Problematic YA Tropes: Damsels in Distress and Toxic Masculinity

Megara

Author’s Note: I started writing a post about YA Tropes that I found problematic, but the list grew so long I decided to dedicate a short post to each topic. Also, I am a YA author and I love reading and writing this age group. But because I love it so much, I think we writers can do better by our readers. Hence why I’m calling out a few of these problematic tropes. Here goes:

Tropes in YA novels are commonplace, and calling them a trope doesn’t necessarily mean they are inherently bad. Sometimes they serve a purpose and are accompanied by nuanced and in-depth writing that nullifies potential harm. But when you read as many YA books as I do (120+ last year) you really begin to see those repeated tropes as an endless parade of boring. Even worse, there are many that do actual harm to readers.

Damsels in Distress and Toxic Masculinity

Examples of this are a little harder to put in bullet-form, but here’s a few:

  • Guy defending girl against heckling and/or sexual advances
  • Guy’s excessive aggression (in order to ‘save’ girl) not called out as problematic
  • Guy that directs a girl’s body in a manner she does not want to go
    • Forces her to turn around to face him
    • Grabs her hand/arm so she can’t leave
  • ‘Playful’ tickling or horsing around that the girl says she doesn’t want and he doesn’t stop
  • Stalking, scaring, hurting, smothering, grabbing roughly
  • Poor Girl/Rich Guy Trope

To me, this trope is about putting women in a place of weakness in which they need a man to protect or save them, and also celebrating toxic masculinity. ‘But the guy is defending the girl against toxic masculinity!’ you say. Yeah, but he’s participating in toxic masculinity too. It’s chivalrous and all, but being a Damsel in Distress is still part of the toxic nature of misogyny.

We’re writers. We get to imagine absolutely anything we want. Toxic masculinity, rape, and sexual predators are a part of life and I’m not saying we shouldn’t write about those things. We should, but we need to do it in a responsible manner. Don’t use saving the girl from threat of rape as a way to make the guy ‘not like other guys’. Don’t use the guy defending the girl against sexual heckling as a way to make the guy a feminist. It’s not that those things don’t exist, and if it is an integaral and important part of your novel, then by all means include it.

But think for a second why you’re using it. Sexual predators are part of every world, but is it absolutely essential that it is part of your literary world, or is this just authorial wish-fulfillment? I’m sure we’ve all had fantasies about being saved by a well-built hero, and books are a way for us to experience that just a little bit. But when your MC is part of an everyday contemporary middle American world and the book is not about sexual abuse in any way and the MC can brush the incident off as if it never happened, then you’re using this trope in a problematic way.

Here’s an example I recently read, and I’ll try to be as vague as possible because I don’t like calling out other authors: MC is walking down the street and is heckled by a random man. LI comes out of nowhere (of course he does), chokes the man, is calmed down by MC, and then he whisks MC away to safety. In another part, MC and Bestie get into a confrontation with some guys at a party and the guys make lewd suggestions that they are going to rape/abuse MC and Bestie. Until of course LI swoops in and rescues them, throwing Lewd Guys out of the party. LI is also always swooping in with his car and saving MC from being stranded, too.

So what’s wrong with all of this? Well, for one, why are we reading about a girl who can’t save herself. To me, that’s a little boring. Also, why in this bubble-gum pink world are there so many sexual predators around when the author needs to show the LI in a feminist light? All of these are uses of tropes I talked about in earlier posts: Stereotypes, Perfect LI, Lazy Foils. We’re getting stereotypical and one dimensional descritpions of side characters to act as foils for our illustrious hero. Aren’t there ways to show a man is a feminist without involving sexual predators? Is that all feminsit men are good for is to save us from rape? And why couldn’t precious MC have a can of mace in her purse. And use it!

Not all heroines need to be the strong and angry types. I get the need to write about all kinds of females. But I think it’s even more important to show the ‘weaker’ ones being strong when they need to be. We get that Katniss is always going to fight, but we don’t all see ourselves in Katniss. If we see ourselves in a more feminine and less aggressive character, the need to see that character defend herself against an attacker—whether it’s verbal or physical—is extremely important.

