Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesMy thoughts on marriage are what you call ‘a glass-half empty,’ the scope of marriage like a cone, open and wide at the start but narrowing as time passes, which, subsequently, outlines the majority of novels about marriages. Rarely do I read books from this sub-genre in Adult Fiction because these novels, more often than not, transfigure married couples into conjoined twins, making them a unit instead of two, separate beings. Sure, they may care deeply for the other—definitions varying—but the affection or adoration end up substituting for a spouse lacking identity or agency (aka, codependency.) What a relief it was to read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a hard yet unique take that analyzes more than a marriage but who these people were before they collided, a meeting that feels destined in many ways but, alas, isn’t. Fates and Furies deploys not tricks but filters, letting us watch a rosy-colored landscape transform into a storm. Fates and Furies is way more interested in unraveling the effects of past circumstances, fortunate or traumatic, and in handling life in motion, when changing practically goes against everything learned, our experiences as teachers. Maybe there is no change, no transformation at all. Even in love, do we change or do we escape?

The narrative of Fates and Furies is divided into two sections in the form of the characters’ perspectives, Lancelot (Lotto) and Mathilde, that it invents a kind of dichotomy between fantasy and reality. Named after the Arthurian knight, Lotto is immediately treated as the golden child who will achieve greatness. He’s the son of a billionaire in Florida, loved by an uncomfortably, doting, religious mother, and afforded every kind of opportunity available. Already Groff tosses out any kind of standards of normalcy; Lotto’s life far exceeds that of the average person, but it’s not without its hardships. The sudden death of his father pivots the story to shift from its sunny outlook to Lancelot’s turbulent teenage years in falling in with the wrong crowd, being shipped off to Boarding school, and having been sexually molested by his teacher for two seconds to eventually going off to college, partying, man-whoring himself to all the women on campus, achieving success in his college’s theater, and meeting his future wife, Mathilde. Lotto’s story escalates, from a lost soul to—what everyone saw at the start—greatness, a playwright, becoming a visionary overnight without ever written a story in his life. Lotto is someone you rarely meet and know because he’s hardly ever exposed to the underbelly of poverty, hate, and rejection. He was raised with an endless supply of love, adoring affection, and is virtually clean of faults, besides his level of ignorance, but making his story, his comprehension of people and relationships, hard to stomach. He’s someone everyone loves, but is incredibly daft and self-absorbed. His narration is irascible to read, even hard when he starts to mansplain at a conference after a commenter asks him about domesticating women in favor of supporting men’s ambition (even though it’s the most pointed, out-of-place moment in the novel.) Groff’s characterization of Lotto is perhaps exaggerated, but hard to read when we’re unfeeling of his circumstances and fortunes, that the first half the novel is too surreal to believe, with Mathilde aiding in creating this illusion.

Stated in Fates and Furies, Mathilde is truly the “interesting one”. Lotto’s narcissism lends to building a mystic around Mathilde, who does everything to maintain the status quo and supports his career, but any attentive reader will recognize that beyond her cold veneer is something more loose and shrewd. Mathilde’s story starts early like Lotto’s but is unsettled with tragedy from the moment she ostensibly lets her baby, brother fall down the steps, thus, breaking his neck. From there, Mathilde’s parents send her away believing she’s innately, emotionally disturbed. After living with her grandma and then with her uncle and never having friends, she is employed by a man named Ariel, with singular, sexual preferences, and remains in his services for the next four years to pay for her college tuition (yes, like that novel.) Upon learning of Lotto, Mathilde is quick to orchestrate events for their ‘destined’ meeting. They marry two weeks later. Mathilde is more than a housewife but a person trying to efface the events from her past but, meanwhile, is self-assured and a resilient female character, demonstrating an aptitude in several skills, even in ‘editing’ her husband’s works. We can’t tell though if Mathilde feels ashamed of her history, but we can glean from her twenty-year (ish) marriage, that she didn’t see it as relevant, or at the very least, knew that disclosing this information to Lotto would ruin the image he cultivated of her (suggesting more fear than shame.)  By choice, she’s supportive, honestly believing in her husband’s aspirations, and, I believe, truly loves him, but none of that changes what happened to her or who she is. Scorned and abused, Mathilde isn’t one to forgive until she’s dished out some payback, thus, revealing the title of Fury. She’s a character that attempts to rebound from everything that’s done to her, tantamount to the pain inflicted on her (parents abandonment of her = cutting ties with them entirely, for example.) Groff’s portrayal of anger doesn’t demonizes her unlike Amy from Gone Girl, arguably complex but now a case study of sociopathic personality disorder. Mathilde nurtures her appearance, letting Lotto believe what he wants to believe, and she omits the macabre events from her past because, let’s face it, Lotto couldn’t handle it anyway. And how incredibly easy it was for her to do so, especially when her golden-child husband never bothers asking her.

