Monthly Archives: March 2013

Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The broken toy in a pretty box

I recently finished reading two books, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. Both are written by one of my favorite people in the world, John Green. However, their subject matter is not my favorite.

In each of these books, John uses the character type generally referred to as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). Wikipedia defines the MPDG as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that 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.”

The protagonists of these books, Pudge and Quentin, are both high school boys who become infatuated with their “dream girls” — Alaska for Pudge and Margo Roth Spiegelman for Q. In Looking for Alaska, Pudge starts at a new boarding school where he meets Alaska and quickly becomes bewitched by her. Q has lived next door to Margo for years, but has only admired her from afar. Both of these girls are mysterious, and although the boys realize that, neither tries to find out why that is. Both are too focused on their own desires and the fact that Alaska or Margo might be interested in them that they fail to see how broken these girls are.

When Alaska dies tragically, Pudge realizes how much he really didn’t know about her. He starts digging and finally sees what he should have seen before — that Alaska was a deeply broken girl that needed to be truly loved as a friend, not put on a pedestal that no girl, no person, deserves to be put on. When Margo disappears, Quentin decides that she’s left him this elaborate trail to follow, when the truth is that she has no desire to be found. He’s so obsessed with the idea that this girl needs him that he can’t see there’s something  legitimately wrong.

Our society as a whole has really embraced the whole MPDG idea. Women are constantly being held to standards that they could never hope to reach — be thin but not too thin, have sex but don’t be a slut, be educated but don’t be a nerd, the list goes on and on. Even though Pudge and Q see their illusions shattered at the end of their respective books, simply writing the MPDG character is perpetuating the concept. This is one of the reason’s I like The Fault in Our Star, John’s most recent book, so much more than these. Hazel and Augustus, the two main characters, know what they’re getting into. They may overlook each other’s faults, as many teenagers in love do, but Gus never holds Hazel up to his own unattainable ideas.

I personally liked Paper Towns better than Looking for Alaska, but both books seem to promote an idea that I’m completely uncomfortable with. If you want to read John Green, go for Will Grayson, Will Grayson or The Fault in Our Stars, which no one can go wrong with. These promote much more positive messages and don’t wrap a broken character with a bow of perfection.


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Meeting Cassie Clare: The YA family

I’m a book nerd. Obviously. So what to book nerds do when they find out when they’re going on vacation? They go online and see if any of their favorite authors are going to be there at the same time. At least that’s what I did last summer when I found out I was going to San Diego, and by divine intervention or dumb luck, the author of one of my favorite book series, Cassandra Clare, was going to be in town right in the middle of my vacation.

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Of course I had to go. I made room in my luggage for her most recent publication, City of Lost Souls, and headed west. I somehow convinced my parents to use the rental car and drive me to the “Mysterious Galaxy” bookstore, where a hundred teen girls and tween girls with their mothers packed into the little store. It was the floor or standing room only by the time I arrived.

I knew about Cassie through social media, Tumblr, Twitter and the like, and I am happy to report she is just as sweet and sarcastic as she seems online. She read aloud the “manor scene” from Jace’s point of view, an obvious big hit for those who have read the books. (And if you haven’t, I definitely recommend them if you like YA fantasy.)

She then opened the floor for questions. She talked about her books and what’s coming next for her beloved characters and the Shadowhunter realm in general. She also talked about her personal life, what she likes to read, where she gets her ideas from. These answers held the most interest for me. She said she never reads books in the same genre as what she’s writing, she’ll read something more contemporary, like John Green or a murder mystery. She explained that if she reads something in the same genre she’ll start to worry, “Oh my god, this book has a talking cat, I have a talking cat, I have to kill the cat!” she joked. There are always going to be similarities in books, that’s what makes it a genre, she said.

After her talk, it was time for the signing. We lined up outside in the bookstore in the lovely San Diego dusk and waited. One of the best things about going to nerdy events is that everyone there is a nerd. Some are bigger nerds than others, but everyone, at some level, is a nerd, which means more than likely you’ll have more in common with them than you would the average Joe on the street. In line there was no shortage of talk on Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the Green brothers and nerdfighteria, Doctor Who, Sherlock, the list could go on and on. Name any nerdy fandom you can think of, it was represented there. It’s great to be surrounded by people who love (OK, are obsessed with) the same things you do, without inhibition, and you can just let go and be yourself. I’ve also found people at these kind of events are incredibly nice and courteous, especially compared to say a sporting event. When we’d gone through the line, the girl I had been talking with asked me for my Twitter handle, said “It was so nice to meet you!” and gave me a big hug. We still fangirl together over Twitter occasionally.

