Tag: YA Lit

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

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

Geek High: A Picture Perfect Story

So this, like a few of the other books I’ve reviewed so far, is a book that I read in my youth. As years go by, one’s understanding and perceptions change. So when I initially read this book in high school, I loved it. I thought it was a cool modern twist on the classic Cinderella story. Now, I wonder what in the world I was thinking.

In Piper Banks’ Geek High our protagonist is Miranda Bloom, also known as The Human Calculator. Her friend makes a blog which in turn gets her into trouble with the school headmaster. Now she has to plan a prom with her worst enemy, all while getting used to living with her dad, step-mother, and step-sister.

Let me begin the review with a note about diversity. While there are characters of color they are either stereotypical, relegated to the background character or both. The two most glaring examples are when Padma Paswan is first introduced and during the first Mu Alpha Theta meeting which Miranda does speak out against, to Banks’ credit.

Also upon rereading Geek High several times over it is clear that Banks is a little shy when it comes to letting bad things happen to Miranda which is incredibly clear in the unbelievably picture-perfect ending. Yes, while she does have to move in with her estranged father, her step-mother, and step-sister the conflict isn’t convincing. She has to plan the Snowflake Gala, her school’s prom, with her worst enemy, but neither one of them really butt heads. Ultimately, all of the conflicts in the book are resolved but not through Miranda’s actions.

Also, it is worth noting that the romance was unconvincing as well. Or rather, it would have been extremely beneficial for Banks to have developed it further. While Miranda and Dex did have a couple of conversations, they were superficial at most and it felt as though Miranda was telling (Zing!) us that she was smitten with Dex as opposed to showing us.

Because of all this, Geek High gets a 4 out of 10 from me. While yes, there were characters of color, I still wouldn’t recommend this book to my friends, nor would I jump at the opportunity to reread it any time soon. That said, I’d love to hear what other people thought about Geek High. I’ll be waiting for you in the comments.

-Jq

Green Angel: An insight into grief

Below is a quick literary analysis I did for Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

Green Angel provides readers with an interesting perspective of grief and how it works. After the fire, every person, plant or animal goes through a type of metamorphosis. While it may be obvious that grief prompts change, what isn’t as obvious is how the grief expressed by the different characters in Green Angel are meant to highlight various aspects of Green’s grief and help her heal.

The fire that took the lives of Green’s family members also had an effect on the identities of each of her animal companions. “What’s a greyhound if it is unable to run, Sparrows if they are unable to fly and a hawk if it is unable to hunt?” Green asks. Much like the animals, Green’s identity is changed due to the fire.

The first of the animals is the greyhound, Ghost, with singed feet. While the fire had no effect on Green’s feet, she weighs herself down by wearing her father’s heavy boots. As the seasons change and as both Green and Ghost heal, Green begins to realize just how heavy her father’s boots are and removes in an attempt to keep up with Ghost on a walk. One could argue that as Green begins to heal the pain, or heaviness, begins to lessen.

While Ghost’s burnt paws mirror Green’s father’s heavy boots, the sparrows singed feathers parallel Green’s singed hair. The hair that was like her mother’s. It is important to note that the sparrows could also represent Green’s relationship with her mother. Initially, Green provides the sparrows with warmth and food. In turn, the sparrows exceed her expectations by quickly learning how to fly and making her a fishing net.

If Ghost is to Green’s father and the sparrows are to Green’s mother, then surely the hawk is supposed to represent Aurora who was “as beautiful as she was wild”. In the fire, the hawk’s beak was burned and Aurora is the only family member who speaks to Green in her dreams. Like the other animals, as the hawk heals, Aurora begins to help Green cry and take the final steps towards healing.

But what of the human characters: Heather, the Old Woman, and Diamond? What role do they play in helping Green heal, if any? Heather is essentially a foil to Green’s character. As Green heals and grows, Heather’s life becomes more chaotic and she wilts. (One should also note the symbolism within their names; Green equals growth and prosperity whereas deriving hearth from Heather isn’t too far of a stretch). The old woman helps Green realize that there are periods in life that are drastically different from one another and one might look like a completely different person after each one. Finally, Diamond, the boy who arrives “with a sheaf of white paper, burned at the edges.”  Green saw her future as something she could control. After the fire, she understandably felt a loss of control.  Diamond is just one of the many people who shows her that her future is still her own.

So what did everyone think? I’d love to hear about what you thought of Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel in the comments below. Thanks and until next time, which I promise will be sooner than you think!

-Jq