Tag Archives: literature

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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Pride & Prejudice: A timeless tale

I just found out that the honors college is offering a seminar over the works of Jane Austen next semester, and I can’t hold in my excitement! I know it’s cliche and girly, but Pride and Prejudice is one of my very favorite books. Each time I read it I fall in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy all over again. I cringe at Mrs. Bennett’s displays and sympathize with Jane and Lizzie in their combination of embarrassment and familial obligation. I have an ongoing debate with myself over which would be worse: to be married to Mr. Collins or to Mr. Wickham? My decision changes daily. I skip over Collins’ proposal, and read and reread Darcy’s. In English my senior year, we were discussing Pride and Prejudice and one of my classmates said Elizabeth reminded them of me. The rest of the class agreed, and to this day that is still the best compliment I’ve ever received. The characterization of Elizabeth Bennett is one of the reasons I love the story so much; although she’s worlds away, I can relate to Lizzie -her love of knowledge, her cynicism, her judgment, her love of family- and she gives me hope of one day finding my own Darcy. Sorry, P&P brings out the Romantic side in me.

But this story is so much more than the greatest love story ever written. It’s an outright criticism of social class and norms. In Mr. Collins, Austen creates a character that, by the standards of the time, should be a suitable match for any of the Bennett girls. He has economic stability, a respectable name, and the ability to have children, all the things that are valued in a marriage. Austen takes this potential suitor and makes him one of the most ridiculous, pompous, annoying, pretentious, rude and repulsive fictional character of all time. By having Charlotte agree to marry him, Austen was showing how outdated the marriage ideas of her time were. Darcy and Elizabeth were the impossible couple, stretching across class, social boundaries, adversity and financial differences, all because of love, and that’s a timeless story.

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An Unpopular Opinion: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a classic novel that has captured the imagination of millions of readers.

I, however, am not one of those readers.

For me, this book held no enchantment. The story line was choppy, and I had trouble following it. There wasn’t enough character development, not to mention that none of the characters were even likable, except maybe Nick. And even then, I never felt like I really got to know him well enough to sympathize with him. Then there’s Daisy. She is such a shallow character and I never could understand why Gatsby was in love with her in the first place. As winning Daisy’s love back is the purpose of the novel, not being able to understand her appeal makes the book difficult to get into.

This is not to say that there aren’t redeeming qualities to this book. Take symbolism for example. Everything takes place under the ever-watchful and judgmental eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, like God watching down on the wicked. These eyes are in the Valley of Ashes, a symbol of moral and social decay in light of the pursuit of wealth. The green light at the end of the dock, representing not only Gatsby’s dreams but the broader American dream. Fitzgerald uses other literary techniques like imagery and allegory to make the story not just about the lives of Gatsby, Nick and Daisy, but American society at this time as a whole.

For me, all of these motifs and themes and the imagery and allegory are overused, trying to mask the fact that the book actually has no plot or relatable characters. So while this will never be one of my favorites or the book I go around recommending to everyone, I recognize its place in literature and I’m glad I’ve read it.

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Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Everyone says “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we are all guilty of this. A lot of times our instincts can be correct, like when I avoid the novels with covers of shirtless men and scantily clothed women that don’t even have faces, or when I pick up each and every book with a ship on the cover. Sometimes you just know. However, sometimes if you look past your preconceived notions or the strange cover art you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I read The Kite Runner my senior year of high school for my AP English class. It had been on the list since the beginning of the year, and I had not been looking forward to it. I’m sorry, but the recent history of Afghanistan was just not something that interested me. I thought it was going to be a depressing story about how the main character and his/her people had been mistreated and that it wouldn’t apply to me in any way. Oh, how wrong I was.

The story of The Kite Runner centers on the story of a young boy named Amir and his best friend and servant Hassan. When they are quite young, Amir witnesses an older boy, Assef, rape Hassan. After this horrible event, the friendship between Amir and Hassan is never quite the same. Amir spends his time wondering is Hassan knows that he knows, or even worse, that he did nothing to stop it. Hassan, on the other hand, knows what his friend witnessed, but in the perfect picture of unconditional love, he forgives Amir. Amir, however, cannot forgive himself, and finally Hassan and his father Ali cannot stand to live with Amir’s family anymore.

