Tag Archives: Divergent

The Boy I Want to Be

When the first Hunger Games movie came out, parents took their children, schools arranged field trips, and in general it was deemed important to take kids to go watch other kids kill each other. I’m sure there was some rational point, but I also heard reports of children being severely traumatized. Okay, where am I going with this? Please, not another rant. Not so much. More a question. See, not all kids were traumatized; most were thrilled, entertained, excited, and one young girl was heard coming out of the theater exclaiming, “I wish I could live in the Hunger Games!” Seriously? Why? What was it about that world that made her want to be a part of it?

She was not alone, and since then, Hunger Games themed summer camps have sprung up, giving kids a chance to hunt each other to (presumably simulated) death. What fun! What fun? What? Fun? It’s a given that I don’t get it. Maybe that’s why I continue to be a failed author, while the writers of dark, violent torture-festivals for kids see runaway success.

Okay, presumably the appeal of these books is the characters. Readers can “relate” to these plucky heroines standing up in the face of unrelenting horror and despair. I can see how that’s admirable. But who would want to actually be the characters? To actually go through their experiences?

The appeal of the Harry Potter books, especially the early ones, was obvious. What kid didn’t want to be whisked away to a magical school and discover his true greatness? Even if it meant standing up to ultimate evil, the journey was exciting. And, dare I say, fun. At least, it was in the early books. As the series progressed and the leads got older, the books got darker. This, I suppose, was to reflect that, as you mature, things become more serious, and the stakes rise. The Potter series was remarkable as being possibly the best example of the character growing up with the readers. The early books were very definitely middle grade, while the last ones were squarely “young adult.”

But that’s troubling to me. The implication there is that books for younger readers can be fun, whereas books for older teens should be serious, dark and traumatic. This may be a contributor to my continued failure to find representation for my book. More than one person has told me my book sounds middle grade. Seriously? There’s sex in it. And heady science. Well, I’ve been told, I should probably tone that down.

Great. To succeed as a “young adult” book, it can’t be fun. That’s frankly, bullshit. Why can’t there be fun books for older teens, and even genuine young adults? I’d much rather read that than a book where people are being barbarically killed on every page, and I have to keep stopping because my shuddering makes it hard to hold the book still. Am I alone in that?

What I really don’t understand is the writers of these dark books. What draws them to write? I know what draws me with my book. I love my characters. I’m sure these writers love theirs too, sometimes inordinately so. But my love for my characters drives me to write situations that they will like. I couldn’t wait for my romantic couple to get together. Every time something good happens, it’s a thrill for me, and I’m so proud that I created it. Compare that to Suzanne Collins’ experience. She said it was a very emotionally painful experience to write about children being killed. So then, why did she? Maybe that was her conscience trying to tell her to write something else.

I’m not saying my story is sweetness and light, but the upbeat easily outweighs the down. The light vanquishes the dark. I can’t say this is true of a lot of the popular works of today. Which makes it hard for me to see the appeal.

See, I don’t just love my characters. I want to be them. I want to be my male lead. I want to feel the unconditional love he has from his sisters, and the love he returns to them. A want to hold his little sister in my arms. I want to feel the thrill of his growing relationship with the strong girl who’s been drawn into his family. I want all of that. Did Collins want to experience Katniss’ horrific loss of her sister, or the crushing betrayal by her presumed allies? Did Veronica Roth want to experience the horrible mental torture inflicted on the characters in Divergent? Seriously, who would? The characters come out of these experiences scarred and broken. Is that what readers relate to?

My book isn’t scarring. My characters have adventure. They face dangers, true. Serious risk that forces them to grow and learn and find inner strength they didn’t know they have. But mostly the adventure is fun, full of the thrill of discovery. I’m writing that, because that’s what I want. I want a mysterious stranger to whisk me away to an exotic world, along with my beloved family. I want to join with them in finding my place in a larger universe. I want to be forever amazed by new discoveries. So that’s what’s in my book. And at the end, I make two things clear: even more amazing adventures await them, and they will face them together. As Nick tells his sisters: “We’re family. If we stay together, we can do anything.” I want to feel like that. Which is why I want so badly for my book to be published.

I don’t want to come out of a book feeling depressed and bitter. I want to feel exhilarated. I bet others want to feel that way too, the same way people wanted to feel like Harry Potter. But I haven’t found anything written lately that accomplishes that, which is why I’ve pretty much given up reading in the “young adult” genre.” Really, who wants to feel like Katniss or Tris? The authors? They created these worlds, these soul-crushing situations. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.

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Triumph of the Spirit

The Winter Olympics are wrapping up, although I still have a fair amount of it on the dvr to watch. I’ll miss it when it’s ended. I’ve noted elsewhere that I especially enjoy the figure skating events. This year, for the first time, thanks to the miracle of cable, I have been able to watch all the skaters, instead of being stuck with the US network coverage, where they only show the medalists and the other Americans and select Canadians. Getting to see all of it has had an unexpected impact on me.

People talk about how media packages the coverage to artificially create “drama.” There’s truth to that. Certainly the “rivalry” between the American and Canadian ice dancers was overhyped, but not to the point of diminishing their beautiful performances. But when you get to see everything, you discover there’s already plenty of drama. As the expression goes, you couldn’t write this stuff.