Then there’s the toxic masculinity of physically attacking a person for using words. We all have our own ways of dealing with hecklers, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t want a guy to step in now and then. It’s nice to have an ally. But I do not need him to try to choke the guy. That’s not chivalry, that’s a need for some anger management courses. And it’s okay for your characters to do something ‘wrong’ as long as you call it out in the text. Make sure the reader knows that this person has some issues they need to deal with. Don’t just give reasons either. Like his past trauma ‘made him do it’. Everybody has reasons for what they do, but that doesn’t determine whether the actions are right or wrong.

Another example of toxic masculinity in novels is the guy physically directing the girl’s body in a way she does not want. She tries to walk away, but he grabs her and turns her around, holds her arm in a vice-like grip so she can’t leave, and she knows she’ll have bruises tomorrow. (Swoon! How romantic!)

Um, no.

I’m not a particularly violent person but I’m pretty sure my reaction to any guy laying hands on me when I’m trying to get away because I’m hurt or angry would be a solid right hook. Let me say it loud so everyone can hear me in the back row: THERE IS NOTHING ROMANTIC ABOUT A GUY FORCING A WOMAN TO DO ANYTHING!

Which also goes for the idea of a guy tickling, wrestling, or horsing around with a girl when she has said no (I’m looking at you Handbook). Yeah, I called someone out there. My bad. But I really, really hate this when I see it in books. I realize it’s not triggering or a problem for everyone, and there are instances when a consensual tickle fight is appropriate in a YA novel. It can be done well. But for some victims (in real life), this is how their rape started.

I’m not a rape victim, but I have serious problems with people touching me. Reading scenes like that takes me back to the helplessness and revulsion I felt as a child when adults would do this to me, no matter how many times I said stop. They didn’t understand how upsetting it was because they were ‘just playing’. But it wasn’t just playing to me. It was an egregious violation of my space. It still haunts me.

No means no, people! Let’s make sure our readers know that.

Lastly, I want to talk about the Poor Girl/Rich Guy Trope. This is another one that sets up the guy to ‘save’ the girl. Or even if he isn’t providing her with monetary rescue (with teens, it’s not like they’re getting married and moving into together) she still gets to ride in his expensive car, go on expensive dates, receive expensive gifts, be the envy of every girl because she got him. It’s kind of gross. It’s not fun to feel like a guy has an advantage over you or maybe you owe him because he contributes monetarily more than you do. I’m speaking from experience. And though my husband has never seen our relationship in that kind of light, as an independent woman it was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to. Especially when I stopped working to take care of the kids. I don’t think we want to set-up the narrative that we need a man to ‘save’ us from financial obscurity. I’d much rather show them how to do it themselves.

I think what we need to do as authors is ask ourselves some questions when we write these scenes: Why does my character need to be ‘saved’ right now? Why in this way? Why can’t she save herself? Is this fantasy and wish-fulfillment for me, or am I developing this character in an organic way that makes sense for the story? What am I teaching teens about life and how to react to it in this scene?

You would be astounded by the number of times Chris Evans has saved me in my imagination, but that’s not what I want to write. I want to write about a guy and a girl (or a girl/girl, guy/guy, any combination with enby, etc.) saving each other. I want to portray complex relationships with good and bad moments and not perfect reactions from everybody involved. I want strong girls who cry and weak girls who fight. I want quiet girls who get loud when they need to and loud girls who learn to listen. But most of all I want to show my readers that they don’t have to be perfect, but they can take care of themselves.

Author’s Note: Most of this applies to a female in the position of weakness and the male in a position of power, but it can very easily be applied to other situations switching the roles of the male, the female, or enby person. Though I wrote it strictly as female/weak, male/power, please keep in mind with your writing how changing the roles affects your characters and the narratives you are developing.

Other posts in this series:

Problematic YA Tropes: Stereotypes

Problematic YA Tropes: ‘Not Like Other Girls’ and Perfect LI’s

Problematic YA Tropes: Lazy Foils

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Post #21: #OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literarure

I know this sounds like something I’ve already posted, and while it is about the importance of diversity in children’s literature, it is specifically about needing the voices of diversity to be at the forefront of the stories we tell. It’s the #OwnVoices type of article I’ve been looking to share. Though Kayla is talking specifically about physical disability, the ideas she expresses concerning #OwnVoices stories can be applied whether we are talking about racial, religious, physical, sexual or gender diversity. Really, any diversity.

Kayla Whaley: #OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literarure

*New readers may wonder why I’m sharing these posts and why they’re numbered. Here’s a link to my post I’m Giving Up HATE, PREJUDICE and INDIFFERENCE for Lent.

