We Need Diverse Books / Overwhelmed in the face of all sorts of racism

by Tessa

Yesterday I gave myself a holiday from blogging, but I also didn’t want to keep posting regularly when really I’ve been fixated on the terrible news from Ferguson about the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, and the blithely racist comment that Daniel Handler made on Jacqueline Woodson’s big night, and thinking about how when things get depressing for me I like to retreat into a book, but for lots of Black people and other People of Color they don’t have the privilege of escaping into books where the characters look like them or reflect their lives. Or if they do, the POC in the book are often treated like message or lessons and not people. Just one more privilege that is not afforded them.

So, if you’re looking for places to donate this holiday season or just because you want to act in some small way, check these out:

1. The Ferguson Library (here’s a post on Book Riot about their great work)

2. We Need Diverse Books campaign

I’ve turned off comments on this post because I don’t feel like debating anyone. This is obviously my personal opinion. Regular posting will continue tomorrow.

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Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Already reviewed from Telgemeier, Tamaki(s), Pope, and Smith

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Sometimes you eat too much pizza. Sometimes you review a book on a nominations list that you were planning to write mini reviews on. Sometimes you do both when the mini-reviews are to be written. I already did the work, so you can clicky click to the reviews!

sisterstelgemeier

Sisters

Raina Telgemeier, writer and illustrator

Graphix (Scholastic)

I reviewed it on here!

Excerpt: “Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms. . .”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. Telgemeier is my go-to author for realistic teen comics, and this one is no exception.

RiseofAuroraWest-200x300

The Rise of Aurora West

Paul Pope, Writer

J.T. Petty, Writer

David Rubin, Illustrator

First Second

I reviewed it on No Flying No Tights

Excerpt: “The daughter of Arcopolis’s late science hero, Haggard West, the gritty Aurora has a room full of secrets and a calling to kill the monsters that have overrun her city. The Rise of Aurora West is a bracing piece of the fantastic. It will retain fans of theBattling Boy world with a compelling mix of new backstory and connections to that which is to come.”

Is it “Great” for teens?:  Yes. I love the adventure, danger and mystery in the world that Pope has created, and Aurora has a complex and emotionally layered story to tell. (Just wish it were in color).

thisonesummertamaki

This One Summer

Jillian Tamaki, illustrator

Mariko Tamaki, writer

First Second

I reviewed it here!

Excerpt: “It’s a summer made of moments, and some of them will affect Rose in obvious, rememberable ways, and some of them are the kind that pass by and come back in embarrassment or with a laugh years later, or might never be remembered at all. Here we get to see them play out and wonder which are which.”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. I think everyone should read this. It’s gorgeous. Read it. Read it. Read it.

barbarianlord

Barbarian Lord

Matt Smith, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

My review is over at No Flying No TightsHere’s a small excerpt:

“Those who come to Barbarian Lord looking for a simple adventure will find their fair share of fights, trolls, political machinations, and swords. However, some readers may be put off by its formal language and sentence construction (e.g. “Your gods are as grim as your land. You should look to Skraal, who flies over your mountain god and must then be his better”). For those who love traditional storytelling and the epic deeds of gods, monsters, and men, there is much to enjoy herein. Barbarian Lord subverts expectations by delivering more than it seems at first to offer—just as Barbarian Lord is more than a brutish warrior beneath the grimace.”

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know! I definitely like it. I can see some teens getting into it. Once more of them read it I’ll get back to you….

Reading the GGNT Noms Preface: What is it and why is it.

by Tessa

For the previous 3 years, I was lucky to be chosen to volunteer as a part of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection list committee. This list might be unfamiliar to anyone who is not a librarian, so I’ll explain: Librarians have a professional association called ALA (American Library Association). There are divisions within it, and the one that serves librarians working with teens is YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). YALSA’s work includes selection lists and book awards that help librarians across the country know about the best books of the year for their readers and libraries, including audiobooks, books for reluctant readers, and more. Full info is here.

The awards process is much more secretive (and prestigious) than the selection list. The selection committees read within their charge – ours was to find the best graphic novels published from September of the preceding year through December of the selection year (eg. Sept. 2013-December 2014 for the 2015 list – the list is named for the year in which it is published and NOT the year most of the books were published, SO CONFUSING). The committee members (there are 11) nominate titles by reading as much as they can get their hands on (this can be difficult for comics), solicit feedback from actual teens about the titles, and meet to discuss nominations twice a year during the ALA conferences.

The nominations list is finalized at the end of October, and the list is voted on and published at the end of January/beginning of February in the following year.

Which is all to say: being on the committee was a lot of work and 3 years was enough, but I totally miss it because it was like the best book club ever. I don’t miss having to read books whether I liked them or not (and you can see the toll it has taken on my reading pace here:)Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 10.20.57 AM

But I do miss feeling like I’m on top of what’s new in comics, despite having a fun gig reviewing at No Flying No Tights.

So I’m reading all the nominations this year and I’m going to do mini reviews here.  This is extra exciting because, even though our meetings were open to anyone at the conference, we were discouraged to talk about the books on social media/blogs, even if we didn’t explicitly say we were on the committee.

But now I’m not on the committee! Let the reviews begin – they will start tomorrow and go up every Friday.

I also want to note that anyone can nominate a book  (as long as you’re not a creator or publisher of the book)- there’s a form on the YALSA site. That doesn’t mean it’s an official nomination, but it brings it to the attention of the committee and they are then supposed to read it.

The Political Problem With Dystopias

The Fallout of the Recent Young Adult Dystopia Craze

Crunchings & Munchings YA Dystopia

by REBECCA, March 10, 2014

Dystopia has been the watchword of popular young adult fiction for the last few years, whether we’re referring to trendsetters (Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies; Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games), those savvy folks who followed the trend successfully (Steven dos Santos’ The Culling), or publishers’ desperate attempts to keep the trend going (Victoria Scott’s Fire & Flood). And, while I may be bored of the latter, it doesn’t at all mean I don’t value the former. But it’s the latter—those books that are manufactured to keep the trend of dystopian fiction alive—that I want to talk about.

Thomas More UtopiaThe word dystopia was coined in the 19th century to signify a state of being that was the opposite of a utopia (coined by Thomas More in the title of his 1516 book, Utopia), and means “bad place” or “hard place”; its coinage and early usage were descriptive of government in particular. A utopia, as Thomas More created it, referred to the ideal state of a republic; one toward which we should all strive. A dystopia, then, created as its inverse, refers to a bad state of a republic. This is all to say, dystopia—both as a term and as a genre description—is intrinsically political.

