“I’m not like other girls”: Why it’s not a good thing

IsImage result for i'm not like other girls there any sentence that’s more jarring in a novel than“I’m not like other girls”? As soon as I read it, my thoughts go something like this:

  1. Mmm-hmm. You definitely know what all other girls are like, right?
  2. Well, that’s kind of true. No two people are alike. Everyone’s unique.
  3. Really Author, you couldn’t figure out a subtler way to let your readers know the protagonist is a special snowflake?

This is a sentiment which can be expressed in a multitude of ways. Unfortunately, when authors lack a shred of imagination, it’s stated in this cliched way and it’s usually accompanied by a coy look and a toss of (low-maintenance, but glossy) hair.

At the risk of sounding like an angry, ranting feminist, I must say that this one sentence ignores all the progress third-wave feminism has made. It implies the “other girls” are shallow, mercenary, clinging women who worship at the altar of consumerism and lipstick. They’re the ones who can’t be bothered to look past the reputation (whether notoriety or fame) of the love interest to see the “man”.

Third wave feminism is all about choice. You are no less of a woman if you decide you would rather wear jeans than skirts. At the same time, if you want to be a housewife—it doesn’t make you anti-feminist. The phrase “I’m not like the other girls” makes the girl whose not like the “others” one in a million. She’s the last bastion of feminity in a world where every girl falls prey to quick judgement, ambition and boy-crazy mania. Our main character is the perfect girl (a.k.a. “manic pixie dream girl”). She can be a paragon of virtue, hang with the dudes and fight against evil—all without sweating or breaking a nail.

I sound bitter. I can’t help it because I hate it when authors (or people in general) try to make one woman look good by bashing others. You have no business praising someone if the only way you can do it is by insulting everyone else. That’s not a compliment; it’s just billions of insults.

If I see this line, I usually close the book after finishing the page. In fact I can think of only one unique instance I didn’t. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the book but it was a romance novel where a male character told the female protagonist “You’re not like the other girls” to praise her for not being shallow. The female character parries by saying something along the lines of “Well, clearly you’ve been hanging out with the wrong people.”
Well said.

For those of you who’ve considered using this sentence, please don’t. At least this way you can ensure you’re different in one important way.

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Sharing your book list…the horror

There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

-Bertrand Russell

On a scale of 1-10, how horrified would you be to have all your reading made public? 1 means you’re an exhibitionist who would enjoy having your reading list go out to random strangers. If you were a 10, you would hail the mere thought as the apocolypse.

On that scale, I’m very comfortable being number 8. The idea of my reading list going public makes me want to curl up in fetal position and never come out of my room.  I can’t see why anyone would ever want their acquaintances to know what they read. I mean, I’m sure there are intellectuals who read Dante’s Inferno and feel the need to toss it into other readers’ faces.  I know certain people who are in the middle of War and Peace ( have been for over a year) and wouldn’t mind you thinking they’re a lot smarter than they actually are.

But for the most part, most people will share different parts of their reading list with other people. I have classics ready on the tongue when people ask for favorite books, while I swoon over chick-lit and romance privately with close friends. And I’ll probably take some of the darkest, most taboo books I’ve read to my grave.

At the same time, it’s hard to think of reading as personal as say, your social security number or your sex life. Don’t get me wrong —it’s up there on the list. For example, I’d rather share my blood type,  phone number and weight than  a comprehensive list of what I read. But what is the point of reading if you can’t  fangirl or rant about it later? One of the highlights of my life is probably having a captive audience of 800 listen to me ramble on about the Golden Compass series. For a few glorious minutes, I bubbled over with enthusiasm as I  described how every read brought something new to my attention.

About a year back, Goodreads released a feature which allowed you to add the books you were currently reading to your email signature. They were surprised it didn’t really take off.

Cute idea but I read too much naughty stuff to add something to my email signature. I can just imagine sending an email to my dad with a cover of a shirtless man!
-D.G.

I’m not.

