Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

What if the last place you should fall in love is the first place that you do?

You’d think getting sent to Turning Pines Wilderness Camp for a month-long rehabilitation “retreat” and being forced to re-live it in this journal would be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

You’d be wrong.

There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again. And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about.

What if the moment you’ve closed yourself off is the moment you start to break open?

But there’s this guy here. Ben. And the more I swear he won’t—he can’t—the deeper under my skin he’s getting. After the thing that happened, I promised I’d never fall for another boy’s lies.

And yet I can’t help but wonder…what if?


Back in September, I reviewed “Pretty Amy” - a book about a teen busted for possession and everything that follows her arrest. It was a pretty powerful story in that it made me sympathise not only with the main character, but nearly every one else. Honestly, if you’re looking to write a complicated parent/child relationship, this is probably the first book I’d point you to.

So, naturally, when I got a chance, I went and begged asked if I could get and ARC of “Dear Cassie”. So let this stand in the way of my usual galley disclaimer - I got an advanced reader’s copy from the publishers. I’m also a raving “Pretty Amy” fangirl, so make of that what you will.

The book follows Cassie, another one of Amy’s friends, as she goes through rehab and tries to come to terms with the prom night arrest and everything that happened after. Right off the bat, I’d like to say, if I hadn’t already been a fan of this series, hearing who this book is about would have gotten me, hook, line and sinker. If Amy is the girl I most identified with of the three, and Lila is the girl I just can’t figure out, Cassie is the one I admired most - a tough-talking, no-nonsense badass who is not afraid to use her fists (actually, given how I was in eighth grade, I might be identifying with Cassie more). I wanted more of her, and thankfully, this novel didn’t disappoint.
Note, please, that by more, I don’t mean just more of the same. Lisa Burstein takes a character whom we didn’t really see much of in the first book, and slowly peels away the layers around her to reveal the real Cassie Wick - a girl not at all like whom I imagined.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. If I haven’t said this a billion times already, I’m a fan of character pieces - the more complex, the more surprising the protagonists, the more I want to learn about them. And when I misjudged someone as much as I misjudged Cassie, well… that makes things even more interesting, doesn’t it? Yeah, taking an established character and developing them into something totally new and unexpected is not always a good idea, but since we didn’t get to see much of Cassie in the previous book, it actually works here. In fact, it works so well, I’m inclined to say I would much rather see characters change and morph rather than stay closed in their own special little box

(*coughcoughnoneedtomakeshadyreferencesherecough*).

All in all, I think that “Dear Cassie” is quite a fair successor to “Pretty Amy”. Not only does it do a bang-up job with what it set out to do - offer us an introspective into Cassie’s journey out of childhood - but it also made me incredibly curious about Lila and Aaron.

These two are easily the characters I latch on, because of how much intrigue there is about them. In both novels, we only see little glimpses of them - most of it is through Cassie and Amy’s retrospective, and both Lila and Aaron keep their cards close to their chests, so you can never tell what they’re really thinking. “Dear Cassie” adds some layers to those characters, but it only adds to the intrigue.

So, absolutely, read this book. I think you’ll be quite surprised by what you find in it. I recommend it… with two caveats.

Number one: This is a companion novel, but it reads like a sequel. As such, I would recommend that you read “Pretty Amy” first, if you haven’t already. Not that you can’t read “Dear Cassie” as standalone - you can, absolutely - but it won’t feel nearly as complete. For example, I don’t think we even get a decent physical description of Cassie until the last pages, which can be a little confusing for newer readers, and some other major reveals wouldn’t feel quite so poignant if you haven’t read Amy’s book yet. So there’s that.

Number two: It’s more of a personal preference, but love interest Ben really didn’t do it in for me. One might argue that his relentlessness was just what Cassie needed, but to me he came off as pushy and entitled. Also, his grand gesture? Makes me wonder why he couldn’t just ask for her number.
I know. I have a heart of ice.

Still, if you’re wondering which contemporary to read next, I would choose this series.
Also, can’t wait for Lila’s book. I have a feeling it’s going to be awesome.

Synopsis via Goodreads.

A copy of this book was provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Romantic Heritage and a (temporary) goodbye

Before we begin: This post was inspired by Ana Mardoll’s Twilight posts, in which she uses the Smart Bitches’ “Beyond Heaving Bosoms” to illustrate the themes of Twilight.

Genre snobbery. Those two words come up a lot, the last time being in relation to the cover of the 50 anniversary edition of “The Bell Jar”. Apparently, someone thought it looked too much like the cover of chick-lit books, and that stirred a lot of controversy, particularly in the feminist blogosphere.

Now, humans are different, and as such, one develops an affinity to a certain type of thing, in this case a genre. Also, there is a little bit of snobbery involved everywhere. “I only read non-fiction.” “I only read books that are over 50 years old, and have withstood the test of time.” “I read science-fiction, and if you think that’s bad, you haven’t seen fantasy!” And so on, and so on.

Really, there is no genre that hasn’t been snubbed, and yet when one thinks about the whipping bitches of literature, three particular genres come to mind: Chick-lit, YA and Romance. (Not erotica, mind you. They have the Marquis de Sade in their midst, so whatever you do, they’re covered on the “stand-the-test-of-time” category.)

Also, some of you might ask what the difference between chick-lit and romance is, and for the sake of this post, let’s say that in romance the main focus is on the romantic subplot, the snark, the shagging and the big-ass happy ending. Chick lit can have all that as well, but with the romance working more as a subplot rather than the main plot. YA… well, we’ve been talking about YA on this blog for more than a year now, so it doesn’t need an introduction.

Interesting that three of the most decried genres out there (as in, the three that are taken the least seriously by critics) are also the ones where more than 90% of the writers are female. Why, if I were less feminist, I would have cried “sexist bias!” but if that were the case, surely somebody would have spoken up about it by now.

*whispers* What, wait? Somebody has spoken up about it? So why isn’t this a major talking point. *whispers* Oh, I see.

Yeah, we ladies will never be free of the “hysterical” label, even after Western culture has accepted that an orgasm is perfectly natural and vibrators are no longer perscription-only. Our sentimentality will always make us seem less credible, whether it’s at work, at school or in our books, the logic being that we cannot possibly make any important statements while our judgement is clearly influenced by our emotions.

Yes.

Okay.

Let’s go with that.

Believe it or not, this post isn’t necessarily about genre hate and sexism. We already have a couple of those. Rather, today I would like to look at the influence Romance as a genre has had on literature.

YA literature in general.