Several novels of the 19th century mobilized elements of dystopian societies to warn against or satirize their own, but the literary elements that we have come to associate with the genre of the dystopian novel concretized in the first half of the 20th century with the now-famous high school reading list clique of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921), Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

Why does this matter for our purposes of thinking about YA dystopias? Because the dystopia, whatever form it may take, is driven by a political engine. That is, the power of dystopia is that it takes real societal problems and represents them pushed to an extreme as a tool to demonstrate the horror that would occur if current problems became writ large. It is a literary genre that examines oppression—that is: de-individuation, mind control, deprivation, lack of choice, lack of access to power, lack of access to resources, and so on.

The Handmaid's Tale Margaret AtwoodWhether the oppressive society is one of religious hyper-conservatism in which women are kept as broodmares for the ruling class (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985) or one in which books are burned to control the society’s access to information (Fahrenheit 451), dystopias are about oppression by a political power and, usually, citizens’ coming to knowledge that the system they live in is not the system they want to live in. Contemporary YA dystopias like Westerfeld’s Uglies series and Collins’ The Hunger Games series are recognizable within this genre.

But, because of the extreme popularity and commercial success of dystopias like The Hunger Games, publishers are hungry for the next bestseller that audiences will gobble up like soma (a little Brave New World joke for ya there), unconcerned with the content so long as they’re appealing in form. Popularity, of course, is the death-knell of individuation, so with audiences ready to buy more books within a popular genre, those that are being peddled become more and more cookie-cutter, more and more generic.

generic

generic

A genre refers to a collection of things that share certain characteristics: science fiction, romance, dystopias. The more closely a book conforms to the characteristics of its genre, the more easily we can recognize it as such (no one would ever mistake a horror movie for a romantic comedy). This is neither a good or a bad thing, however, at a certain point, if something conforms too closely to genre characteristics, it becomes generic—general, indistinguishable, standard. And, as I said, nothing turns a genre into a factory of the generic faster than the promise of commercial success. So, because of the success of a few books in the genre of dystopia, the market has now been flooded with quickly-manufactured knock-offs.

Again, why is this important? I mean, of course if there is a demand for something, then someone will supply it—that’s capitalism, no? It’s important because of what drops out with dystopias’ mass production. What drops out is the political engine that has always driven the genre. With a market for books that are “like The Hunger Games” or “the new Hunger Games,” publishers and authors have scrambled to meet the demand. And what has increasingly begun to be produced are YA novels with the form of a dystopia, but without its content.

Victoria Scott Fire & FloodOne recent example of this is Victoria Scott’s Fire & Flood, the first in a new series from Scholastic. Fire & Flood is marketed as a dystopia—indeed, skim any review on Goodreads to see every single person who’s read it compare it to The Hunger Games—in which contenders must take part in the Brimstone Bleed, a race that will win one of them the cure to a disease from which a loved one suffers. But, while Fire & Flood is clearly capitalizing on the themes of The Hunger Games, it’s similar only in form. In terms of deep content, well . . . there isn’t any. In other words, the Brimstone Bleed is completely bled dry of any political investment whatsoever. Chalk it up to bad world-building (which it has) or bad writing (from which it suffers), but the fact remains that the ever-increasing popularity of the genre has produced a market in which people will buy something called “dystopia” even when what is supplied is only the trappings of the genre

More problematically, given the popularity of dystopia in YA lit, politics seems to actually be the only thing that can drop out and have the genre retain its recognizability in the market. What we’re left with, then, in the case of etiolated “dystopias” like Fire & Flood, is a genre designation that’s been emptied of what was once its defining impulse. Now, for some this is no big deal. After all, genres are always changing, their characteristics becoming resignified. I would argue, though, that it’s a very big deal if you value the political force of literature, which (spoiler alert:) I do.

In YA dystopias where the oppressive force is only there to facilitate the drama of the story, that oppressive force becomes commonplace rather than exceptional; unimportant in its particulars because it’s only necessary to catalyze the plot of the novel. This has become par for the course in new (apolitical) dystopias to which I’m referring. Why do we care? Well, wouldn’t you care if there were a slew of books in which every character was raped—not because the rape was important, but because the author needed something to kick-start the drama of the book? Wouldn’t you care if there were a slew of books in which all African American characters were slaves—not because slavery had anything to do with race, but because the author wanted to shorthand a reason for why two characters couldn’t be together?

That’s what it looks like to empty acts and systems of oppression of their political resonances and turn them into plot devices. And once oppressive and repressive systems of government become something that millions of people are used to viewing as merely the backdrop to an action-packed YA romance, we enter dangerous territory. Repetition matters! It lends force! The more times something happens, the more force it gains. The more used to it we become. So, the more books that are published that use the apolitical trappings of generic oppression to facilitate a plot, the more we, as readers, become accustomed to accepting oppression as a given—as just part of the story. Eventually, accepting oppression as just part of the story can turn into not even noticing oppression at all. These are the stakes.

censorshipNow, I am absolutely not writing this in an attempt to control what authors write. In fact, this is not really about authors at all (except insofar as they need to eat, so writing something that’s likely to sell seems appealing. I get that). It’s about the potential real-world implications of literary trends that drive (and are driven by) the market. To put it another way: it’s about capitalism and the ways that art purchased by a mass audience can never be wholly extricated from the market. What we buy dictates what gets published; what gets published dictates what we can read. And what we can read contributes to what the world we dream into being looks like.

Nor is this about taste. I am absolutely not writing this in an attempt to make people stop reading books they love (hey, we’ve established that Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopia, right?). I’m writing this because trends are so often considered waves that wash over us rather than patterns that react to us, and because so much ink is spilled attempting to predict the next one for purposes of profit that we sometimes forget to talk about the implications of their content. I’m writing this because I want us to keep having conversations about the real world effects of the books we read as well as discussing their merits and shortcomings.

YA Literary Halloween Costumes I Want To See

A List of YA & Children’s Lit Characters I’d Love To See Brought To Life This Halloween!

Effie Trinket Claudia Kishi

by REBECCA, October 30, 2013

Happy almost-Halloween! There really is nothing quite as awesome as cruising a Halloween party and seeing recognizable characters from your favorite YA books. Since I feel this way, it will be no surprise that two of my favorite times dressing up have been YA characters. Let’s start with them.

1. Harriet, from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy Louise Fitzhugh Harriet the Spy

I went as Harriet junior or senior year of college—Tessa, do you remember which? It’s such an easy costume: red hoodie, jeans, black sneaks, glasses, and the notebook and you’re set. Then all you need to do is wander around the party writing snarky and hilarious things about people in your notebook and hope nobody “accidentally” reads it and shuns you as a result. When I was Harriet, Tessa and I wrote drunken hilarious things back and forth to each other, such as haiku about how hungry we were. It’s a classic, but it’s never old.

