A post from the past, rescued from the e-trash bin by a fellow BSG fan!

An interesting and unexpected discovery: below is a link to a post I wrote on the “Battlestar Galactica” forums on IMDb a couple of years ago — part of a thread that has since been deleted. The thread centered on the actions and motivations of Felix Gaeta, one of the more polarizing characters on BSG (and one of my personal favorites). I’d thought my post was lost for good, but it turns out a Tumblr user quoted it on her blog, thereby rescuing it from the periodic IMDb message board purges that are necessary to keep the Internet from collapsing. (And yes, my IMDb moniker was actually “Emperor Rawk the Chicken.” I have friends who will attest to this, probably just before laughing derisively and asking if I’ve been institutionalized yet. I’m not ashamed to admit to such a fowl alias, though I probably should be.)

Anyway, have a look if you’re interested. I’d thought about writing something similar to it on this blog under the same “unfairly maligned TV characters” umbrella as the Sansa Stark pieces, but since the original post survives I’ll just link directly to it instead.

And thank you to “daisytachi,” whoever you are, for preserving a piece of writing I hadn’t expected to see again. Cheers!

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Game of Thrones: Who You Calling a Wimp? (Part Two)

Hello again, everyone. Last time, when I turned a Game of Thrones quiz into the beginnings of a defense of Sansa Stark, I promised to offer up a couple of hypotheses for why Sansa’s displays of courage and integrity throughout the series have done little to convince audiences to give her even a modicum of credit. And believe me, I’m not imagining this. Sansa-hate is alive and well, to the point its practitioners will do almost anything to justify their continued disdain for the character.

 

This is what passes for wit nowadays. (Image credit: towerofthehand.blogsspot.com)

That awkward moment when you realize this is what passes for wit nowadays. (Image credit: towerofthehand.blogsspot.com)

Consider, for instance, this excerpt from Entertainment Weekly’s recap of “Breaker of Chains” (S4 E3), in which critic James Hibberd goes to astonishing lengths to interpret Sansa’s escape from King’s Landing in a way that makes her look like an idiot:

[Following Joffrey’s assassination, Sansa] made her first smart proactive move in the whole series and got the hell out of there along with Dontos the drunkard. He ushers her to a rowboat, and then out to a mysterious ghost ship captained by…

Littlefinger! …

So now after being captive for basically the entire show by the Joffrey and the Lannisters, Sansa finally escapes for about 15 seconds … and manages to get captured again by somebody else! Somewhere, Arya is face-palming.

It would take an entire blog post to cover all the things that are wrong with this passage, but one fallacy in particular stands out: Hibberd actually ridicules Sansa for being delivered into Littlefinger’s clutches, as if it were her fault that he masterminded her abduction.

Then there’s this choice bit from Monty Ashley’s recap of “Fire and Blood” (S1 E10) on the Television Without Pity website:

Meanwhile, up on the royal dais, Sansa faints. I want to make fun of her for fainting, because it’s the sort of thing that frail, royal ladies are always doing. But her father did just get decapitated a few feet from her, so I’m going to allow it.

Isn’t that magnanimous of him? He’s going to give Sansa a pass for fainting after witnessing her own father’s execution! Go on, Sansa: kneel down and say “thank you” to Monty Ashley for showing such restraint.

Why is it that are people so eager to hate this character, and so reluctant to acknowledge her positive qualities? Here’s what I think might be behind the continued Sansa-slamming:

Hypothesis #1: First impressions die hard.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: at the beginning of the TV series, Sansa was pretty hard to like. For the first seven episodes of Season 1, she was by turns shallow, bratty, shortsighted, and willfully naïve. When that’s our initial impression of a character, it’s very easy for us to get stuck on AutoHate. I suspect that is at least part of why there is still so much anti-Sansa sentiment among audiences now.

However, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, Sansa has proven since late Season 1 that she possesses plenty of redeeming qualities: compassion, courage, survival instincts, and an unlikely capacity to endure tragedy, just to name a few.