And here are my latest 5 posts in the series:

Post #16: Listen and Learn . . . 
Post #17: Comprehensive List of LGBTQ+ Term Definitions
Post #18: Discussion: Body Positivity in YA – Where’s the Love for Curvy Women?
Post #19: Beyonce in Formation
Post #20: #OscarSoWhite

*Please remember to leave the sites I post clean. We are here to learn, not debate. Even if you disagree, we need to learn that just because we have an opinion, doesn’t mean we need to share it all the time.*

Pitchwars 2015: #PimpMyBio Blog Hop

For my usual readers (all five of you 🙂 ) I’m participating in this year’s PitchWars contest organized by Brenda Drake. Seriously, does she ever sleep? For more information you can look here.

For all those lovely mentors and potential mentees who might want to get to know me, well, here you go.

First thing everyone should know: I’m a stay-at-home mom. Here are my kids:

Cute Gremlins

Awwww! Aren’t they cute? There should be five in that picture, though it looks like one of the neighbor kids snuck in the back. But yeah, five kids. The fourth turned out to be four and five. Those identical twins can sneak up on you.

Now here’s a pic at 6:30am or when I say “No!” or when we run out of chocolate milk:

Scary Gremlins

So the next time someone says, “Twins must be so much fun!” I will show them this picture.

And what should you now about me? Here’s a short list
– I have an Associates Degree in Architectural Technology (That means I can draw pretty pictures on the computer)
– I have not used that degree in 9 years (Moving to a small town kind of cut the job choices)
– I write YA, though I also have a trunked MG that may some day be resurrected
– I love all things HARRY POTTER, STAR WARS, FIREFLY, HUNGER GAMES, AVENGERS, STAR TREK, LOTR, YA BOOKS, and so much more as my Pinterest boards can attest
– I show my love through homemade frosting, so-so cakes, and impossible projects for which I will never make the deadline (but always do!)

2014-03-16-35 Hungry Caterpillar Cake

Yeah, those are handmade fondant cut-outs of ALL the food from THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. Each one painted with food coloring to exactly match Eric Carle’s beautiful drawings. For a two-year-old’s birthday. The first step is admitting I have a problem . . . I’m not there yet.

But here’s something that IS a problem:

feet

Not these:

Baby Feet

Oh my gosh, my heart is melting! But the other ones? Ugh! I do not like to touch feet. I do not like anyone touching MY feet. I do not like anyone touching ME with their feet. And for goodness sake don’t touch MY feet with YOUR feet! Ahhhh!

no touchy

So now that we’ve got that straight . . .

What do I plan to do in the PitchWars contest?

I aim to misbehave

Just kidding! I’m a rule follower. But I can’t resist that gif!

So I’m actually more like this:

Hermione raising hand

And a little of this:

Rory Book Smell

And a lot of this:

Jim Carrey Typing

But when I write I get to be this:

Katniss Shooting

And this:

Tauriel

And a whole lot of this!

Han and Leia Kiss

I’ll leave you on a more serious note, though writing in GIFS is fun! My YA Science Fiction THEY CHOSE THE STARS is a retelling of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. When I first saw the 1992 film starring Daniel Day Lewis, I was so enchanted I had to read the abridged version. I was seventeen. And I knew someday I wanted to write something epic like that. When I decided to attempt a re-telling I read the full version written in 1826 by James Fenimore Cooper. It was a slog (now I know why there’s an abridged version) but I learned so much from it. What Cooper did right. What Cooper did wrong. And it became about more than telling an epic tale. For example, in the original version, Cora is bi-racial but passes for white. In an 1826 novel!!! (There are less than honorable reasons for that BTW, but not for this discussion) But my point is, TLOTM was about so much more than the surface adventure, and I wanted to encapsulate that into my YA as well. Hopefully I did and a mentor is willing to help me make it even better!

A big heartfelt thank you to Brenda Drake for putting on the contest, all the mentors for the insane amount of time it will take to participate in this event, and the agents who give our stories a read and bring those that they can into the light, giving them breath and life.

And since I’m sure my GIF laden bio isn’t enough for all of you, you can find a list of all the other participant’s bios here on Christopher Keelty’s blog. Be sure to give him a shout out for putting this #PimpMyBio Blog Hop on. (What a nice guy!)

