I’m sure we’ve all read books with unlikeable characters before, and I’m not talking about the villains. I’m talking about the protagonists who are angry or troublesome and undergo character development throughout the course of the novel, or even the “bad boy with a heart of gold” trope. I do really like reading about unlikeable characters because while they frustrate me at times or I disagree with their decisions, I love reading about their growth as people and what serves as the catalyst for their changes. But have you ever read a book that takes this idea a little too far? Have you read a book where you despise the protagonist so much that it makes you want to hurl the book across the room? For me, that book was Olive in Love.
One of the things that endlessly frustrates me about some YA novels that revolve around themes of mental health is the idea that the love interest, or romance itself, can “cure” mental illness. Don’t get me wrong — I love reading books to do with mental illness because I think they’re so important and powerful. Not only can they help those battling to see that they’re not alone in feeling how they do and that there’s always hope and someone who loves you, but also to educate other readers about the reality of living with a mental illness. It’s not sunshines and rainbows, and it’s certainly not romantic. I wrote a post about how self-harm is often glamorised or romanticised in the media and our literature, but today I’m going to be discussing how harmful it is to portray mental illness as something that can be “cured” when you fall in love, or when the “right person” comes along and saves you.
A book I was reading recently called Optimists Die First really got me thinking about the place romance has in novels that are attempting to give an accurate and raw portrayal about what it’s like to live with a mental illness. I’m not saying that there should be a ban on love in these sorts of novels, or books with these themes, but I strongly believe that love should never be written as “the thing that saves you” from your mental illness. While we didn’t see our protagonist “cured” from her social anxiety and OCD (though the OCD isn’t given a label in the narrative), the love interest had some dubious motives for why he wanted to become close with her, and as their relationship grew, Petula’s symptoms were seen to recede. All because of “love”.
There’s no doubt that there’s an abundance of YA novels that revolve around a character’s grief, and their struggle to overcome it. These characters are often seen to fall into harmful ways of thinking or destructive patterns of behaviour, and this can show readers who might be impressionable and moulded by what they consume and that this is the “normal” way to deal with grief and hardship. Believing these things can not only be detrimental to the individual, but also highlight the need for authors to have a responsibility towards their readers. While I do believe that some “controversial” novels are valuable as they provide readers with alternate points of view and give a voice to the sides that may not be as heard in our society, it’s harmful to convey to readers that it’s “normal” to cope by means of self-harm of destructive behaviours. This is effectively what we are communicating to some readers by normalising these actions to the point that the lines between “healthy” and “unhealthy” are blurred.
So as you may have already seen, I finished writing the first draft of my Work in Progress (WIP) / novel last week, which was super exciting! But quite a few people have asked me questions to do with how a first draft works, how long it took me to write mine, and just if I had any tips or advice for people who were about to start working on a novel for the first time. Before I begin, let me say that I am in no way qualified to be giving writing advice and if anything, you should probably go and ask a reputable author. I’ve only written a first draft one other time — three years ago — and that book is never seeing the light of day. Before you ask, no, you’re never seeing it. Not even a snippet. I have buried it somewhere no one will ever find it.
Well, if you’re still with me, that must mean you’re reading to hear some dubious writing advice for how to ruin — I mean ace — your first draft! First, let me give you some background about how writing this first draft went for me.Read More »
It’s long been said amongst writers that we must “kill our darlings”. For those that are unaware, this seemingly psychopathic phrase isn’t about killing your babies or your favourite characters (although it is fun to make readers cry); it’s about cutting out elements from your novel that serve no purpose to the work as a whole, even if it’s something we adore. This was one piece of writing advice I got from my writing teacher and inspiration in middle school. The other was this:
“Whatever you do, don’t kill the dog. Killing people in fiction is mostly fine, but touch the animals and readers will hate you.”
And I mean, who hasn’t read a book or watched a movie that involves the death of a dog and cried your eyes out? If you haven’t, you’re clearly not human. Some of us still tear-up at the mention of Marley & Me — “some” including me. But when people die, especially when they go as quickly as on Game of Thrones, I find that I have to be really connected to them in order to shed a tear. But an animal? I don’t even have to know its name to cry my eyes out.
Exhibit A of this post is a new book called The Edge of Everything (if you haven’t heard of it, there’s more information down below). What’s worse than a dog dying in a book? A dog being killed in a book. And what’s even worse than that? Animal abuse. I can’t even think about it without feeling absolutely sick to my stomach. But that was what I found myself reading when I picked up The Edge of Everything. The blatant abuse of animals.