Fates and Furies is zealous with rich images and metaphors found in Lotto’s parentage (Lotto a nickname of Lancelot, Lotto’s father Gawain, and the description of Lotto’s mother as a mermaid [who becomes a whale]), their Shiba Inu named God (we all worship our pets,) and with the parenthetical commentary inserted into the prose like a play to parallel some of the Greek tragedy themes. So much happens beyond the plain of the story-telling that bolsters the story’s subtext and appeal—but there are certainly problems with the prose that make it awkward and difficult to adjust to. Fragmented sentences make up most of the prose with sometimes incomplete thoughts complicating the mostly linear narrative style; hence, creating these passages of incoherency. With plenty of imagery and illustrative prose, the added, brusque prose causes problems and isn’t something for everyone.

Novels on marriages can be repetitive in its plots, from secrets destroying a marriage to a spouse trying to murder the other, and while Fates and Furies falls into the former of these categories, it’s not without intrigue and contrasts with its contemporaries driven by racing, scandalous plots. Fates and Furies takes the time (a lot of time) to probe the lives of Lotto and Mathilde, and implores us all to refrain from making judgements about people’s marriages, but, instead, see the people for who they really are.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train ImageA cheating husband, the other woman, the other other woman, and a woman whose life is so devoid of purpose that she lives inside her head 85% of the time and then projects her fantasies onto strangers.

This veneer may convince you that this is a ripped page out of a soap opera, but it’s not. It’s most definitely a morose, psychological, white-knuckling story with gut wrenching tension found on every page.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, both having unreliable narrators and dealing with marital problems. Train is navigated by three, suspicious narrators: Rachel, the divorced ex-wife of Tom; Anna, newly wed wife to Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and subsequently the woman Tom had an affair with while he was married to Rachel; and Megan, a woman who ostensibly has no connection with any of the other characters, except that she lives in the same neighborhood as Anna.

Train begins with Rachel, divorced, an alcoholic, and unemployed. She rides the train almost every day and on her commute to nowhere, she passes the house of Jess and Jason, her perfect, doting couple. She doesn’t actually know them though. Rachel has dreamt up a whole world where these two live the life Rachel always wanted. One day, Rachel sees Jess, or rather Megan, but she’s not with Jason; she’s kissing another man. This permanently shatters Rachel’s illusion and after getting stupid drunk seeks out Megan to confront her. When Rachel wakes up the next morning though, she can’t remember anything from that night but learns that Megan has gone missing. What starts out as innocent curiosity (sort of) quickly morphs into obsession and dangerously leads Rachel through a macabre of events which may not only spoil Rachel’s image of Megan but also uncover a few other dirty secrets.

Hawkins’ novel surprisingly assimilates halves of insanity and acumen to make for a seemingly ordinary story. Contrary to Flynn’s Gone Girl, a novel very much about manipulating people’s perceptions and the use of artifices, Train is based more off the idea of the Rashomen Effect. Gone Girl, as I pointed out in my review, is an interesting reading experience that feels like the work itself is fully conscious while you’re reading it. Train simply relies on the fact that these characters are heavily biased towards each other and are being influenced by other elements (people or substances).Train organically gives us a hazy impression of events that is believable and reflects what a series of eye witness accounts would look like.

What bolsters the effect of this story is its delusional and hardened characters. Although there’s virtually nothing to see except women assuming traditional matriarch roles, i.e. Rachel, barren, Megan, stay-at-home wife and (possibly) emotionally battered woman, and Anna, a stay-at-home mom, we see these characters transform from repressed and broken to liberated and independent women.