Now, regular readers know that I’m something of an Ana Mardoll fangirl, invoking her in every other post I make, and a major reason why are her Twilight deconstruction posts. Really, all of her work is great, but the recent posts where she uses “Beyond Heaving Bosoms” to talk about the themes of a YA novel have been something of an eye opener for me. (Note: I have not, as of yet, read “Beyond Heaving Bosoms”, but in my defence, I haven’t read much recently. Like… at all. But it’s on the list.)

Reading the deconstruction posts, I suddenly realised why 90% of YA feels so predictable to me - it recycles tropes straight out of the romance genre, one which I have been reading on and off ever since I perused the Samurai Chronicles for the sex scenes. Don’t believe me? Here’s a few:

The Hero is, like, the Most Awesomest Thing EVAH!
 
I’ve already spoken about beauty in YA when it comes to the ladies, but the guys aren’t exactly hideous either. In fact, their appearances are always described in loving detail, sometimes subject to baffling superlatives. In addition to that, though, they’re also the fastest, strongest, smartest, richest, most speshul badass-flakes that you ever laid your eyes upon. But oh, they’re also sensitive and gentle and really, really excellent carpenters. They fix their own super-awesome cars. They can cook. On dates, they lavish attention on the heroine while simultaneously flaunting their wealth, and when they take off their pants… wait, which one was I talking about?

(Sadly, the ratio of YA books that describe penises in loving detail is rather low, so I can’t compare. However, the protags often say sex was awesome, so we’ll take their word for it.)

Since we came to the topic of sex, if you read through Ana’s posts and the quotes from BHB, you will also notice that YA repeats tropes from Romance like violent courtship and veiled rape allusions. Basically, though the descriptions of the characters being intimate (whether they’re only talking or engaging in some of the old in-out-in-out) read like something incredibly unhealthy (or downright violent), we, the readers, are supposed to make excuses to see them as romantic, since, you know… designated mates and all that. Which brings me to:

Everything the heroes do is right!
 
Further building on the No-means-Yes courtships, YA also has the unfortunate tendency to make excuses for its protagonists. So the heroine is (in)directly responsible for the deaths of her friends? No biggie, they were just pawns in a bigger game. The hero stalks the heroine? It’s for her own good! Her womanly sensitivity makes her incapable of spooning food in her mouth, let alone walk from point A to point B unharmed! They steal, lie and cheat to get their way? Well, there must be a reason for it!

In romance, or its sister genre urban fantasy, heroes and heroines are often put into situations where they have to commit a minor crime to stop a big one. And yes, while hot-wiring a car does not seem like a big deal in the long scheme of things, the person they stole it from surely feels differently.

Also, this:

The book must absolutely end with a HEA!
 
Okay, so maybe not EVERY book. But with Romance, you’re pretty much guaranteed a wedding at the end, or at the very least an engagement. There are also some that skip over the wedding hassle and right onto the two protagonists living their golden years surrounded by their brood and reminiscing about the crazy adventures they had when they were young…

YA, by virtue of having most of its protagonists on the cusp of leaving high school, doesn’t always end with a wedding, but it damn sure wants to prove to people that the main leads got the ending they deserve, together for ever. Even the Harry Potter franchise needed to end with this image of white suburban bliss, with the heroes acting like this huge war they played a part in only got them to kind-of-sort-of admit that Slytherin house is not so bad.

Still unconvinced? Then ask yourself this: What is now the big thing in publishing?

There’s certainly some speculation, but what I see generating the most buzz is New Adult books, YA versions of 50 shades, and every single p-2-p fic that sells for a seven figure sum.

The big thing right now are romance novels… derived from Twilight fanfiction… whose major, major focus is to take the series past its abstinence porn roots.

The circle has closed.

So where do we go from here?

My first stop would be “Beyond Heaving Bosoms”, because it sounds really awesome, but since I haven’t had time to sit down on my arse and read anything since Christmas, that feels a wee big moot.

I guess that, by understanding better the relationships between genres and the influence that goes on, we would be less judgemental of other people’s reading choices (wishful thinking, I know). More to the point, I hope that, by understanding these tropes better, we can push them out, test the boundaries, go beyond the predictable and see what we get.

***

So that was about the Romantic Heritage, but there is also one thing I’d like to talk to you about today, or rather, something I’d like to say. This may not come as a surprise to you, given my rather limited Internet presence this year, but for the next four to six months, I’m going on a bit of an Internet hiatus.

What does that mean?

Basically, what it sounds like. I won’t be on the Internet for a while.

I will upload the reviews of the ARCs I have received (”Dear Cassie” in particular), and I will occasionally pop up on GR and twitter, but I won’t be writing any more posts for the Book Lantern, running interviews or guest posts or whatever. I'm still answering my email though, so if you have general queries or questions, I'll answer if I can, or delegate them to the other ladies if I can't.

Why?

Some of it has something to do, unfortunately, with the fact that I’ve quite lost my taste for Internet and book blogging. My general sense of ennui when it comes to the most popular titles out there has, sadly, left me burned out, and I don’t feel like pushing myself because I want to meet a GR target or whatever.

Also, since I entered a traditional working place, I’ve found myself with a rather limited amount of time and energy, which I want to use more efficiently, and running a blog is quite a serious task. I would much rather do less and do it well than keep on doing something half-assedly. (Now who’s making up the weird vocab?)

Will I come back?

Yes! Absolutely! Even though I’m currently burned out, I still care for YA and want to get back to it. And the community, too. But 2012 has been hard on the book blogosphere, and sad as I am to say, it’s not nearly as fun anymore. I want to step back and see if I feel more comfortable in it when I come back, so I hope that makes sense.

What now?

Ceilidh, Cory and Christina will be running the show from now on, so keep an eye out for their next pieces. We’re all on GR and twitter. We like hearing from you, so pitch your guest posts and let us know about your ideas.

As for me, I’ll focus on my studies and my personal projects for now, and hopefully, I’ll have a massive update to feed back to you after my hiatus is over. So… yey?

Stay safe, y’all!

An Introduction to Chick-Lit 101.


