4/23/13

Books for Tomboys

I might finally have gotten over my aversion to wearing pink, but I was a real tomboy growing up.  We had three maple trees in our yard, and I probably climbed all of them.  My dad would take my brother and me for treks through the woods of our favorite local parks.  Any dress I owned was a hand-me-down - taking me for dress shopping probably would've been like sticking your hand into a tiger cage.

So I put together a short list of the books I always loved for the spunky, non-lady-like heroines they contained.  It was always nice to see myself in book form.  How many of these have you read?

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Long before Bella Swan of the Twilight Saga, this book's heroine Kate Sutton was awkward and trying not to trip while standing still (a feat I can't always master).  Kate is quickly summed up by her parents as being too smart and less desirable than her gorgeous simpleton sister.  In the end, Kate doesn't worry about her appearance first and saving the day second.  Even when told to run to safety, Kate stays, saving the life of the complicated man she might have feelings for and putting an end to the danger surrounding the castle she was banished to.  Her stubbornness and strength don't keep her from finding love - they're rewarded when the saved man chooses her over her sister.  This book gets an extra nod for its villain - a woman whose motives are only shadowy not cruel or unnecessary.  She leaves the book much as Kate does - on a path of her own choosing and with self-made dignity.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Although the book revolves around four siblings - Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy - it's the youngest, Lucy, who becomes the central heroine.  She's the first one to find a route through the back of the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia, and she's promptly shot down by the others as telling one fantastic lie about her discovery.  As the others journey with her to Narnia, Lucy changes from being the outcast to the experienced guide, and the plot takes off from there.  The extra nod I'd give this book is that when the siblings are awarded special gifts, they're distributed without strict gender lines.  Susan gets a bow, arrows, and a signalling horn.  Lucy gets a vial of healing cordial, which I think is perfect for her character.  When doubt and greed and misfortune plague the siblings, Lucy is the glue holding them together, forgiving misdeeds, and looking ahead with enthusiasm.  If youth is wasted on the young, it isn't wasted on Lucy.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I received a copy of this book a few weeks ago in the bottom of a box of books my husband's coworker gave us.  (Boxes of random books make great any day presents, by the way.)  I hadn't read it in 20 years.  There's a reason this book is still assigned reading in schools - it's fantastic.  But the reason I love it is for, you guessed it, the plucky young heroine who kicks anyone in the shins who dares to pull her pigtails.  Stuck with the nickname Turtle and stuck in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, this girl isn't afraid of a haunted house or making her presence known.  The Westing game itself is a puzzle, a word and mind game with over a dozen people trying to figure it out to win a handsome prize of 2 million dollars.  Turtle might not walk away with the money, but her attention to detail coupled with her unending tenacity help her discover the biggest secret within the game - who set it up and who watched them compete.  It's a secret she never tells, showing mature restraint and reaping benefits the others will never know.

That's my list for now.  What books sum up your childhood?

4/12/13

The Pain of Loss

I write a lot about death. Murder, suicide, loss, grief.

This last Saturday was the five year anniversary of my grandmother’s death after numerous bouts with cancer. It’s a horrible, eerie feeling. How have I lived five years without her? How do I go the rest of my life without her?

In the six and a half years since meeting my husband, our lives have been marked by funerals and loss. My grandma, his two grandpas, his aunt, his uncle’s father, my father’s girlfriend, a good friend I loved like a sister, and the dads of two friends. And those were just the wakes or funerals we went to. Suicides affected two families we know of in that time. Two people close to us lost younger brothers.

And I’m not alone in my inability to move past some of these losses. This beautifully worded piece of autobiography chronicles a fellow Etsy seller’s journey back to functionality after the unexpected passing of her husband. I’m comforted to be let into the healing heart of a woman who’s lived through my own worst fear.

Even “Bates Motel” had an eloquent speech on grief in its recent fourth episode. The future killer, now impressionable youth Norman Bates told his classmate what he believes grief to be: the amount of time it takes for your body to let go of expecting the deceased to come back into your life. I might have misparaphrased it, but I can’t shake the feeling that he was absolutely right.

So why do I constantly focus on death? To understand it? To overcome my fear of that inevitable end?

Maybe it’s these self-exploratory reasons, but maybe it’s more. Maybe in writing about death, I’m also writing about how to move past death, reconcile it in our actual lives. Every time my characters bury a friend or loved one, even though I’m the one controlling how they grieve, I get to watch them heal. I get to see them pick themselves up and move on the way I want to - with strength and dignity and hope for tomorrow. I can’t let all of my characters heal this way, but the ones who do become role models because sometimes a death is too personal to talk to other people about.

I hope that writing about death will help other people, too, because I believe that writing should bring people together, not pull them apart. So if you’re hurting, I’m sorry, and I hope we keep moving toward a place where we feel better. I hope we focus on the good and the living and the better memories of those we loved.


I hope it brings us comfort.