Extrapolated from Train is a not so subtle allegory of overturning patriarchy and an extreme hostile feminine uprising. There’s a clear distinctive man v. woman conflict that emerges as a constant struggle in each of the woman’s lives. It’s not to say that these woman sole priorities were their male partners, although it plays a significant role, these women are clutching for something indescribable and missing from their lives. Even when they might have everything, except for Rachel, they’re restless and not quite happy.

It’s almost impossible to extricate myself from these characters with each of them possessing a certain toxic personalities that you’re able to identify with. Even when you don’t like these characters, they’re interesting. Megan exaggerates and self-victimizes. Anna is the self-involved woman, and Rachel is an addict and aimless; she cannot stop drinking or thinking about her husband long enough to focus on her own life.

Possibly one of the least credible characters but having the most coverage in the book, Rachel lends to the novel a weird dichotomy between sympathy and revulsion. At times, we feel for her but the intensity of her character, the lack of boundaries, filters our impressions and casts off any remorse we have for her. The book maintains this yo-yo effect and preserves it mostly within her character. It’s this juxtaposition that makes her so complicated; she’s by far one of the most complex characters I’ve come across this year and is simultaneously one of my least favorite characters—it’s really hard to love her when she essentially bar hops from one guy to the next.

Train doesn’t have the cutting, immaculate prose that Gone Girl has, but it is pronounced. I can only described it as a gem under rubble. Its works so well with the characters’ voices and adds a certain nervous, desperate edge to them.

Yes, the story starts out with a girl on a train (or rather a woman but I can argue semantics at a later time) but it diverges and becomes more. Train reels you back from its high intense moments back to a semblance of average-day life, with the characters cured of their afflictions and some secrets staying secrets.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno CoverPacked with fun and craftiness, Dan Brown’s Inferno originally debut in 2013 and was well received overall by critics. Lost during the four hundred and eighty pages of Robert Langdon trotting through Italy though is any kind of deviation from the structured plot stringent to the tropes of the mystery and thriller genre. It makes everything extremely predictable. Inferno is not a loved or hated book but it’s so specifically mapped out in its stories and characters, which Brown also applies to his other novels, that it makes for a mediocre story with few punches but an ending that will knock you right in your polar vortex.

Robert Langdon wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the last few days. He’s in Italy with some kind of head wound. He meets the talented, resourceful (beautiful, of course) Sienna Brooks. Not long afterwards, they are running for their lives from a mysterious organization who seem to perceivably want Langdon dead. In the events that unfold, Langdon soon finds himself caught in the middle of a plot in which he must piece together clues to help not only prove his innocence but also save the population from a catastrophic engineered virus.

One of the book’s selling points is the references to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, which as you would expect, coincides with nearly every part of the story and also prompts us to try and solve the next clue. Here Langdon is in his element and where the story feels strongest and self-confident, but then the story begins to wobble; it tries too hard to misdirect us and undermines some of the novel’s setup and we’re suddenly in a different kind of story.  There are no villains here, but apparently there are a number of heroes and dark knights. Everyone’s motive is quintessentially for the greater good, and although that thought is an interesting concept, Inferno simply pastes these ideas together without really exploring it.

And while the art references are certainly one of the highlights of novel, it’s also hinders it. The art exposition morphs into fodder towards the end. Langdon’s commentary on the art pieces, which he’s supposedly seen on more than one occasion, should be treated more like footnotes instead of being incorporated into the main story. They just don’t elevate the story or its characters–other than to reaffirm that Robert Langdon is an art historian and, yes, he loves art. I don’t know whether if he’s aplomb or if he’s just extremely desensitized by this point in the story. And let’s not forget to mention how Mr. Robert Langdon was disorientated from his initial ordeal; yet he seems to function just fine at solving the mystery, as if it’s just a game of cross-word puzzle to him. Granted he is a smart man, but it feels too convenient for him and too much of a stretch for me to jump on board Langdon’s art knowing wizardry. The idea itself is silly, but without it, the story would be less entertaining, which is the sole purpose of reading it considering the plot ends up being a wild goose chase.