2. Your greaser of choice, from The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders S.E. Hinton the outsiders

Two years ago, my sister and I went as greasers, complete with an elaborate sororal backstory about our dead parents and our deadbeat third sister who wouldn’t come to the rumble—ahem, party. Another super easy, but very recognizable costume. All you need are some too-short jeans, any color t-shirt, a jean or leather jacket, and some hair product. Blondes who hate hair product, never fear: though Matt Dylan is decidedly brunet, in the book, Dally is “towheaded,” and his hair flies free. Mofo is so badass he doesn’t even need hair grease to be known as a greaser.

3. Claudia Kishi, from The Baby-sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin

The Baby-Sitters Club Ann M. Martin  Claudia Kishi

Claudia was always my favorite of the club. A junk food addict who loves fashion—what possible better costume? Eating ALL the candy will be totally in character for Claudia. This is a great one because there are so many amazing outfit descriptions to choose from throughout the series. As long as you rock a long, brown side-pony and graphic earrings, any YA fan worth their salt will recognize you in a hot second. And if they can’t, they’re not worth the newsprint their Baby-Sitters Club books are printed on. This heroic blogger celebrates all of Claudia’s amazing outfits, so take your pick and start crafting your clay animals for earrings now!

4. Effie Trinket, from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

katniss-effie-reaping Effie trinket

Why on earth would I want to dress as Katniss when I could go as Effie! No, obviously there will be a lot of Katnisses running around shooting stuff this year, and it’ll be awesome. But if I had planned ahead at all, I would totally be going as Effie this year. Really, all you’d need is a loud-color outfit, a bunch of fake flowers and a scarf you could make a collar with, and a dab hand with the ole maquillage. Love it.

5. Miss New Mexico, from Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens Libba Bray

When the plane carrying 50 beauty queens crashes on an island, the contestants are all wearing their formal dresses. They end up in various stages of tatterdemalion from the crash, not to mention blood-stained and bedraggled. But the best is poor Miss New Mexico:

“‘My head kinda hurts,’ Miss New Mexico said. Several of the girls gasped. Half of an airline serving tray was lodged in her forehead, forming a small, blue canopy over her eyes.

‘What is it?’ Miss New Mexico checked to make sure her bra straps weren’t showing” (8).

So, you will have the delight of ripping and bloodying a dress, making yourself a New Mexico sash, and finding some way to seem like you’ve been impaled with an airline tray. I can’t think of a better way to spend Halloween!

6. Eloise, from Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hillary Knight

Eloise Kay Thompson Eloise Kay Thompson

A short, pleated black skirt, black suspenders, white knee socks, black Mary Janes, and a white short-sleeved shirt with puffed sleeves. Oh, and pink bloomers (don’t forget the bloomers). Messy blonde hair and a red bow. A willingness to make a mess and be adorable and spunky while doing it. Find those things, along with your “Inner Resources” and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Plaza hotel, and you can own Eloise this Halloween.

7. Weetzie Bat, from Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

Weetzie has a “bleach-blonde flat-top,” “pink Harlequin sunglasses, strawberry lipstick, earrings dangling charms, and sugar-frosted eyeshadow.” She wears “old fifties taffeta dresses covered with poetry written in glitter,” “dresses made of kids’ sheets printed with pink piglets or Disney characters,” “sunglasses and leather, jewels and skeletons, rosaries and fur and silver.”

8. Nancy Drew, from Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew Carolyn Keene

With delightfully high-waisted clothing in style right now, I feel sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find some 1930s-ish Nancy Drew garb, especially if you can capture her penchant for acid greens. Now, just carry a flashlight and you’re good to go.

9. Max, from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak Max Where the Wild Things Are

I would lose my shit with delight if someone showed up as Max! I don’t think it’d be that hard, actually. You’d need long underwear and some of those wolf slippers. Then you could make the head piece with ears pretty easily. And you can make yourself a crown to put on halfway through the party when you get crowned king of the wild things!

10. Will Grayson & will grayson, from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan (get it?)

This is a costume à deux. It’s subtle, so you might need name tags, but if you meet anyone who recognizes you right away you know they’re a friend for life. Really, you could wear any combo of jeans, tee-shirt, and sneakers, so long as you have Will Grayson and will grayson, respectively, on you. If it helps, though, Will Grayson is tall, with short, messy hair, and in the play, the character based on him wears his uniform: khakis, and a short-sleeve plaid button-down, both of which are very wrinkled, and black Converse. will grayson is small and blond and wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of a robot made out of duct tape on it, which says robotboy when the twain meet. You could add a Tiny Cooper, if you’re a threesome.

HAPPIEST OF YA HALLOWEENS TO YOU, MY FRIENDS! If you’re dressing in any kind of YA-related costume, tell me about it in the comments!

Gone Home: a chat.

In which Evan and Tessa discuss a new video game that they played together and really liked. (So did other people – it is a 2013 Finalist for Excellence in Narrative from the Independent Games Festival as well as getting an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Audio and Seumas McNally Grand Prize!)

screenshot from Varewulf.wordpress.com

screenshot from Varewulf.wordpress.com

Tessa: So, Evan. I learned about Gone Home via a Rookie Mag Saturday Links list in March. I think I talked to you about it, or you noticed that I liked its Facebook entity, or something. Did you hear about it somewhere else, or did you hear about it through me?

Evan: I heard about the game through you mentioning it to me. I remember us talking about a video game to play together while I was playing Bioshock: Infinite and you brought up Gone Home. I don’t really follow video game news or play many games these days so I’m pretty blind when it comes to 99% of new releases. After you mentioned it I watched a trailer and the game started to intrigue. I love adventure games and the idea of interactive stories. As somebody that doesn’t really play video games, what made you interested in Gone Home?

Tessa: It was the whole atmosphere of the game – the 90s riot grrrl bands, an empty house, the sound of rain on the roof and windows. Although I grew up during the riot grrrl phase, I never got to be one (instead, I described myself as a riot nrrrd), so I felt like this could be my chance to play one in a video game.
from Jenny Woolworth's Riot Grrrl Diary

from Jenny Woolworth’s Riot Grrrl Diary

As it turns out, you get to play the sister of someone who becomes part of the scene, so I still didn’t get to fulfill my fantasy. Maybe there will be a game based on Blake Nelson’s Girl in the future. One can hope.