Women buy a lot of books. This is something of a generalisation, of course, but given that the majority of literary pop-culture pantheons of the past few years have been written by and for women, it’s safe to assume that there’s some truth behind that statement. The old way of thinking, one that’s still sadly in practice in the world of entertainment, particularly movies, is that women create stories for other women whilst men create them for everyone. Not only this, but in order to be successful, your story must have gender cross-over appeal, be it through a title change (Disney going from “Rapunzel”, “The Snow Queen” & “A Princess of Mars” to “Tangled”, “Frozen” and “John Carter”) or some plot and character rejigging. That changed somewhat in the YA world thanks to the first “Twilight” movie, which showed that not only will large and dedicated groups of women come out in droves for something they enjoy, but they’ll pay handsomely to do so. Fast forward a few years and the most successful series in recent publishing history is a female written erotica for other women (let’s not discuss quality right now) with pretty much no crossover appeal (another sloppy gender stereotype on my part, but the figures speak for themselves). Indeed, romance and women centred entertainment has been a nice cash cow for a while now, not to mention a forward thinking industry. The romance publishers were the ones who jumped onto the e-book and self-publishing wagon long before the rest of the industry caught wind of the changes ahead, and these books are the ones that sell in the midst of a global recession.

Yet it’s all still “chick-lit” to some.

I have mixed feelings about the term “chick-lit”. While I wholeheartedly support reclaiming the term from the clutches of those who prefer to sneer at it, that’s easier said than done. It’s primarily used in the media to denigrate the books discussed, as if they’re all meaningless piles of fluff that should be sniggered at instead of enjoyed. It’s also a term that’s flung around very carelessly and without much thought. Often the term is slapped on an author’s work solely because they’re female, which certainly doesn’t help women writers in an industry that places far more praise and worthiness on the literary works of men. After all, you never see Jonathan Franzen and John Updike categorised as dick-lit, although I feel it would be more suited to their work than chick-lit to Jodi Picoult.

The work itself can be as diverse as anything else the publishing industry releases and yet it’s all categorised under one general heading of chick-lit. Everyone from Stephenie Meyer to Jennifer Weiner to E.L. James to Jackie Collins has been categorised as chick-lit. Some authors are more accepting of the term than others but what does it actually mean?

According to that bastion of information, Wikipedia, the term appeared as early as 1988 as a slang term for the “female literary tradition”, while the page itself defines the term as “genre fiction whichaddresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and light-heartedly”. Even the definition seems unsure of itself – by that rule, is “Pride & Prejudice” chick-lit? The Guardian’s chick-lit tag includes discussions of works by Jilly Cooper, Shirley Conran, Jodi Picoult, and even talks about the Playboy Mansion. If journalists and authors can’t come to an agreement on what chick-lit actually is, how can we, and more importantly, how can I?

So this will be a series of posts on the joys, ridiculousness, pros, cons, covers, sexy-times, issues and future of chick-lit in all its many forms and genre spanning variety. I will try to make this as interactive as possible, and I’ll try to cover as much ground as I can, but there’s a lot of books out there and I don’t have the time or resources to get to them all. If there is a book out there that you feel I simply must read in order to create as detailed a context of the genre as possible then feel free to leave me a message here or on Twitter (@ceilidhann) and I’ll see what I can do. Since this is also a YA site, I’ll be talking about books that fit the typical YA chick-lit mould, and the discussions taking place on Buzzfeed and similar sitesabout YA being the new chick-lit

I would like to note here that the authors I have put here do not all come under what I would personally categorise as chick-lit, but have all been described as such by other outlets, and the intention here is to explore exactly what chick-lit is,  if that which we call chick-lit actually is so, and to generally stick two fingers up to snobby men like Jonathan Franzen and jerks like Nicholas Sparks (who will be torn into multiple times throughout this series!)

Topics:

The Grand Dames – The Big Names (Olivia Goldsmith, Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner).

Fame, Fortune and Fabulous Sex – The Bonkbuster (Jackie Collins, Louise & Tilly Bagshawe, Jilly Cooper, Shirley Conran, etc).

“What would you do?” – The “women’s issues” books (Jodi Picoult, Curtis Sittenfeld, Oprah’s Book Club).  

What the Kids are Reading – YA Chick-Lit (Sarah Dessen, Meg Cabot, Louise Rennison, Stephanie 
Perkins, Megan McCafferty).

When is Chick-Lit Not Chick-Lit – The fine lines of the romance genre.  

----------

Shameless plug time but I was on BBC World Radio's "World Have Your Say" for a very brief time last night discussing the recent molehill-mountain that was made from Hilary Mantel's speech on royal bodies, which mentioned Kate Middleton, and you can listen to it here (about 10 minutes from the end). I'm the "blogger from Scotland", obviously.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

“She blinded me with science!” Anti-intellectualism in “Divergent” & “Origin”.


If “Jurassic Park” has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that just because we can, that doesn’t mean that we should. Just because you’ve figured out how to clone dinosaurs that doesn’t mean that you should do so for theme park purposes. Even my own mum voices these concerns whenever a major scientific breakthrough is announced on the news, although when pressed to give an example of this happening outside of a film, she comes up short. Scientists in Edinburgh cloned Dolly the sheep 17 years ago but we’ve yet to unleash the virus that wipes us all out or be overrun by evil clones. While the science of our lives offers up potentially limitless possibilities to improve and understand our lives, in mainstream YA the scope seems a little more narrow and a whole lot less positive. (Side note, if you’re interested in Dolly the sheep, you can see her in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, stuffed and on a revolving platform in the same area where you can test your reflexes).

As the release date for the 3rd book in Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series is finally revealed to the world (mid-October, in case you were wondering) and the movie adaptation attracting the Oscar winner Kate Winslet to the production, the material warrants a deeper analysis. I’ve written of my dislike for the series before and focused on what I saw to be a deep anti-intellectual slant to the portrayal of a city divided into factions based on vague emotional traits. The villains of the piece belong to the Erudite faction, which values intelligence above all else. These people are stereotyped by their appearance (usually wearing glasses, whether they need them or not, because apparently we still believe that impaired eyesight makes you look smarter. One antagonist is also scrutinised by Tris for having stretch-marks, which is both childish and confusing) and their blind and arrogant support of clinical facts above emotion. In the end, the heroine of “Divergent” Tris, who chose the bravery faction Dauntless, puts violence above reason in order to achieve her goal. If you need to put a bullet through someone’s head to stop them, so be it. I found this to be particularly disturbing. The lazy characterisation and nonsensical nature of the factions barely allowed for any real development of the concept, but the glorification of violence coupled with the condemnation of intellect felt very dangerous to me, particularly given our current political climate and attitudes towards education. “Divergent” may be fiction, and it may be doing what sci-fi has done for quite some time now, but our entertainment does reflect our world in many forms.

