I have been thinking a lot about how much things have changed for me over the years, particularly in light of the makeup rewind videos on YouTube where girls recreate their high school looks. I wanted to do my first story time on the blog, where I talk about my reading story.
Glum Beginnings: Age 10 and 11
Starting to read more regularly at age 10, I gravitated towards sad stories because of my own undiagnosed depression (back then it was undiagnosed. It’s not until fourteen years later that I got some help and diagnosis). This means lots of Charles Dickens over and over again. When I was 11, I was introduced to William Wordsworth and read his work heavily. I used to make up my own poems but didn’t write them until I was 14.
Things Go Bump in the Night. The Teen Years
When I was 13, I skipped a couple of grades and made it to high school, and this is where I started to see that maybe majoring in English could be an option because I adored mythology and classics. My mythology instructor suggested that I pick up a copy of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I read the latter in class for extra credit and I was in awe of the world building, the characters, the plot. It was, and still is, one of my favorites.
A year later, I started seeing the Harry Potter books around school. I was determined to fit in with the smart kids, so I denied any interest in those books because they were “for middle schoolers.” Then, I saw the first HP movie and I fell in love, spent my time reading those books to catch up. I remember not knowing that there were multiple books out, so I had gotten a copy of the fourth one, Goblet of Fire, and read it completely confused. Then, I reread the books from the library (Didn’t get my own copies of books 1-3 until after I graduated from college with my bachelor’s).
Staying Classy in the College Years
In college, I had majored in English, so I read a lot of classics and theory. My spare time involved reading a lot of Tolkien and then slowly transitioning toward the Twilight books. After reading all about Edward and Bella, I started to feel uneasy about the series particularly as I started graduate school where I was engaging in some serious critical thinking about what I was reading. It spiraled into interest in The Hunger Games and City of Bones, and, of course, John Green’s work. The rest is history!
Being stuck and sad makes reading, sleeping, eating, drinking, praying difficult. Everything is hard then. BUT, every once in a while, you get a ray of light out of nowhere. This ray for me was in Simon and Blue’s relationship. I have to admit that it took me a while to buckle down and read because things get to so dark that I can’t see my way out. I still don’t know how to find these silver linings. hilarious. He is also not dumb, impulsive, or silly. I was actually cheering him on.
Here’s one thing that didn’t change throughout the book and afterwards: I HATE MARTIN! A lot, okay? I just can’t sympathize because I can relate too much with Simon. Very much like him, I keep things to myself. I talk a lot, but I don’t ever share the private things. It’s too frightening to open up to anyone, really. So I related to a 17 year old. A lot. I still dislike Martin after his confessions. I don’t think they are justified at all. You can’t just ruin things for someone. I used to think this process was scary enough as it is, but there are so many more pressures presented in this book that just bewildered me even more. It’s good to be aware of consequences.
Oh, Blue, how I adore you. So sweet. I also adore, adore, adore Simon’s friends. They’re awesome people and I wish I had friends who connect with me on such a deep level. And, of course, the humor is just spot on. I can’t get over drunk cute Simon (or should we all call him ALEX!).
As it progressed, the story unfurled lots of great jokes and funny moments. I think there was a true balance between humor and seriousness. So many serious business times in the book, too, obviously.
Your Turn: Have you read any fun LGBT+ characters in YA Literature? Were they portrayed in a fair way? Share in the comments!
Today, a box of books appeared on our front step, which is probably the most exciting thing to happen to me (yet, anyway). I love reading because I get to meet different people and worlds, wrapped in beautiful words like truffles melting on my tongue. Never does it get old and I am happy because I get this opportunity to be introduced and make this life long acquaintance (which later on grows into a friendship/relationship) with lots of awesome people.
So, I decided to list characters I am excited to meet in books on my shelves:
1. The Darkling (The Grisha trilogy).
I love a good villain, especially when they are interested in the main character romantically. Most times, I end up shipping them together. I am just saying this in advance, because I can see myself loving this character so much. I blame Sam from Thoughts on Tomes for making me love this trilogy and world. It is an overwhelming love, I admit, because I don’t know what to expect really. I just hope the Darkling has a big role in the series, because of reasons. Also: Tumblr, where you at? You better step up your game and have mood boards and character castings.
2. Blue Sargent and Richard Gansey III (The Raven Cycle)
I have read two fairy books by Maggie S. They were amazing. I hate to sound like Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim, but, damn, that woman can write. Beautifully and hauntingly. I just feel incredibly in awe of her talents and her personality. She just has a captivating presence and spirit. It is so cool. Thanks, Tumblr. I already have headcanons and theories about the series (rhyming poet in the house!). Seriously, though, I am ecstatic to have this quartet.