Sienna Brooks, however, is an exceptional, strategic, and compassionate woman. It’s hard to believe she’s only sidekick material though. She possesses an incredible amount of tenacity and intellect that surpasses Langdon. Knowing her involvement in the story, it’s a surprise she’s downgraded mostly to a supportive role. Complicating this is Inferno’s conventional story and character growth. Boxed in by a formulaic plot, the character development is contained; hence, Sienna Brooks provides just enough smarts and conversation to move the story along.

Inferno wears you down eventually and you’re ultimately sucked into its absorbing plot in saving the world from a mad scientist bent on dealing with the overpopulation problem, which is possibly my favorite part. It ends up being more unexpected than you would think considering how everything is so neatly placed.

But Brown’s style of writing has its own problems, employing short chapters that end with ‘suspenseful’ cliffhangers. I’m well aware that this story is a mystery/thriller; yet I feel it’s disabling the writing and content. Most of these chapters are sprints. Anything significant is held for the very end and then wraps up at the beginning of the next chapter. This tactic is done in nearly every chapter and quickly loses its effect.

We also see this in some of Inferno’s miscellaneous characters. Although some are intriguing, it just doesn’t serve to highlight them, especially when their only purpose is to open the door for the two main characters to make their getaway. Just—why? To appreciate the Average Joe by reinforcing the notion that Average Joe can only do average things? Need I remind that buried in these pages is an ostensible threat to kill off most of the population?

A banal story, Inferno still serves its purpose in distracting our attention and leading us toward a conclusion, and it does so in the most entertaining way possible; however, there is little satiating substance that can be found in its story and characters. It’s a novel not worth taking too seriously but can pacify your boredom on a Sunday afternoon.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Spoilers are contained in this review.

41yZreG2lcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love it when a book has characters so interesting, so convincing, that for a moment, I have to set the book down and tell myself that this is only a story. It’s easy to forget when everything seems so real yet fantastical.

Gillian Flynn masterfully invents characters eerily authentic, broken, and dysfunctional and leads us down a macabre of events both gripping and sobering. For those idly rolling in the sheets with their new partners or long-standing significant others, Gone Girl can be treated as a cautionary tale of taking your partner for granted and betraying his or her trust. After you’ve taken that time to reevaluate your commitments, Girl is more than  a quick lesson on marriage; it’s a very poignant, honest take on peoples’ relationships, how their quirks and aberrations tie them together better than trying to shoehorn yourself into ideal marriage. With this said, The Dunne are not normal and shouldn’t be considered in any way what a healthy adult relationship looks like. When you have a moment where you’re doubting your relationship, take solace in knowing it could be worse—so thank you, Nick and Amy.

The last thing Nick Dunne expected on his five year wedding anniversary was for his wife Amy to go missing. When the police and town of Missouri launch an investigation, things quickly start to spiral out of Nick’s control and learns he’s the prime suspect in her disappearance. As the story reaches its twist, average, nice guy Nick isn’t who we thought he is nor is Amy.

Girl’s narrative style ostensibly exposes all angles of the story by telling it through the perspective of Nick and Amy. Just when we think we know everything that’s going on, it subverts our expectations with unreliable narrators. Girl best demonstrates misdirection with first-point perspective and is essentially metafictional. From the media’s presence in the story, the narrators are already acutely aware that their actions are being observed; yet, the narratives seem to suggest these characters are persuasively speaking to us and imply how that they’re self-conscious in their actions.

By now Girl’s twist is widely known especially if you’ve seen the film’s adaptation of it. (Spoiler Alert:) Amy is not in fact kidnapped, raped, or dead but on the run to frame her husband for her murder; thereby, charging him with the death penalty. She’s alive and well and deeply disturbed. The entire time, she’s feverishly watching media coverage of her disappearance/murder and making sure everything is falling into place.

The diary entries are a beautiful token of who Amy is—and isn’t. It’s used to undermine our impressions of her but also used to show her fluctuating agency. She describes herself as being a miracle after her mother’s several miscarriages and subsequently perceives herself as important, surviving with no great effort on her part. This, as well as her parents’ book series Amazing Amy, feeds her need for affection. The effects of this, however, create a subterfuge of Amy, her personality changing more often than people change clothes. It’s arguably normal for people to do this, but for Amy, she’s not experimenting for existential reasons; it’s in part because she’s bored and another to manipulate others, whether to have them like her or to punish them for wronging her.