A more recent example of these anti-intellect attitudes in YA came with the highly hyped “Origin” by Jessica Khoury. While the book didn’t quite light up the literary world in the way its publishers were hoping (they gave it a 250,000 first print and it dramatically undersold), any book that’s compared to “Lost”, one of the benchmarks of modern mainstream sci-fi, is bound to garner some level of interest. The book itself is fine in many aspects – it’s strong in its prose and characterisation of the heroine, a young woman constantly described as perfect yet remains very stubborn and immature – but ultimately a disappointment. The general message of the piece is hard to ignore: The relentless pursuit of knowledge will ultimately lead to evil. The scientists featured throughout the novel, including the protagonist Pia’s own mother, discourage emotional displays of all kinds and will go to any means to achieve their scientific goal. The book also features several animal torture scenes to illustrate just how bad they are. The portrayal of science being the catalyst of blind evil is so strong that even the mildly good scientists that side with Pia can’t counteract it. The anti-science slant of “Origin” is especially odd since the book takes a diversion into magic territory, which is much more acceptable than the cold rationalism of the scientists, and don’t get me started on the noble native stereotype the book invokes to create a contrast to the evil scientists.

The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction categorises anti-intellectualism in the genre in two ways: “a persistent if minor theme appears in stories in which the intellect is distrusted; more common are stories about future Dystopias in which society at large distrusts the intellect although the authors, themselves intellectuals, do not.” The former is pretty common in dystopian YA – an all-powerful establishment takes control of society and every element within it. In Ally Condie’s “Matched”, the society decides everything for you, genetically modifies the food for your nutritional needs, and decides when you die (at least they do it peacefully and without animal torture). They also restrict access to the arts, only allowing 100 poems to be taught in schools. It’s the classic battle between the left side of your brain and the right.

Anti-intellectualism usually exists in fiction in the form of a cautionary tale. Don’t overstep your boundaries or play God because bad things happen when you do that. That can be told in a dramatic and thoughtful way in fiction, and has been done many times before by people such as Kurt Vonnegut. The issue here, in relation to “Divergent” and “Origin” is that there are absolutely no nuances present in their worlds. It’s very obvious that science and intellect are not to be trusted. Science is cold, emotionless, obsessive, and ultimately destructive. If it doesn’t make you want to take over the world, it’ll at least drive you to innocently kill a few cute kittens just to prove a point. In the world of “Origin”, scientist equals sociopath, while the Erudite of “Divergent” are arrogance personified, with the depth of a latter Moore era Bond villain (but not Raoul Silva because he’s amazing). Anyone who’s ever worked or interacted with a scientist or science student will be very aware that they’re not ice-cold and emotionally vapid. They’re just as warm, complex, interesting and hard-working as anyone else, and certainly don’t deserve to be tarred with such a broad brush. Honestly, a little more respect for intellect would have done these books wonders (for an example of major research fail on Khoury’s part, check out Yael Itamar’s piece on the author’sdisrespectful treatment of cerebal palsy in “Origin”). The battle between intellect and humanity isn’t just a false dilemma, it’s a boring literary device. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why I Can’t Write Fiction Anymore: A Reviewer’s Confession.


First of all, I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who read, commented on, and passed around my Kailin Gow piece. The support is greatly appreciated and I will keep you up to date on any new developments. I’m still waiting on a reply from See Global Entertainment regarding her MMO adaptation claims so I don’t think this is a story that will be going away any time soon.

It was actually my Gow post that inspired this one. I was checking out the traffic sources for the post, one of my more obsessive habits, when I came across an unfamiliar URL. I checked it out and found some rather interesting comments about myself, including one from someone I considered a friend lying about me and calling me an extreme whackjob. That’s a new one, I must confess. Another person commented on my previously stated desires to write a young adult novel myself, and how my reputation as a blogger meant I would never be published.

Well, I would like to break some good news to those people because fortunately for them I lost all desire to write fiction a while ago.

This post isn’t about my feelings on those comments. I don’t care what people say about me, I’d just rather they didn’t lie or pretend to be my friend until it wasn’t useful enough for them. This post is a confession that’s been a long time coming. I used to excitedly talk about my young adult novel to anyone who would listen. It was a fairytale re-imagining featuring a gay princess and her fairy godfather, the charming but obsessively driven rebel she fell for, and the desire to change the world. In my head, this book (which I intended to be the first part of a trilogy, featuring war, cross-dressing and nuns who turned into dragons) was going to be a shot in the arm for YA. It was going to be chock full of subverted tropes, dry humour, social awareness and fearlessness. I admit, I was somewhat cocky about the project. I wrote 26000 words of it on my old laptop, which I had a friend regularly beta whilst I wrote. Unfortunately, it had to take a back seat to my studies and personal life, and when I got a new laptop, I just forgot to upload the Word document onto it. By the time I realised this mistake, I’d lost all desire to write the rest of it. It just wasn’t good enough anymore.

I have about 10 Word documents on this laptop that contain the beginnings of a new story. Some are jam-packed with notes and ideas for stories that poured out of my head and I thought had brilliant potential. My parents still talk about the great novel I’m going to write one day, joking that they hope it isn’t about our family dysfunctions. My mum semi-seriously told me to pay for my upcoming Masters degree by writing a bad 50 Shades knock-off under a fake name. I don’t really have the heart to tell them that it isn’t going to happen. I can write about 5000 words of a story, leave it overnight, then come back to it and just give up. The drive’s suddenly gone, and I have no desire to continue because there’s no point. It’s just not good enough.

A lot had happened in the time between my great YA novel’s abandonment and now. I had a degree to finish, a dissertation to write, a job to go to, internships to complete, friends and family to spend time with. Fiction wasn’t a priority. I also started to take my blogging more seriously. I think my writing on YA has improved exponentially since I started the Sparkle Project in the summer of 2010. Overall, as a critic, I’m more detailed, informed, and a hell of a lot more opinionated. I’ve been accused of having impossible standards when it comes to YA, which I understand to an extent but also think is an unfair dismissal of many problems within the genre. I see no reason why I shouldn’t view teenage literature with a deeply analytical eye in the same way I looked at texts I studied in university. The genre isn’t lesser because it’s aimed at younger readers. I tend to be pretty critical of most entertainment, and as someone who’s also extremely political (left leaning member of the Labour Party), my opinions on socio-political issues play a part in my studies, although I stress that I try to look at everything in as objective a manner as possible.