Although I’ve read what feels like an abundance of YA novels featuring gay male protagonists, I’ve only read maybe three books featuring bisexual female protagonists. And I’ve read all three of them in the past three months. I’m pleased that books are finally being released with bisexual main characters, but it feels like it’s been a long time coming. Thankfully there’s been a push for diversity by avid readers and passionate writers, and I believe that’s influencing the bookish community in the best possible ways. It’s opened my eyes to see how much of what I was reading was featuring cishet protagonists, and it’s time to change that.
As someone who identifies as bisexual – which you can hear more about in this post – there’s nothing I want more than to see myself in more of what I read. But it’s not just about what I want. People who are still trying to figure out who they are need YA fiction to show them that being any and every sexuality is valid, and just because our world is heteronormative and can be cruel and invalidate who you are, it doesn’t mean you’re any less important or any less loved. How you choose to define yourself, whether that be with a label or with who you choose to love, matters. You matter.Read More »
Please be advised that this post discusses self-harm and mentions abuse.
Writing this piece is going to be somewhat difficult at the moment because I’m very angry, for reasons which you may have already guessed from the title of this piece, so I can’t guarantee that everything I write will be coherent or even marginally articulate, but writing has always been a form of therapy for me, so I think this is something that I need to do. For my benefit, as well as yours.
Yesterday, I saw an image on social media that was very confronting and, to be frank, vile. I’m not going to name the person whose photo it was, the platform it was shown on or post the photo here a) because I don’t believe in shaming someone without tagging them in the content and b) I don’t want anyone else to be triggered by this photo. But that photo got me thinking about some very important things that we should be discussing more, which is the way self-harm is often romanticised in what we read and watch, and how that’s not okay.
To give you a vague idea, the image was of a novel and a painted blue arm with golden slits dripping golden “blood”, mirroring the book cover. Disgusted, I moved to the comments section and saw that only one person had stated how hurtful the image was. The blogger responded, defending their work by saying it was just “art”.
Self-harm is not “art”.
There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in the bookish community recently, and some of that discussion has been aimed at the diversity in Aussie YA, and if the literature Aussie authors produce is ‘diverse enough’. Diversity wasn’t something I intentionally sought out in the past and while I did read diverse books, they weren’t books I decided to read because of their diversity — I just read the books I wanted to read.
But now I feel as though the bookish community has been having a lot more discussions about the need for diverse books and it’s opened my eyes to the amount of novels I’ve been reading that don’t contain any diversity, and that’s something I’ve already started to change. The only books I’m interested in buying now are those that are diverse, because I feel that it’s so integral to show just how beautiful and vibrant and diverse our world really is, and also to support marginalised authors and #OwnVoices authors. But this post isn’t about me. This post is about diversity in Aussie YA novels, and if we have enough.
My name is Stacey Woods and I was raped.
Stacey is the victim of a terrible sexual attack. She does not feel able to go to the police, or talk about it to anybody other than her best friend, Patrice. Patrice, outraged, when she cannot persuade her to go to the police, encourages Stacey to write everything down. This is Stacey’s story.
A tautly told and important book, perfect for readers of Asking for It by Louise O’Neill.
Are you ever afraid to pick up a book because of all the hype that surrounds it? Do you ever find yourself feeling let down because a book didn’t meet the high expectations you’d formed of it from all the hype it’s received? Have you ever thought some books aren’t worthy of the hype they have? Well join the club! Here are seven books I think have too much hype…
While I enjoyed Caraval and I thought it was a really beautifully-written and engaging novel, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a lot of hype surrounding its release. This was a book that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t one that absolutely blew me away. Sure, it was a fun read and I liked reading about the quest and the magical elements, but every other part was astoundingly average. I couldn’t really connect with the protagonist because I felt that there was so much emphasis placed on the quest and the fast-pacing of the novel made me feel as though I never got the time to just relax and get to know her. Perhaps if I had felt more empathetic towards her and her lost sister then I would have enjoyed this novel more.
But that’s not to say that I don’t think Caraval is worthy of any hype at all. It’s a great novel and it was quite enjoyable, but honestly, the amount of hype that’s surrounding this novel could easily be halved and given to some other diverse releases of 2017 that haven’t been constantly on everyone’s Instagram and Twitter feeds. Although I did like how I wasn’t sure who I could trust, or if I could even trust what I was reading, and I loved how mysterious the whole novel was. It really drew me in from the very beginning, but I just wish I could have felt more for the characters. The romance was particularly a let-down for me and while it wasn’t one of the main elements, it felt unnecessary when we could have invested more into the relationship between the two sisters. For me, Caraval was neither here nor there, but one thing’s for certain — it has a lot of hype.