Let’s Keep the Science in Science Fiction!

eye

Recently I’ve been reading YA Science Fiction in preparation for writing my own. I’ve also been researching all the science I will probably abuse profusely once I start writing that novel. For some reason, I feel like I owe it to my reader to actually know what is required for a spacewalk or blast off or how radiation actually affects organic life before I decide to make up a whole bunch of crazy shit about it.

But this has drawn my attention to something I haven’t thought about a lot before. To be honest, I haven’t read a lot of Science Fiction, and what I have read seemed pretty convincing to me. I’ve seen plenty of movies and TV shows: Star Trek, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Independence Day and I could go on, but I won’t. What never occurred to me was the science behind it all. Because I had zero clue about science. I learned just enough to pass the tests in school and promptly forgot all of it. I hated science. It was boring. What would I ever need this crap for anyway?

Uh, yeah, who knew I would someday write a Sci-fi story and need some of that info I so blatantly discarded as a kid. So, I started researching. Turns out, space travel and exploration is actually pretty cool. The how and the why of things is interesting. No, I’m no expert and I couldn’t care less about the chemical composition of a star, but there were some very basic pieces of knowledge I learned during my research. My husband said, “You’re going to know every possible way the world can end by the time you’re done.” Yes, Honey, I will, and it doesn’t help me sleep at night!

But doing all this research has made me wonder, do other authors do this much research? And if they do, why do they completely ignore what they’ve learned? There’s a particular series I read recently that I’ll be picking on anonymously through out this post. If you’ve read it, you’ll recognize it. If not, don’t worry, it will all make sense. And trust me, I get that writers have to take license with actual facts for a variety of reasons: 1) It’s good story telling. No one wants a science lesson when they pick up a YA 2) We don’t know what the future holds for scientific advancement, so making it up is all part of the job. 3) Most people don’t know the difference anyway.

Still, I’d like to at least acknowledge the facts, even if I bend the future a little bit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are some fallacies I’ve experienced in Sci-fi novels that I felt could have been handled better.

1) Space Walk: Your characters need to go on a space walk to escape the bad guys or fix their ship or save their companion who’s in danger outside. Often, and this is fairly common in Science Fiction whether movies or books, the character throws on an annoying suit that takes them a few minutes to fit together, grumbling all the time, then pop into an airlock and immediately exit the craft into space. Let’s talk about how this goes in the real world. It takes an astronaut 6 hours to prepare for a space walk. 6 hours! They have to get the oxygen level in their blood higher, and the nitrogen level lower, in order to avoid getting the bends. It’s just like in deep sea diving. This process takes some time, and they also have to get their bodies acclimated to a different pressure. Then of course, there’s that suit, which takes a lot more than just a few minutes to don. 6 hours, did I mention that? So yeah, yeah, this is one of those, “But science in the future will develop a way that a suit which is far less cumbersome than current models will regulate your temperature perfectly, create the perfect pressure environment for our bodies and make that silly nitrogen in the blood system a thing of the past.” Maybe. And I know this is the premise most authors work with, but is it just lazy writing? Why can’t the time factor and all the steps you need to take be part of the story? Agonizing every second as your chances of saving the world/boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend slip away while you’re waiting. Honestly, I’d probably abuse this one too, but can we just acknowledge it? “Boy, Bob, this situation would be a lot worse if we lived 500 years ago back in the early 2000’s. We’d never get out there in time!” Okay, maybe not like that, but still. Science people. Real science.

2) Space Travel: Your characters are preparing to blast off into space, or maybe re-enter earth’s atmosphere. They take a seat in their space shuttle in their everyday clothes and head out into space. Why is this odd? Well, I’m not positive about re-entry, but the blast off requires astronauts to wear a full space suit. They’re locked in place and have cooling systems to ward off the intense heat from the lift off. Okay, so here’s another one that can be explained away (except they never explain it) and I will most definitely abuse this one in my novel. I already have the scene played out, but it’s re-entry, not lift off. Anyway, it’s easy to say that future technology will find a way to make space travel more like an airplane ride. Heat shields will be so advanced we’ll never notice the change, and our shuttles will have the ability to gently coast in and out of our atmosphere as if you’re simply taking a trip to Tahiti. So while this is probably pretty unrealistic, it’s one of those Sci-fi tropes we’ll probably never abandon. Space travel has to be easy, or chances are good our characters won’t get to use it.

