Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This is *MY* Reality!

In which I try to explain what the beezus I'm doing...
What is Your "Reality"?
I'm continually intrigued by how many reviews and comments I see where someone has said, "This book is so real/realistic" or something along those lines. It's especially interesting to me when the book in question is a fantasy or dystopian, because as a snarky smartypants, I always wonder, "Really? A fallen angel sat next to you in chemistry?"/ "Really? You have to fight other teenagers to death on national TV?", etc. (that's my attempt at sarcasm - I'll stop now).
Earlier this summer I posted a reflection/tirade/diatribe (depending on how you saw it) in which I questioned the true *reality* that YA authors (and the media) are presenting to teenagers. I still think that the "reality" that is portrayed in fiction is mostly cliched and not applicable to the TRUE majority of teenagers, but that's not what this post is about. I thought about my high school experience, and the experiences of teenagers I know and interact with now, and I thought about which books REALLY offered realistic portrayals of teen life.
These books (parts of them, mostly) reminded me of what my life was like, and/or remind me of what life's like for the teens I know. *These* books revealed my reality and they either offered windows of reflection into my own experiences, or they featured a scenario that diverted from the humdrum "normal" actions so frequently seen in other stories:

The Hourglass Door (Lisa Mangum)
As of yet, this book right here is the single most realistic YA novel I've ever read, in terms of portraying teens how they actually are. Abby and her friends are social but not wild, good students but not overachievers, and unsure of where their futures will take them. Author Lisa Mangum portrays a fun high school social scene, without some of the more divisive issues.
And I love Leo's Dungeon, because it reminded me of the places my friends and I used to hang out, all fun and legit places where teens could have fun and be safe (only Leo's Dungeon is far cooler!). I also liked the portrayal of Abby and Dante's relationship. It's always a good idea in YA to go for the 'friends first' factor. That's certainly realistic to me, because I don't know many girls (myself included) who would seriously get all hot and bothered over a slapworthy jerk. But I know plenty (myself included) who would fall for the mysterious, brooding but ultimately kindhearted guy :P

Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) & Breaking Dawn (Stephenie Meyer)
A girl falling in love with a vampire is not realistic. It's pure fiction, pure fun (or not, depending on what you think of the book). But Bella's teen life is actually pretty similar to a lot of kids I knew/know. She's got her circle of friends (Eric, Mike, Angela, Jessica...I didn't say they were *good* friends), she's pretty good student, later she has a job... Besides Edward becoming the center of her universe, Bella's life as a teenager seemed like something I could relate to. She wasn't a club-hopper or a partier, she actually kept to herself and just went about her life. If you take Edward (and what you think of him) out of the mix, I think Bella's a pretty good indicator of how a majority of HS kids live. They're not into all that "crazy" stuff that's so popularized and cliched, they just do their thing and go about their business. And I liked that portrayal.
And I'm probably committing blogger hari-kari here, but there were some things about Breaking Dawn that seemed relatively reasonable, considering the overall story. If Boy loves Girl, and readers have had to read over and over about how much they *Luuuuurrrvve* each other, why wouldn't they get married? What were Bella and Edward going to do, take a break in college and see other people? REALLY? Here's the real-life connection: while I don't know any teen brides/grooms, I *do* know a lot of people who get married the summer they graduate, or during their junior or sophomore year of college. That's not considered strange where I come from. If you know you're in love with someone (fo'real!) why *wouldn't* you just go ahead and get married? I liked that Stephenie didn't beat around the bush and actually did have them get together in a permanent way. That seemed realistic (as realistic as fictional characters in a PNR can get).

Enna Burning (Shannon Hale)
This is part of a high fantasy installment, so it's not all that realistic to begin with, but there is one thing in particular that really impressed me when I was reading. There's a scene were Enna and Finn pitch a tent and camp out together for the night. And. Nothing. Happens. Period.
In a genre where it seems like every boy-girl interaction is hyper-sexualized, I thought it was very refreshing to have characters demonstrate that boys and girls can, in fact, be in close proximity without their inner rabbits taking over. That one scene (and their relationship in general) really had an impact on me :)

The Percy Jackson series as a whole (Rick Riordan)
Long live the lovable know-it-all! Three cheers for Annabeth!
This is just my opinion here, but I think that Annabeth Chase (not Hermione Granger) is the epitome of the rockin' awesome 'smart chick.' Hermione...she's just downright annoying sometimes! I love this series for so many reasons, but the portrayal of Annabeth is one of the story's many strengths. Riordan is a guy, and he has sons, not daughters (even though he was a teacher for over 10 years) and yet he manages to perfectly capture the personality of a teen girl. In a genre where being a 'smart, strong' girl means upstaging, overpowering, and practically emasculating the love interest, Annabeth shows that girls can be smart, strong, and also feminine, too. I could relate to her so well. And I've said this before, but Percy is truly one of the most realistic-sounding narrators in MG/YA fiction. He's hilarious, heartfelt, and never, ever over-the-top (or inappropriate). In a literary world where it seems like readers have two character options - either a childish-sounding and unsympathetic character or an "enlightened" but incredibly raunchy character - Percy was both original and endearing!