My thoughts on YA dystopia

“I tuck caution into my pocket and hope I can reach for it if I need to.”
― Tahereh Mafi

You know what the Hunger Games, the Giver and Unwind all have in common? Though it’s tempting to say insanely limiting governance, it’s more (or perhaps, less) than that. They’re all dystopia.

Dystopia covers a pretty broad spectrum of things. In young adult fiction, there’s Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink where there’s no governance, just an acute scarcity of water and too many people who’re willing to kill for it. There’s also Red Rising, which is somehow science fiction and fantasy and dystopia combined. My point is it’s hard to figure out what the common identifying feature is.

Personally, I believe it isn’t dystopia without the bleak sense that things are bad (and that they’re just going to get worse) . It’s about people feeling trapped and powerless. It doesn’t have to be about a government; It doesn’t have to be the apocalypse, even.

Imagine you’re in a car that’s sitting in a ditch. You turn on the ignition and the wheels turn, throwing up a cloud of dust. There’s this whiny noise like the wheels already know their effort is futile.
When you turn off the engine, you’re even more stuck in the rut. This is the attitude of most of the characters in a dystopian novel. They’ve seen efforts to make things better, and they’re convinced it won’t work. So, they just sit in their cars which are in ditches.

For most people, it’s not hard to learn, to find a pattern of thought that works and stay that way.

– Veronica Roth, Divergent

Then- behold! There comes a dashing young hero (or heroine) who was born in the stuck car (yikes! my metaphor is getting really stretched here). She’s grown up in the stuck car and so she’s bitter, deprived and cynical. In a word, she’s completely “ordinary”.  But she sees something ahead of the ditch. Maybe it’s an ice-cream truck passing by on the road. So, she along with a group of sidekicks and love-interests loyal, talented friends come up with a contraption to save the day. They pull the car out of the ditch with the help of sheer will power held together by scotch tape (it’s magical, you know). The ending goes something like: Everyone lives happily ever after (except for the few that got squished underneath the car).

“Hope. It’s the only thing stronger than fear.”

-Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

I get why dystopia is attractive. I really do. There’s something intoxicating about a person who is close to normal stepping up to save the world. It’s lovely to read a bleak, depressing book and think “Man, we sure have it better than they do.”

Image result for dystopia

From a Georgia Tech blog. Ironically enough, it’s graffiti.

But right now, most dystopia is not my cup of tea. I can’t justify reading something so profoundly unhappy and bitter when the world isn’t even close to perfect. I’ve moved on from the point where pissed-off and bitter characters seem more like children to me than kindred souls. Those are just excuses. Let me muster up some courage to tell you, I just don’t get it anymore.
I don’t know if it’s because the sudden flooding of dystopian books have cured me of my liking or if I just grew out of it naturally.

Do I hate dystopia? No, that’s like saying I despise hope. Or that I can’t take pleasure in misery. I totally can. It just has to be really high-caliber hope and despair.

<Evil cackle>

Why I Read Romance

Image result for romance books

Am I a romantic person?
*giggle, snort*
No, I can tell you without any irony that I am undoubtedly not a romantic person. (Do you think it’s possible for me to use any more negatives in this sentence?)

I am the kind of person who sees pictures of cute kittens and mini-humans and says “aw” more because I am obliged to than because I am actually overwhelmed with cuteness. Public displays of promposals and homecoming ask-outs make me uncomfortable; my smile always feels slightly fixed and my hands are always slow to clap. To me, the idea of having all that attention fixed on you is scary. I don’t mean to sound prudish, but I think all that cuteness and romance is nauseating and unnecessary. I always feel sympathy for both people participating in the spectacle.  There are so many expectation and  the pressure on them has to be astronomical.

I am usually a serious person. Words like “practical” and “prudent” are flung about around me. How many times have you seen the words practical and romance go together? That was rhetorical- everybody knows that practicality is the death of romance.
So, sometimes people in my life are surprised to hear I read romance. The amount of doubt and shock I receive when I confess my fondness for the genre is insulting and amusing in turn. Yet, I can’t resent anybody for being so confused because I often am just as befuddled. Why do I like reading romance?

