Darkness Becomes Her

Darkness Becomes Her looks like your run-of-the-mill paranormal romance, right? It’s dark and gothy and you’re pretty sure the heroine is going to be a weepy emo princess. Well, color me surprised when I started reading this and the heroine, Ari, was swearing like a sailor from the first page and clearly did not let anyone fuck with her. This book is smarter than your average paranormal romance.

First, let’s talk about Ari. I fell in love with her from the first page just because of her attitude. Ari is awesome, okay? She grew up being bounced between foster homes and is currently being raised by a couple of bounty hunters, who are teaching her the trade. That means Ari kicks a lot of ass. (Though she’s not a superhero – the fighting is described pretty realistically, with Ari making up for her small stature by outsmarting opponents and kneeing them in the groin a lot.) I was a little skeptical when she described her odd appearance, though. Ari has silver Rapunzel-style hair which can’t be cut or dyed, teal eyes (not blue, TEAL), and a small tattoo of a crescent moon under her eye. That’s like every Mary Sue fanfiction character ever! Luckily, Ari’s personality and tenacity is enough to make up for it.

Oh, God. I’d just killed a man – my fingers flexed on the hilt of the blade – with a goddamn, fucking-ass, miniature sword.

How can you not love that?

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If I Stay

I finally picked up If I Stay this month for two reasons: one, I’d been meaning to read it since it came out in 2009, but kept forgetting about it. Two, I received an ARC of the sequel, Where She Went, and decided I’d better read the first one so I could make good use of the ARC. (Thanks, Simon & Schuster!)

And now I’m kicking myself for not having read this book sooner. I devoured this book in less than a day. The narration style just sucks you in, because you have to know if Mia will choose to live or die. And the way the narration switches back and forth between present tense and flashbacks is genius, because it allows for so much character development in such a short amount of time. The whole book takes place in under 24 hours, yet you really get to feel like you know these characters: Mia, her parents, Adam, Kim. I have to say I loved that even Mia’s parents, Kat and Denny, got their own flashbacks. Parents in YA are so often glossed over or made into caricatures, but getting to know Mia’s punk rocker parents before they were parents really gives you a sense of loss when they die, because they were made out to be whole people.

The way Mia and Adam’s relationship is represented is a little bit cheesy at time (their couple nickname is “Groovy and the Geek”? Seriously?), but still totally believable and unique. I also love the way music is at the root of so many of the relationships in this book: Mia, a classical musician, struggles to relate to her rocker boyfriend. Her parent’s relationship with each other is rooted in their love for music. A lot of YA books feature a protagonist who plays an instrument or who has a boyfriend in a rock band, but not many of them delve into what the music means to those people. It’s just a trait they have, a hobby. I love that so much of If I Stay explores how different people relate to music.

This book was so emotional and heartbreaking for me, and I almost immediately started reading the ARC of the sequel when I finished, because I had to know what the consequences of Mia’s decision would be, how the fallout would affect these characters I’d come to love. (Look for a review of Where She Went later this week.) If you’ve also been putting off reading this book, don’t put it off any longer. It’s absolutely a must-read.

Bitch Magazine Removes Books From ‘100 Feminist Books for the YA Reader’ List

This is really disappointing. Bitch Magazine made what was an awesome list of feminist YA books. But after a couple of people complained in the comments, they swiftly removed and replaced three books: Tender Morsels, Sisters Red, and Living Dead Girl. Why? One because it was deemed to be too triggering (despite that you could say the same for nearly all the other books on the list) and the other two because of scenes regarding rape.

The only one of these books that I’ve read is Sisters Red, which I think is an excellent feminist novel. (You can read my review here.) Yes, there is a scene in which one of the characters is victim-blaming. But is it wrong to include that in a novel that’s partly about sexuality and rape? Because the scene in question is from Scarlett’s point of view, I don’t think we’re meant to agree with her. Scarlett is a survivor, and if we look at Fenris attacks as symbolic of rapes, I think she’s struggling to prove that she didn’t “deserve” it. Scarlett is angry and irrational and blames herself for everything. I don’t think it’s un-feminist to include a scene where, as part of her struggle, she tries to blame other women. I think it’s something we should discuss, but I don’t think it makes this book un-feminist.

Oh, and you can bet your ass I’m going to go read the other two books now.

You can read wonderful comments on this topic from Holly Black, Maureen Johnson, Diana Peterfreund, and Scott Westerfeld, all of whom have books featured on the list, all of which could be considered triggering or which have been challenged from a feminist viewpoint. I love that these authors are so willing to stand behind their work and their colleagues’ work, and I suggest you go read what they have to say.

XVI

I was really excited to read XVI, since the premise was so edgy and challenging. A dystopian novel in a future where girls’ bodies become fair game at age sixteen, and where lower-class teens aspire to join the Female Liason Specialists (read: high class hookers) as a way of moving up the social ranks. I thought this book had the potential to say something interesting about female sexuality and the virgin/whore paradox, but unfortunately I think Julia Karr failed here. She sets up a really intriguing world, but doesn’t dig deep enough into the foundations of that society or how it applies to ours.

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