Author: littleblackbookworm

Where in the World is Stargirl’s Character Development?

If you take away the clothes and the ukelele and the pet rat, just who is Stargirl Caraway? Well as I moved through the book I couldn’t help but get this sort of weird vibe from the book and from Stargirl herself. She seemed like a character of impossibilities. She’s amazing and effervescent and so unafraid to be herself. What is it exactly that someone as wild and free as Stargirl sees in Leo? That’s when the four words popped into my mind. Manic. Pixie. Dream. Girl.

Originally, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term in 2007 and defined it as someone, usually female, who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” This sounds par for the course within Stargirl. However, since the term has been denounced by many people, including Rabin himself, I’ll hold back on calling Stargirl a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead, I’m going to ask a series of questions because I feel like something big was missing from the book. Namely, much of her character development.

Like I mentioned before, what exactly does Stargirl see in Leo? Looks aside, we the reader, don’t get much insight into Stargirl’s thoughts. While one can argue that the book is told in Leo’s point of view, there are actually a number of chapters in which Leo isn’t actually present in the narrative. That said, there truly could have been a number of chapters in which the readers are given the chance to learn more about Stargirl and see her thoughts. The closest we get to that is when Leo goes to visit her at her home and sees her Happy/Unhappy Wagon and that just barely scratches the surface of her character.

On the opposite side of the coin, why exactly does Leo like Stargirl? Once again, yes she’s cute but she’s also very eccentric. This is something he’s known from the very beginning. This is something that made him feel uneasy even before The Shunning occurred. Stargirl, in all her costumes and wild mannerisms, is the most outgoing of the duo and when people begin calling him “Starboy” he begins to feel uneasy. Yes, this is a book involving high school students but why does this bother him so much? What is mind blowing to me is that Leo, who was initially attracted to her because of how different she was compared to the girls at MAHS wants her to change to become more like the girls at MAHS. If that’s the case, I ask once again, why does Leo like Stargirl?

Moving away from the LeoStargirl/StargirlLeo relationship, what else do we really know about her? What are some of her short term goals? How does she want to spend her time at MAHS? She’d been home schooled for all these years so what’s her reaction to becoming part of a student body? Can we as readers get more insight into her friendship with Dori? What are her long term goals? How does she know Archie? Even when it’s established that Archie and Stargirl knew each other, Leo doesn’t even bother to ask how and why they know each other. As a result, we don’t know much about Stargirl.

All of these questions are ones that would have been answered if Stargirl were better developed. It feels like she’s the literary equivalent of “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield which, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song but like an album, a person is made up of more than one song. I get it, Stargirl is a generally weird/happy person. But what else? We know about Leo, we know about his friends and his work as a director on Hot Seat. The point is, we got through this whole book and we don’t know who Stargirl is and that, to me, is more than a little disappointing.

I’d really love to know what you all think about Stargirl, both the book and the character so feel free to share your comments down below!

Thanks and happy reading!

-♥Jq

Advertisements

Stargirl: You’re Your Best You

I want to first start this review by thanking my mother. As mentioned, all of the books featured in the summer reading series were books that I had as required reading when I was in grade school. As such I had read this book only once and shoved it in the back of my bookcase, thinking I’d never read it again. That said, imagine my surprise when I cracked open this book to find a number of sticky notes with my mother’s handwriting, helping me figure out what details, themes, and characters are important. That said, thanks, mom!

A huge part of growing up is about figuring out where you stand in life. Your values, the things you love, who you want to be. It’s difficult but do-able as evidenced by those like myself who have survived middle school, high school, and even those tricky college-aged years. What makes things even more difficult is that everyone around you is simultaneously trying to figure out the same things while trying to adhere to what they understand to be normal.

Long story short: Growing up and being yourself is hard and Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl gives us a fantastic insight into that. While it is a story of a girl, it is told in the point of view of a young man named Leo Borlock. His world is shaken up when the eponymous and previously homeschooled Stargirl arrives at Mica Area High School. While there, she turns heads and raises eyebrows for wearing the clothes she wants, saying hello to people and singing happy birthday. Admittedly it is a little strange that she does insist on bringing her pet rat to school and follows strangers around (this is less than charming, to say the least, and absolutely creepy to say the most).

Despite all her eccentricities, Leo enjoys them… to a point. Throughout the novel, it is very clear that Stargirl is completely comfortable with herself with the exception of Leo. He is her Achilles heel. Somehow, and in some way, Stargirl has fallen in love with Leo and for a while, she sacrifices her happiness for his. When she realizes it doesn’t work, when she realizes that being the MAHS definition of normal doesn’t win the admiration of her cohorts, she chooses to love herself even more. This is a difficult task, even for people who are years her senior.