However, I’ve found that this habit is very hard to turn off. I’m almost hyper-aware of questionable elements within the media, particularly relating to women. I’m constantly on the lookout for the little things that others may miss or dismiss but are part of a wider problematic culture. I did this with my own work too. I was constantly worrying that it wouldn’t meet the standards I set not just for myself but for the books I reviewed and had become infamous for tearing apart. The truth is sometimes I had no idea how to fix all the glaring issues with potentially problematic tropes in my own work. Originally, the heroine was going to be kidnapped by the rebel gang, led by the love interest, but the Stockholm Syndrome element of it all began to worry me, and I didn’t know how else to make the story work. I couldn’t make the snarky but charming love interest actually charming without seeming arrogant or disrespectful. I worried about diversity and feminism within my work. The setting always seemed underdeveloped, but if I added more descriptions it felt overdone. One of the secondary antagonists, intended to be a subversion of fairy-tale expectations, ended up being everything she wasn’t supposed to be. I have all this knowledge of YA, sexism, feminism, literature and the publishing industry, and I had no idea how to apply it all. I spent more time worrying about screwing up than just writing the story I really wanted to tell. Eventually, that desire to tell a story disappeared.

You take the criticism thrown at you when you’re a woman with an opinion on the internet, particularly when that opinion goes against the grain. You have to develop a thick skin, which I did. The only problem is I don’t have a thick enough skin against my criticisms of myself. I have a panic disorder, which I’ve spoken about on occasion on Twitter and in other articles. It really messed with my head and my studies and I didn’t get the help I needed. Fortunately for me, these days it’s pretty much under control. Unless you throw a Medieval Celtic languages exam in my face and tell me my future prospects depend on it, I’m probably not going to have a breakdown. However, I still live with the fear, and one of the things that accompanies it is this delightful feeling of self-disappointment. It’s a weird contrast of extremely lowered expectations of what I am able to accomplish coupled with standards I doubt I’ll ever be able to meet. I spend a lot of time reading books of varying quality and critiquing them in the manner I feel they deserve, but I can’t quite manage it for myself.

I can talk about my great ideas and ambitions until the cows come home, but I find it impossible to put them into practice nowadays because I have entirely lost my drive to do so. In my mind, it’ll never be good enough and it’ll never meet the standards you apply to the rest of the world so why bother? There’s a small part of my brain that knows I’m a better writer than some of the stuff that’s published, either traditionally or independently, and that I could even self-publish something short under a fake name, free of whatever baggage comes with my name and blogger reputation. Unfortunately, that part’s easily shouted down by the rest of my brain. My thick skin doesn’t cover up my lack of self-confidence in my own work, nor does it give me any motivation to write. I’ve just completely lost it. I regret never finishing that book. Maybe if I’d uploaded it into my new laptop the moment I bought the thing I would have been able to continue it. I can write a review with ease. The drive to do that comes naturally and I seldom feel like I’m letting myself down with my reviews and articles. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. The truth is I would love to share stories with the world, and I would love to give people the opportunity to tear them apart, but I just can’t do it anymore. Every urge I had to write fiction has disappeared. After all, what’s the point if you know it’ll never be good enough? 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Curious Case of Kailin Gow.


If you’re a book blogger, the chances are at some point throughout your work you have come across Kailin Gow. According to Goodreads, Gow has written 114 distinctive works since 2010, all of which were published by The Edge Books, part of Sparklesoup LLC, which was founded by Gow in 2001. Gow’s prolific output conveniently keeps up with every major and non-major trend in YA, from paranormal to dystopian to New Adult contemporary romance.

Indeed, these books have synopses that bring about a massive dose of déjà vu in me. For instance, “Bitter Frost”, a fairy based paranormal romance which the blurb claims was read by Malia Obama (Google does not present any evidence of this except for a link which I cannot access but seems to show a Gow press released next to a completely unconnected Malia Obama story), bears a striking resemblance to the Wicked Lovely and Iron Fey series respectively.

Her vampire series “Pulse” follows a very similar route to The Vampire Diaries (more the TV show than the books).

The “Desire” series, as reviewed by Kirkus, the author brags (something you pay about $500 for, although the author claims to have not published the review for “branding decisions”), has a vague synopsis but shares many similarities with that of Matched and Delirium. For the record, if you don’t like your paid for Kirkus review, you can choose to keep it private.

Her steampunk series starts with a book entitled “Supernatural Devices” and practically screams Cassandra Clare fan-fiction (insert your own joke here).

The synopsis of “Loving Summer” is practically identical to that of Jenny Han’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty”, while “Saving You Saving Me” has already been accused by several reviewers of being a YA rip-off of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, right down to the contract. Incidentally, the author claims that the latter book inspired something called the “Saving You Saving Me Project”, run by the novel’s protagonist, Sam Sullivan (so I’m guessing Gow runs this site herself). The terms & conditions section of this blog notes that “The site is for entertainment purposes only” and that by posting there you are giving the site owner permission to allow your comments to be modified and used in any way the site owner sees fit. So watch out there.

Right about now some of you may be wondering what the big deal is. After all, we’ve discussed the inherently derivative nature of trends and fads before. When something becomes hugely popular and profitable, it’s only natural for others to want to jump on that bandwagon and get a share of the slurry. However, there’s something about the way Gow does all this that’s undeniably fishy. Her website and many book synopses make great claims about winning awards, receiving huge acclaim from noted sites such as Kirkus and even some TV appearances. Yet she’s hardly E.L. James or Stephenie Meyer in the name recognition department. So why am I wasting my time with this? Because Gow claims to have now sold over a million books. Of course, I can’t verify this but neither can I take her for her word because I’m struggling to find one thing she’s said that’s in any way honest.

In the age of self-publishing and e-books, authors can now take on all the tasks and responsibilities previously reserved for a whole team of publishing industry workers. From marketing to editing to making the covers, the author can do it all. Trying to get your name out there amidst the increasingly crowded market of others trying to do the same thing can be tough at the best of times. Luckily, Gow has found another way.
If you don’t have a brand, you can buy one.

For this segment of my piece, I have Rhiannon of Goodreads to thank. I stumbled across her fantastic investigative reporting on the Gow issue and think it deserves a far wider audience. I cannot take credit for most of what follows. For the original source, check here

I would also like to make it explicitly clear that throughout the course of writing this piece I made no contact with Gow. I tweeted about my research and bemusement several times but never added Gow’s Twitter name into those conversations. I say this because I discovered today that Gow had blocked me, and then tweeted this:


First of all, if you announce a project or development deal on your blog, technically that’s a public announcement. However, if you are the only source of that major announcement, despite the supposed involvement of other companies, then there will be suspicions. I have taken the utmost care in putting this piece together, checking my sources and facts multiple times, and making sure the details are presented in a fair and detailed manner. If Ms Gow wishes to refute anything written here then she is free to do so as long as she presents her evidence.