3) Back on earth where nuclear war raged 300 years earlier, we find a two-headed deer. Of course, the radiation triggered genetic mutation, but don’t worry, you’ll be fine. The radiation dissipated ages ago and this is just evolution. This one is just blatantly wrong as far as I can figure out. First, radiation will trigger genetic mutation, but it’s on a case-by-case basis. Radiation will make people sick, cause cancer, or possibly genetically alter a fetus, but it isn’t an actual change to the DNA they pass along. Meaning, their children won’t be genetically mutated if they remove themselves from the radiation. And if that deer was mutated by radiation, not genetic evolution, then it is not safe for humans to be traipsing around the same woods. Plus, while mutation doesn’t necessarily follow the “survival of the fittest” scenario, evolution generally does. Mutations happen all the time (think cancer), and we do pass some of them down to our children. The idea behind evolution is that mutations that make us stronger and more able to survive are passed down more often, thereby creating an evolutionary change. For example, around the time we started domesticating animals and drinking their milk, only a small percentage of humans could digest the lactose in milk. The ability to do this was passed down to more people because people who were not lactose intolerant lived longer and had more children. People who were lactose intolerant died more often and had a less healthy life because they couldn’t digest one of their major food sources. So that two-headed deer? Even if it was a genetic mutation that could be passed down from mother to baby, I would think giving birth to a two-headed baby would be difficult. So difficult that many babies and mothers would die in the process, thereby eliminating that gene from the gene pool. I’m no scientist, but these are the observations I’ve come up with. If you’re going to have your animals be evolutionarily changed, there has to be a case for why, not just because it’s cool. Oh, and one last thing, the fastest known case of human evolution (maybe evolution in general) is 3000 years. It took people living in Nepal 3000 years for their bodies to change (they produce fewer red blood cells) so they were better adapted to live in high altitudes. Evolution happens, but it doesn’t happen fast.
* NOTE:* Since writing this, I have come across further research that indicates evolution in some plants and animals has been observed at a markedly increased rate due to climate change. I’m talking birds laying eggs earlier to coincide with the earlier hatching of worms, squirrels who give birth earlier in spring, drought resistant mustard plants in California and a few other examples, all happening over 30-40 years. To look at them, they are the same as their counterparts, but they each contain genes that allow them to survive better than others. Still no two-headed deer, but evolution can take place on a small scale over a quicker time-frame and in response to extreme situations of outside pressure. But such mutations only become an evolutionary change if they help the species to better adapt to their environment and become the norm instead of an exception.

4) It’s 300 years in the future (yup, same novel) after a nuclear war has ravaged the planet and people live in space. We don’t know how much radiation will kill a person so we’re going to test it on orphan children, because hey, no one will notice, right? Um, I call bullshit on this one. We know right now how much radiation will kill a person. We know what it will do. This, in my opinion, was just to make the “government” evil and for shock factor. After Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Cherynobl and other disasters, we have the data, and since they have knowledge of so many other things on their space ships, why wouldn’t they know this? This story doesn’t take place 300 years into our future, but 300 years past the time they had space ships big enough to fit thousands of people and launch them into space for safety. So the idea that they would have no idea how much radiation it would take to kill a person and what it would do to the human body is ludicrous.

5) Your space ships are failing and you need to know now whether the planet is safe after 300 years on its own. Let’s send a bunch of criminals with monitoring bracelets. If they die, then we know it’s not safe. Okay, so we have space ships that have held thousands of people for 300 years in space, we have monitoring bracelets that send data back to the mother ship about vital signs, and there’s countless other instances of body scan technology, the aforementioned space walk abilities, the aforementioned space travel abilities, but we don’t have a geiger counter? Or anything else that detects levels of radiation? How is this even possible? If you had these big ships that were shipping off into space to save humanity, but you knew wouldn’t last forever, wouldn’t you take the equipment you needed to some day return? Or make it? They make everything else. And as for those monitoring bracelets, they can transmit data, but the people dropped off on earth have no way to communicate with the ship. What kind of an ass-backwards way is this to re-colonize the planet? It’s like they’re trying to fail!