3. Aristotle and Dante (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe).
For someone who grew up slashing everyone (because LGBTQ+ was virtually taboo and unheard of in my world), I don’t have enough characters in my world who are not straight. Much to my dismay. I heard amazing things about this book. I don’t like that there’s a second one coming (I know, I am in the minority here. I may be an extinct species at this point). I just like finality in one-shot stories. I don’t like it when authors revisit a world in a series of stand-alone pieces. Like, let it go (Elsa style). Anyway, I already feel attached to these two dude bros. I know I will be utterly in love with their stories.
4. Kesteral (The Winners trilogy)
Did I get her name right? I am not sure. I just love me a character who is not, not a fighter, because, listen, listen, listen, observe: strength isn’t always physical. In fact, sometimes, being clever and emotionally strong can outweigh muscle. And, that’s all I am going to say. Actually: hold that thought, because I want to complain about the new covers that I ended up getting (price is a thing). Why is she brandishing a knife/sword thing? I thought she didn’t fight! That’s the appeal for me, anyway.
5. Main character from The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Because of medications and recovery from ED’s, I have gained a significant amount of weight over the years of my journey with mental illnesses. It is a source of much shaming and embarrassment. I heard that the character in these books is a bigger girl, and that makes me so keen to hopefully have a fictional soul sister who inspires me to be strong and unabashed by my appearance.
6. The Dragon (Uprooted)
Way back when I was in my more hippie times, I used to really focus on mythology. One of my favorites was the Persephone and Hades storyline. Anyway, I feel like this story (along with Star Touched Queen) will satisfy this missing part of my life without me having to read the same boring stories and interpretations.
7. Karou (Daughter of Smoke and Bone)
This is kind of a cheat, but I have read a bit of the first book in this series, and I adore Karou. She’s an artist and her power is just mind blowing. I love the world she lives in, so I can’t wait to delve in and see what will happen. Not too crazy about fallen angels; this should be interesting. Laini Taylor is a crafter of beautiful phrasings and characters. I know that much to be true.
8. Nora and Kettle (Nora and Kettle).
I don’t know if I have mentioned this on the blog before, but I have specialized in young adult literature and children’s literature while working on my master’s degree in literature. I wrote my graduate thesis/dissertation on Harry Potter. So: naturally, I analytically read Peter Pan. When I heard of this retelling, however, I felt a strong pull toward it. I am not sure why. But, I learned to follow my gut when it comes to books.
9. Morpheus (Splintered trilogy)
Again, I felt like Alice in Wonderland was interesting especially when viewed from a lens that identifies/acknowledges mental illnesses. This retelling sounds like it would have a lot of history and depth. Very exciting.
10. Eon(a) (Eon/Eona)
I think gender is one of those things that were unbreakable growing up. Ironically, I broke it all the time. I spent years dressing up and referring to myself as a boy in response to trauma. I am looking forward to seeing a girl kick butt in a man’s world. Also: the cultural aspects of this novel are compelling as well.
Paper Towns is one of my favorite stories. Like many of John Green’s works, Paper Towns involves a lot of complicated themes. In it, there is a discussion regarding analysis, imagining people complexly, and accepting the diversity of people.
Wheels are Turning
I find the beginning of Margo and Quentin’s friendship telling regarding the theme of analysis and its importance. When facing the dead man left in the park, she openly investigates the case. Margo Roth Spiegleman is already displaying analytical skills.
Rather than dismissing the death of a man, she imagines him, his life, his struggles, and says, “All the strings inside him broke.” Not focusing on his outward appearance, she thinks of the “strings” inside him.
She lives with this skill in mind. From not understanding the basic approaches to adulthood through Q, she diverts from traditional paths to happiness.
When Q tells her, “Duke in the fall, go to med school, and become an oncologist,” she replies, “Isn’t there something that can make you happy now?”
As Q tries to understand her better, he finds her own copy of Leaves of Grass by Whitman, a piece all about the complexity of person-hood and individuality. She circles, “I contain multitudes.” Don’t we all?
Through her adventure with Q, she is humanizing the popular kids by providing Q with background information on them. From Jase cheating on her with her friend, to Lacey confronting his perception of her and sharing the rumors people say about her, to the myth of Margo, John Green brings a sense of realism to the way people perceive as “better”
“Everything is uglier up close,” she tells him. By the end of the story, he realizes how true this statement is. Lacey doesn’t think Margo is that good of a friend. Q wonders if she ever left him any clues to find her, or if she was simply telling him she’s okay.
Part of the story’s charm is the focus on unattainable women. From Ben’s infatuation with Q’s mother, to his growing affection towards Lacey, and then finally to his maturity as someone fairly comfortable with being single, Paper Towns is ultimately the story of demystifying the manic pixie dream girl. This image of a girl so out of reach, so perfect, so complicated, is given a more realistic form.
The same idea applies to Angela, a girl that Radar hides a huge part of his identity from. He doesn’t talk about the black Santas in his home and doesn’t let her come over. Furthermore, he doesn’t let her talk to his friends that much.