The Dark Divine (Bree Despain)
So I have not fallen in love with a werewolf/boy-who-changes-into-wolf or anything like that, but so much of this book rings true for me. The characters portrayed in this book could have been my friends, and Grace's high school could have been my own. It was a picture devoid of the stereotypes one usually encounters with high-school age protagonists. Despite their faults, Grace and Jude were portrayed as responsible, head-on-their-shoulders kids, and so were their friends (except Daniel at first, but...that's kind of the point!). It's nice to get that other perspective in YA lit, because, well, they can't all be Camerons and Kayes :P I also want to mention that many many people in this country are religious, and Despain's portrayal of a religious family speaks to a very large demographic in our culture that is frequently ignored. That will always be a welcome thing to me, to send the message (however small) to religious teens that they are being represented and acknowledged, too.

Nevermore (Kelly Creagh) - I really like this book because it does a *fantastic* job of using cliches but also completely avoiding them. Popular cheerleader girl and loner goth can almost hear the war-cry of the cliche: RAAAAAW-YOU'VE HEARD ME BEFORE I'M THE SAME OLD STORY-RAAAAAAAWWRRRR!" *But* here's where the story is refreshing: Isobel's got a brain. And not only that, she seems to actually develop a taste/appreciation for English, if she didn't have one before. Our valedictorian was a cheerleader, and most of the girls on the squad were in NHS. Therefore 'stupid, bitchy cheerleader' is a stereotype that just rings extra-false to me. And for the goth, loner dude (and literature extraordinaire) Varen didn't seem so desperate/lonely/starved for attention as is usually portrayed, and he wasn't portrayed as the 'know-it-all with all the answers' either. You know what? I'm just going to stop talking about this book. It's so well-written. Just go read it (if you haven't already).

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia/Margaret Stohl)
I'm not finished with this book yet, but so far I really like the portrayal of Ethan Wate. His voice sounds a little "sophisticated" for a teenage guy, but his character, on the whole, seems very realistic to me, and I'm confused as to why he's frequently slammed in reviews. Not every teenage boy is, well...gross or shallow, or a pig, etc. Actually, I knew a lot of guys (and still do) that are big readers and are very cultured. They still say "uhhh" and "ummm" and "duuuuude" and tell fart jokes, which are guyisms, but to me Ethan is a very refreshing but realistic character. What also is real about Ethan is that he knows he is different from the other guys and he's in a sense putting on an act for his friends. That's something that I know my cousins and friends can relate to. There's this image of how a guy should be, and when that image is even slightly altered, people seem to freak. But Ethan as a cultured, quiet, dare-I-say-"nerdy" boy?
I like it, I love it, and I want some more of it!

The Harry Potter series as a whole (JK Rowling)
And here's my reality: parents who aren't idiots and grownups who aren't useless. And guess what? That's Harry and company's reality, too! I always love it when books feature parents who aren't clueless and teachers/mentor figures that actually assist the MCs. It's not realistic for teens to have all the answers, and it makes for bad fiction, actually. And who is a better mentor than Dumbledore? Besides Gandalf and maybe Chiron...nobody! Sure, there are the Snapes and the Quirrells and so forth, I'd say that every bad adult character balances with a good one. I loved how adults played such a heavy role in this series, particularly in the battles of the final books. I was really fortunate to have more good teachers than bad ones, and so it just rings true for me to read about characters who work with adult mentor figures. It just makes the 'kid' characters seem all the more well-rounded.

8 shout-outs!:

Anonymous said...

good point, amelia, good point

Shy said...

I really love this post. And like you, I also cannot understand why people said that Ethan from Beautiful Creatures sounds like a girl. I think he is a good change from all those stereotypical guys frequently featured in YA books. What is wrong with nerdy type that happened to be a main character in a book anyways?

Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

Excellent post, Amelia - you make great points here! I hate hypersexualized storylines in YA literature, mainly because I don't think it accurately portrays most of the youth. Frankly, girls and boys can interact without them throwing down, you know? I hate when that is challenged. :)

j said...

Excellent post, Amelia! Like Steven King said, "Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie." I definitely things we can find realism, even in high fantasies.
Of course, we all come from different families and backgrounds, so what is "realistic" will change from person to person.

I remember reading Percy Jackson, The Dark Divine, and Twilight and thinking the same things. One thing you bring to my attention is all the sexed up energy in YA. I guess I have never thought of it before because that is one of my favorite things about YA. lol But you are right. As a teen, I had guy friends and we could have a friendship without any of those feelings towards each other.

And I agree with Shy. I think some people found Ethan "girly" because they are so used to the stereo type in which we place teen boys in. Nerds make awesome MCs too! :D

Ava said...

Great post! I totally agree, a lot of high school stereotypes have really started to bug me. I haven't read Nevermore yet, but I want to read it now that you mentioned the cheerleaders are in NHS and not the usual stereotype, because that's how it really is at my high school! It's refreshing to read a book that's actually realisitc.

Rose I. Cunningham said...

Delightful post! I have to agree that most books are not totally realistic, yet they do hold aspects of reality. I guess that is how we relate to them and yet the fantasy carries us off to the land of the reader, and maybe the fact that books have fantasy is why we love to read them!

Katherine Langrish said...

Some nice common-sense points, Amelia!

Liz said...

I love this post! You've done a great job of explaining Ethan's character.

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