Sure, she still has her share of weepy, whiny moments and still relapses into her old naivete on occasion, most notably in Season 3 when she entertains the fantasy of being married to a clearly uninterested, clearly gay Loras Tyrell. But are these flaws of hers so egregious, so reprehensible, that they overshadow the times when she has demonstrated courage under circumstances that would probably crush any one of us? The kid’s been publicly tortured and humiliated, nearly gang-raped, subjected to daily psychological abuse, used as a pawn in political maneuvering, and forced to marry into the family responsible for murdering three of her own family members; yet in spite of all this, she has not only survived but in fact emerged as one of the most compassionate characters in the series, showing empathy for the likes of Ser Dontos and Tyrion Lannister while everyone else gets off on humiliating them.

Yes, she started off on the wrong foot in Season 1. But we’re on Season 4 now, and she’s come a long way. So, while I kind of understand how the initial negative opinions of Sansa may have become ingrained in the audience’s collective mind, at this point it’s inexcusably lazy to hang on to them. Sansa’s moved on. We should too.

Ahem. Anyway …

Hypothesis #2: People Have a Frakked-up Definition of “Strength”

Ever since it came on the air, Game of Thrones has been cited repeatedly as a gold mine of strong female characters. Fans and critics have gushed variously over the steely resolve and independence of Daenerys Targaryen, Catelyn Stark, Arya Stark, Margaery Tyrell, Olenna Tyrell, Melisandre, Brienne of Tarth, Ygritte, and even Cersei Lannister. And it’s true that all these women have exhibited a great deal of strength in the face of adversity. Many of them are highly sympathetic to boot.

But why is Sansa so seldom counted among them? Why doesn’t it seem to impress viewers that she was the one person who advocated for Ned Stark’s life, or that she defended Tyrion to Lysa Arryn despite having nothing to gain from it? What standards of strength have all the other women of GOT met that Sansa has not?

Well, after reviewing all of the episodes to date, I’ve determined that Sansa is the only principal female character who hasn’t done one or more of the following things:

  • Worn armor.
  • Wielded a sword, dagger, or other weapon.
  • Committed or masterminded a murder.
  • Participated in the railroading of an innocent man accused of murder.
  • Abducted and/or threatened to kill a person who has never wronged her.
  • Used sex to manipulate people into doing her bidding.
  • Gone out of her way to make an unoffending person feel stupid.
  • Had hundreds of people tortured to death without even the pretense of a trial (yes, Team Khaleesi, I’m talking to you here).
  • Espoused a belief system that consists of exactly two ideas: (1) there is a single God whose efficacy and favor require regular human sacrifices, and (2) the night is dark and full of terrors.
  • Bared her breasts onscreen.

So, based on these differences between Sansa and the other, supposedly stronger female characters, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the problem lies not with any fundamental weakness on Sansa’s part, but rather with the audience’s unconscious notion that a “strong woman” is one who goes around kicking other people’s asses, engages in all of the worst behaviors of her male counterparts, and generally conforms to stereotypical versions of masculinity, with bonus points awarded for getting naked from time to time.

I know that’s going to make certain people mad, because they have it in their heads that any self-respecting progressive thinker, any true feminist, must necessarily see Daenerys and Arya as quintessential strong female protagonists, while deploring Sansa’s character as being somehow antithetical to female empowerment. But those people are mistaken.

The scenes cited in the previous post should have erased any doubt that Sansa has more agency and backbone than, frankly, many of the people who watch Game of Thrones. And even if she’s far from the most intelligent character on the show, she’s not an idiot either; the way she calls Littlefinger on his BS and tricks Joffrey into sparing Dontos’s life are just two examples of her ability to think on her feet. As for being naïve … well, yes, sometimes she is, but I fail to see how that’s more objectionable than burning people alive for believing in a different god from yours, as Melisandre is so fond of doing, or shoving a sword through someone’s neck and smiling about it, as Arya has done.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to bash the other, more widely beloved women on this show. (Okay, I do have a huge problem with Melisandre, but that’s a rant for another day.) What I object to is the double standard according to which Sansa is so frequently judged. It’s a double standard that illuminates a broader, more insidious problem with us as consumers of popular culture: we mistake meanness, obstinacy, bloodlust, manipulation, and outright bullying for strength. That isn’t Sansa Stark’s fault. It’s ours.

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Game of Thrones: Who You Calling a Wimp? (Part One)

Welcome to the Shellshocked Cassowary’s very first Game of Thrones combination trivia game and rant, wherein we shall examine how our reactions to the characters on this hit TV series can help us to better understand ourselves. Sound pretentious? Not to worry. There’ll be plenty of snark down the road.