When she does find out his secret, she talks of how Santa is a construct, much like every perception we have about others. And, constructs are meant to be challenged.
Perceptions as Constructs
It begins with Q assuming that his “miracle” was Margo Roth Spiegleman. He assumes that, “Margo always loved mysteries. Maybe she loved them so much, she became them.”
But, by the end of the movie and novel, he realizes that she is just a girl, not a mystery to be solved or a myth to be followed. In fact, he realizes that the story is hers to tell, not his. He says, “what a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person. Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventurer. She was not some fine, precious things. She was a girl.”
Not only this, but she also tells him that she felt just as papery as the paper town she lived in–past and present.
In addition, he realizes that his miracle is his friends and the experiences they shared. He understands that the lesson is to notice the miracles as they come in life, “that doesn’t mean we won’t have amazing adventures, meet exceptional people, and make indelible memories. The trick is to notice before it’s too late.”
I didn’t realize the connection I had with Katniss and Peeta as they experienced grief outside of the arena and after the war. It has taken me a while to understand how PTSD works, how anxiety and depression truly function. But, now, I feel a closer tie to these characters. I comprehend the messages in these stories even more than ever before. Katniss struggles to cope with the loss of Rue, of Prim, of Finnick, of so many people over the course of the stories. And, she feels so disconnected that she considers committing suicide.
Her hope is in Peeta. He is her dandelion in barren fields, the sunlight in a dark sky. He truly anchors her throughout the stories as she starts to trust him. But, even Peeta struggled to understand reality after being tortured by the Capitol. His “Real or not real” game with Katniss honestly reminds me of what it is like to have mental illnesses. When your mind is not well, it plays tricks on you. You cannot tell what is reality and what is pure paranoia.And, it becomes so confusing that all you can do is ask, sincerely, “Real or not real?”
Back to Katniss, who struggles to sleep, to use her bow and arrows, long after the games. If that is not a testament to how difficult PTSD is, I don’t what is. Yes, sure, she lives through the war, through the games (twice!), but even a strong girl like her is bound to break down. It’s only natural, honestly. But, it is also liberating to see that if a character like Katniss can get hurt by the things she faced, it is okay to go through the same thing. I am not saying that we all know what it’s like to go through wars; however, the struggles, the losses we experience are worthy of breaking us down at some point. Obviously, we have to fight. We have to be our own Mocking-jays, fight back the darkness, find the dandelions in our worlds. And, by the same token, our sunshine can falter and flicker. And, we need to be there for them. Support each other, and help get back up. That’s the best all of us we can do.
As Katniss says, “There are worse games to play.” Truly.
Having just revisited Middle Earth in movie form, it’d be fitting to talk about Tolkien’s work a bit on this blog. His work is valuable and offers great commentary about good and evil, temptation, and grace.
The One Ring represents seduction to the evil of this world. Through it, Tolkien uses allegory to convey the importance of resisting temptations of evil.
Galadriel comes to mind, as she fights the ring’s call. She talks about how she could be a strong and terrifyingly effective queen if she had the ring. “All will love and despair.” It’s fear-based love, painful and anxious. Another example is Gandalf. He is pained when he tells Frodo that he’d not be able to control the ring. While he would be trying to use it for good purposes, it’d warp his power and produce negative outcomes.
Boromir falls into this trap. He is so sure that he’d use the ring to end the upcoming war on Middle Earth. Certain and confident in his own ability to resist it, that he doesn’t even see that thinking this way is a form of falling into temptation’s embrace.
Those who don’t try to hold the ring are rewarded for their actions. Aragorn become a great king. Gandalf becomes Gandalf the White. Sam becomes a hero and gets the girl. Merry and Pip become great warriors.
And, those who hold on to the ring are ultimately destroyed. Frodo and Bilbo are emotionally exhausted. Gollum is literally no longer in this world while the two Bagginses go to “heaven” in this world.
Unlike everyone in the story, Sam is unchanged by the ring, by the journey, and by the peril he encounters. He is the light for Frodo’s growing darkness. Resourceful and hopeful, he practically carries Frodo to Mount Doom.
He never has any desire to try the ring, no intentions or plans with relying on the ring at all.
The question is of whether you think it’s better to be unaffected or worn. Part of me admires Frodo for his brave decision to carry a burden on behalf of so many races in the story: Men, Elves, Dwarf, Hobbit, Wizards.
Good and Evil
Ultimately, this story is about temptation and its relationship with good and evil. Somewhat simplistic as an approach, but Tolkien relates goodness with the avoidance of temptation, or at least resisting it. However, to his credit, Tolkien still allows for a complex view of the nature of redemption. Ultimately, Frodo redeems himself by taking the burden and ridding the world from an extreme evil.
What do you think of Tolkien’s depiction of temptation and choice? Share in the comments!