Monday, December 31, 2012

Unhealthy relationships: a Twilight, Graceling Comparison

Should we be Worried about what Young Adults are Reading?

Romance books since the beginning of time have portrayed unhealthy relationships with submissive females succumbing to their desires with controlling men, and some are concerned as these themes make their way into young adult fiction that the impressionable minds of teens will be swayed to model their own relationships after these unhealthy ones.
Since Twilight’s release it has come under crossfire for portraying the relationship between a meek female girl and her stalkerish, controlling vampire boyfriend as a healthy relationship when there are obvious unhealthy aspects of their partnership. Another book, Graceling by Kristen Cashore, takes the opposite approach to the relationship in its story with a strong independent female lead, however I find this relationship to be just as unhealthy as the one in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight.
To be fair, Twilight and Graceling aren’t the only books with unhealthy relationships in them. Literature is full of unhealthy relationships, just look at Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights. Their relationship was (no pun intended) the height of dysfunction, however at least Heathcliff and Catherine were equally selfish, and horrible to one another. Or look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Twilight has been criticized for portraying this unequivocal, undying, I can’t live without you kind of love between Bella and Edward but, this concept isn’t at all new. (Though you could argue that Romeo and Juliet did it better). Also, there is a difference between showing unhealthy relationships in books and showing unhealthy relationships as if they were healthy. In Wuthering Heights it was obvious that Heathcliff and Cathy did not have a healthy relationship, this was not as obvious in Twilight nor Graceling.

Now, I don't want to comment on writing style or anything else with these books. I just want to focus on the relationships they display. So, here's a short side by side comparison.

Main Character: Bella – clumsy, weak, overly-trusting, average,
Love Interest: Edward - mysterious, brooding, overprotective, possesive, secretive
Novel’s view on sex: absolutely wait until you’re married, even if you're only eighteen or over a hundred.
Edward has the power in his relationship with Bella. In New Moon he leaves thinking he’s trying to protect Bella, but he makes this decision completely on his own without letting Bella have any say in it. He makes a number of decisions for the both of them without taking what Bella wants into account.

Edward is physically stronger than Bella.

Edward treats Bella like she’s fragile and in need of protecting.

Edward keeps secrets from Bella about what he is. When Bella finds out what he is she instantly trusts him completely.

Main Character: Katsa – strong, agile, empowered, guarded, an outcast, hot temper
Love Interest: Po - snarky, charming, bold,
Novel’s view on sex: there’s no need to have commitment of any kind with those you sleep with.
Katsa has the power in her relationship with Po. She tells him that she might just up and leave one day, without any regard to Po’s feelings or suggestion of commitment to their relationship. She only asks if he can handle this. Katsa calls the shots in her relationship keeping herself guarded and untrusting.
Katsa is physically stronger than Po.

Katsa and Po spar together until Po is covered in bruises.
Po keeps secrets from Katsa about what he is. When Katsa discovers Po’s secret she’s so mad at him she doesn’t even want to let him explain.

In neither of these books are the characters equals with their partners, though one could argue that by the end of the Twilight saga Edward and Bella become equals, as they could with Graceling. And in truth, just because one character is physically stronger than their partner does not mean they can’t have an equal relationship. The problem with the inequality of both Bella and Edward’s relationship as well as Katsa and Po’s is that one character holds all the power in the relationship where the other has none. This is unhealthy.
In Twilight Bella would do anything for Edward, she’s willing to die for him, and he becomes the only thing of any importance in her life. This all encompassing view of Edward that she has is not healthy. But, it's not healthy to get into a relationship where you're unwilling to open up to the other person either. In Graceling Katsa has no interest in relationships what so ever. She hates the idea of marriage and thinks of it as this horrible oppressive thing that has absolutely no benefits. After a few chapters she’s so afraid of giving up her newfound freedom that she offers zero commitment to Po when the attraction starts to grow between them. In both of these cases these relationships are presented as healthy when they are not. A healthy relationship has both equality as well as commitment, these things are essential for happiness and trust.
One thing I will say is that in Twilight the negative aspects of Bella and Edward’s relationship were not glorified (despite what some may say, I truly do not think they were). The unhealthy choices made, such as Edward leaving Bella for "her own good", do not turn out well and it’s obvious later that these were bad decisions to have made, though at the time they are made they are presented as perfectly normal decisions to be making in a relationship. And, as for Graceling it does seem that by the end of the book Katsa does develop some kind of commitment to Po, though she continues to hate the idea of marriage and still refuses to see anything positive about it. (I guess I just wish Bella had given Edward a little more grief for leaving her and I wish Po hadn't been so calm about Katsa's inability to give him even an ounce of commitment)
My reason for writing this post is that Twilight has gotten a lot of backlash for portraying an unhealthy relationship, however I think Graceling shows the same level of unhealthy attitude in a relationship the difference being that the roles are switched from a man having all the power in a relationship to a woman having all the power in a relationship, but no one is talking about Graceling being unhealthy. When a man gets into a relationship with zero commitment to the woman we call him a "player" but when a woman does it she's "empowered"? The truth is the relationships in Twilight and in Graceling are both unhealthy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or a woman who’s being controlling and holding all the power in a relationship, it’s wrong either way. Couples should work together to compromise and make each other feel supported.
Now, I’m not saying these are bad books. I enjoyed both of them, and I certainly loved Wuthering Heights. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing about a relationship that has unhealthy elements in it in a story, because let’s be honest, that’s reality. Relationships can be unhealthy sometimes. People do sometimes feel so engrossed in another person that it feels like they’d die without them, and they do build up walls to protect themselves and fear commitment. But, the young adults who are reading these books need to recognize that the unhealthy parts of these stories are not okay. And, honestly I think they will. Young adults are not going to be brainwashed into thinking that your boyfriend not allowing you to see one of your friends is okay. They’re gonna say, “Hey, that was really messed up that Bella had to sneak out to see Jacob.” Or at least, that’s what I hope.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review for Opal by Jennifer Armentrout