I  adore the romance genre. Not for the love stories or because I dream of my own Prince Charming/Edward/ Mr. Right ( whoever I’m supposed to be swooning about), but because I love the stories.
A romance story done right is the ultimate equality of both sexes. Despite what non-readers might think, every romance story does not contain a weeping damsel in distress and a strapping highlander who needs to save her. Romance books speak of emotional vulnerability and placing your trust in other people’s hands.  Even if at the beginning of the book, one character has money, social connections and power- in real romance books, there is always a shift of power between the protagonist and their love interest. By the end of the book, they are emotional equals meeting each other on level ground.

For a sheltered teenage girl like me romance books are intoxicating. Regency novels show subtle women empowerment at a time when women had no rights. Fantasy is a warning to not throw your energy and time at someone who will never appreciate you. Sci-fi does everything it can to say that you can have a career without sacrificing love. Chick-lit is brilliant at showing women becoming more confident of the abilities and skill they have earned through heard work and determination.

A good romance book is meant to be inspiring.  It’s supposed to spur you into doing something nice for somebody else with no expectation of reward. It shows you that love is truly selfless (not necessarily self-sacrificing). At the end of the story, love has to make people want to be better.

I’ve heard the arguments: Romance is bad because it’s so rah-rah. Real life, I am told, is hard and things don’t come quite so easily; You have to work hard to get ahead.  Apparently, romance novels are filling my head with unhealthy expectations and naive optimism.
Maybe. I don’t have enough experience or worldliness to prove otherwise. But I am going to need a better reason to stop reading romance novels. The argument that romance novels are useless is not a categorical truth. Romance novels are not a terrible evil and a plague on literature. They are beautiful, compelling stories which deserve to be highlighted and praised. True, they entertain- but they also inspire.

I recently read Ilona Andrew’s Analysis of the Aplhahole Trope.  As always, she is ironic and funny and amazing.  I had a general idea of  why I liked romance books, but Ilona Andrews explains with so much specificity, that I am in awe. She exposes the true core of what it’s like to be a romance reader with so much accuracy, it makes me proud to read romance novels. I highly suggest you read her blog post here.

Creative Writing

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have”

School reopens for me in another couple of days. And I forsee disorientation in my near future. Not just because I’ll have to go back to my normal schedule of waking at 6, going to sleep at 11 and doing a shit ton of homework in between but also, because my school schedule has changed a bit.

One thing that’s changed is my English class. My school is pretty cool because in Junior year we’re allowed to choose an English elective like Myth, Escapist Literature, Film Literature, Philosophy through Literature, etc. for a semester. The other semester we’re supposed to go back to Jane Eyre and Hamlet. Last semester, I took Creative Writing as my English Elective.

“Writing is like daydreaming through your fingers.”
-Jenna Alatari

I can say with absolutely no hesitation that it is my favorite class of all time. My teacher was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. She was funny, understanding and she offered thorough and in-depth critique on our work.

The class offered a lot of autonomy. We spent a lot of writing- sometimes on prompts given to us. One of my favorite prompts was given to us during Homecoming week. We were given the bare bones of a scene: guy walks up to girl, asks her to the dance and is slapped. We were supposed to write from a unique PoV. Somebody wrote from the PoV of a sports commentator, someone wrote from the perspective of a rose. I think someone wrote a rap and someone else recorded it in the form of several tweets.  Sometimes the guy was 40 years old, sometimes the girl had a boyfriend. Sometimes the rose was fake. Sometimes the boy was a poor guy who was bullied. (I wrote a monologue of an auctioneer who was trying to sell a bunch of demons the guy’s broken heart).