But first, let’s get started with a quiz. By necessity, it contains more than a few spoilers, so if you’re not caught up on the series you should stop reading now.

Okay, for those of you still reading, here’s how the quiz works: each of the questions below involves the actions of various characters on the TV show up through the most recent episode, “The Mountain and the Viper” (Season 4, Episode 8). In every case, there are two characters whose behavior matches the description given. Your job is to identify them. Everyone ready? Here we go:

 

Question 1: Imagine, if you will, a petulant, pampered, psychopathic mama’s boy whose highborn status and dysfunctional family have enabled him to abuse others with impunity throughout his life. One day, a relative of this hateful little brat becomes the first person ever to deliver a long-overdue slap to his face. Name the two people who perform this public service.

Question 2: While we’re on the subject of relatives, consider the following scenario: A man is wrongfully accused of murder and faces near-certain execution. In a desperate bid to secure clemency for this man, a member of his family approaches the most powerful man in King’s Landing and negotiates the Westerosi equivalent of a plea bargain. Name the two people who go to bat for their loved ones in this fashion.

Question 3: Although King Joffrey the First Worst is an incurable sadist, there are a couple occasions when another character persuades the young tyrant to curb his cruelest impulses. What makes this an especially neat trick is that the person in question pulls it off by pretending to appeal to Joffrey’s worst instincts. Name the two people who are thus able to rein in the Royal Sociopath, if only temporarily.

Question 4: The Hound isn’t an easy guy to like, but underneath his literal and figurative armor lurks a spark of humanity that asserts itself at unexpected times. And, on rare occasions, another character actually witnesses – and acknowledges – the handful of redeeming qualities in Sandor Clegane, even while remaining understandably wary of him. Which two characters recognize the Hound’s inner teddy bear?

Question 5: I’ve never been a prisoner or a hostage, but I’ve heard it’s a bit more stressful than your average midterm exam or dental appointment. Especially when your captors are members of a family that is openly hostile to yours and could potentially have you killed at any time. On this show, however, two characters not only survive over a year of captivity under these conditions but also emerge with their spirits intact, along with a newfound sense of empathy. Name these two exemplars of unlikely endurance.

 

And now for the answers:

Answers to question 1:

  • Tyrion Lannister smacks Joffrey for refusing to extend the proper courtesy to his hosts, the Starks (S1 E2, “The Kingsroad”).
  • Sansa Stark smacks Robin Arryn for desecrating her snow-castle monument to Winterfell and for generally being an insensitive jackass re: the destruction of her home and her family (S4 E7, “Mockingbird”).

Answers to question 2:

  • After declaring his brother’s murder trial a “farce,” Jaime Lannister offers up his position in the Kingsguard in exchange for Tywin’s promise to spare Tyrion’s life (S4 E6, “The Laws of Gods and Men”).
  • Sansa Stark makes a plea for her father’s life in front of the entire court, deftly providing the Lannisters with a face-saving rationale to let Ned keep his head (S1 E8, “The Pointy End”).

Answers to question 3:

  • Margaery Tyrell engages in tactical flattery to get Joffrey to show something resembling kindness to the people of King’s Landing (S3 E4, “And Now His Watch Is Ended”).
  • Second answer: Sansa Stark tricks Joffrey into sparing the drunken, bumbling Ser Dontos (S2 E1, “The North Remembers”).

Answers to question 4: 

  • Arya Stark (S3 and S4, various episodes).
  • Sansa Stark (S2, various episodes).

Answers to question 5:

  • Jaime Lannister first endures captivity in Robb Stark’s war camp and then loses a hand en route to Roose Bolton’s fortress; upon his release, he risks his life to save Brienne, for whom he has developed something close to admiration (S2 and S3, various episodes).
  • In the wake of her father’s execution, Sansa Stark spends month after month navigating the snake pit that is King’s Landing. During this time, she exhibits a penchant for deflating Joffrey’s ego without being overtly defiant (since, after all, that could cost her her head) and comes to recognize the humanity in Tyrion Lannister, even helping him salvage a tiny shred of his dignity at Joffrey’s wedding (S2, S3, and S4, various episodes).

 

No doubt you’ve noticed what all five sets of answers have in common, so let’s move ahead to my blatantly rhetorical question (and the real point of this whole post): Why is it, exactly, that so many viewers and critics still think of Sansa as a stupid, spineless weakling who deserves disdain at best and outright hatred at worst?

