children's fiction, pop culture, Uncategorized

Harry Potter: The Invisible Moth’s Definitive Commentary

Harry Potter Art poster prints by Silvia Miceli | Displate

Okay, nothing like striking while the iron is hot! A few days ago, I posted on all the division that’s erupted in the Harry Potter fandom as a result of recent real world events regarding its author. As I was writing that post, I realized that, despite being a fan myself, I’ve never put together a comprehensive review of the series. But after touching on this topic during the weekend, the relevant points for this post started to come together.

I loved Harry Potter. Most of the plot, characters, humor, the more serious themes, and certainly the world-building. It takes all the familiar archetypes — the special orphan/chosen one, the wise mentor, the bumbling but loyal sidekick, the smart one, the pure evil villain with a Grand Scheme — and puts them into a world we recognize. Struggling with difficult teachers and classes, hanging out with your friends, playing a sport, fighting with your siblings, worrying you don’t really know loved ones, even sneaking out to do something you’re told not to do — take away the magic and fantastical creatures, and this is an ordinary child’s life. It’s why these books will live on, for quite a while, no matter the general public opinion of the author in Real Life.

Now, I will definitely admit there are certain plot holes, character arcs that could (should?) have gone in a different direction, and other aspects that bug me. Some of them can be shrugged off and don’t really impede my enjoyment of the particular novel or series itself; others start to irk me when I go back to them.

Get yourself a comfy sofa and a snack; this is going to be a long one.

Harry potter art harry potter poster hedwig decor owl | Etsy

One: The over-expansive world development that ultimately falls flat. 

Something downright amazing about books 1-3 is the world-building. We start with an orphan who has no idea of a magical legacy, and are taken on this incredible journey where we, along with Harry, learn about a whole world that’s as fantastic as it is dangerous. To begin with, most of the focus is on Hogwarts, but soon we get into Wizarding families, like the Weasleys; hear more about the divisions within this community and what allowed Voldemort’s rise to power; and some of the wonderful or worrisome mythical beasts and beings that also populate this realm.

In book 4, due to the Quidditch World Cup and TriWizard Tournament, this universe just explodes. What was already a pretty big premise gets rather enormous.

But this is also, sadly, where the series sets itself up to trip — and tumble down the stairs, landing in a heap of tangled hair and untied shoelaces. The fourth novel is when the page count significantly increases, when we get an idea of just how intense the conspiracy is to bring Voldemort back, and when the subplots begin to nearly overtake the main one. What was once primarily the tale of an unexpected boy wizard began switching to a world on the brink of civil war. It isn’t simply an ambitious shift; it’s almost impossible to pull off without any mistakes.

Many of us were beginning to miss the simplicity of the early books. Sure enough, The Order of the Phoenix confirms that the boy wizard is now being prepared to defend not only his own survival, but that of the entire community around him. And that’s where my enjoyment starts to fade.

Not completely. But The Half-Blood Prince hardly felt to me like the rest of the series. Too many new minor characters overshadowed the regular secondarys we’d grown attached to. Harry went from wanting to be a normal kid, despite his Chosen one status, to willingly spying for Dumbledore. And the twist ending that destroyed his mentor of the past several years — and set the whole series on a vastly alternate track — disappointed me, and made me slightly nervous about what awaited in The Deathly Hallows.

Here’s one of my most despised tropes in high fantasy: The meandering, long-lasting, booooooooorrrrrrrrrrring QUEST. It has very nearly ruined the entire genre of high fantasy for me, and I avoid it like the plague.

Cue Book 7 being 75% the above trope.

Is that me you hear screaming? Why, yes, yes, it is.

Not only was it disappointing, it felt like a copout. It made me wonder if Rowling was so tired of being badgered by fans that she was going to finish the series as quickly as possible, regardless of the fitting-ness — or not — of the ending.

All that incredible world-building from before just sort of drifted into oblivion. The fates of so many characters were thrown to the winds; we had literally no idea what happened to them during those 8 or so months Harry was in the woods.

It’s lame.

Harry Potter (House Urban Watercolor – Gryffindor) MightyPrint ...         MightyPrint Harry Potter - House Urban Watercolor - Hufflepuff ... Harry Potter - Slytherin Illustrated Poster Print - Item ...    Trend Setters Harry Potter - Ravenclaw House Urban Watercolor 17" x 24

Two: Deaths I will never get over.

  • SIRIUS BLACK.
  • CEDRIC DIGGORY.
  • Albus Dumbledore.
  • Fred Weasley.
  • REMUS LUPIN.
  • HEDWIG!!!!!!!!!!!

Three: Character developments that make no sense to me.