While the media unsurprisingly choose to dissect the psychopathic characteristics of Amy, what I think Girl probes most is the contingency of identity. The novel places an emphasis on the characters’ proximity (New Yorkers to Missouri, M-i-s-e-r-y), spouse (Nice Guy to Cheating Husband/Cool Girl to Psycho Bitch), careers (Writer to Unemployed). These themes are prevalent throughout the novel.

If I have not mentioned this by now, Girl is entertaining, not in the sense that reality shows are all train wrecks we watch to make ourselves feel better, but in the way that it’s written and how the events play out. What I loved most about the book was its characters. Definitely Amy Elliott, by far, receives the most attention, with Vanity Fair proclaiming that she’s “the most disturbing female villain of all time.

Our first impressions of Nick and Amy end up being the polarized opposites: from loyal husband to lazy, cheating scumbag and from doting wife to conniving, narcissistic woman. They’re intentionally frauds, putting on a show for everyone. That’s just who they are at their core, playing their part to feed their avarice egos.

Part of the reason the media and readers narrow in on Amy has to do with two things: her excessive manipulating, toxic personality and her unapologetic, language she exhibits that is quite empowering. She makes us nervous, but she’s charming. She also may be a personification of our dirty laundry. Whether we want to admit it or not, a good chunk of our lives is just for show, represented exaggeratedly. There’s no arguing that Amy Elliott, for her gumption and Spartan disciplinary, is scary, although personally, not as scary if she turned out to be Diary Amy.

Of course, Nick, for all intents and purposes, is just all the right kind of wrong and screw-up that it compliments with his wife’s sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies. The beautiful part is that Flynn depicts these two characters as intellectual equals who are more in tune with their partner than even some healthy relationships. Ironically without each other, they wouldn’t be who they are.

Kind of sort of love, right. . .?

My Week with Harry Potter. . .and the Chamber of Secrets: Part 2

HP-Chamber-of-SecretsIt should go without saying, this post will contain some spoilers.

Sometimes the books I’m reading can eerily coincide with issues going on in the real world.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets sets up the main overarching pillars for the upcoming books, establishing the rift between pure-blooded and half-blooded wizards and witches. The disparity between the two groups is nearly nonexistent in the first novel, and for the most part, remains an antiquated subject among the younger generation of wizards and witches.

Secrets reflects the current status quo of the magical community coexisting alongside the muggles, aka, the non-magical folks. Its society has adopted acceptance and tolerance toward muggles and muggle-born wizards and witches, but in addition to this world, ignorance is perpetuated when it comes to the children actually discussing racial issues. It’s not to say that Secrets doesn’t address these issues, calling attention to derogatory terms such as ‘mug-blood,’ or leading with the overlooking threat of death to half-blooded wizards and witches. But Secrets displays the problem with having a perfunctory mindset among the younger generation in combating racism, a problem that still exists today.

Noted in Slate’s article, while the younger generation, Millennials, appear more tolerant and in favor of promoting equality across varying ethnic groups, there seems to be a distinct lack of discussion of countering racism, other than to just ignore it and hope the problem will resolve itself over time. This standby approach has egregiously morphed into a real concern. The aggregate efforts of educational institutions in encouraging the equal treatment of others are more preventative and instead don’t address the racial conflicts at hand. They have essentially not been taught how to talk about racism and discrimination in our world, subsequently, inventing a misleading notion that racism doesn’t exist, when it clearly does and isn’t going to be solved simply by waiting for the older generation to die out. The roots of the problem are deeper than that.

If we take a hard look at the children in Harry Potter, most of them will fall in a category believing that racism is an obsolete, misguided ideology, and who can blame them? Most of them were still sporting diapers and still learning to crawl before they heard the name Voldemort, the series’ iconoclastic antagonist. Afterwards they were prohibited from uttering his name by the adults, who would only allow the children to get away with saying ‘you-know-who.’ Sound familiar? In this context, the children are not equipped to combat racism and discrimination because they simply don’t know what a world of racism and discrimination is like; they didn’t live in a world like their parents had to endure, and to some extent, still do. They’re not being taught to deal with the problem; they’re being conditioned to avoid it.