Passion and a Great Plot

5 stars. I loved Katy and Daemon’s relationship in this book, and the development of all the characters was fabulous. Everyone has grown and changed since the last book. This is a series that hooked me from the very first book and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Opal is the third book in the Lux series by Jennifer Armentrout and it does not disappoint. This steamy alien-romance novel was nothing I expected and yet at the same time everything I hoped it would be. I loved that nothing happened too easily. I wanted Katy and Dee to make up so badly, but with what happened in Onyx the distance between them in this book is believable. It takes time for their friendship to mend, just like it takes time for Dawson to come around and to get back into the swing of things.

I was excited to start reading this knowing that Katy and Daemon were finally together, and once I got into Opal I felt like their relationship was completely natural. I liked that they still had that snarkiness between them and that they still pushed each other’s buttons. I also liked that what kept Katy and Daemon from hooking up was nothing more than the fact that they kept getting interrupted. I’ve read too many books where the main character is trying to be a good role model by waiting for marriage, but that’s not always realistic. For Katy and Daemon they don’t have sex right away, but it’s not for a lack of trying, and some of the interruptions that break them up are quite funny. Then when things finally do work out for them it feels right and is written incredibly well.

I also liked that while this book had enough sexiness to keep me smiling, it didn’t feel like the characters were ignoring the more serious issues in the plot. Onyx left a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied up and this book takes care of most of them but still leaves a few things to wonder for the next book. And, with that cliffhanger of an ending Origin is going to be completely different than I was expecting. This series has thrown one surprise after another at me and the release of Origin can’t come soon enough.

If you haven’t started this series yet, pick up Obsidian today.

Read my Review for Obsidian
Read my Review for Onyx

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review for My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent

A Nice Next Step in the Soul Screamer's Series

4 stars. I liked this book, just not quite as much as the first one. It had an interesting story line and I loved the characters, but the plot just didn’t draw me in like the first book did. I kind of saw the ending coming and while there were still surprises I just wasn’t as sucked in. Still it was a good story and I am still interested in reading the third book.

As with the first book I loved these characters. Kaylee and Nash’s relationship develops a little, though not as much as I would have liked. She was still worried that the only reason Nash likes her is to try and get with her, which I didn’t completely understand. After the things they’ve been to I’d like to think that she could trust him more. Tod was one of my favorite characters in this book, you get to see his softer side and it was fun watching him and Addy interact. But, I wish there had been more Emma in this book. I think she’s a wonderful character and I didn’t get to see as much of her as I would have liked. Her part in this book seemed just to be convenient to move the plot along. Also, I wish Vincent would have done a little more with Em dying and being brought back in the first book.

I still liked Kaylee and her stubbornness and concern for others, but she was a little too hard on herself about the bad things that happened to other people. She seemed to think it was her responsibility to save these girls, even though it’s not her fault that they died or chose to sell their souls. There are also a few places where some really dumb decisions made, and I couldn’t completely understand why the characters made the choices they did. For example, Kaylee gets cut by this poisonous plant but she thinks she can wait to take care of it, even though it really hurts and she knows it can kill her. I think she was being a little too selfless. Also I thought Addy could have tried harder to keep her sister from signing that contract. Why didn’t she show her her eyes?
There was some confusion with just what souls are in this book. Are we souls, or are we bodies with souls? When Addy sells her soul and has it replaced with Demon’s Breath it seems that we are bodies and souls are just things we have, but the concept of the last book and a lot of this one is that souls are important and that they are who we are. This is why it’s such a bad thing for Addy to die without one. I was just confused as to what the soul is in context of the story.