This “wimp” survived over a year in the company of Joffrey and Cersei. Could you?

In my next post, I’ll float a couple of hypotheses for why there is such strong anti-Sansa sentiment among Thrones watchers, after which I’ll pose a broader question: Do audience members really understand what a “strong” female character is? (My opinion: Far too many of them do not. Not by a long shot.)

Till next time, then.

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Hiding Behind Holiday Spirit: Christmas “Classics” That Have Overstayed Their Welcome

Disclaimer: This is, to a very large extent, a tongue-in-cheek piece. Please bear this in mind while reading my lengthy rant, as there is a strong likelihood it’ll go off the rails sometime after the fifth or sixth paragraph. Maybe even earlier. It’s late, after all.

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Jan. 4, 2014

I will freely admit to being more of a curmudgeon than the average thirtysomething when it comes to the commercial trappings of the holiday season. I can only handle Christmas carols in small doses. I find the ongoing culture war between the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and “It’s Politically Incorrect to Say ‘Merry Christmas'” factions to be both tiresome and embarrassing. My tolerance for the bustle of holiday shopping is only marginally greater than my tolerance for the glut of news stories about holiday shopping.

However, having said all of this, I believe that within reason, people are entitled to celebrate the holidays in whatever way makes them and their loved ones happy. Love the Bing Crosby Christmas standards? No problem. Listen to them as often as you like. Can’t get enough of those eight-hour marathon shopping excursions through tinsel-saturated department stores and crowded malls? That’s cool with me. As long as you’re not bothering anyone else or being a jerk, you’re welcome to your chosen brand of revelry.

And you know what? Some of this stuff I actually like. I’m a sucker for “O Holy Night.” I feel a strange sense of enchantment whenever I see the Nativity scene. Rudolph is one cute little reindeer. And I’ll always have fond memories of those stop-motion Rankin-Bass specials.

Now here comes the “BUT” part.

BUT.

There are certain mainstays of holiday culture that are, to me, just plain indefensible. And it’s high time we got rid of them.

Number one on my list of Christmas “classics” that need to be consigned to the coal bin and left to decay quietly into obsolescence is that most appalling of Christmas movies, “A Christmas Story.” Yes, I know I’m going after something many of you consider charming and funny. Yes, I know it’s considered a cinematic slice of nostalgia, a family film to warm your heart as you sip your eggnog and make gingerbread cookies. And yes, I’m calling BS on all of it.

Let’s start with the premise: a kid named Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas. Lovely. To his mother’s credit, she repeated warns him that he might shoot his eye out. Her concerns are well founded: not only is the kid a klutz, but after being on the receiving end of persistent bullying at school for who knows how long, he’s a ticking time bomb as well. Remember that scene when Ralphie finally loses it and beats his tormentor to a pulp on the icy sidewalk? Is that the kind of person you want to have access to guns?

Then there’s the behavior of the characters in general. Simply put, they’re pathetic, and not in a lovable way. Ralphie’s dad buys a tacky lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg and remains completely oblivious to what this purchase says about him (hint: it’s something along the lines of “I am an embarrassing stereotype of middle-aged male cluelessness that is neither funny, nor endearing, nor novel, nor even the least bit interesting”). Ralphie’s mom has a meltdown when the dog eats the Christmas turkey, and another meltdown later when she witnesses the beheading of a roast duck at the hands of a half-dozen racial caricatures at a Chinese restaurant. Seriously, the dialogue in this latter scene is literally the following:

RACIAL CARICATURES: Deck da haws wif bows a hah-ry / fa ra ra ra raaaa, ra ra ra raaa!

*WHAM!*

RALPHIE’S MOM: Waaaaaaaaaah!

Which brings me to the worst aspect of this alleged holiday classic: it’s just plain mean. Worse, it’s mean-spiritedness masquerading as a nostalgic remembrance of childhood. As nearly as I can tell, “A Christmas Story” wants its audience to do one of two things: either (a) look back fondly on all those moments when we and our loved ones were humiliated, tortured, and generally made miserable, or (b) point and laugh at the people who were at the receiving end of such mistreatment, so that we can feel superior to them or something like that.

