and in fact couldn’t be happier in my love life. And no, obviously I shouldn't have to bring any of this up to justify my position - the way I feel wouldn't be any less valid even if I were coming from a place of anger and hurt. But because the ways in which the film disappointed me hae to do with my experiences, here it goes: I’ve been with my boyfriend (a word I’m not crazy about, by the way, but which I use for convenience’s sake) for six years and a half now. No, I don’t think he’s the only person in the world who could ever make me happy, and neither am I the only person out there for him. But we happened to have met and fallen in love, we enjoy each other’s company immensely, and so we choose to stay together and do our best to make sharing our lives with each other as pleasant as possible. Not believing that there’s any cosmic significance to our relationship doesn’t make us bitter, it doesn’t make it “casual” (whatever that means), it doesn’t make us cruel or careless with each other, and it doesn’t at all make us dismiss the concept of love. My boyfriend is one of the most important people in my life, but not because fate decided this would be so. It’s because of what we have built together, every day, for all the years that I’ve had him in my life. Being this close to someone takes daily work, and isn’t always easy, but it’s extremely precious for that very reason.

This brings me to yet another point I wanted to make: even if the movie had ended as I hoped it would, with an acknowledgement of Tom’s entitlement issues and both characters trying to make the best of things with the new people in their lives, I’d still have a problem with the fact that two very extreme positions are presented as the only ways to approach romantic relationships. I’m sorry, but real life is not a matter of either/or. You don’t either dismiss the whole idea of love or believe in soul mates. You’re not either a believer in fate and love at first sight, or a character from a Beckett play. There’s a middle ground somewhere in there, a middle ground I very happily inhabit, and I really wish the movie had acknowledged it. Not to do so is – I kind of hate this word because I’ve seen people who like to pat themselves on the back for being so clever use it one time too many, but I really can’t think of  another – inexcusably simplistic.

Even if I try to read the ending generously (not as an ending that reinforces the idea of fate, soul mates and true love at the exclusion of anything but loneliness and bleak bitterness, but rather as an ending meant to illustrate that it’s only human to behave foolishly and hastily when you’re in love), it still bothers me that it gives Tom a free pass for his jerkface behaviour, it still portrays Summer as callous and fickle because she hadn’t met her Prince yet, and it still completely fails to address the whole issue of entitlement. ARGH.

As NPR put it (and I can’t tell you how very, very comforting it was to read these words), “For all its rhetorical whimsy and hipster dressings, (500) Days of Summer is a thoroughly conservative affair, as culturally and romantically status quo as any Jennifer Aniston vehicle (…). Its vision of the sexes, human bonding and the workplace are laughably superficial.” That’s what it comes down to, really: apparently, deep down we all just want to get married, and if we dare conceive of relationships in a different mould, well, we just haven’t met our one true love yet.

I keep wondering if I shouldn’t generalise; if maybe I should simply see Tom and Summer as two flawed people, and think that their stories are not meant to be taken as universal illustrations of love. But sadly, the movie’s constant use of voiceover to make generalisations and drop aphorisms on The Nature of Love makes this reading kind of impossible, no matter how charitable I’m feeling. (Also, the tagline is “This is not a love story. This is a story about love”. I rest my case.)

I think I feel so strongly about this movie because it could have been good. If only it had left more room for nuance and complexity; if only it hadn’t been so dismissive of anything that falls outside a very limited way of looking at gender or romantic love. If only it had really subverted all those old clichés instead of beginning to do so but then giving up halfway through. The music was so wonderful, the cinematography was so beautiful, and the potential was very much there. But then the story had to go and completely STOMP on my heart. Dramatic as it sounds, watching it was really a painful and very lonely experience. It made me feel – me and my way of experiencing the world – dismissed and erased.