One thing I really liked about this book was the Netherworld. I was fascinated with it and the creatures that existed there. It was the one thing about this story that was really new and interesting. I felt like in the beginning of this book there was a lot of time spent re-capping what happened in the first book. I think this would have been good had I not read the first book, but since I had, and done so shortly before starting this one it got redundant for me. Also I felt like the ending was a little predictable, but I was glad that it wasn’t a happy-go-lucky, everything is find kind of ending. And, I did really like the conversation between Kaylee and Tod. That last little piece where they speak at the graveyard left me wanting to read the third book.

Read my Review for My Soul to Take, the First book in the Soul Screamer's Series

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writing for a Setting in the Midwest

Dispelling Wisconsin Stereotypes… and corroborating a few of them

Whenever I have an idea for a new book I set up a ‘note sheet’ where I lay out my outline, write bio’s for my characters and pick a setting for my story. Then I go about research for said setting and try and learn as much as I can about it to write it accurately and believably. While I was doing this the other day I started to think that it would be so much easier to write a story that was set in Wisconsin, as this is where I’m from and still live, but the creative part of my brain is just set on traveling. Still, this got me thinking that there may be other authors out there who are looking to mentally travel to my state with their books. So, I thought I’d help everyone out with a little post about my home state.
Wisconsin has been a popular setting for TV shows, movies, and books for years. Most people will know That 70’s Show, Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, were all set in Wisconsin, and so was Tommy Boy, Dawn of the Dead, Wayne’s World, as well as some of my favorite books including Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub. And, for the most part they depict Wisconsin fairly accurately, however there are still a lot of stereotypes out there, and while some of them are true others are dead wrong. So, for anyone out there thinking about writing a story set in the mid-west you might find this post helpful.

Everyone in Wisconsin is fat. I hate this one the most, because it’s so far from the truth. Yes, we love our cheese curds and cream puffs at the state fair (or at least I do), but not everyone in the state of Wisconsin is overweight, in fact Wisconsinites have a relatively healthy weight in comparison to all fifty states. The most obese state in the US is actually Mississippi. Wisconsin doesn’t even make it into the top ten most overweight states, instead were dead center at number 25.

Wisconsinites love cheese! Okay, so this one is true… kind of. It’s not like anything in my daily life has anything to do with cheese, and I don’t think I like it any more than someone from any other state, but I do like deep fried cheese curds (which I get every time I go to Culvers) and a good cheeseburger from time to time. There are a lot of little cheese shops here and there in Wisconsin. Particularly if you go to the Wisconsin Dells you’re bound to see a shop with a big ceramic cow or mouse outside. We make a lot of cheese here, and a lot of different kinds of cheese and it’s all pretty good.
Yes, we do drink that much, and we’re proud of it. I’m not saying this is a good thing, especially when I’ve seen close friends deal with drunk driving charges and go through AA, but the truth is in Wisconsin we can drink a lot and most of us would challenge to drink you under the table any day. And, in truth, we probably could. We're often considered Binge Drinkers. A standard mixed drink (for the rest of the country) is about a shot and a half. In Wisconsin, in most bars (of which each town has more than a few) you’ll most likely receive two and a half per mixer. I've even had friends go on vacation and try to compete in out of state drinking competitions and were not allowed to play simply because they were from Wisco.

Rednecks. I personally don’t own an ounce of flannel. Are there some people here who drive big trucks and chew tobacco and shoot squirrels out of the backyard, yes, but I suspect no more than most other states. But, unlike in Tommy Boy, we don’t go ‘cow tipping’ for fun.
There’s lots of bikers. Ah, Harley Davidson this is your birthplace, and yes I’ll hear the bikers revving their engines as they drive down the road a few times in the summer, but it’s not like there’s bikers around all the time. I don’t know of any biker gangs and there aren’t strange men with long beards and leather vests walking around my home town.