I can only imagine what this book would have been like if it featured characters of color, and/or characters who are disabled, and/or characters who are part of the LGBT+ community. Members of these communities are still seen to this day as an anomaly in literature, film, and TV. They’re often met with complaints of “why does X need to be Y”. Just imagine, if you would be so kind, an East-Asian or Southeast Asian Stargirl who is beautiful and full of laughter and love for herself. Imagine a dark-skinned Black Stargirl who has natural hair and changes her hairstyle from week to week and wears bright colors. And honestly don’t even get me started about a Stargirl who is a lesbian or bi or trans.

Stargirl is really a fantastic book. It teaches readers, young and old that the best way to be happy is to be yourself. Cheesy, but true. It would just be nice if the wonderfully, happily weird featured more than quirky, cis, straight white girls. You all know the rules here: Great Book – Literally any hit of diversity = 5.

What I’m interested in hearing about is what ways having a different Stargirl would have helped you while growing up. I can only really talk about how amazing a Black Stargirl can be but I really want to know about others so let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading and until next time,

-♥Jq

Character Presence or Lack Thereof

Some characters are courageous and we as readers want to follow them along on their journey. Other times they’re smart and we admire their wit and tactical prowess. Other times they’re completely absent from the present narrative but still have an effect on other characters. This can fill us, the reader, with a sense of longing, suspense or maybe even fear.

Maybe like Lily from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, a character in your current project has lost someone important that they never had the chance to meet. Not only does Lily feel guilt when thinking about her mother, Deborah, due to the hand she had in her death, she spends a portion of the novel lamenting the things she wasn’t able to do because she didn’t have her mother. These thoughts have been with Lily for quite some time but they come to a head as she begins to enter adulthood. This, along with the scene of her cuddling her mother’s memorabilia in the field helps the reader understand just how deep Lily’s longing for her mother runs.

On the opposite end, Scott in David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, is faced with someone who has yet to come into being. His constant letters and references to his future sibling showcase his nervousness and actually betray his excitement at the prospect of becoming an older brother. As much as Scott may gripe about the changes his future brother caused, he shares his mistakes, fears, heartbreaks, and victories with Sean despite the workload and chaos that comes with his freshman year of high school.

In both of these instances, a person who isn’t there in the present is still a character, revealed through the thoughts and actions of other characters. Debora is made more real through her connection with Lily, T. Ray, May and August, just as Sean is made more real through the actions Scott and his family take to prepare for him. When developing characters, try to think of their relationships with those yet unseen. Our courageous hero is on a quest to defeat the big bad? You can ratchet up suspense through the dialogue and actions of the people your hero meet.

If you’re stuck, I would encourage you to check out these books and see in what ways the authors choose to characterize those who have already passed or those who have yet to come into being. Whether you decide that you want to follow the same plan as either one of these books, create your own, or realize that past/future characters are unimportant, I hope you have a great time writing.

Until next time,

-♥Jq

The Secret Life of Bees: Motherhood and Coming of Age Without It

Grief. Hope. Life. Renewal. There isn’t a single word that can capture what Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is about. The Secret Life of Bees revolves around teenager Lily Owens, and the void left by her mother’s death as well as her guilt for causing it. It’s already intriguing enough on its own but when you add in the fact that this takes place in the 1960s and involves Lily traveling with her mammy “stand-in-mother”, Rosaleen, I’m a little less intrigued.

As previously mentioned, Lily Owens and Rosaleen Daise are on the run after a confrontation with a trio of racists. After breaking Rosaleen out of a brief stint in jail, they find themselves at The Black Madonna Honey farm where they are given work and refuge by the August Boatwright, the beekeeper. While there, Lily grows closer August, her sisters May, and June while coming closer to finding out more about her mother.

Although the first few chapters were full of tension it was still a little rough to get through. It wasn’t until chapter four where we met the first of the Boatwright sisters did things actually get interesting for me. That’s not to say that important things weren’t happening in the previous chapters. In fact, the inciting incident and much of the backstory occurs within the first four chapters but it’s only after meeting the Boatwright sisters does the story become more lively. Which is what I believe Kidd was trying to accomplish. After all, Lily’s life changes completely after meeting August and her sisters so the writing and feel of the story should change as well.

As for the diversity within this book, yes there are a ton of black people, even more black people than white people. They’re certainly well developed, have their own hopes and storylines but this story isn’t about them. Yes, their struggles are included but they’re all are secondary to Lily. The trauma that April and May felt? Well, that sure is sad but Lily needs to find out about her mother? Old men harassing her Black love interest and his friends who are teenagers? Why doesn’t he just sell his friends out for his own safety?

I think that while this book is an important read for an insight into white privilege. Yes, Lily is a poor white woman who had to deal with an abusive and distant father for most of her life but she still has privilege. While she does use her privilege to get Rosaleen out of jail, she constantly thinks herself as better than, smarter than and more well-mannered than Rosaleen, a woman who may be 30 to 40 years older than her or any of the Boatwright sisters. On more than one occasion, Lily takes it upon herself to think and speak for Rosaleen, continuing to do so even after apologizing to Rosaleen about it.