Ron Weasley. Starting out as the bumbling but loyal sidekick, Ron progressed into a selfish, petty, jealous jerk. Harry forgave him time and time again, despite it being pretty clear by book 6 he was growing pretty tired of breaking up the constant fights between Ron and Hermione, of having to defend his friendship with Ron to other students, and wondering if Ron could be trusted. I didn’t understand why Harry wanted Ron to come on The Quest — and indeed, Ron abandoned them the minute the going got tough. Ron and Hermione as a couple I didn’t get, either; there’s no romantic tension between them on page until well into book 6, and isn’t substantial enough for us to believe they got married later on.

Severus Snape. He’s the bad guy — right? While I never thought Snape was actually evil, he wouldn’t ever be mistaken for a nice person. But in books 5 and 6, when we learn that Snape is “only a bully because he was bullied as a child”, I have to say, it feels…false. Bullying is wrong, period; how James Potter and his friends behaved towards young Severus wasn’t okay, and we should recognize they made a poor choice. As adults, Lupin and Sirius do appear to show remorse for that, though they agree they won’t ever be friends with Snape — who is a big jerk. Yes, it was commendable that after all of that, Snape did save Harry’s life on a number of occasions. Yet, his really awful behavior (and there’s a ton of it) means we shouldn’t really sympathize with Snape.

Albus Dumbledore. Not the most disappointing for me, but the most shocking. Dumbledore is the guy, who has such strong intuition into everything that he’s always 37 steps ahead of everybody else. He’s directly responsible for Harry staying alive through the course of the series. So, why, then, does Dumbledore suddenly change in book 6, from wanting to protect Harry at all costs, to making him a spy and unwitting soldier in a war that was never his to fight? It’s immoral, unethical, and makes me question sooooo much about Rowling’s motivations behind everything in The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows.

Remus Lupin. This is my most disappointing. Lupin the practical, the stalwart, the level-headed in a crisis becomes…Lupin the whiny, the angsty, the grumpy. What?! How?! So he fell in love and had a son — doesn’t that usually make tragic cursed individuals HAPPYGrateful? And he hardly seems affected by Sirius’ death, and considering how long those two were friends, that’s just bizarre.

Four: Parts in the universe that leave me scratching my head.

Why do all the professors need to live at Hogwarts? Seriously, why aren’t they allowed to have little houses in Hogsmeade, with their own spouses and kids and pets? This makes the idea of signing a contract to teach here akin to joining a religious order where none of the participants are permitted to marry and reproduce. Odd, very, very odd.

It’s not at all realistic that everyone marries someone they went to high school with. In smaller, close-knit communities, people who have been acquainted for years through relatives or friends often do end up marrying. HOWEVER, the idea that 90% of Hogwarts alumni pair off together is just RIDICULOUS. Lily and James Potter were students together, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, the parents of most of Harry’s friends, etc., etc. And in the epilogue, we find that Harry’s generation did the same exact thing. Just…no.

SO MANY IMPORTANT CHARACTERS DYING OFF PAGE in the last book. The battle for Hogwarts takes up, like 100 pages. WHY is Harry absent for so much of it?! He doesn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to some of his dearest friends, like Lupin. WHY is his POV the only one during these incredibly busy and vitally necessary scenes?!

The last minute twist about Neville Longbottom possibly being The Chosen One. Just…WHAT?!?! And HOW did it never come up before that Harry and Neville shared a birthday, that Voldemort went after both families, that there was a prophecy?! Does this Big Reveal in The Order of the Phoenix mean EVERY TIME Harry asked someone why him, what made him so special, HE WAS LIED TO?! Deatheaters, Aurors, the Ministry of Magic, AND DUMBLEDORE knew about the prophecy. So…just…GAH.

Jim Salvati Full Moon at Hogwarts From Harry Potter Giclee On ...

It’s reasons like this that I just stop myself from thinking too hard about this world nowadays. Holding onto my joy for this series is becoming more difficult as time goes by.

Honestly, I believe that Rowling was an inexperienced writer who had a great idea, and was given a chance to run with it; then her fame went nuclear, and her editors and publisher let her do whatever she wanted. And the series suffered for it. If someone had jumped in about halfway through book 5 and insisted on a complete turnaround from what we got, I wonder if many of us would feel very differently now about Harry Potter.

Scholarly Owl - Friday, July 31, 2020 - Painting with a Twist ...

children's fiction, Parenting, reading

Mini-Reviews: The Picture Books Edition!

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So, last week while I was attending the Thirty Million Words discussion session, it occurred to me that picture books are not something we see a lot of in book blogging. Other age groups and genres are covered up the yingyang, but for whatever reason, picture books aren’t. And since these are the first things most of our children will read, I think reviewing more of these titles and forming a list of recommendations would be helpful (especially for all the parent bloggers out there — she says while wrangling a 3-year-old who can’t accept that eating the last Fig Newton in the bag means they are all gone).