If you’ve never heard of online branding agencies, they’re businesses that “work[s] with entrepreneurs and professionals to create a personal brand for you as the credible "Expert" in your field.” Essentially, if you pay them enough money, they can buy you credibility in any shape, way or form. This is mostly done with media performances, primarily with shows owned by the same branding agency. In this instance, Gow appeared on “The Michael E. Gerber Show”, which is produced by Dicks & Nanton, the above linked celebrity branding agency. This show claims to have been broadcast on CBS, yet I can find no such evidence that it ever was. There are segments of this show on YouTube but none come with any indication that they were in any way affiliated with a major network. The Google results for “Michael E Gerber Show CBS” simply reveal lots of press releases telling me that the show was broadcast on CBS. Strangely, there are just as many press releases claiming that this show was broadcast on NBC, ABC and Fox. Once again, I can find no such evidence beyond those press releases that this show even exists. Gow does seem to have appeared on CBS Los Angeles, where she talked about “empowering women”.

Those press releases are also incredibly odd. As well as TV appearances, it seems that branding agencies can get you some press attention, if the press chooses to bite. Google “'Kailin Gow' Dicks & Nanton” and you will receive 1760 results, a large portion of which are press releases from the previously mentioned branding agency. This Google result also revealed Gow’s attendance at a convention called “21st Century Book Marketing” which was held in 2011. Gow appeared on a panel with three other authors called “Case Studies Panel: Secrets from Creative, Successful First Time Authors”. This convention was run by Arielle Ford, who has business dealings with Dicks & Nanton. Ford and Nanton brag about how being a client of their agency will give you “priceless” status as an “As seen on TV” professional. (For the record, I’ve been on TV as well. I was 11 and on a British children’s game show called 50/50. They did a close-up of my face and everything. Can I use the “As Seen on TV” label on my C.V?) Of course, one of the exhibitors at this convention was Dicks & Nanton! Gow also shares a platform with Dicks & Nanton on Fast Company’s website. Guess which celebrity branding agency announced this through a press release?

Another very big claim Gow makes is that she is an award winning author. The Google search “Kailin Gow award winner” brings 18300 results, mainly from fellow bloggers using her author bio in their reviews of her work. It’s an attention grabbing moniker, one that can prove to be very profitable. Gow’s Goodreads profile proudly declares her to be a multiple winner of the International Book Awards, which she proudly shares with Nelson Mandela & Rick Warren. Great company, yes? Unfortunately for Gow, a quick Google reveals that the International Book Awards is another brand exercise, this time from JPX Media. All you do is enter and you’re immediately declared to be a finalist. Salon did a piece on this trend here (thanks again to Rhiannon for her detective work). Gow also claims award winning status from the Green Book Festival, part of JM Northern Media LLC, something which has been exposed as another JPX Media style scam by several bloggers. Miss Snark a woman much more eloquent than myself, called it a “crock of shit”.

Not only that, Gow claims that her work is being made into movies and MMOs. There are absolutely no Google results for a movie of any of her work beyond her own claims on her blog. While SEE Global Entertainment is a real MMO company, there is nothing out there beyond Gow’s own words to indicate that one of her books is being made into a game. Gow's name and work does not appear on their website or their news section where they announce new games. I have directly contacted SEE Global Entertainment to ask them to verify Gow’s statement and await their reply.

“The Stoker Sisters” has an IMDb page, but there is absolutely no credible information listed beyond the book’s cover used as the poster, a storyline added by Gow’s own Sparklesoup Productions, and Gow listed as director, with Lisa Miosi given a co-director credit. When I checked to verify Gow’s claim that this short movie had screened at the LA Shorts Film Festival in 2010, it turns out that it did. It’s listed as a one minute long commercial. She screened her book trailer at a film festival. Commercials aren’t supposed to have their own IMDb page. The eligibility page explicitly states “we do not list commercials”. Gow’s site lists this project as having its production moved to 2012. Her website’s cover for all this is this glorious statement: “We reserve the rights to not publish information about the production of these books to screen due to the many changes associated with film/tv/game production.”

I wish I could say that was the worst stuff done by this woman. It gets even more shameless. Gow calls herself a “mentor of young women, and the founder of the social group for teen and young adult girls called Shy Girls Social Club at http://www.shygirlssocialclub.com where girls can develop positive friendships and skills in the creative field.  Members of Shy Girls Social Club can get a chance to win prizes, scholarships, and internships.” That website, by the looks of it, has been deserted for a while now. There’s certainly nothing about scholarships or internships for young women. Faking credibility for yourself is bad enough, but positioning yourself as a mentor for vulnerable women while taking their money is pathetically low.

Readers don’t like being conned. In this day and age, with so much choice and so little time, there’s a nigh on unlimited world of books out there for us, and it can be hard to find something credible amidst the sea of self-published authors and never-ending trends. Calling yourself an international bestselling and award winning author will undoubtedly grab a reader’s interest, and by and large, we will trust the author on that front. We’ll put down our money and hope for the best. Even if we don’t like the book, it doesn’t mean we’ll feel like we’ve been scammed. Here, I feel conned, and I haven’t even bought one of her books. It should be noted that none of what Gow does is illegal. It’s just business, and I highly doubt she’s the only author to have used this model. Capitalism sucks, unfortunately. However, that doesn’t mean that this entire mess is okay, particularly for a businesswoman (let’s not call her an author) who markets herself to teenage girls. Not only is she dressing up her credentials for profit, she’s doing so with work that is at best heavily inspired by several other YA authors, and at worst, completely ripping them off. My advice would be to avoid Gow’s business like the plague and read the original works she’s ripping off. 

UPDATE #1: My good friend Catherine sent me this new piece on Kailin Gow's website, which she offers supposed proof that Malia Obama is a fan of Bitter Frost, as she claims in the above Goodreads page.  Immediately you can see that this "evidence" is weak at best. For one, the piece on the Christian Science Monitor mentions the book is in Sasha's hands, not Malia's. No author name is given for the book, and indeed, Gow herself has never written a book called Frost. She has a series called Frost but no specific book with that title. I also have Catherine to thank for providing this Salon link which notes the actual author of the book Frost, which President Obama purchased for his daughters. The book was written by Marianna Baer, not Kailin Gow. I suggest that Ms Gow stop lying now, lest she dig a hole so deep she can't possibly get out of it. 