Also, we’d been talking about finding a video game to play together and this one looked like it wouldn’t require so many hand-eye coordination skills. I’m not a huge gamer because I kind of suck at using video game controls. Even when I did play NES during my youth, I would get too into the game and hobble myself with a combination of physical enthusiasm (jumping when my character should jump) and mental terror (what if my character does not make it across that chasm?), so the experience was exciting but terminally frustrating.

So I spend my free time doing things at which I can improve.

What I’m saying is I’m glad you’re into board games.

Is this the time that we declare that this discussion might get spoilery? And do you want to describe your first impressions of the game/the basic plot?

the last game system Tessa seriously played, a.k.a. the point at which you can stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers

the last game system Tessa seriously played, a.k.a. the point at which you can stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers

Evan: Definitely. What makes Gone Home special is the story and it’s pretty impossible to discuss the game meaningfully without discussing what happens in it. Despite my desire for blogging fame I’m going to make an impassioned plea that if you are interested in Gone Home that you should navigate away from this page, log in to Steam, download Gone Home and play it. Then come back here and read.

How to know if this is something for you? If you’re interested in interactive storytelling, video games with rich atmosphere and expertly crafted characters, if you’re interested in exploring a creepy house and looking for the clues to a mystery then you’ll probably dig Gone Home. You will not be killing anything or solving complex puzzles, you will be experiencing a story. Go play it.

With that out of the way, in Gone Home you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 21 year old woman returning home from a European trip in 1995. While she was away her family moved to a large mansion outside Seattle. She arrives home on a dark, rainy night to find a note on the front door from her younger sister and nobody home. As Kaitlin you’re trying to find out what happened to your family by exploring the mansion.

I fell in love with this game almost instantly. The set-up is really juicy. The game tosses you into this scenario with almost no background and plays on your lack of knowledge rather effectively. Mechanically the game is really simple. All you can really do is walk around, pick up objects, rotate them, and read various notes and letters left behind. There are lots of details to dig into in the house. It was fun to just go slow and search for a little tidbit of information that would reveal more of the story.

What are your feelings about the very beginning of the game? Did you have any expectations for how the game would play or what it was about beyond the basic premise?

Tessa: I was really into the game from the beginning, too. From the menu, actually, which I found out was done by Emily Carroll, an artist whose work I’d previously admired in comics form (especially in a creepy story in the Explorer: The Mystery Boxes collection). It turns out her wife (Kate Craig) is one of the game designers, so Emily illustrated the start page,along with in-game maps, and the font is based on her handwriting (more info here):

How great is that? The dusky sky lit by some illumination – the setting sun? The one light on in the whole rambling house emerging from the trees, with the door left slightly open – it’s not clear whether in neglect or invitation. The image works against the usual connotations of the word “home”, and then “gone” takes a double meaning. So the atmosphere is apparent immediately.

The game itself opens with Kaitlin seeing her family’s new house for the first time. It’s raining. The enclosed front porch is lit by a lonely lamp, and she has to find the key (our first task as players).

I personally find it difficult to imagine that anyone in the world doesn’t like the idea of exploring a big old empty house, so I was already into it. And then when she finds a Christmas themed duck, and a text box proclaims “Good ol’ Christmas Duck”, I was delighted.  There was humor, familiarity, character, history.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the graphics in Gone Home aren’t trying to fool you into thinking that it’s anything but a video game. It isn’t Final Fantasy-level…rendering? I don’t know what the word is.

Not to say that creating a game didn’t take lots of love and work, but they don’t have to, because the strength is in the story. Your brain attaches to the story that you’re building through exploration and smoothes out the edges of what you’re seeing, so it doesn’t end up mattering. It feels real.

I didn’t have any expectations about how the game would play, but I did somehow expect that it would have a creepy angle.  And there are some moments in there that pander to that expectation – but this isn’t a murder mystery or a tragic story.

As much as I want to play a video game where I explore a haunted house, I’m glad that my expectations weren’t met, and impressed that they were fooled with by the game designers – not just the stories of the parents, which I thought could go in a couple different directions, but the back story of the house’s original owner, especially a blown light bulb in particular.

That story I hope requires some further digging. I’d like more than the hints we have now.

What did you think of the game experience compared to your other video gaming experiences? Do you think it lends itself to more than one play?

Evan: The title screen is super impressive. It feels like the cover to a book, which is appropriate because Gone Home feels like an interactive book. I’m glad you mentioned the Christmas Duck and the textbox joke. There were lots of great little moments like that in the game. I especially liked when you find a condom in your parents bedroom and the text description of it is just “Eww.” I loved all the items you could interact with. I liked finding tapes to put in stereos or playing records that you find. All those little things add to the character of the house.

Good point on the “horror” elements of the game. They are definitely there to subvert the expectations of the player. Gone Home is a game that is boldly about ordinary people. I listened to a great extended interview with one of the game’s creators (Steve Gaynor) on the Qt3 Games Podcast, and he explained that those moments are in the game to help ground it in reality. For example if you find a teenage girl’s ghosthunting journal in a video game the expectation is that at some point of the game you’ll be seeing ghosts, but if you found one in somebody’s house in the real world you would just think it was the result of kids having fun and not assume that the house is haunted.

As you begin to piece together more and more information from exploring the house you begin to realize that your younger sister Sam has met Lonnie, a young woman at her new high school. As the two girls bond and become friends they realize they are in love with each other. The moments that build up to this realization are beautifully detailed. When you find a key piece of information you hear Sam’s voice reading her diary. These were some of the most moving portions of the game. The voice actress playing Sam was great. The V.O. diary filled in big pieces of the story, but there’s a ton of details to be found by looking at items, reading notes, and rifling through drawers. You get to see a lot of items that Sam and Lonnie bonded over: riot grrl cassette tapes, a ticket stub to pulp fiction, SNES game cartridges, VHS recorded episodes of the X-Files. I loved finding all those details. It gave me a real sense of who all of the characters were without even interacting with them once.

I really have to applaud how this game features a real, loving lesbian relationship that wasn’t sensationalized or sophomoric or all about sex. Maybe this is my lack of current videogame playing speaking, but I can’t think of another game that approaches love with this level of maturity and believability. You develop a very strong emotional bond with Sam and her struggles to hide her relationship from her parents, or her struggling to find herself and realize who she is.

Sam is the heart of the the story and is the main character of the game, but there are great story arcs for the parents as well and you get to know them to a great level of detail. You get the sense that real people live in the house and they are just away. Ironically Kaitlin (the character you are controlling) is probably the least developed character in the game. I think that’s an asset of the game because it lets you insert yourself emotionally into the story with a greater ease.

I’ve never played a video game like Gone Home before. Genuinely. I think most games emphasize thrills and intensity over quieter story moments. I think there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but Gone Home feels like a gigantic leap forward in what a video game can do with narrative.