Muffin is enrolled in a program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, and that’s just what it says on the tin: Muffin’s currently up around 600. I worked out that if we read at least 3 new books a week for the next year, we should make it. So I read to him every night. We’ve come across some real gems, and some not so much.

Here’s a smattering of what we’ve accomplished so far this year:

My Little Fox   (5 stars)

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This book gets 10/10 for gorgeous illustrations, a sweet, simple, flowing story, and an absolutely beautiful message about a parent’s love. (It even gets a resounding endorsement from Muffin: “I like that one.”)

I’ve Loved You Since Forever   (4 stars)

Image result for i've loved you since forever by hoda kotb

20/10 for the breathtaking artwork in this one. It’s a moving tribute to a long-waited-for child. The lyrical prose may be a tad difficult for younger children to follow (it’s entirely metaphorical).

Mother Earth and Her Children   (3.5 stars)

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This is subtitled “A Quilted Fairytale” and it surely is. The artwork is portrayed in quilting style, and while I couldn’t tell if real fabric was used for the paintings or photography, the look holds true, and is quite impressive. The prose follows the change of seasons (though I wouldn’t call it a fairytale).

At The Same Moment Around The World   (4 stars)

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Okay, this is just plain cool. It goes all around the globe, spotlighting an incredible array of countries and cultures and time zones. TOP of the list for introducing kids to diversity in an appropriate and engaging way.

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant and Yak and Dove   (3 stars)

Image result for giraffe and elephant book     Image result for yak and dove book

These I’d actually call graphic novels for youngest readers. The storytelling style is similar to comics, even if the art method is nowhere near. There are 3 short tales, all pertaining to the main characters, in each of these titles.

Footprints in the Snow and Big Bad Bubble   (2 stars)

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Just because a picture book is a picture book does not mean they’re appropriate for children or quality literature. We tend to think of everything aimed at small humans as fun and cute and wholesome. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Footprints in the Snow gets a low rating from me due to its nonsensical plot. (Even 6-year-olds appreciate something that makes sense). And Big Bad Bubble gets a thumbs-down for its rather dubious method of encouraging kids to dispell their fears. (I’m not sure I can even explain that one. You may just have to read it for yourself.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day   (1.5 stars)

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Sorry to end on such a disappointment, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles this time round. This book gets a few points for taking a scenario of having a mom and kid at home while the dad is still at work, and the kid misses her dad and doesn’t really like the fact her mom is working from home, so the kid has to find a way to amuse herself. However, the language used by the child narrator to describe her feelings would NEVER be the thoughts of an actual elementary student. The narrator appears about age 8-10, and the vocabulary and thought structure the writer uses are WAY beyond the cognitive ability of a 9 or 10-year-old, especially regarding emotional processing.

From there, it only gets worse. The kid wanders off, alone, in the woods — isn’t that just dangerous? Where the hell was the mother for that part? And the kid drops her handheld gaming device into a pond… And therefore has to find a non-evil-electronics way of staying occupied. This one-sided-moral-lesson-as-plot-device move made my blood boil. Oh, yeah, a young kid can stroll off into the deep, dark woods, in the rain, all by herself — buy GOD FORBID she play video games! And while, yes, there are other things to do in life, and being outside is valuable, too, the way the author presented that view was simply deplorable. It was particularly shocking to see that 1960s perspective in a book that was published in 2017!

And there we have it for this time! See you on the flipside, moths!

 

children's fiction, Young Adult fiction

Is The “We Need Diverse Books” Movement Doing Itself In?

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Hey, don’t you love it when I start off Monday with a controversial post?! *big grin and double thumbs up* Well, this is a topic that’s been riling me for a while now — sorry that it’s formed itself into a post on a Monday.

Unless you’ve been living under the figurative rock, you’ve probably heard about this idea that we, the reading public, particularly in countries with lots of immigrants, really need to have books/movies/TV shows that reflect these minority groups. Now, before anybody jumps down my throat, I LOVE THIS IDEA.

So, I’m not here to get on that soapbox. My soapbox is about the quality of the literature and film being created in the name of inclusion — and the fact that, unfortunately, some of it, in my humble opinion, doesn’t help the cause.

Here are some examples of don’t’s that I’ve come across.

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The Hate U Give. I only recently read this, after hearing about it for months. The intense hype was making me nervous, and I was right to be on edge. While I do not for an instant feel police violence due to racism is acceptable, I have major issues with a book that constantly paints non-black people as the bad guy, seems to glorify a culture that really shuts down the validity of other groups, and just propagates this current, very unsteady, real life argument, without offering any concrete tactics towards resolving it.