Characters such as the Malfoys exemplify the problem that arises from racism: simply ceasing all conversation about it will not discontinue other people from instigating racial acts and committing horrific tragedies. Racism is indoctrinated, producing a culture invested in oppressing its people, measuring one’s capability on the color of their skin, and ultimately, committing travesties of mass murders. Being unaware and avoiding the problem is not a solution but a form of procrastination with terrible ramifications.

I could offer up to you how the Defense Against the Dark Arts position is a game of musical chairs and that background checks go by the wayside at Hogwarts, that a bullied dead girl haunts the bathroom for shits and giggles, that the Weasley family is the kind of family that I wished I always had (but smaller), but that would be missing the main point.

It’s about time we have a serious conversation about racism and do something about it.

Other Thoughts about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:

  • Severus Snape:

The movies have plentifully spoiled his dark knight role for me, but I have to say, while keeping this in mind, it has somehow enhanced my reading experience. Snape has become more cryptic to me. Every twisted smile or sneer is so convincingly ruthless that I can’t help but wonder if there’s not a part of him that enjoys harping on Harry and making his life miserable.

  • Basilisk:

I’m supposed to believe that neither Snape or Dumbledore weren’t percipient enough to conclude that the monster was a basilisk? If Dumbledore already suspected Tom Riddle and knew Hagrid wasn’t responsible (the guy was expelled from Hogwarts and made a Gamekeeper—because that’s so much better???) then, why does Dumbledore not overturn the previous Headmaster’s ruling when Dumbledore himself eventually becomes Headmaster of the school, or at the very least, reinstate Hagrid’s magical privileges? Poor Hagrid!

The Difference Between YA and Adult Dystopia

DystopianDystopian novels have been the new hoard of books pulverizing our field of vision for the last couple of years. Like an avalanche, after reading or even mentioning just one, there’s more to come. With Dystopian novel sales booming with no end in sight, the Dystopian subgenre appears more conducive under the umbrella of Young Adult Fiction than in Adult Fiction. In reading books belonging to both subgenres, I’ve picked up on the nuances between what YA Dystopia and Adult Dystopia contain, which is rendered in their interpretations.

Although it’s clear that both subgenres analyze an ostensible utopian world and use it as a backboard to our own society, YA offers a heavy, pointed, if not, absolute, complaisant critique, while its counterpart, Adult Dystopia, holds to having an open  discussion fostering polemics. Adult Dystopia challenges the concept of universal freedom by prompting us with scenarios that make it hard for us to easily disagree with the politics of the idealized world. Of course, that’s the point. We’re supposed to be just as susceptible and uncertain as the characters are about this world and learn what makes the world ‘not a good place’, except it seems that’s not what we really want to read.

YA Dystopian novels are constructed by a concept of innate desire for freedom. The seeds of liberation are sprung at the beginning of the novel by a single character usually by the story’s protagonist. The YA genre itself consists of stories focused entirely around the protagonist that make it impossible for anything else to happen without the protagonist intervening. Following one of YA’s popular tropes, these stories rely on an individual being special who will be placed on a pedestal at one point seen with characters such as Jonas from The Giver or Katniss in the Hunger Games, the first possessing the rare ability to store humankind’s memories and the other with impressive, esoteric survival skills. What these protagonists share is almost clairvoyance; they can view the distorted world almost immediately. There’s a compulsion to rectify the world and change things to the status quo, which they abstractly but unconsciously know. The story is contingent on the guidance from the protagonist that, without him or her, the story decomposes. It’s also what creates a story where the individual’s actions shape the world whereas Adult Dystopia is more so about the influence of the world on its people.

Adult Dystopia is a quandary; it wrestles with the dark undertones and myopia. Unlike YA Dystopia, Adult Dystopian characters usually have no precedent of freedom. The world and/or government has already conditioned the people and subsequently dehumanized them into thinking of no other alternative. Not that YA Dystopia lacks mature or dark content, with the premise of some of them nightmarish, but there’s usually a subtle hint of hope, even if it’s shoehorned into the bleakest of pieces. Adult Dystopia makes no such concessions, ergo opening a typhoon of unfavorable imaginings that’s not wide-spread entertainment. Turns out, people want happy endings! Go figure.