The replayability of the game is an interesting discussion to have. It has been one of games aspects that has drawn some criticism. There’s nothing variable about the game other than the order you find items, so once you find everything in the house it won’t change on subsequent plays. So if you want to come back to Gone Home and have a different experience you probably won’t play the game more than once.. But I could certainly envisions people playing the game again to revisit the story. I think the reason replayability has been so hotly contested is because of the video game medium. People don’t criticize books or movies because they don’t inherently offer different experiences when you revisit them. Yet people do read certain books and watch certain movies more than once. That said there is a lot to discover in the game. I’m positive there are still details we haven’t found yet, so there is a reason to come back until you’re sure you’ve explored every nook and cranny of the house.

What are your thoughts about the story? Were there any specific moments of the game that you found especially moving or fascinating?

Tessa: I like your comments about replayability in games vs. in books or movies. If you’re measuring Gone Home by the standards of an adventuring, quest type game, it will fail. Because it doesn’t belong in the genre. It’s definitely a storytelling experience. But while Gone Home has a rich world, I’m not sure it can be judged yet on the level of things like a book, as far as equating replaying and re-reading.

Sam’s and Lonnie’s relationship isn’t played as a huge twist, and I like that. Gone Home is really mining the theme of discovery and self-discovery. You can see it not just with Sam, but also with the parents, and to a superficial extent with Kaitlin, coming back from time abroad.

And I love the way it plays with the idea of home – not just the house space, but the idea of the people that give us the feeling of being home. Home is a deceptively simple idea, but one that carries different experiences for everyone and can be counted on to hit some emotional chord. I can’t praise the game designers/creators enough for the way they created both a home and an unknown space. As Edgar Albert Guest so colloquially says,

“Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;

Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it”

So I do think the game succeeds in atmosphere and thematic elements, and I believe you when you say it is a giant leap forward in depicting  a realistic first love between two teenage girls. But I’m not sure if it has enough meat in the story to draw me back again once I discovered everything in the game. Sam & Lonnie’s story is sweet, and open-ended. I’d probably end up yearning for more instead of re-enjoying it ,although it might be something that I pulled out from time to time to revisit the environment, though, or to play with a new person.

I also hope its success paves the way for more games like this.

 

 

Why Fans of Young Adult Literature LOVE The Voice

The Voice

by REBECCA, October 2, 2013

Obviously, I am talking about myself; I love The Voice with a passion that I usually reserve for soft cheeses in ash rinds. I love it because I love music and great vocalists, but there are plenty of other shows I could be watching were it only good singers I was after. No, it’s the narrative structure of The Voice that makes it so compelling, and its tropes are straight out of YA fiction.

With or Without You by Brian Farrey1. Overcoming an obstacle to get a chance at your dreams is a major trope of YA lit. The Voice milks this trope for everything it’s worth: each singer tells the story of how she got into music—stories of everything from disfiguring accidents, racism, and terminal illness to the deaths of loved ones, brutal bullying, and devastating acts of nature. But what gets each and every one of them through their hardships is the power of freaking music, y’all. Now, I know that probably sounds cheesy (and not in the good, ash-rind sort of way), but there is really nothing that gets me as much as the way that people can transform the horrible, the unfair, and the devastating into art. I did a whole post last year that was a list celebrating YA books that feature characters who use creativity as an outlet because I really think it’s one of the most powerful stories there is. And to hear those stories and then watch these singers come on stage and just annihilate . . . well, it’s pretty inspiring.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills2. Relatedly, unlike American Idol et al, which operate according to a cattle call mentality, where we laugh at as many contestants as we clap for, The Voice is totally sincere. Sure, the coaches make fun of each other good-naturedly, but at the end of the day their genuine passion for the voices they’re hearing is humbling. Relationships between a mentor and a hopeful are definitely the stuff of YA fiction, even though many of the contestants on The Voice aren’t young adults. The show’s sincerity, further, makes it doubly easy for me to feel good about my devotion to it. Where some similar shows either take themselves too seriously or seem to be laughing at anyone who really invests in them, The Voice feels more like the Magic: The Gathering group that met at lunch in your middle school and was legitimately psyched to find other people as excited about getting down to it as they were.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going3. Because the premise of The Voice is that the coaches cannot see the singers until they choose to turn their chairs around for them, the disconnect between what a singer sounds like and what she looks like is a theme on the show with which any YA reader will be very familiar. Dynamite singers discuss the way the music industry has been unwelcoming to them because they aren’t white enough, young enough, thin enough, attractive enough. Over and over, we hear stories of prejudice and bullying that makes the singers feel like their only fair shot is to audition blind, which is what led many of them to The Voice. This is an issue that looms large in YA fiction, certainly. The limitations that we place on ourselves, our talents, and our ambitions based on how others treat us, or how we believe they see us, is at the heart of a lot of YA lit, as is breaking through the ceiling of those limitations.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins4. Once the blind auditions are over and each coach has assembled a team of twelve, the Battle Rounds begin, in which two singers from the same team sing one song in an epic sing-off for the chance to continue in the competition. This is a Hunger Gamesworthy drama that wreaks Machiavellian havoc on the singers, the coach that must make the decision, and the viewer. Forcing the coach and the viewer to choose between two very different, but both appealing, singers is precisely the tension that makes the much-loved/oft-scorned trope of the love triangle so powerful (and so polarizing) in YA lit. It’s intoxicating to know that there is so much talent to choose from, empowering to decide who is worthy of staying, and humbling to have to end someone’s dream. I mean, at least that is totally how I feel every time I’m forced to choose between two really attractive, really talented people who want to date me. Right?

The Culling by Steven dos Santos5. Because The Voice has to be watched in real time (if you have tv, which I don’t) or online (which I do), there isn’t the option to marathon it (my favorite way to watch tv), which is a real shame, because the arc of The Voice is not that of your mama’s reality show. Unlike most reality tv shows, which are episodic and therefore repetitive, there are multiple phases of The Voice, so we watch the singers develop, see their personalities as artists cohere, and get attached to them, just like characters in a novel or fictional tv show, which is a really smart narrative choice. First we’re introduced to the singers’ backstories and fall in love with their voices. This is like the first quarter of a book where we meet the characters and see who’s who. Next, before we’re too, too committed, but after we’ve formed allegiances, we have to watch singer after singer die from exposure, arrows to the throat, poison berries, and tracker jacker stings be eliminated from the competition in the Battle Rounds. But wait! There are steals, whereby some lucky singers are saved and switch teams, shifting allegiances immediately—just like when a character is blackballed by her friend group and has to find another table to sit at in the cafeteria (or my father moves cities and has a new favorite sports team).