6) We are losing oxygen in our space station, so we must shut down a huge section, let those people die, and prepare to evacuate and return to earth. This one was a little confusing to me. I wasn’t sure if these were space ships that were docked together, or a space station with different huge sections, or what exactly. But let me tell you why I think this whole scenario was ridiculous. First, currently space shuttles and stations are built in manageable sections. If there is a breech or problem in one section, the astronauts can shut that section and hopefully fix the problem, or at least isolate themselves from the problem. It is unrealistic to me that this would change. Space is a hostile environment and humans must take every precaution to survive. Those stations or ships or whatever they were, would have been built so a problem could be isolated, and I don’t mean allowing thousands of people to die in a huge section. There would be smaller sections. Second, it would have been built in a way that allowed them to isolate the problem and determine where the problem was so they could fix it. They wouldn’t just say, “Oh damn, we have a leak. Too bad we can’t fix it.” Plus, and this I’m not really sure of, I have to believe the space stations we currently have must produce or recycle oxygen in some way. I don’ think it would be feasible to send up oxygen to them. Like I said, not sure about this one, but I would think a future space ship has to have a way of providing oxygen to it’s inhabitants.

7) When people die, we will place them in metal coffins and shoot them off into space. So here’s why this one is a problem. Space junk. The sticker off a space shuttle part that says MADE IN CHINA can rip a hole through a space suit, ultimately causing death. Anything “floating” in space is going so fast a small piece could take your head off. Just imagine what a metal coffin could do! I’ve seen this in a number of Science Fiction mediums, but I just don’t see it happening. Everything we eject into space becomes another projectile that could cause catastrophic damage to us or the ship/station protecting our life. Writers need to come up with a more realistic, less poetic, way of sending off our dead.

So that’s it for my rant today. I’m considering a post about stupid things characters do and why they make no sense, but I need a little more fodder, so we’ll see. Basically, I think it’s okay for authors to change or disregard science for the sake of a work of fiction, but keeping within reasonable parameters or at least acknowledging science in some way will make our work more believable. Weigh the science you wish to break with why you want to break it and how you can explain (at least to yourself if not your audience) why it’s viable. And don’t be afraid to allow science to give you realistic parameters to work with. Sometimes having to deal with reality and how to solve a problem in our books brings out a much better thought out plot with more engaging action. At the very least, learn the rules and laws you want to break. It’s kind of like the rules of writing. You can break them, but you have to learn them first.

For more insight into this topic, please visit Dan Koboldt’s blog and his Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy blog series. I haven’t read all of these, though I plan to. He uses real experts to de-bunk myths and shed some light on topics we writers don’t always know a lot about. Definitely worth the read!

And look for a future post on all the rules of science I plan on breaking myself. Yes, I am a hypocrite!

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Young elites
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Title: The Young Elites
Author: Marie Lu
Series: A Young Elites Novel Series , #1
ISBN-13: 9780399167836
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/7/2014
Pages: 368
Age range: 12 – 17 Years

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I cracked open this novel. I enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend Series, so I assumed I would also like this, but it is Fantasy, and I don’t read a lot of Fantasy. It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting in the main character of Adelina Amouteru. Besides the fact I couldn’t pronounce her last name, she was dark. Very dark, and Marie calls this the villain’s story at the back of the book. While I didn’t necessarily see her as the villain, she was an intense character with a lot of baggage. You see her make choices that you know will lead to her downfall (kind of like Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith) but you still want her to win or that her choice won’t lead to the eventualities you’re expecting.

And don’t expect a rosy happy ending. Having read Marie Lu’s work before, I wasn’t expecting sunshine and rainbows, but I also wasn’t prepared for what actually happens. As usual, Lu is great at endings, even if they don’t leave you warm and snuggly afterwards.

So basically I loved this book, if I haven’t said that already. It was superbly written, which I needed after some sub-par YA’s I’ve read recently. The characters were intensely deep and I loved the stories of Adelina’s youth, and her reactions to what happened. They seem sinister and potentially evil, but I could see myself in her interactions with her little sister. Sisterhood is a rare bond bordered on both sides by hate and love. I can’t wait to read more of this series, though I’m sure it will be heart rending from start to finish. I expect “good” to prevail in the end, but I actually like when characters don’t walk away from stories like this with their happily-ever-after. HEA’s are unrealistic after people suffer so much. I prefer as-happy-as-you-can-be endings.