And these happy endings found in YA Dystopia are usually extended into multiple books contrary to Adult Dystopia novels that are limited (or fully realized) in stand-alone books. YA Dystopia has the advantage of expansion, quintessentially creating new subplots in the overarching story. Adult Dystopia rarely expounds on its stories; however, that’s starting to change.

Although both genres offer a reoccurring recalcitrant theme, it’s undeniable that YA Dystopia is more popular amongst its targeted audience. Built on a semi-fictious world and characters, YA Dystopia ends up actually being more relatable to its young adult audience versus Adult Dystopia. The themes in dystopia resonant with young adults, who feel locked away in schools, their lives dictated by their teachers and parents. It’s no surprise young adults can relate. Adult Dystopia touches on these issues too, but they’re not as palpable to adults who, for the most part, have a choice and ultimately are responsible for their decisions (yay for adulting…) And adults reading YA Dystopia isn’t new. As I noted previously, YA Dystopia is a pithy and usually promises some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, whether it’s a moral lesson or a small patch of happiness amiss the rubble. Compared with Adult Dystopia, which can be equally as entertaining, it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending and may just decide to leave you alone at the bottom of a well of despair.

But this isn’t to say that one is superior over the other. Each subgenre is simply but differently conveying stories set in worlds and societies seemingly perfect that are not. The overwhelming demand for Dystopia is not curtailed to only one domain. Each subgenre just meets different needs. And if Dystopia isn’t meeting your needs or you’re exhausted with the barrage of enslavement-scientific-experiment-gone-wrong- genetically-modified reductive plots, fear not, this will pass. Or if you’re crazy about Dystopia and cannot get enough of it, ride the oversaturated market as long as you can, but also, fear not, Dystopian novels won’t disappear entirely.

The YA Book Stigma

imagesWhen I visited my library last week, I gravitated toward the young-adult section. With Trial by Fire secured in my hands, I thought I would look for something else within the genre.

I stood in front of a tower of books, my eyes perusing the selection and flitting occasionally at the people around me. I noticed an old man behind the reference desk. He wore a lopsided grin and then, quite noticeably, shook his head in my general direction. I shrugged it off and dismissed it, as one should do instead of making assumptions. Then standing next to me were two teenagers, and it didn’t take long for me to feel the out-of-place age gape.

Ten years have gone by since I was sixteen. The library I went to didn’t have a designated shelf for YA literature. There was children fiction and adult fiction. That was it. I had to hunt for books aimed at my age group, which left me mostly with Sarah Dessen books or books on bullying, drugs, or romance–the last thing I wanted to read. Sure there were other books, but the YA books published today offer more audacious and experimental content than their predecessors. Books such as the Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, or Libby Bray’s The Diviners are mature stories with young-adult characters confronted with real adult problems. In spite of YA’s growth in popularity and myriad of subgenres, critics and fellow book readers continue to castigate the genre and its older readership.

Last year, Ruth Graham’s article was posted on Slate shaming adults for reading YA, suggesting that it’s “replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers.”  I would be concerned too if a well-known genre was on the brink of extinction, but there’s no indication of literary fiction or even adult fiction dying out soon. Graham identifies literary fiction as the genre being faced with this ostensible annihilation, as if YA will monopolize the book market and that book publishers will cease production of all literary-fiction books. Literary fiction does tend to be read less than other genres; however, as long as there’s a market for it and a kindle of interest, I doubt there will be a shortage of literary-fiction books any time soon. Graham’s treatment of YA is astounding and seems more territorial and didactic. Telling anyone what they should be reading has a tendency to backlash and ruins the overall reading experience.

Graham further expounds on the problems with adults reading YA books. She pointedly clarifies that it’s not that having adolescent characters is the issue, citing contemporary, literary author Megan Abbott, but that YA books require adults “to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.” This implication is problematic in two ways. It suggests that adults reading YA are psychologically regressing, but regression is impulsive, a result of a defense mechanism. If adults are casting out their “mature insights” when reading YA, then there would be some kind of threat triggering this event. Adults’ maturity remains safely intact as it’s unlikely that years of experience can be washed away so easily. Graham may also be assuming adults are reading for scholarly reasons and overlooks the entertainment value of YA books. When reading books, most people are reading for pleasure.