 (I'll finish this by saying that a lot of people I really respect [including John Green!] loved this film, and it goes without saying that I don't think any less of them because of it. At the time when I originally posted this on tumblr I had some interesting conversations about the film with friends who interpreted it differently, and I'm always open to doing that again.)
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[personal profile] nymeth
Manic Pixie Dream Girl the First Manic Pixie Dream Girl the Second

First of all, this post was partially inspired by a John Green quote my friend Marisa reblogged on tumblr the other day:

 

I’m fascinated by the way the contemporary world has constructed this manic pixie dream girl (to use a term coined by Nathan Rabin) who flutters into the lives of men and changes them forever with her moodiness and mystery. This idea has become the kind of female Edward Cullen, and I am of course drawn to it myself but also really troubled by it, because I think it’s just a new kind of objectification of women. So I think I wrote about that in Paper Towns not because I saw it in my own life but because I saw it in my first novel, Looking for Alaska, and because in the years after writing that story, I became more and more troubled by the book’s failure to point out that, like, the idea of the manic pixie dream girl is not just a lie but a dangerous one that does disservice both to the person doing the imagining and the person being imagined.

I love what he says, and I love how this transition actually shows in his writing, which isn’t always the case when it comes to what writers claim about their own work. What I mean to do here is not only talk about why these stories are problematic, but also about why I’m nevertheless so drawn to them, just like John Green. It’s almost embarrassing to look at a list like this and count how many of these films are among my all-time favourites. This is a bit of a scary post to write, actually, because I don’t want to come across like I’m saying, “This is not a problem! Will everybody please shut up and go away!” I never want people to shut up and go away when it comes to criticism, even when I disagree with the points they’re making. And in this case I do agree, which leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions and vague notions that I need to try and articulate.

As John Green states, these films and books are problematic because the women in them are idealised to an extent that dehumanises them. And yet there's something about the process of doing that when you first fall in love that’s incredibly human and that really speaks to me. Don’t most of us do it when we’re young and struggling with very intense and sometimes new feelings of longing and desire? How do we deal with having someone, or the idea of someone, have such a huge impact on the person you’re in the process of becoming? I know I’ve been there myself, and I love these stories because they reflect and validate a kind of experience that isn’t perfectly aligned with the kind of romantic experience we acknowledge and value. I love them because even though this process isn’t the same as my current far more egalitarian, messier, and actually intimate definition of love, it mattered hugely to me. It matters still.

But of course, to speak of these stories in such general terms is to ignore the gender angle, which I don’t think is something we should be doing. This may be a universal and human process, but we’re only fed stories that present it from a male perspective – and yes, that’s a huge problem. It’s the good old issue of women being expected to relate to and put themselves in the shoes of men, but the reverse being unthinkable. Also, not believing that there are any essential gender differences in how we experience longing or in how we tend to idealise others is not the same as not thinking there are any differences in how men and women experience these things in a deeply sexist world.

I think the pattern is the main problem here – the pattern all these stories form, and how it ties into the history of the male gaze. I may love these stories individually, but when I look at them as a whole, they do ring alarm bells. They strongly suggest that to experience this – to become obsessed with, or be deeply changed by, someone you might not even know all that well but who seems to embody everything you care about and want to be – is only acceptable if you’re male. Which is why as a 19-year-old trying to write a story about it, I instinctively adopted a male voice and made it m/m.

As a consequence, girls are made to feel that their agency and their right to feel longing or desire have been denied. How many stories about unrequited love, for example, or about having deep feelings for someone who may "officially" only play a peripheral role in your life, have female protagonists? This is an honest question – if you can think of any examples, I’d love to hear all about them. And perhaps more importantly, how many of those stories about women present their unrequited feelings in a sort of heroic, glamorised light? My experience, both in stories and in life, is that this kind of idealised crush is exclusively the prerogative of boys and men. A woman in the same position would be perceived as kind of pitiful; not as noble or tragically heartbroken. I'm of course well aware that the idea of the tragically heartbroken male, Sorrows of Young Whether style, is also not at al mainstream. And yes, boys are laughed at and shamed for having deep feelings of any kind, let alone for deep feelings for girls who don't necessarily love them back. But at least the trope exists, you know? Sensitive young men along the lines of the protagonists of all these movies no doubt feel isolated, but there's no shortage of characters they can relate to; there's at least a whole subculture out there to make them feel acknowledged and validated and like they're allowed to exist. Girls in the same position? I'm not entirely sure.