Friday Night LightsThen, after the teams have been whittled and stolen down to their very essences, when you think you couldn’t bear to lose even one more person, most of them leave you and go off to college! Ahem, I mean, get eliminated. Because the third stage of competition finds us in the Knockout Rounds, where two singers from a team compete against each other with songs they each choose for themselves. Here singers’ personalities emerge even further and who the judges choose to continue in the competition depends as much on their song choice and vision as it does on their execution. This is the part of the book where a character realizes that she has to be true to herself because even if she succeeds, if she does so on someone else’s terms, it ain’t nearly as sweet. Finally, the Live Rounds shift the power from the judges to the voting audience, changing it from Debate Team to Popularity Contest (there goes the neighborhood) in a display of “taste” that has often been as heartbreaking as having your school cancel its football program, if you know what I mean.

So, it is for these reasons (and more, like, say, awesome music, and the fact that it resurrects Carson Daly from his mid-to-late-1990s MTV Total Request Live VJ past and puts his crooked little face back in the action) that I am totally, unapologetically a fan of The Voice. And, I’d wager, they’re why a lot of YA lit-loving folks love The Voice when they couldn’t care less about shows like American Idol. What do you think? The Voice: love it? hate it? indifferent to it? Tell me why in the comments!

All I Really Need To Know I Learned From The Outsiders

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

by REBECCA, May 13, 2013

We all have our ethical coming out stories—the moment we came to knowledge about what we thought was wrong or right or necessary in the world; often we have many of them. For 11-year-old me, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders provided one such moment. But, really, if I look back at The Outsiders, it’s startling how many of the lessons I would need to learn (again and again) are there. Which makes me pat my 11-year-old self on the back and say, “oh, well-spotted, young squire.” (Yeah, sometimes I like to call myself “squire”; don’t make a big deal out of it.)

So:

All I Really Need To Know I Learned From The Outsiders

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

1. “Things are rough all over.” Cherry Valance says this to Ponyboy in response to his notion that Socs all have perfect lives, and, while it is totally clear that things are not as rough for the Socs, this is something that I would do well to remember, both in moments of feeling like my own shit isn’t bad enough to deserve others’ attention, and in moments of feeling bitter about people complaining about things that seem not-so-bad to me. 

2. “I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.” Ponyboy is trying to convince himself that he doesn’t care if his brother hates him (which, of course, Darry doesn’t). Being able to be honest with yourself, even—perhaps especially if—you can’t be honest about yourself or to others is An Important Thing. Knowing what you want, even if you can’t have it right now; knowing who you are, even if you can’t show anyone quite yet; knowing how you feel, even if you won’t tell anyone yet: these pieces of self-honesty are the first steps to all the rest of it. (I like to think that I don’t lie to myself, but it’s probably not true; being overly harsh on yourself is just as much of a lie as being too easy, right?)

4. “It’s not just money.” When Ponyboy, Johnny, and Two-Bit are walking Cherry and Marcia home from the movies, they’re talking about what separates the Socs and the Greasers and, long story short, they realize that class divides aren’t just about money, but about the inextricable strands of taste, gender, race, prejudice, regionality, and culture that knot together to form group identities, and the material consequences thereof:

“‘It ain’t fair that we have all the rough breaks!’ I didn’t know exactly what I meant, but I was thinking about Johnny’s father being a drunk and his mother a selfish slob, and Two-Bit’s mother being a barmaid to support him and his kid sister after their father ran out on them, and Dally—wild, cunning Dally—turning into a hoodlum because he’d die if he didn’t, and Steve—his hatred for his father coming out in his soft, bitter voice and the violence of his temper. Sodapop . . . a dropout so he could get a job and keep me in school, and Darry, getting old before his time trying to run a family and hang on to two jobs and never having any fun—while the Socs had so much spare time and money that they jumped us and each other for kicks.”

5. “If you don’t stick up for them, stick together, make like brothers, it isn’t a gang anymore.” Loyalty is something that Ponyboy learns to complicate throughout The Outsiders: sometimes you should be loyal to a person even if you disagree with what they do; and sometimes you have to be loyal to yourself and your beliefs even if it means not sticking up for that person. Either way, a gang, be it friends, family, or chosen family, is wicked important. Brothers!

6. “Nothing gold can stay.” But that’s what makes it magical. That tenuous, liminal moment before something becomes something else wouldn’t have the same power if it were permanent, and learning to appreciate those moments instead of mourning their loss is one of those lessons that I’m still working on.

7. “By the fifth day I was so tired of baloney I nearly got sick every time I looked at it.” If you’re going to kill a Soc to keep him from drowning your friend and you’re going to go hide in an abandoned church on Jay Mountain and you’re going to go get supplies from the store to last you for the week, you should not buy all baloney; aka, food is important and so’s variety and you should take care to ensure both.

8. “Southern gentlemen had nothing on Johnny Cade.” Honor, bravery, and generosity have nothing to do with your station and everything to do with your choices. As Jerry tells Ponyboy in the ambulance, after Pony and Johnny have saved the kids from the burning church,

“‘I swear, you three are the bravest kids I’ve seen in a long time. . . . Mrs. O’Briant and I think you were sent straight from heaven. Or are you just professional heroes or something?’ Sent from heaven? Had he gotten a good look at Dallas? ‘No, we’re greasers,’ I said.”

But that also doesn’t mean being a hero, necessarily. There are a lot of ways to be brave.

9. “So even Dally has a breaking point.” Everyone, no matter how tough, cold, disciplined, or unfeeling they may seem, has something they care about and something that will push them over the edge. And the tougher, colder, more disciplined, and more unfeeling-seeming they are, the farther out they may have gotten before they hit it, and the harder it can be for them to come back from it.

10. “I decided could tell people.” Ponyboy can’t deal with the unfairness and loss that he’s feeling, so he decides to write it down and tell people, starting with his english teacher. Make art; tell the world!

Bonus wisdom 11. “All three of us like chocolate cake for breakfast . . . Sodapop always makes sure there’s [chocolate cake] in the icebox every night and if there isn’t he cooks one up real quick.” Nuff said.

So, what about you? What life lessons have you learned from The Outsiders?

Smörgåsbord: Lunchtime Links

collected by Tessa

Sometimes I can’t blog about what I’m reading, for various reasons. But what I can do is point you towards good things to read instead!