We are invited, for instance, to laugh at the plight of a kid who is peer-pressured into licking a cold flagpole, which results in his being immobilized for hours. He wails and cries the whole while, and the audience is expected to think “Awwww, yeah, childhood was the best, wasn’t it?” Meanwhile, the kid’s “friends” (I use the term loosely) seem surprised that this has happened, and to be fair they look like they feel sorta bad for their ice-tongued compatriot, but are they held accountable for it? Of course not. It’s an ’80s comedy. We just laugh at the misfortune of a kid who’s going to require a skin graft on his tongue, and we move on. Screw the victims. They were just supporting characters anyhow. (See also Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is a rant for a different day.)

Number two on my elimination list: “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” I know, I know, it’s all too easy to look at those lyrics through the lenses of modern-day sensibilities and feminist thinking and go “EEEEEWWWWWW.” I’ll leave it to others to hash that argument out. Here’s my take on it: first of all, it’s a mediocre song. And by mediocre, I mean depressingly subpar. Even the materialistic “Silver Bells” is orders of magnitude better in every imaginable way. Secondly, regardless of how the lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” were originally intended, they’re just creepy now. Intent does not equal effect, and at this point in our history, I’m afraid the effect is just embarrassing. This song’s time has passed. Please, get rid of it before someone decides to put a recording of it on the next spacecraft we send out for ETs to stumple upon.

Number three on the get-rid-of-this-the-day-before-yesterday roster: the movie “Home Alone.” Every criticism I leveled at “A Christmas Story” applies tenfold to this celebration of sadism that’s somehow been sold to the public as a warm family film that we can all look forward to every year. Any movie in which Joe Pesci’s character takes a worse beating than the one dished out in “Casino” is questionable at best, and certainly not something that screams “Make the Yuletide gay!” Or “fun.” Or whatever the term is now. I’m having trouble keeping up, old curmudgeon that I am.

And last but not least, I’d like to make a gentle suggestion that we add the song “Santa Baby” to the “Naughty” list. It’s annoying. It’s gross. Not even Philip Glass or R.E.M. or Placido Domingo could make it palatable. (I’m afraid to find out if any of them have tried. Anybody know?) Whatever. Anyway, please, let’s ditch this song. We’re better than this, people!

p.s. In case any of you were wondering, I do, in fact, love the holiday season. I don’t love everything about it, obviously, but I love what’s at its core: appreciation of family, taking a little break, thinking about the highlights of the year, taking stock of the good in our lives. And on that level, I had an awesome holiday. I hope all of you did too, and I hope you have many more in the years to come. Just don’t expect me to sing along the next time “Baby It’s Cold Outside” oozes its way out of the radio.

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Rejection isn’t just okay; it’s necessary

Like many other unpublished writers, I’m more than a little eager to get a story into print. Sometimes the eagerness threatens to escalate into obsession (I’ve been known to visit QueryTracker several times in one day), at which point going on a very long run is pretty much the only way to prevent my inner crazy from escaping into public and monopolizing the six o’clock news.

I think many writers will agree with me when I say that when it comes to querying agents, waiting to hear back is easily the hardest part of the process. Uncertainty is worse than rejection, no question about it. But! But! Rejections still sting. Especially when they come from a dream agent, or an agent who showed interest but didn’t quite fall in love with the story. Not fun. Not fun at all.

But after getting turned down dozens of times — sometimes right off the bat, sometimes after being asked for a full manuscript — I’ve come to realize rejection is not only okay, but in fact absolutely necessary to the process of creation. It’s a cliche that learning to take “no” for an answer is a part of growing up, a “character-building” experience. But that always struck me as a dismissive, faintly condescending thing to say to an author/musician/artist still smarting from disappointment. I think it’s both more honest and more useful to look at rejection as something that can only make you better at your craft.

Several of the agents who turned down the novel I’ve been querying have taken the time to explain, either briefly or in great detail, what did and didn’t work for them in the story. I may not always agree with their feedback, but their opinions are no less valuable for that. Why? Because they make me ask the hard questions I might not otherwise think, or dare, to ask. For instance, is my protagonist really coming across as a flawed person who is nevertheless worth rooting for, or is he/she too difficult to like? Does the dialogue ring true, or is it too obviously a writer’s affectation? Am I even telling the “right” story for these characters?