“Writing is the high alchemy of the soul that combines words and ideas to create magic.”
-Sharif Khan

The best part about the class was (I’m being cheesy, I know) were the people.  The thing about creative writing classes is that they generally attract several creative people who are interested in writing. As a result, we had such cool pieces that were so different. I am in awe of how smart my classmates were and the ideas they had. Creative writing is hugely collaborative and it increases camaraderie ; we spent a lot of time critiquing other people’s work and having people critique our work. I bounced a lot of ideas off other people. I like to think I contributed equally to other people.

“Does any program really improve anybody, as much as simply identifying them?
-Chang Rae Lee

I got some pretty amazing writing from this class. I became a lot more confident weaving in detail and dialogue into my short-stories. I wrote a piece that I’m ridiculously proud of. It’s rather innocuously titled ‘Dirty Laundry’ but it is a bunch of interlinking scenes of a twisted, poisonous relationship between two sisters.

If you’re still in high school, you should consider taking a creative writing class. (Especially if you’re at Gunn). It’s an immensely rewarding experience. It’s fun, it’s a good place to make friends and it improves your confidence and writing skills.

 

 

 

 

Break Up (I’m a different person today than I was 3 years ago- and that’s okay)

A week ago, I opened a Rick Riordan book (Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer) and waited for the magic to happen. I waited to be carried away to another world where myth and modern-day reality inter-twined and teenagers could be badass. I flipped through first one page, and then another, anticipating the moment I would be hooked, addicted.

But I made my way to page 20, to page 50, page 103 and I felt…nothing.  For the first time,Rick Riordan’s books didn’t completely captivate me.  I felt that the humor was trying too hard (and failing even harder). Instead of suppressing snorts and giggles, I was trying not to roll my eyes. Instead of  empathizing with the main character, I wanted to shake him. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and tell him to make up his mind: “Do you want to have a pity party or do you want to be glib?”  By the time the love interest arrived on the scene, I was frustrated by the cliches. Sure, let’s have the beautiful girl be violent for no reason- teenage girls everywhere will finally have a positive role-model to emulate and teen-boys will learn to fantasize about “real” women.

I closed the book. I got to a point where I had to say stop.

And do you know how that made me feel? I felt terrible. Disloyal- like a shitty friend.
I felt old and out of touch, like I couldn’t empathize with teenagers any more. This despite the fact that I’m sixTEEN! (and think nothing of randomly capitalising words).

I stewed over it for a while. Was I moving out of my childhood, to become ‘mature’? Was I becoming elitist and snobby? Becoming choosy with my books?

Today I finally managed to kick myself out of my funk. I read books for enjoyment, I told myself. I do it because I love being sucked into new worlds and caring about characters.
There’s nothing to be ashamed about.
So, I shouldn’t feel guilty for failing to be sucked in. It’s not my fault and I’m not hurting anyone by doing it. If nobody’s blaming me, I don’t need to blame myself.

I don’t care if I sound like a cliche: I’m growing up and I’m moving on. I’m not the same person today that I was three years ago when I opened up the Lightning Thief and devoured it instantly. I’m not even the same person I was a couple of months back when I cried when Blood of Olympus was released.

Does that mean I think Rick Riordan is an idiot and his ideas are pond scum? Definitely not. Uncle Rick got me interested in Greek Mythology. His books were an instrumental part of my early teens as I bonded with friends over them and secretly wrote PJO fanfiction. In fact, it’s because I respect him and his writing style so much that I will probably never open another Rick Riordan book.
I don’t want to remember slogging through his books, forcing myself to like them and hating myself when I didn’t. I’d rather have the happy nostalgia of fond memories from his first few books.

It sounds like the end of a relationship, doesn’t it? With lame excuses on one side and heartbreak on the other. But it’s not like that. It’s not like that at all. Uncle Rick’s franchise is stronger than it has ever been before. If the PJO fandom is sad about my departure, it’s secure in the knowledge that there are a million teens and pre-teens out there willing to love it.  And I’m not hesitant about my decision. I can’t afford to be because there are a million books out there waiting for my love.