Commemorative Portrait of Damodarji II (1797-1826) Performing the Ceremony of the Offering of Food to the Seven Images (Sapata Svarup ki Utsava) in 1822India, Rajasthan, Nathadwara, circa 1822-1850 via lacma.org

Commemorative Portrait of Damodarji II (1797-1826) Performing the Ceremony of the Offering of Food to the Seven Images (Sapata Svarup ki Utsava) in 1822
India, Rajasthan, Nathadwara, circa 1822-1850 via lacma.org

1. This article by Kelly at Stacked, and the links within: Discussing Sex, Sexual Assault, and Rape: A Resource Guide. So important to keep talking about. And well written.

2. Related: Cosplay Does Not Equal Consent

3. Rookie Diaries – These are actual teens talking about their actual lives, and they rule.

4. I just found this blog through another vintage illustration blog, and it makes me really happy! My Vintage Book Collection.

5. Help me pick what to read next! I’m trying to work through books that I put on my to-read list in 2008. Tell me what to read next in the comments if you’re feeling helpful.

onceuponatime

Once Upon a Time on the North – Philip Pullman

Fantasy adventure in a world I already love. Armored bears. Political intrigue.

howdoesitfeel

How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America – Moustafa Bayoumi

A trusted friend gave this five stars – an oral history of Arab-Americans in the outer boroughs of NYC.

demonsinthespring

Demons in the Spring – Joe Meno

illustrated shorties.

Where is my boundary-respecting romance? Crazy, Stupid, Love. and This Lullaby

by Tessa

I believe that people should be free to read, listen to, and watch what they want, as long as people weren’t harmed in the production of the stuff being read, watched, and listened to. I also retain my right to be offended by the culture that is reflected in such entertainment items, and my impulse to go and blog about it.
So please don’t take this criticism as a call to censor the stuff I’m criticizing.

On the way back to the States last Wednesday I decided to indulge in the inflight entertainment system. I picked a romantic comedy that I’d heard of called Crazy, Stupid, Love. mostly because a former very personable America’s Next Top Model contestant was cast in a minor role and I wanted to support her in some intangible way. And the rest of the cast was respectable: Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone.  And it had received good reviews. They called it “touching“, “honest,” “satisfying, mature” “smart and heartfelt“, “consistently engaging“… and I could go on.

220px-CrazyStupidLovePoster

Crazy, Stupid, Love.  isn’t absurd or awkward enough to be funny and its ideas of love are mostly repulsive instead of romantic. The throughline of the picture is the idea that if you love someone enough you’ll fight for them, and in doing so find yourself. On its face, not the worst philosophy on which to base an ensemble romantic comedy.  Unfortunately, the result is a jumble of people at best ineffectively expressing themselves and at worst engaging in stalking and harassment.

I need to summarize the movie in painful detail to make it clear why I hate it. SPOILERS.

Steve Carrell’s character’s wife (Julianne Moore) wants a divorce because, as a couple, they can’t connect with each other anymore. She’s slept with a guy at work (Kevin Bacon). Steve Carrell rolls out of a moving car so he doesn’t have to hear her rationalizations and slinks away to drink in bars and mutter about Kevin Bacon. He mutters so much that Ryan Gosling hears him. This bar is Ryan Gosling’s usual spot for chatting up ladies and taking them home. He feels bad for Steve, so he does a makeover montage, slaps Steve’s face a lot, and teaches him how to pick up women, starting with Marisa Tomei, who Steve sleeps with and never calls again. This works wonders for Steve.

MEANWHILE, Steve’s kids have a babysitter (Analeigh Tipton). His 13 year old son (Jonah Bobo) is in love with her. She catches him masturbating. He apologizes but says it’s okay because he was thinking of her, and their age gap won’t matter in a little bit. She is appropriately horrified. He continues to send her gross text messages and proclaim his infatuation in front of the whole school. He also is mean to Kevin Bacon when Kevin Bacon goes on a date with his mom. He is operating on the assumption that love means one soulmate, and that means if you’re in “love” and your object of “love” doesn’t accept that, you should not listen to them and plow on regardless because love conquers all.

ALSO there’s this girl (Emma Stone) who is dating a clueless lawyer who doesn’t appreciate her. When he doesn’t propose to her and in fact expresses doubts about whether he wants to be that serious, she dumps him and seeks out that hot guy who hit on her in that one bar one time (Ryan Gosling). Against their intentions, they make each other laugh and want to have conversations with each other, and soon are boyfriend and girlfriend.

BUT, TWIST! She’s Steve Carrell’s daughter. And he can’t deal with the fact that his daughter is dating this cad who very generously helped save him from a terrible depression and regain his confidence. He decides instead never to speak to his daughter again as long as she’s dating this dude she really likes and who is serious about her. It even ruins his chances of reconciling with his wife who seems to maybe miss him?

HOWEVER, seeing his son make a graduation speech about how love is not worth it, because the babysitter has made it clear that she was in fact in love with Steve Carrell this whole time by taking a nude photo that she never sent but her parents found, makes Steve Carrell realize that his son is wrong now, but right previously, that he still needs to fight for his one true love whom he met in 5th grade. He interrupts his son’s speech to make his own speech, which the audience seems to find heartwarming instead of slightly deranged, and this speech even warms the babysitter’s heart. She slips the son one of those nude photos after the graduation and implies that he was right all along, maybe in a couple years he’ll be a stud and his persistence will have paid off and isn’t life wacky?

And I guess Steve Carrell forgave Ryan Gosling?

END

illustration by Laura Mardon, CC licensed on Flickr

illustration by Laura Mardon, CC licensed on Flickr

Reasons to hate this movie:

1. It tells us that persistence is a sign of True Love, through the wisdom of a 13 year old who should know better.

2. It tells us that True Love is destiny and can never be broken, and there’s one perfect person for everyone.

3. Steve Carrell’s character is wishy-washy and unself-aware in an almost boring way – he’s hung up on his wife’s infidelity, quickly falls for the double standard of being disgusted by the same one-night-stand behavior from Gosling that allowed him to start feeling a little human again. I’m sure these are pretty universal character traits, but they’re so rote as to be yawn-inducing – aren’t we beyond this yet? Can I see something a little different from a sad-sack recent divorcee? He’s got legitimate pain but processes it selfishly and then doesn’t own up to that, and his redemption isn’t self-discovery as much as retreating to an old version of himself that feels comfortable, because he can’t stand the pain of trying to be a new person.

Reasons to like this movie:

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s scene where they first go home together and share real laughter and Ryan Gosling says “They’re pants for my calves. Calf-pants.”