UPDATE #2: Gow's assistant sent out a conveniently timed Tweet regarding the seemingly non-existent MMO adaptation of her work on 4th February. Apparently the President of SEE Global Entertainment will be making the announcement "soon". This is very interesting given her tweet only a day earlier which rather passive aggressively declared that Just bc you can't find something on google or it hasn't been publicly announced doesn't mean it doesn't exist. #ResponsibleJournalism So she suddenly got confirmation in only one day that this announcement would be taking place? I find this very odd since, as I mentioned earlier, Gow herself had already made a public announcement on her blog about the game's development. My suspicion was only confirmed when I saw this tweet from Gow, retweeted to EDGEBooksNews (an account that hasn't been updated since), dated 27th September 2011:

"Finally got the go ahead to announce: Kailin Gow's FROST Series & PULSE Series have been chosen to become MMO Games for seeglobalentertainment.com"

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there is absolutely nothing on SEE Global's website about this announcement. No gaming websites have news on it. Indeed, the only confirmation available about this comes from Gow herself. Yet she said in 2011 that the game was going ahead, and she herself had been given the go ahead to talk about it, linking to the website herself. Other projects have been announced by SEE Global since Gow's Tweet, and still nothing on Frost or Pulse or anything else related to her. I am still waiting on a reply from SEE Global myself on this issue so stay tuned.

Also, See Global has a CEO, not a President.

UPDATE #3: You may notice that a couple of the above Twitter links no longer work. Gow's tweets on "responsible journalism" and the claim that the President of the game company would be making an announcement soon have both disappeared. The moral of the story here is screencap as you go. I didn't, but luckily the internet never forgets. While Google Cache wouldn't work in this instance, it turns out that IMDb stores tweets, and the deleted ones remain on this page. Notice the tweets dated 3rd February at 11:39 PST (screencap here just in case) and 4th February at 9:58 PST (screencap here). All of Gow's claims about the company adapting her work into an MMO still exist on her website, but the tweets that came out before this post received its second update no longer exist. I still haven't received a response from SEE Global but in this instance it feels as though Gow's actions speak louder than words.

UPDATE #4: The updates come thick and fast! Gow's post in which she "confirmed" the claim that Malia Obama read her book (all debunked above) now comes with a disclaimer that half backtracks, half insists the original claim is right and features no apology. I'll post the whole thing here:

"*This announcement is strictly based on you fans, especially Faye announcing it on her page, about it and telling me about it, and then this article. After careful scrutiny about this article, and since Bitter Frost is widely distributed in paperback at the time, we believe this to be the book they were referring to.  If not, this is an honest mistake, and I always always take the side of my fans and supporters, especially when Faye and the others were so happy in telling me about this!" (Source).

Essentially, she's saying "It might not be my book, but it might be my book, and it's not my fault for lying." Of course, this doesn't help her case at all. In fact, it just makes the whole thing worse. Remember, this is a claim that Gow has repeatedly made and is frequently used throughout her author bios, blog tours and the like. The quote from the Goodreads summary of Bitter Frost says "President Obama's daughter Malia has stated that she is reading the FROST series." Note the use of the word "stated". Gow is claiming that Malia Obama has come out in the open and proclaimed herself to be a fan of Gow's work.

She also claims a senior US Senator and her daughter are fans. At the time of the book's release, there were 14 female members of the Senate. Nine of those Senators have daughters or step-daughters. Three of those Senators are Junior Senators, the rest are Senior. The make-up of the 112th United States Congress can be found here. By this deduction, the six Senior US Senators with daughters that could be claimed by Gow to have read her books are Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Claire McCaskill (MI), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Mary Landrieu (LA), Patty Murray (WA), and Dianne Feinstein (CA). Gow's claim, of course, is false. If you are going to claim that a prominent political figure has publicly proclaimed that they are a fan of your work, that information must have been made public to the press in some form, and absolutely nothing comes up on Google in relation to any of those names and Gow except for her own claims.

Now the cover-up begins. There have been big changes made to Gow's Goodreads profile. The parts about her multiple awards and the MMO adaptation have been removed, but you can see the original version here in this screencap. Her website still has the game listed (screencap here), and it's still on the Bitter Frost summary. Gow's story changes almost every day. I know she's following my tweets on this issue despite blocking me (and every person I talk to about it or who RTs my piece) so I urge her to do one of two things - either admit all the lies and apologise or just stop trying to make this worse.

UPDATE #5: Well, that was quick. Literally the moment I updated this piece, I found this new update on Gow's blog, which is a straight up attack against myself and blogger turned agent Pam van Hylckama. It includes such classic moments as "a defamation and assassination of character pr campaign against me name... by a rival author's agency", claiming that Pam and her "anti-indie blogger friends" organised a hate-campaign against her in order to promote a rival author's work, and that we are threatened by her success so much that we had to launch a hate campaign. If Gow wishes to respond to my piece properly, she is free to do so, but she has yet to present a single piece of evidence that she is in the right here.

So let's get this out of the way. I have been friendly with Pam for a while but have only been Twitter friends with her for less than 24 hours. We don't communicate much and I seem to have lost my invite to these anti-indie blogger hate fest meetings. Gow was the one who accused Pam of being racist for not reading her work. None of what I have written in this investigation is "hate filled lies". A new line added in bold red claims that Pam represents a rival author (Julie Kagawa), which is flat-out untrue. Kagawa's agent is Laurie McLean. Pam played no part in my investigation, and for Gow to claim that she is leading a slanderous claim against her is a flat-out lie, for which she should apologise.

Every source has been cited, screencaps have been provided where necessary. I have never been paid or bribed for a good review from any publisher or author. I am a supporter of indie-authors and this new direction the industry is taking. I don't hate indie authors. I hate scam artists. I am not the one who claimed an MMO was being made of my work, then began to delete tweets and parts of my profiles when the evidence showed that to be a lie. I'm not the one who claimed the President of USA's daughter stated she was a fan of my work, then blamed other people when that was proven to be a lie. I'm not the one who claimed to have won multiple awards that turned out to be vanity awards people paid for, then removed that detail from my profile when people caught on about it. All of that was done by Kailin Gow. If Ms Gow wishes to continue pushing herself as a victim in this situation who does nothing but work hard to protect indie authors and young adults, she is free to do so. I will let the evidence speak for itself. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On Maturity and Adulthood

Spoiler alert for: 50 shades, Zero by Tom Leveen, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd, Storm by Brigid Kemmerer, Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade, Divergent by Veronica Roth and Eve by Anna Carey.
 

Innocent Adults


Children grow up faster and faster nowadays. It’s not a new observation, people have noticed that a long time ago, but it’s always a little jarring to me that I could walk into any large chain clothing store and buy a 12-to-13-years size shirt for myself. Or get a pair of princess slippers that fit me perfectly. Or… you get the general gist.