In short, agents who turn you down give you a chance to reexamine your creation, to see if it stands up to the kind of scrutiny that you may not have anticipated. In a very real way, the substantive rejection is a mechanism for collaboration, even though we might not think of it that way at first. Whether I decide to reject an agent’s feedback or incorporate her suggestions into a rewrite, the fact remains that I now have new ideas about how to tell a story. And, in the end, that just motivates me to keep writing, and to keep trying to craft a better tale with truer characters.

So, even if an agent’s rejection initially feels like a slap in the face, often it’s anything but that. More often than not, it’s a gift. My storytelling is definitely better now that I’ve experienced it a few times.

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Teenagers with old souls

There are many reasons I’ve gravitated naturally toward the young adult genre in the last several years, both in my reading habits and in my own writing. The most obvious is that I work with teenagers every day, both in and out of the classroom. Another is that YA literature, when done right, can deliver a level of emotional honesty that few other genres can match. Like it or not, a teenager’s point of view has a way of keeping the rest of us honest, even if we don’t agree with it. Every time we interact with a teenager, we can’t help but reflect on our own conduct, our own values, our own assumptions. That last one’s especially important.

If there’s one rule I impose on myself when writing about people in their teens and early twenties, it’s to err on the side of giving those characters too much credit rather than too little. I figure I can always dial things back a little if it becomes apparent that my protagonist is operating on a level that simply isn’t possible without thirty or more years of life experience, which is something that’s happened to me more than a few times. That sort of thing isn’t hard to fix. But if I condescend to my characters, reducing them to loud music and door-slamming and exclamations of “I HATE YOU!!!!!!!” — well, then I have no business writing YA.

Which brings me to the most compelling reason I love YA literature: the very best authors in the genre, like Laurie Halse Anderson and Kody Keplinger, know how to navigate the apparent paradox of teenage characters who still have plenty of growing up to do, yet possess a kind of emotional wisdom that many adults never attain.

A big part of this wisdom, I think, comes from the emotional challenges and wounds these characters have endured relatively early in life. For instance, Lia, the anorexic protagonist of Anderson’s “Wintergirls,” knows that the death of her best friend ought to be a wake-up call for her, but she’s so accustomed to self-destruction that the loss only serves to intensify the self-loathing that fuels her eating disorder. Melinda, the sexual assault survivor of “Speak,” is unable to connect with her peers at school, not because she is socially inept but because it’s impossible for her to identify with their comparatively banal concerns after what she’s endured. And Bianca, the feisty heroine of Keplinger’s “The Duff,” prefers to let people think of her as a prickly bitch rather than allow them to see the pain she carries around in the wake of her parents’ divorce.

All three of these girls are aware that their defense mechanisms are unhealthy and unsustainable, and all of them eventually make the decision to take control of their emotional trajectory. What Anderson and Keplinger both recognize, and what we as readers should never underestimate, is that making such a decision is really, really scary, no matter how old you are. That these characters are able to come to terms with their own pain so early in life is a testament to their strength and intelligence, qualities many readers are reluctant to acknowledge in teens.

To be sure, not every teenager is as wise or as strong as Bianca or Melinda or Lia. Some kids are jerks. Some of them are willfully ignorant. Some of them lack the self-awareness that would empower them and help them look beyond themselves. But the same is true for every age group. What we all need to remember is that there’s a flip side to all of that, and it comes down to this: some teenagers are old souls. They are the ones whose emotional development outpaces their physical maturation. They’re the ones who love to read, who sense when their friends need a hug, who recognize their own faults, who take the time to consider other points of view. And, most crucially, they embrace opportunities for growth.

I’ve met some of these old souls. One of them was a girl who suffered from kidney disease all her life and died at the age of 20, yet seemed more grown-up and self-assured as a high schooler than I was as a graduate student. Another is a former student of mine who, even before she graduated high school, was already doing things like spearheading an outreach program to a school in Nicaragua. Still others are voracious readers with huge vocabularies and gorgeous, soulful writing. And then there are the innumerable kids I’ve met who know how to do what many adults do not: they sincerely apologize when they behave badly, and they make no excuses.

So if you encounter characters like that in a YA novel, and you find yourself feeling a wee bit skeptical, keep in mind that one of the points of YA literature is to appeal to teenage readers. To do that, we have to give them credit for who they are, or at least for who they could be.

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