My Review: 4 stars

Book Review: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis


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Title: In a Handful of Dust
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: Not a Drop to Drink
ISBN-13: 9780062198532
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Publication date: 9/23/2014
Pages: 384
Age range: 14 – 18 Years

Book blurb as seen on Goodreads:

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier

I received this book as a gift (but I know Hubby bought it on Amazon!)

So what can I say about this book? *sigh* I had high hopes that were not met. The first book in this series, Not a Drop to Drink, was amazing. or at least I adored it when I first read it. Sometimes I’m so into a story I don’t notice whether it’s really a fantastic book or not, and maybe that was the case, but regardless, the second one didn’t give me that breathless rush of finding out what happens next.

As far as the writing goes, I might have overestimated McGinnis’ abilities when I read Not a Drop to Drink. Maybe my own estimation of writing has changed due to my continued experience in writing as well as reading critically. Or maybe her first book really was that good. I’d have to read again to find out, but that’ll have to wait a bit. I will say that McGinnis’ stark, gritty writing inspired me to be more clean and sparse with my own revisions on I Have No Name, and I was complimented on the writing for that by several agents. In a Handful of Dust felt a little trivial in the first few chapters. I wasn’t sure whether to think the writing was sub-par, or just that I needed to become attached before I could flow into the prose. Luckily, after just a few chapters, I did become one with the story, though it never grabbed me as fully as NADTD.

As to the story and the characters, 10 years has passed since NADTD and Lynn is a woman while Lucy is a teen. Lucy is falling in love with the neighbor boy, Carter, just as a polio epidemic breaks out. Lucy and Lynn are forced to leave their pond and the community they have come to accept, because they may be carriers of the disease. Carter also is forced to leave for the same reason, but they don’t travel together because Lynn doesn’t want Lucy catching it from Carter.

I’m afraid I didn’t connect with Lucy as much as Lynn, though that may be because after reading Lynn’s story, I wasn’t ready to jump ten years into Lucy’s. She was a side character to me, one I wasn’t invested in nearly as much as Lynn. I wanted more, and I wanted Lynn to find happiness. She did, in the form of raising Lucy, but I just wanted more and I didn’t get it.

And then there was Lucy’s all consuming desire to find out if Carter would always carry the disease, or if there was a cure and if they could be together again. You know, the one she pretty much forgot half-way through the book. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. She didn’t completely forget, and she did have a lot to deal with, but there was a point where she pretty much left him to his own devices and didn’t seem to think on him much more. I thought that could have been followed through a little better.

And the introduction of Fletcher seemed pointless, other than to give them a companion and help them through their journey. But it left too many unanswered questions. How did he and his wife get separated? If he was so in love with her, why was he making eyes at Lynn the whole time? Is it even realistic that she might still be out there and is it realistic that he should still be looking for her? None of this was ever answered. I don’t mind not knowing what happens in the future after a book ends so I can make up my own continuing story, but there were too many questions within this story left unanswered.

Like when they crossed the Mississippi and the Missouri and other creeks and rivers, but they saw very few people. If these were viable sources of water, why weren’t there scores of people living everywhere along the banks. Lucy and Lynn even question this, and they drink from the water which is safe, but the question is never answered. If the water shortage was so dire that the government collapsed and people took to shooting each other over a pond, why weren’t they lined up along major waterways trying to survive. It would make sense. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine a world where there isn’t enough water when I live on Lake Huron. Even if we had major shortages, if we had these huge bodies of water I can’t see it becoming what McGinnis’ imagined.

There were a whole lot of things that happened in Las Vegas that just didn’t work for me either. Like the explanation as to why there were no guns in an entire city. Yeah, I wasn’t buying that. And it almost felt like the big reveal of horror going on was just for shock value. Lucy should have figured out what she wanted for her life without a nasty, jolting realization of evil. But I guess.

Lastly, I’ll say that the big reveal on what happens to Carter, was . . . anticlimactic. I don’t want to ruin anything, but it just fell a little flat to me. Not what happened, because I feel like it was an appropriate part of the story, but rather how it was delivered and resolved. There needed to be more clues and lead up and Lucy thinking about Carter more. McGinnis didn’t attach me to Carter enough, so I didn’t care all that much what happened to him.