After watching the whole movie I was reminded of my reaction to a Sarah Dessen book I read last fall. Rebecca, a fan of the Dessen, suggested her for a Sharing Our Snacks post, or possibly a joint discussion, because “she’s extremely formulaic in a way that usually makes me hate someone, but in the ones of hers I liked (Just Listen,The Truth About Forever, and Lock & Key) even though I could tell they were formulaic, I found myself so impressed by the formula that I didn’t care.”

thislullaby

I read This Lullaby and The Truth About Forever and did enjoy them both, for the reasons R. mentions.  But I couldn’t help but like This Lullaby against my better judgement. Its love interest, Dexter, starts out in his pursuit of the protagonist, Remy, by demonstrating textbook signs of a narcissistic, controlling stalker, and no one seems to notice or care. Haven’t they read The Gift of Fear yet?

Things I hated about Dexter, listed in chronological order

Interaction One:

When he first accosts Remy in the dealership he “plop[s] down hard” in the chair next to her, “knocking [her] sideways against the wall; it was jarring and [she] hit [her] elbow on the modling there, right in the funny bone.” (10). He smiles at her although she is visibly angry about it  and pretends that nothing is wrong, instead asking “‘How’s it going?’” and when she asks what his problem is, and has to elaborate because he pretends not to know what the problem is, by saying “You just slammed me into the wall, asshole.”(11) He sidesteps her direct confrontation by admonishing her use of foul language.  In fact, he doesn’t acknowledge it until he’s told her that he saw her across the room and felt chemistry with her, and it was only his enthusiasm that caused him to bump into her – as if this is excuse enough.  She tells him directly to “‘Go away.’” (12) and he just smiles and tells her that the song that’s playing will be “their song”.  When she tries to ignore him and catch someone else’s attention he grabs her hand and writes his name and phone number on her palm.

But we’re supposed to side with Dexter because Remy is so cynical & impervious to LURVE that her attitude is out of line. Remy is “such a hard-ass” (48) according to her co-workers.  She’s damaged by her past choices–after all, she places bets on the length of her mother’s marriages, how heartless of her.

So Dexter is totally justified in being a creepy stalker to get through her terrible facade. According to the book.

Interaction Two:

Remy is at the bar. Dexter comes up behind her, brushes up against her, whispers in her ear, and includes his drink with her order even though she is clearly not happy to see him. She tells him “You are not with me.” (33) and he replies “…not technically. But that could change.” He tells her that he’s in a band and will write a song for her. She is not impressed and tells him to not call her a “chick.”  Then he says “I think you like me” and she responds “I really do not.” (34)

At this point, a normal person with a clear sense of boundaries would leave her the hell alone. But Dexter is not that person. After she pointedly does not introduce him to any of her friends, and walks off telling them to ignore him so he’ll lose interest, he says “Oh, ye of little faith. I’m just getting started.”

Yes, and I am getting started on documenting your behavior so I can file a restraining order against you. Seriously? This is your romantic protagonist?

He sits down at the booth, uninvited, and tells the group how he met Remy, who asks him AGAIN if he will go away (35). He gets up, not because Remy asked him but because the band is ready to play. He asks Remy: “I’ll see you later?” She responds “No.” He says “Okay, then! We’ll talk later.” (36).

Warning signs! Warning signs! Here’s a guy who ignores your direct, stated requests for him to leave you alone. He has demonstrated that he has no interest in who you are or what you care about, because he’s in a delusional fantasy world where you two are meant to be together. He doesn’t want to talk to you and get to know you, he wants to force himself on you and talk about himself.

Hearsay interlude, or, Remy cannot escape Dexter even when he is not there.

One of Dexter’s bandmates shows up to her salon to apply for a job. He tells Remy: “He’s still talking about you.” She says “Why? He doesn’t even know me.” Fair question! the guy says “Doesn’t matter. You’re  officially a challenge. He’ll never give up now.” (51-52).  Remy is not a person. She is “a challenge”.

feel free to picture Dexter this way, as Google interprets "scary guy" (drawing by fortes on Flickr)

feel free to picture Dexter this way, as Google interprets “scary guy” (drawing by fortes on Flickr)

Interaction Three:

Dexter’s band is playing at Remy’s mom’s wedding. Remy spies on him from behind a Dumpster and thinks maybe he’s kind of cute even if he is “annoying”. She is apparently ignorant of the warning signs of abusers, probably because it’s not covered in health class. But before she can go over to him some girls come out of the back door to flirt with him, and she leaves before she hears his answer to “Do you have a girlfriend?” assuming that she knows how he’s going to finish his sentence, because she is apparently stuck in a badly plotted teen movie.

Anyway. Both she and Dexter are conveniently stranded at the end of the reception. She goes over to him and sits down so she can call a cab. They’re actually kind of having a real conversation, but then he decides to force her to eat cake. She has to refuse FIVE TIMES in a row.

Then they actually talk to each other and he doesn’t try to force himself into her cab. And at this moment, she starts to like him. Probably because he’s not being a total creep.

But… but then he gets her to give him a ride in her car (86) and deliberately sticks fries on her gearshift when she tells him she has a no-food policy in the car, like a toddler.

Re-reading these parts to remember them, I feel angry at myself for continuing to read the book and enjoying part of it. I should have thrown it across the room after the second interaction. But originally I wanted to continue reading to see if Dexter was revealed to be the abuser he clearly was. HINT: HE IS NOT. THEY END UP FALLING IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER.

And yet, there are many different kinds of romantic relationships depicted in This Lullaby (not even going into the non-romantic ones)

Relationship map:

Remy + Jonathan
Remy + Dexter
Remy + her past
Lissa + Adam
Chloe + singlehood
Chris + Jennifer Anne
Remy’s Mom Barbara + Don
Remy’s Mom Barbara + Remy’s Dad
Drummer + Coffee Shop Manager

And they’re dealt with realistically. So much so that I went on to read more Sarah Dessen, and I will continue to read her books and enjoy them.

This Lullaby really makes me uncomfortable and challenges my commitment to saying that books don’t have to teach lessons, especially young adult books. Because I really wanted this book to give Dexter a smackdown. I wanted it to clearly state how much of an ass he was being, how wrong his behavior was, and to punish him for it.

Remy doesn’t condone his behavior but she does give him a pass and she looks beyond his wrongheaded attention-grabbing tactics, and Dexter ends up having some good qualities.  This Lullaby doesn’t come down either way on the issue of how Dexter and Remy meet. And there is a large part of me that wants a big warning sign slapped on the front saying “THERE ARE BETTER WAYS and DEXTER IS THE EXCEPTION”, but I also know that that wouldn’t solve the problem. I’ll just imagine that Dexter grows up and finds less scary ways to talk to women.

Every time I see entertainment reflecting the way popular culture accepts this kind of behavior as romantic it makes me sad. Can someone recommend me some better alternatives?

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