Of course, the way we tend to read these stories can’t really be dissociated from culturally dominant ideas about male and female sexuality, even if the stories don’t deal with sexual feelings in themselves: it’s okay for men to experiment, it’s okay for them to go through several partners until they find The One, it’s okay to love and lose someone. For women, to do so implies you’re either foolish or Morally Loose. What you should be doing is finding and settling down with the person you’re going to stay with for the rest of your life as soon as possible. Nobody else is allowed to matter. (This idea applies to men and women alike when it comes to mainstream definitions of “true love” and romance, of course, but we do enforce it far more strictly when it comes to women.)

I’m a sucker for stories about people who have mattered and continue to matter to us even if the relationship is not permanent, or isn’t really a romantic or sexual relationship as we tend to define them, or isn’t even much of a relationship at all, but more of a vague and possibly one-sided connection: stories like Paper Towns, Meg Rosoff’s What I Was, The Virgin Suicides, and yes, all those manic pixie dream girl books and movies. But I desperately want them to be told from the point of view of girls too. Can you think of any examples of stories that actually do this?1 I will love you forever when you introduce me to some.

 

I thought it was interesting how John Green mentioned these female characters becoming a sort of female Edward Cullen – Twilight does seem to have had the potential of being a story about longing and idealisation from a female perspective, only somewhere along the way it became a cautionary tale about the dangers of female desire and the inevitability of true love. (I say this without having actually read it, though, so feel free to argue with me or tell me to shut up.)

When I was a teen, I devoted a lot of my time and energy to struggling with feelings of deep shame I couldn’t even put into words; feelings that in retrospect obviously have to do with the cultural notions hammered into my head about what I, as a girl, was allowed to feel or want without becoming a wretched, pathetic sort of creature everybody would point at and laugh. I wish there had been “manic pixie dream boy” stories around, preferably the kind that are also thoughtful and self-aware enough to alert us to the dangers of idealising people – but without demonising the process in itself. In sum, stories like Paper Towns starring girls.

They would have made such a huge difference in my life.

ETA:

 


1 My boyfriend read this post as a draft and suggested that Girl With The Pearl Earring might qualify. I knew there was a reason why I loved that book.
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[personal profile] helloladies
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
You know what, I love nothing more than a good love story. It’s a bit of a mystery why I don’t read more of them. I suppose it has to do with the fact that Romance as a genre intimidates me – not because I look down on it, but because it’s huge and I don’t know where to start. Besides, my less-than-mainstream views on love and romantic relationship make for a lot of potential annoyances when I read love stories. I’m not ever annoyed by stories that fall outside the choices I have made for myself, but I am very much annoyed by stories in which said choices are ridiculed or dismissed.

I suppose I’m difficult to please, though you wouldn’t think that the things I want and don’t want are a lot to ask for. I don’t want unacknowledged (or worse, lauded) entitlement issues. I don’t particularly want to read about how there’s only one tr00 luv out there for each of us, and therefore every other connection we form is meaningless and unimportant. I don’t want narratives that perpetuate the myth that honest communication and real intimacy will be easy if only you find The One. I do want honest explorations of communication, closeness and connections. And if they’re sexy and full of d’aww moments on top, all the better. Surely that’s not too much to ask for?

YA seems to be where I find these stories the most often, which is why I was dying to get my hands on Stephanie Perkin’s Anna and the French Kiss. And my friends, it was a breath of fresh air. Sweet, full of delicious sexual tension (and also with one of the best make out scenes ever), funny, smart, and peopled with characters I would gladly sacrifice a toe to be friends with.