I could hang around, trying to ‘make things work’. But it wouldn’t be good for me, and I respect myself. I’m in a more insightful place today than I was a week ago, and I can finally appreciate this quote:

“Just because I liked something at one point in time doesn’t mean I’ll always like it, or that I have to go on liking it at all points in time as an unthinking act of loyalty to who I am as a person, based solely on who I was as a person. To be loyal to myself is to allow myself to grow and change, and challenge who I am and what I think. The only thing I am for sure is unsure, and this means I’m growing, and not stagnant or shrinking.”

-Jarod Kintz

Ashyn vs. Moria (Narrators of the Age of Legends Series)

Kelley Armstrong is best known for her adult paranormal fiction series, The Otherworlds, which feature pretty badass and inspiring female narrators/protagonists. And though Elena, Paige, Eve and Jamie and Savannah are amazing characters, it’s Moria and Ashyn from the Age of Legends series that really stick.

Sea of Shadows (Age of Legends, #1)Empire of Night (Age of Legends, #2)

The series is set in a fantasy world that bears some resemblance to our medieval age, complete with cloaks, strange-but-fascinating-honour-codes, paganry, princes, warriors, exiles and a punishing caste system. The books follow the twins, Ashyn and Moria with alternating PoV’s as they plow through creatures they thought were only in ‘stories’ and figure out who to trust, and how much.
Full of peril and betrayal- each character develops dramatically (but gradually). It becomes pretty obvious that the twins may look identical, but they have very different personalities.

Moria:

Moria is the quintessential modern girl heroine. Brash, painfully honest and with a sharp temper and even sharper throwing knives, Moria is the girl we all want to be. Pragmatic about love and unabashedly unshy about the body and her wants- it’s hard not to envy her. Her actions (more likely her attitude: ‘do first, think later…maybe’) get her into heaps of trouble, but keep her relatable.
Moria has a hunting cat Daigo; It’s pretty obvious Ms. Armstrong is paying homage to that old adage about humans and their pets. Lethal, honest, volatile and sensuous- Moria is very much a panther. And doesn’t every girl secretly want to be a cat?

Ashyn

If we continue with the pet analogy, Ashyn is a hound. Dogs are loyal, calmer, more friendly and more desperate for approval. So is Ashyn.  She’s a strategic thinker, book smart, tactful and a bit of a romantic. She rarely says stupid stuff that she will regret later. Also, she will not force you into a love triangle which will probably end up breaking at least one heart  and two good friendships. (No, I’m not defensive at all). If Moria is the girl you want to be, Ashyn is the girl you are. She is the sweet girl next door who will be nice to the new girl and bite back insults when someone forgets their manners. She’s observant but can fade into the background as she withdraws into the newest romance novel she is reading. When her crush crushes on her sister, she will feel a little jealous but will try to mitigate the love-pain. When a guy she doesn’t like (in that way, at least) indicates he’s attracted to her, she will rebuff him as nicely as possible. Yet at the center of this soft and sweet girl is a core that’s as brave and as hard as steel. When her loyalty to her sister or to her friends is tested, she will show her mettle by logically choosing the best path and supporting their choices- no matter the fallout.

It’s not a competition, but if it were then Ashyn would be my favorite. Hands down. She reminds me of myself so much that I’m afraid there’s a good bit of ego and narcissism speaking in my previous statement. But I’m not taking it back.
In fact, I bet that she’s going to be imperative in the next (and final) book, Forest of Ruin which comes out on April 5th 2016. Take note people: I want this book for my birthday.

Forest of Ruin (Age of Legends, #3)

And then finally everyone will know the power of the quiet girl. Muahahahaha.

On a side note, if someone who knows the lovely Ms. Armstrong would persuade her to write something short from one of the guy’s PoV (preferably Rowan’s)- that would be awesome. I don’t think I could give you eternal servitude, or even scrambled eggs. But I could probably get you a squished apple. And eternal gratitude. Don’t forget the eternal gratitude and karmaic goodwill.

…Yes, there was a reference in the previous paragraph. Two actually. Kudos to you if you got it.