It’s a great story of love, friendship, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Everyone has been Amir at some point in their lives, on the receiving end of a love they don’t think they deserve. There are so many great lessons to be learned from this book. It’s something I never would have picked up on my own, but I’m so glad I did.

Another book we were supposed to read my senior year was Frankenstein. After already reading Dracula for that class, I was done with “monster” books. We ended up running out of time to read another novel, and I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to plow through another morbid, macabre classic. However, I was in for a surprise when I started my 20th Century Honors Seminar second semester of my freshman year and found out the first work we would be reading was, you guessed it, Frankenstein. I dreaded it until I started reading it, then everything changed.

Mary Shelley tells an amazing story. Written when she was only 14, it may be considered a classic but it reads like a modern-day adventure story. It’s an intricate set-up of a story within a story within a story, and she intertwines the characters brilliantly. Everyone views Frankenstein’s monster as just that, a monster. But is it? Shelley explores the basic human ideas of good and evil and challenges the reader to reevaluate human nature.

The story itself was nothing like I thought it would be. No evil scientist in a lab creating something to control that got too powerful and escaped, wreaking havoc everywhere it went. It was a man of prestige with a slight obsession with his work who took it just a little too far, got scared, and tried to forget about what he had done. The creature, newly introduced to the world as a full-grown “man,” was scared and alone, and at times seemed more human than his creator ever did. I expected good and evil to be cut and dry, but the relationships and characters are so much more complex than I ever would have imagined.

So the next time someone’s raving about a book and you’re thinking “That is just not up my alley,” pick it up and give it a try- you may be surprised at the results.

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Queen Rowling: A discussion of Her Majesty’s latest contribution to society

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

When I was eight I heard this sentence for the first time. Little did I know it would change my life and the lives of millions of others across the globe.

J.K. Rowling’s Potter series completely reinvented the way we think of children’s fantasy literature. Clearly it is not just for children, nor only for people that like fantasy. Harry Potter is for everyone. The question now is, can she do it again?

When the epic story of The Boy Who Lived came to a close, many began to ask what was next for Rowling. Some were demanding the next generation series about the Golden Trios’ children and their subsequent adventures at Hogwarts, while others wanted to know what the wizarding world was like when The Death Eaters and The Order of the Phoenix were only beginning to form. Rowling, however, declined both of these ideas, and claimed to be done with the world of Harry Potter.

Then, in April, Rowling announced the title of her new novel: The Casual Vacancy. There was a heightened amount of secrecy surrounding Rowling’s project, which in turn heightened the expectations and interest. Along with the title, the publisher also released a short synopsis of the plot, only making us more anxious to get our hands on Rowling’s next masterpiece.

The Casual Vacancy centers on the chain of events that occur in an idyllic English town after one of the members of the parish council, Barry Fairbrother, dies under mysterious circumstances. Other than the fact that Barry rhymes with HarryThe Casual Vacancy is just about as far from the Harry Potter phenomena as it could be; in fact, the publisher describes the book as “blackly comic.”

With such a strikingly different subject and genre, who will the audience be for this new novel? I know I want to read each and every word J.K. Rowling has ever written and will ever write, and I assume it’s the same for most Potterheads. However, I think Rowling will also pick up some new readers. Adults who were wary of Harry Potter because it’s supposedly geared toward children may be more apt to pick up a Rowling book that’s shelved in the adult fiction section. And maybe those adults, after devouring The Casual Vacancy, will realize what a proficient storyteller Rowling really is, and will give Harry Potter a go, because saying Harry Potter is just for kids is like saying ice cream or naps are just for kids.

Whatever the case, in 21 days the world will find out just how well Rowling can write sans Potter. I have no doubt I will tear through the 512 pages in no time and be left hungry for more, and hopefully the more reluctant will be sufficiently impressed at Rowling’s ability to break out of her typecast. Even if the book is a complete flop (which is highly unlikely), it will never change the fact that to her devoted subjects in the realm of witchcraft and wizardry she will forever remain Queen Rowling.

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