Friday fish fries. This one is more of a fun fact than a stereotype. Any restaurant in the state of Wisconsin on a Friday night will have some kind of all fish fry special (often all you can eat). This started as a thing for Lent which calls for abstaining from most meat products, but now you’ll find Friday fish fries year round. I didn’t even realize this was a mid-west thing until I was visiting family out west and suggested going for a Friday fish fry to have everyone stare at me with blank expressions.
It’s cold in Wisconsin. In the winter this is true. In Wisconsin it’s not cold unless it’s thirty below (which even in the winter it isn’t every day), but what most people don’t realize is that our summers are very warm. June through September we have really nice weather. Our summers get hot and our springs and falls are cozy and cool. January and February, and really a lot of March can be quite cold, but I’ve always enjoyed getting to see all the seasons.

It’s all farmland. Yes, there are a lot of farms in Wisconsin, but we’re not all rolling hills and green acres with red barns and black and white cows. Milwaukee for example is home of Summerfest (the world’s largest music festival), and Madison of course is a big college town. As you go farther North and make your way toward Oshkosh, which is another big college town, or up to Green Bay you’ll see more farms along the way, some windmills as well, but there are still cities, populated cities with malls and movie theaters and all your typical city amenities.
We love the Packers… this is true. Enough said. One thing I will say is that I don’t think anyone tailgates like Wisconsinites do. I remember going to Brewers games when I lived closer to Milwaukee and my friends and I would spend more time drinking and grilling out in the parking lot than we would actually watching the game. (Now I’ve heard they don’t let you wait around in the parking lot that long anymore, but it was what everyone did when I was younger). Also, though I’ve never been to a Packer game (I’ve only ever watched them on TV, at the bar, with a bowl of chili and a beer in my hand…) I’ve heard stories of serious tailgaters sticking it out in the cold to not only party before the game, but to sit through the cold to watch it.

Anyone out there blogging about their state? Comment below.

For more Random Posts by Lauryn April, click here

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review for My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent

Real Characters with New and Different Paranormal Concepts

4.5 Stars. I loved these characters from the very beginning; Kaylee, Emma and Nash are all very real and I wanted to know more about them. However, I did wish there had been a little more of Emma considering she was Kaylee’s best friend, and I did feel like Kaylee’s relationship with Nash came about a little too easily. However, they had known each other for some time, even though not well, before the novel started. I also wish we had been told a little more about why Nash likes Kaylee. He falls for her rather quickly but they don’t have a lot in common, at least other than one big thing.
Kaylee has had a huge secret kept from her, her entire life and at sixteen she’s forced to face it before her father or aunt and uncle were really prepared to talk to her about it. Kaylee is a Banshee and she knows when someone around her is about to die, then she lets out a terrible scream once they pass which can suspend their soul for a short time. It’s a frightening ability but one that Kaylee is able to get a handle on, until she realizes that there’s someone out there that’s taking people before their time and Kaylee can’t stand to let girls die for no reason.

This starts out with action and there’s something going on throughout the entire book. It was an exciting read and there were surprises up through the very end. But, I didn’t completely believe that Kaylee’s aunt would make the choices she did at the end of the novel, it just didn’t feel like that ending had been set up as well as it could have been. The plot overall is exciting and different and I truly enjoyed this book. I just wished a few parts had been fleshed out a little more. Overall I enjoyed this read and will continue on with the next book in this series.

Read my Review for My Soul to Save

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review for Shadows by Jennifer Armentrout

Prequel with a love story of its own.

4.5 Stars. This prequel to Obsidian was a great piece offering some backstory to the Lux series. It really helps you to understand all these characters that Katy meets in Obsidian, and why they react to her the way they do. I liked that this this book was written in the third person instead of seeing it through Dawson, or another character’s eyes. The rest of the books are in first person through Katy’s point of view, but by Shadows being in the third you are really able to get a feel for all of the characters, not just Dawson and Beth which I think was important.

I liked getting to know Dawson and Beth, their personalities are so different from Daemon and Katy, and so is their relationship. This book has a lot of the same elements that I loved in Obsidian, but it’s a very different story. The Lux series is about aliens, but also feeling like an outcast and fighting against what everyone else wants for you to do what makes you happy. Dawson and Beth have some similar hurdles to overcome as Katy and Daemon, but they’re very different people. Just seeing how Beth discovers that Dawson is an alien is a good example of this as well as a wonderful scene. You really feel for Beth and Dawson as the book goes on and you want them to have a happy ending, but if you’ve already read Obsidian or Onyx then you know that’s not exactly how it goes.

My only real complaint with this book is that there could have been more of it. It was a little short, but there was enough here that Armentrout could have written a full length novel. As it stands it fits perfectly into the Lux series, but Dawson and Beth could very easily have a series of their own. Overall this was a worthwhile read and if you’ve read or are thinking about reading Obsidian I would pick this one up as well.

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