The other problem besides what Graham insists will cause adults to regress is that she presumes that in order to fully appreciate adult literature, one must have the maturity, not the intellect, to comprehend it. The implication made also suggests reading YA will negatively interfere with an adults’ capability of reading adult literature with age as the only determinant. She excludes other factors such as sex, race, and social class that can significantly affect our views and shape our experiences. In addition to this credulous statement, it belittles young adults themselves. As she implies, they won’t be able to really appreciate adult literature and inadvertently discourages young adults for even trying. Graham discredits young adults and their capacity to translate complex text and ability to relate emotionally.

Graham is just one example of critics shaming adults reading YA. Critics snub the merit of YA books and often demonstrate a high, elitist opinion. But what critics realize or don’t give credit to is the amount of revenue YA produced in 2014, and how the YA book market kept the book market afloat. In spite of YA’s commercial success, critics repudiate the literary aspects of YA and are convinced that only young adults should read young-adult literature.

This notion might have had more weight to it 50 years ago, when YA was originally a term designed to indicate the intended age a book would most appeal to. YA has gradually shifted from an age classification to a genre since then. Over the years, YA underwent several changes, from formulaic plots and horror, to paranormal and dystopian. From only a few books on a shelf to a section in the bookstore, YA encompasses a plethora of subgenres that seem to have one commonality: transitioning. Whether the teen protagonist is a werewolf or a symbol in a dystopian world, YA plots occur during a time in the protagonist’s life when he or she feels stuck between times and places, from adolescent to adult, or more fantastical, one world to the another. Characters struggle with identity and sexuality, alcohol and drugs, abuse and survival, issues of degrading health and mental illness, etc, with these topics also prevalent in other adult-related genres. Of course YA’s inclusion of more adult-related themes has led to discussions debating about its mature content and even causing some YA books to be banned. The term YA became intermittently synonymous with its targeted audience and genre.

But what is the appeal of this genre? Some might argue the popularity of this genre should be accredited to the John Green Effect, which does warrant some discussion. John Green certainly has caught the media’s attention in the last year with the theatrical debut of The Fault in Our Stars, but most of his success can be contributed to his fan base and social media plate forms. It’s not only the book-to-film adaptation of Green’s novel that has done well. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Divergent have done substantially well too, hooking moviegoers and having them direct their eyes at the written source. This is one explanation as to why so many adults are diving into young-adult literature.

The other explanation is the economic and social changes. The effect of the recession has recent graduates (infamously dubbed Millennials, or my personal favorite, the Peter Pan generation) unemployed or underemployed. As a result, they are living at home with their parents. The lack of income and independency postpones traditional adult milestones such as marriage, purchasing a house, or starting a family. The effects of the economic environment has left adults in a stagnant, awkward transition resembling stories found in YA literature; these stories offer palpable and relatable scenarios. Millennials are possibly turning to YA books for comfort. Why should adults be shamed for that?

Critics are also quick to dismiss YA as a low-brow form of literature, yet the genre is surprisingly experimental and versatile. Yes, it doesn’t always conform to conventional rhetoric or meet the criteria of true literary fiction. YA redefines the concept of literary prose by incorporating chunks of dialogue, email formats, and texting vernacular into fewer, simpler lines. We are a multifaceted culture and communicate in a variety of different ways. It’s not as though adult fiction doesn’t show this, but it’s more apparent in YA, with its subjects and audience’s generation more fluent in technological innovations. Usually literature is a reflection of the current times, and it’s good to see what post-modern writers are doing with it. This doesn’t mean YA contains less in story when it comes to content. YA literature has produced some thought provoking ideas exemplified in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. While it was written for a young-adult audience, it’s harbors dark themes of solidarity and conformity. Sometimes the best pieces of literature can be said in few words.

And we cannot forget what YA is doing for the younger generation. By expanding on subjects that have been considered taboo in the past, YA authors are reigniting young adults’ interest in literature. This same phenomenon is also being carried over to adults. If more adults are reading because of YA literature, then how is that bad?

What I see is YA authors taking more risks and challenging the traditional, literary conventions, not sabotaging literary fiction or, more nefariously, poisoning adults’ minds. As much as I like literary fiction, it’s enthusiasts and advocates have a way of sometimes taking themselves too seriously.

So to those readers shaming others: less judging, more reading.