Cassie herself was, as I mentioned earlier, lovely. She greeted me when I walked up and asked me where I was from. Her movie was being casted at the time, and they had announced who would be playing Alec earlier that day, so naturally I gushed about how attractive he is. She responded enthusiastically, saying “I met him the other day and I was just like, ‘What’s it like to be so tall and incredibly good-looking?” She also told me she was taking a poll, and asked who my favorite characters were from each series. I replied, “Is it cliche if I say Jace and Will?” She said something to the effect of, Ah, the Herondale boys. Of course not! and told me they were in the lead. She was a sweetheart and posed for a picture with me after she signed my book. It was an overall great experience, and just another reason I love my YA fiction family.


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Hell in the Pacific: Delving into the world of nonfiction

Normally people grumble and groan about the assigned readings for class. Not me, not this time. For my American Military History course each student reads two novels of their choosing about, you guessed it, American military history. This post is about my first of the two, Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Journey from Guadalcanal to Peleliu. (To read my more formal and complete summary and review of this book I did for class, click here)

This book is the memoir of Jim McEnery, a soldier in the 1st Division Marines K/3/5 rifle company (If anyone’s seen the HBO miniseries Pacific, that’s the same company.) He details his experiences on the front lines of three major campaigns in the Pacific Theater during World War II, beginning at Guadalcanal, then to Cape Gloucester and finally to Peleliu.

I really enjoyed reading this book, for many reasons. My grandpa was in the Navy during World War II, so the Pacific Theater has always held a specific interest for me. Reading this book has rekindled my interest on the subject, and I learned a lot about the reality of island hopping in the South Pacific. I’d never thought about what it was like between campaigns, but it wasn’t a bunch of R&R for those boys. Maybe when they were on leave in Australia, but McEnery talks about his time off at Pavuvu after Guadalcanal. The exhausted Marines come ashore looking forward to simple amenities like electricity and running water and instead are greeted with rats mud.

Another aspect that made this book so great for me is that McEnery (with the help of Bill Sloan) is a fantastic narrator. He inserts his feelings into his retelling. I’d heard the phrase from the war, “the only good Jap is a dead Jap,” but McEnery’s story made this concept so much more real. The Japanese soldiers during WWII were cutthroat and would die before being captured by our boys. The wounded would set off grenades if any American came to help them, taking themselves with it. McEnery gets to the point where he can kill a Jap without a second thought, but it doesn’t make him inhuman. He retains a human connection that is so important in a war novel. Part of the way he retains that is by expressing his emotions in the situation. He doesn’t pretend that he, along with the rest of the boys, wasn’t scared shitless sitting in those foxholes, not knowing if they were going to make it through the night. Surprise attacks, buddies dying right before his eyes. McEnery is painfully honest, and this honestly helps the reader continue to perceive him as a person and not just a mindless killing machine.

Everything is told from a grunt’s eyes’ perspective, not a history book. In movies I’m used to seeing gore and war, but hearing the descriptions straight from someone who was there and witnessed it firsthand is different. McEnery tells everything in such detail, every reality of war, from combat to malnutrition to mentality. Jim McEnery was one of the few soldiers who witnessed the killing of Captain Andrew “Ack-Ack” Haldane at the Battle of Peleliu. “Then Ack-Ack’s head vanished in a flash of red, and a shower of blood blew back in my face.” I wasn’t familiar with Capt. Haldane’s story, and I’m fairly sure I audibly gasped when I read that sentence. For me, Jim McEnery’s recounting just drove home the weight of what these men went through for the security of my country. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a truthful account of what the Marines faced in the campaigns of the South Pacific. The book contains strategic summary (for comprehensive purposes), but is mostly a personal narrative. This means that there’s bias, but it’s stated as such and the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions. It’s an easy read logistically, but I can guarantee it’ll make you think, and thank the men who went through hell so you don’t have to.

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