Okay, so I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book, but the truth is, I did. I love McGinnis’ stark writing style, though I think she executed it better in NADTD. She could work on her dialogue, because some if it didn’t flow well to me, and the first few chapters had some info dumping that was awkward, but those are difficult things to get around. Every author faces the problem of trying to work in important details the reader needs with out sounding like you’re reading off a textbook. I preferred Lynn as the MC to Lucy, but both stories were still very interesting and I was anxious to find out what happened next. I almost thought McGinnis was going to leave us hanging after Las Vegas and save California for another book, but she gave us a decent, bittersweet ending. It was far more gratifying than the ending of NADTD, though it didn’t have the poignancy of that novel. Lynn having to shoot Eli was a heartbreaking event I am still shattered from. IAHOD was satisfying, though not perfect, and I love my endings not-perfect!

Overall, this was an entertaining read with some action, some deep thoughtful parts and with gritty realism and a stark look at a world devoid of ample water. I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t soul-rending like the first one. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it was a good book to read.

My review: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard


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Title: Splintered
Author: A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition, First Printing edition (January 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1419704281
ISBN-13: 978-1419704284
Amazon Review: 4.4/5 stars

Book blurb as seen on Amazon.com:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

I bought this book from Barnes and Noble

I was entranced with this book from the start. Not a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, or at least the Disney version, so I was intrigued to read a darker, grittier take on the classic tale. The cover itself is enough to pique my interest, even if it wasn’t an Alice-story. I adore that cover. Attractive girl, but a face with character. Pretty hair but not perfect. Bugs and vines and butterflies haphazardly scattered around. I was dying to read this book!

And at first, Howard didn’t disappoint. Thankfully, the writing was exceptional. Maybe a 4/5 I’d say. Good enough that I took notice, but it also allowed me to melt into the story and not focus on whether I would have written it this way or that. The curse of becoming a writer makes reading others like a daily Beta read. The characters, the story, the plot, the setting pulled me in and I couldn’t wait to find out more. But then I hit a few snags. They pulled me out of the story just a little bit, and I’ll get those out of the way so I can get back to how I liked this book.

First, Taelor. Do we need another spoiled, self-centered bitch who gets the gorgeous good guy even though she’s horrible. I don’t care what kind of sob-story she tells Jeb about her dad, he’s supposed to be Alyssa’s best friend, and he hooks up with the girl who has tormented and bullied her since they were kids? No way. That would be the end of any teen friendship right there. And I think Alyssa’s life was miserable enough without the added Taelor effect that we didn’t need it. They could have skipped Taelor, (maybe kept the bullying), Alyssa stealing Tae’s money, Jeb finding out, the resultant nothing over the situation, and any “guilt” Alyssa felt about connecting with a “taken” guy and just focused on the idea that two best friends were reluctant to ruin their friendship by risking a romantic entanglement. Too much drama.

And then there’s the love triangle. I don’t mind love triangles. I have one in my novel, but something about this bothered me. To start with, Jeb and Taelor bothered me. But add in Alyssa’s mooning over him for years but supposedly Jeb doesn’t notice, and throw in a sexy, evil bad boy in Morpheus and things just got out of hand. I felt there should have been one guy. Either she’s fighting an attraction to her best friend from the real world, or she’s fighting her attraction to a dark, sinister guy she can’t trust. Not both. I would have been happy either way.

Okay, so I can’t remember anything else. I read this on vacation weeks ago. I’m pretty sure there was something else, but oh well. On to better things. Other than the aforementioned issues, I really liked this book. It was magical and entrancing. Seeing the age-old story through a darker lens was like a delightful little guilty pleasure. It was so much better than the sugar-sweet Disney version and much more like the Tim Burton imaginings. And clever. Howard has a beautiful imagination that runs wild and free, spinning into strange territory and taking what were once loved and sterile characters and turning them into something completely different, for better or worse. I’m definitely anxious to read the next book, and the cover is equally as enticing, but my library doesn’t have it and I can’t buy it. I purchased Splintered in paperback, so Unhinged has to be in paperback. That’s just how I roll. But it hasn’t been released in that format yet. *sigh*

My Review: I actually did a calculation this time, instead of a number I thought would fit. I gave it a 4 for writing, a 5 for imagination and a 3 for plot. That comes out to an average of 4/5 stars!


Buy Unhinged (Splintered Book 2) on Amazon.com
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Buy The Moth in the Mirror (Splintered) on Amazon.com


Pre-order Ensnared (Splintered Book 3) on Amazon.com
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