And it’s not just a physical thing. With pre-school entrance exams, beauty pageants for kindergartners and parents self-publishing their ten-year-old’s poetry, it’s almost as if we’re barely giving kids time to be kids before we pressure them to succeed. (Full disclosure: When I was a pre-teen, my biggest concern was getting this month’s W.I.T.C.H. magazine on the release day.)


I also won’t be the first to point out that those early exams and pageants and other better-better-best competitions are more about the parents than the children. In this day and age, Western society expects people to be perfect, and some parents use their kids to get validation. “See, my child can already request dumplings in four languages!” “My child learnt to read before hir went to preschool, so we bumped zim up a couple of years!” “My child has superpowers and the government pays us to use zim to spy on Cuba!”, etc.


It’s an achievist culture, one that demands that, if you’re not the best, you might as well not try at all. Victory or death. The winner takes it all. Pretty risky way of thinking, given that you are one person on a planet of 8 billion, and the chances of you being the capital-B Best are very, very low. Common sense would dictate that you keep your kid away from that as much as you can.


Young Adult


We on the Lantern have already spoken about the various ways in which this culture is seen in literature: heroes and heroines are not just physically attractive, they’re stop-the-traffic-gorgeous and even supernatural creatures (or jaded multi-billionaires) are smitten with them. Every single one of their actions is perfect and leads to a neat, beautiful ending. They’re something to aspire to. They’re absolutely awesome.


They’re also unrealistic.


Yes, some people are really smart and accomplished and beautiful and they get together with other smart, accomplished and beautiful people, but they’re not nearly as flawless as some books would have us think. Part of the reason why I love “Looking for Alaska” by John Green as much as I do is that it features a manic pixie dream girl and doesn’t idealise her. She’s exciting and bright and untouchable, but she’s also petty and insecure and does shitty things to her loved ones, and the text doesn’t make excuses for her. “Solace of the Road” is focused on a girl, who invents a new, better personality for herself, and then runs herself into the ground trying to hold it together. And “Queen of the Dead”, the second book in Stacey Kade’s “The Ghost and the Goth” trilogy, is basically about Alona and Will hurting each other in every way possible.


We’re human. We make mistakes. And yet YA books don’t seem to acknowledge that. Some authors, in fact, are so preoccupied with making their protagonists perfect they actually take away any kind of responsibility away from them. Much like Anita Blake, who is always forced by circumstances into doing controversial things, the Mary Sues and Gary Stues of YA do all kinds of shitty things without ever facing consequences for their actions, or even being reprimanded by the text. My favourite example is how, after being a jerk to the main heroine for 200 pages of the book, Gabriel Merrick from “Storm” redeems himself by beating up Becca’s abusive ex, and then acts like he’s best buddies with her. Um, yeah, dude, you called her an evil slut, how about apologising for that? Or even acknowledging it? No? Not even a little? Why am I not surprised?


Another thing: A lot of casual YA readers remark on the fact that sex in YA books is… absent. More in-depth readers would also add that it’s problematic. Some books don’t acknowledge sex at all, while others are all about how casual/uncommitted sex is evil and will ruin you forever, but sex in a committed relationship is awesome. Very few books present sexual relationships realistically, or show the participants experiencing complex or conflicting feelings about it. Which, again, is a little unrealistic. Sex isn’t the centre of our lives, nor is it something that doesn’t affect us at all. “Zero” by Tom Leveen makes the bad sex a symptom, and not the cause, of the detriment of a relationship, but it’s a pretty rare example. Most of the time, YA sends the message that sex is only really okay within a loving committed relationship, and everyone who isn’t one hundred percent invested is evil at worst and not-respecting-themselves at best. Again, not much wriggle room in here.


So to sum things up: We heap responsibility on kids and young adults, expecting them to put their self-esteem on the line in some imaginary competition where their chances of winning are one in eight billion, and yet at the same time we don’t give them examples of being held accountable for your actions, or offer them some advice for the times when right and wrong get a little murky.


Immature Adult


The result of all the above is a conflicting message, one that leads to a generation of people who are just as driven as adults, but with the maturity of young children. One of the more extreme readings of “Fifty Shades of Gray” (which I mention because of its direct link to Twilight) argues that Ana is too child-like and immature to make an informed decision about sex or give consent, and that the book actually encourages paedophilia. And while we may shake our heads at this interpretation (or just say: “I’m not wasting my time with this” and go install the newest WoW expansion pack), you can see where that person is coming from. Forgetting the number of times that children and childishness are referenced during sexual situations (but if you’d like, go to Jennifer Armintrout’s recaps and start counting) a quick glance at the text shows us just what a sum of conflicting character traits Anastasia Steele is: she’s never held hands with a guy or masturbated, and yet is something of a Chosen One in bed, giving magical healing orgasms like whoa! More at large, the story of 50 shades is basically about a man overcoming a lifetime of abuse and psychological trauma (that even his therapist couldn’t help him with) thanks to a woman who doesn’t know the first thing about relationships.


One might say that “Fifty Shades of Gray” is an extreme example, but it’s not the only one. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth has the protagonist Tris save the day (sort of) by virtue of her own speshul snowflake status. “Eve” hinged on the premise of a girl screwing the system by not screwing the supreme dictator (and no, that’s not nearly as exciting as I make it out to be). In the real world, we have a lot of teen authors hyped to be the next so-and-so, but only one that has the writing chops to actually back it up.


But that’s just literature examples, fiction examples. Surely it has no relevance to the real world, right?


Um, actually… in the real world, we have people like this guy, who basically wants women kicked out of the tree-house because we have cooties. We have products like make-up, high heels and adult dresses marketed towards girls as young as four and reality shows about child beauty queens, which blur the line between dress-up and sexualisation until it’s practically indistinguishable. We have politicians willing to take away the rights of a significant part of the population of their countries, for not being like them (straight, white, male) and not willing to submit to a role of secondary citizens, masking their true motives behind concern trolling and then outward hostility.


At the end of the day, maturity is not something that is measured by your accomplishments or the state of your body. You can argue it’s not something you can measure at all. It’s the balance you strike between being a good friend and looking out for yourself. It’s doing the right thing even if it’s not the best thing for you. It’s accepting that life is going to serve you a lot of shit, and not feeling bad about having not-so-nice feelings about it. It’s a lot of things, and recognising it (or the lack of it) in books is important because, as humans, we aspire to make our fantasies happen. Which ones would you rather make real?