Anna and the French Kiss tells the story of Anna Oliphant, a high school senior whose father, a Nicholas Sparkesque writer, sends her to boarding school in Paris. This is not something Anna is happy about at first, but soon after arriving she makes friends with her dorm neighbour, Meredith, who introduces her to her group of friends. These friendships help Anna feel more at home, and as a result she begins to enjoy being in a place as cool as Paris for a whole year. Meredith’s friends, by the way, include a French-named, British-accented, funny and smart and gorgeous boy, Étienne St. Clair. Étienne has a girlfriend, but that doesn’t stop Anna from developing feelings for him. What follows are almost 400 pages of will-they won’t-they, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anna and the French Kiss is unapologetically a romance, which means that it makes it clear from early on that the love story is going to take the centre stage. But I liked the fact that this didn’t mean that Anna or Étienne had nothing more going on in their lives. Anna in particular has friends and a family back in Atlanta, a passion for cinema, a complicated relationship with her parents, an interest in film theory, a movie review blog (!), and, you know, a personality, interests, and thoughts in her head about things other than this boy she’s head over heels in love with. So kudos for that to Stephanie Perkins.

As much as I loved this book, I spent a good chunk of it wondering if it failed the Bedchel test in about three hundred different ways. Another one of my “argh no can we please NOT haz?” rules is a story having the female characters’ relationships be exclusively mediated by men. Anna and the French Kiss threatened to go down that road when it threw Meredith and Anna, and also Anna and Bridgette (her best friend in Atlanta), against each other because of boys. But you know what? Then they talk about it. They discuss things and work through them and grow closer as a consequence (and thus go back to talking about things other than boys). These friendships are strengthened in the end, and the result is a narrative that doesn’t perpetuate dangerous myths about female enmity, but instead challenges them. Guess what? Girls can talk through things instead of pulling each other’s hairs and having mud fights. I know, I’m shocked too.

The same pattern is followed by the romantic relationship, really. There’s a lot of struggling before the will-they; a lot of learning how to communicate and how to be open and vulnerable; a lot of effort to achieve real closeness. Stephanie Perkins does sexual attraction extremely well, but she does the rest of it every bit as well. This is a story about friendship within the context of romantic love – a story about companionship and honesty and trust. Anna and Étienne spend a whole year getting to truly know each other, and it’s wonderfully sweet to watch.

There’s also a lot of working through entitlement issues, which I really appreciated. This is very much a nobody-is-perfect-but-let’s-give-things-an-honest-shot-anyway sort of story. In real life, nothing is ever simple and people constantly make mistakes, and consequently I have limited patience for stories that imply otherwise. There’s a lot of potential hurt involved when someone who’s already in a relationship falls in love with another person, but guess what? It happens, and it doesn’t make them a traitor. The same goes for someone falling in love with someone their best friend is also in love with. Huge can of worms, but nobody involved is a horrible person by definition, and nobody owes it to their friend to change how they feel.

Last but not least, a few words about the sexiness. The sexy bits made my heart beat faster, and no, I don’t care how clichéd that sounds. Anna totally wants Ètienne. This is sexual, in the sense that sexuality is about much more than intercourse – she’s not sure if she’s ready to go all the way yet, but there’s not faux moralism involved in her musings about sex. And best of all, she’s allowed to want him. Desire for Girls: Totally Allowed and Not a Big Deal. I mean, it is a big deal, in the sense that it’s emotionally momentous and awkward and a little overwhelming, but Perkins clearly feels no need to turn this into a cautionary tale. We need more stories like this, to counter all the dominant narratives that are still based on shaming. Thank you for doing your bit, Ms Perkins.

Bonus cool points: Intertextuality! Lots of allusions! Lost in Translation! Banana Yoshimoto! Pablo Neruda! Laura Esquivel! I’m all out of exclamation marks, I’m afraid. But really, what’s not to love?


(Posted by Ana)

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