Reading further I realize that much of the setting and inspiration stems from Sue Monk Kidd and her experiences growing up in the South as the Civil Rights Act was being passed, and as the old adage goes, writers write what they know. Fine, sure. However, I can only hope that non-Black writers, now understand what’s wrong with using segregation, specifically anti-black racism, as a backdrop for a coming-of-age story for a white girl.

As for the rating I give this book, part of me wants to wait until the end of the summer reading series to reveal where it ranks amongst the other books but I know that would be a little unfair. It really is a well-written book with wonderful imagery so for now, I’m going to give this book a 5 out of 10 stars. If you want to check to see if I’ve changed the rating be sure to check back at my new Ratings Master Post Page!

I really want to thank you all for reading and I look forward to seeing what everyone thinks/ thought about The Secret Life of Bees! Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

Until next time everyone,

Happy Summer Reading!

-Jq ♥

Introduction to Summer Reading

Hey, hi, hello, everyone! I’ve been gone for quite some time but I’m back and better than ever. I’m excited to be sharing a lot of new and exciting things to this blog. The first of which is… My Summer Reading Series! So, as a refresher, this blog focuses on young adult literature, exploring the diversity within it as well as pulling out lessons writers can use. The books featured in my Summer Reading Series will feature books that were part of my required summer reading in my youth. These books include various fiction and creative non-fiction titles such as:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid

Stargirl  by Jerry Spinelli

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

The Color of Water by James McBride

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

As for the other exciting things I have up my sleeve? More writing posts! Not only do I have a number of writing resources, I’m currently slogging through editing the first draft of my manuscript. That said, I’d like to think I have some information or tools or tips that will be able to help other people who are interested in or well-acquainted in the writing process. At the very least, we’ll be able to laugh, cry, and/or suffer through this process together. Be sure to stick around, and happy reading and writing!

-Jq

Sleeping Freshman Never Lie: High School Happiness and Horrors

For me, freshman year was about seven and a half years ago. That’s probably when I first picked up this book at my local Barnes and Noble. I can’t tell you what I thought of it back then but now. Oh boy. Now at the tender age of 22, I found this book to be incredibly enjoyable.

For high school freshman and non- freshman alike, David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie is a fun and interesting perspective on what it’s like to be a freshman through the main character’s, Scott, eyes. Throughout his year at J. P. Zenger high he comes to terms with the fact that he’s going to become a big brother, tries to get the girl and makes new friends. In order to either cope or pass on some older brother knowledge, he creates a high school survival gui- manual.

While that is basically the plot in a nutshell, the writing was absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed reading it because it made me think back to my own high school experiences. The fear of upperclassmen, the quest to make new friends, falling in love with a certain subject and taking the steps to find out who you want to become. Also Scott’s voice was not only loud and clear but funny too.

Also this book was published at what I believe was the perfect time. A couple of the sensitive issues discussed in this book were reaching national prominence in the years after its publication. Also, like I alluded to earlier, this book came out right around the time that Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide did which added another layer of enjoyment to this book.

All in all, it was the story of a somewhat universal high school experience. Because of that it is pretty unfortunate that there were no explicitly diverse characters. This places readers, and myself, into a pickle. Those vying for representation might see themselves in this book only to be met with violence when they express their thoughts in a public forum.

This book was certainly enjoyable and I would recommend it to my friends but due to the lack of diversity and representation, the most I can give this book is a 5.

 

 

Geek High: A Writer’s Thoughts

I mentioned in my review of Piper Banks’ Geek High that I initially had a different understanding of it when I was younger. To a younger Jq, Geek High was a modern spin on Cinderella which is part of the reason why older Jq was so disappointed.

From memory, the climax of this book was completely different. Miranda’s knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time kicked in and she mentioned that it was weird how Peyton never ate anything, probably at a dinner party or something similar. Her father pulled her aside and mentioned that he’s been helping Peyton recover from an eating disorder and as a result, he says she isn’t allowed to go to the Snowflake Gala. Miranda after all her hard work is genuinely disappointed. Peyton, realizing how hard Miranda worked on the Gala, comes to Miranda’s room, they talk, get to know one another a little better and Miranda gets permission to go.

Personally, I believe that this ending would have been more fulfilling because it shows that Miranda is a flawed character. Yes, you could argue that Miranda’s foot-in-mouth-edness gets her into trouble with Dex, but were there really any consequences? I’m not saying that my suggested ending is amazing but my point is that authors shouldn’t be afraid to let their characters suffer a little bit as it can promote growth and inspire change.

If you were to tell me that Miranda experienced character growth because she made up with her mother and father and became a little friendlier with Hannah, I won’t disagree with you there but I thought that her two biggest conflicts were with Felicity and more importantly Peyton. Had the book addressed this maybe we as an audience could have seen Miranda grow more as a character. Granted, this is a book series and, as such, there is time for Miranda to develop a relationship with Peyton and put her feud (if you could really call it that) with Felicity to rest but it would have been nice to see some of those steps taken in this installment.

-Jq