Just for starters, there was Evgeni Plushenko’s sudden withdrawal just seconds before he was to skate, which sent the host country reeling. Shortly after that, Jeremy Abbot had a devastating fall and crashed into the boards, lying there several agonizing seconds before pulling himself up and skating the rest of his program flawlessly. Gold medal contender Mao Asada had a disastrous short program, leaving her in 16th place and conclusively out of medal contention, yet she came back in the long program to skate one of the best routines of the night.

The eventual gold medalist, 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova, was clearly driven by frustration at all the attention being paid to her 15-year-old teammate, Yulia Lipnitskaya, and burned up the ice with her skating to defeat the unbeatable Kim Yu-na, while Yulia, facing the pressure of the Olympics and having spent two weeks at the center of a media frenzy, fell in both her routines. The frustration and disappointment on her usually implacable face reminded us that she was, to a great extent, still just a child. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit now that at no time did I hear anyone refer to a “battle of the 15-year-olds,” as I had predicted. I’m glad I was wrong.)

All these stories are well known, well-covered. Indeed, the drama goes on, and many people are now apparently deeply engaged in the perennial Olympic event called “looking for conspiracy behind the medal results.”

But there were other stories as well. So I want to talk about Isadora Williams. isadora1 You’ve probably never heard of her, and likely never will. She was one of the names you see briefly when they show how the stars are faring in the overall rankings. You don’t see them skate, and perhaps don’t think about them much. But they’re there, too. Isadora represented Brazil, although she actually lives in the United States and has dual citizenship. This is not uncommon. Lesser skaters who have little chance of making it to international competition when their home country has a strong, deep skating program, as in the US, will take advantage of dual citizenship to represent a country that otherwise may not even have an entrant in the World Championships or the Olympics. Thus we saw American skaters representing Slovakia, Estonia and Australia. Isadora was Brazil’s first ever Olympic skater.

She finished last.

She wasn’t bad. She didn’t fall. But she missed a number of key elements and her skating lacked energy. Only just turned 18, her career has not been especially distinguished, and she rarely finishes even in the top ten. But she competes as much as possible. As a result, she skated in the second group. The order of skating in the first round is based on competition experience, with the expectation that the more experienced skaters will be more accomplished and scores will continue to rise as we reach the favorites at the end. Isadora’s experience put her in the same group as Canada’s rising star, Kaetlyn Osmond, who finished 13th out of 30. Isadora wasn’t at that level, and certainly she had no expectation of winning a medal. But she also didn’t expect to finish in last place.

For me, the indelible moment came when she sat in the box where skaters wait to see their results, a place the commentators have nicknamed the “kiss and cry.” I fully understood that nickname at these games. As Isadora saw her scores, a good five points below the less experienced skaters who had gone in the first group, she scrunched up her face, as she put together what that meant.isadora2 She looked away for a moment, her face showing her realization that there was no way her position would change. Even worse, her low placement meant that she wouldn’t even get to skate in the long program. This, by the way, is a terrible rule. Commentator and former skater Johnny Weir put it well by saying that if you make it to the Olympics, you should get to skate.

At this point people would say that there’s no shame in finishing last in the Olympics. That’s true, and I hope when Isadora goes to Brazil, she receives a hero’s welcome. Because she is one. After her score was given, her coach gave her a hug. isadora3She smiled again, a smile clearly fighting with her tears, and waved to acknowledge the audience, as skaters do at that point. And with that, we never saw or heard of her again. But it is an image that, for some reason, has stayed burned in my head. And my heart.

I can relate to her disappointment, anguish even. Skating in the Olympics is amazing, but it doesn’t overcome the pain of being last. She gave it her best, but it wasn’t enough. Of course, it’s not really that big of a deal, and life goes on. Her life holds many more opportunities. In other events the stakes have been higher, especially in the “extreme” events like freestyle and snowboard, where there have been an astonishing number of crashes and injuries. Part of the risk, I suppose. That’s what makes it exciting. It’s what people want to see, which is why the media makes sure to show you those. A few decades ago the idea of things like slopestyle being in something as serious as the Olympics would have been laughed at. Now it’s the norm. What’s next? How do we go to the next level? Would people want to watch, or even participate in, some sort of “ski-or-die” event? The biathletes carry rifles…

As though to answer my musings, in the middle of the coverage I was assaulted by a commercial for the dvd release of the latest movie in the offensive Hunger Games series, a quick-fire onslaught of images of mayhem, where even the brief shot of beauty was just the precursor of horrors to come (That mysterious mist? It kills people, horribly). There’s two more movies to come, based on a book so packed full of carnage, brutality, torture and killing (including the mass murder of small children — by the good guys!) that I can’t imagine how it will avoid an R rating. And there was also an ad for the upcoming movie of Divergent, another despair-fest, based on a book whose author was probably the same age as gold medalist Sotnikova when she began writing it.

That’s not insignificant. These sickening teen books feature girls the same age as many of the Olympic skaters. But they are not the same. They are fictional, the products of dark, ugly places in the authors’ psyches. They exist in ludicrously unbelievable worlds. They get predestined happy endings to make up for the violence they endure, and commit. But it’s empty.

Sure, these “heroines” might improbably lead the rebellion that topples some autocratic dystopia that’s too implausible to exist in reality. But they didn’t skate on Olympic ice. They didn’t finish last and then, holding back their heartbreak, smile and wave at the audience. That’s real drama. That’s the triumph of the human spirit. These are the stories we should be telling. You go, Isadora!isadora4

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