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Labyrinth Lost. While my issues with the quality of this novel had a LOT to do with the numerous typos and meandering plot and lack of character development, here’s what bugged me when it came to diversity. The story represents Central American brujas (basically, witchcraft from Latino and Caribbean roots), and the depictions in Labyrinth Lost of ritual animal sacrifice and spells to connect to the land of the dead put a bitter taste in my mouth. This hardly seemed like good publicity for real life Hispanic communities, most of which are Catholic/Christian nowadays.

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Aru Shah and the End of Time. I read Aru Shah and the End of Time this weekend, and I am still fuming. This novel makes a complete mockery of Hindu mythology — and it’s written by an Indian-American author. On top of that, the protagonist makes it clear early on that she doesn’t like “not fitting in” with her white/non-Hindi classmates, and gives the impression that she feels ashamed of her heritage. That is just sad. Having lived for a few years in England, which has a bunch of Hindu residents, I’ve witnessed the importance of their ancient customs in 21st century life, and after reading this book, I can’t help but wonder what they’d think of it, and whether it would be favorable.

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A Thousand Nights. Now, maybe it’s because I have very little knowledge of the original Arabian Nights/1,001 Nights tales, but this retelling just did not make sense to me. The very concept of a woman being able to stop a ruthless egomaniac of a tyrant from killing her by telling him a story every night just seemed prepostorous. I’ve read glowing reviews of this novel, but I just can’t understand the appeal. And that irks me, because when a diverse novel seems so closely stuck to the narrative tradition that ethnic outsiders had difficulty relating to, well, that means the risk is posed for exactly the same thing happening today.

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Rebel of the Sands. Rebel of the Sands went down as one of my biggest disappointments of 2017. I found the premise intriguing, and really wanted to like the story. But the recurring theme of intense sexism and accepted mistreatment of women seriously got under my skin. I don’t care that it’s historically accurate — can’t you determine that a fantasy set in ancient Persian culture can be non-chauvinist? Writing the opposite only perpetrates the notion that all Arab nations/peoples are anti-women’s rights.

Okay, enough complaining — now onto some good examples from this movement.

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Children of Blood and Bone. My major issues with this novel were the unnecessary length (stop making each debut 500 pages, publishers!) and the wandering plot. But as a diversity title, it ROCKS. The world-building of a fantasy African kingdom is just awesome, and it incorporated a bunch of African nature religion beliefs and legends, and created such a rich and interesting culture. Also, the way that the maji characters are discriminated against for being different — and looking different, as they have white hair and often a lighter skin tone than the rest of the natives — is a perfect representation of the (frequently-overlooked) modern prejudices in today’s Africa.

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The Sandwich Swap. The Sandwich Swap is a sweet picture book, inspired by experiences Queen Rania of Jordan had with non-Muslim/non-Arab students at the international school she attended as a child. I first read it when I was finishing my Early Childhood Education degree, and on the hunt for diverse books, as part of our classwork.

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Biblioburro. This is based on a true story about a man in Columbia who started a traveling library, hoping to tackle low literacy rates in rural areas of Central and South America. (It’s an issue that many of us blessed enough to live in well-educated countries may forget about.)

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All The Crooked Saints. Yes, I’ve heard the criticisms about a white author penning this tale set in the Colorado desert with Hispanic protagonists. No, I don’t agree with them. I think Maggie Stiefvater did a great job of portraying a sample of Hispanic/Latino culture in mid-20th-century America, without being condescending, or preachy. The Sorias do speak Spanish, and are Catholic, but that’s only a small part of their characterizations. She focuses much more on what makes them as human as everybody — their hopes and fears, their family dynamics, their weaknesses and eventual growth.

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A Bucket of Blessings. This is a picture book I recently discovered in my local library, searching for new bedtime books for Muffin. I fell in love with it while reading it to him. It’s a retelling of an Indian folktale, with unique illustrations and a relateable voice for today’s children, of all ethnic groups.

I also recommend…

Books: Blue Tights; The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson; Inside Out and Back Again

Movies: The Book of Life; Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana 

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cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction

Warriors Update: Omen of the Stars

Warning: I am breaking all my rules about no spoilers. I just have to.

Also, this is probably going to be an extremely long post. Pull out that comfy sofa and grab some tea and biscuits, and a box (or two) of tissues.

Last night, I finished reading The Last Hope, which is the final book in the Omen of the Stars series, which is considered the last “regular” series of Warriors. (Really, it wasn’t, because there were already many plans for super-editions, and the prequel, Dawn of the Clans, which answers a lot of questions about the beginning of this society and its ways.) Anyway, the point is, in Omen of the Stars, storylines and character arcs that have been going on since either at least the Power of Three, or even the very beginning, are resolved.

I hadn’t really planned on reading through till the end of the book last night, but I hit a point where I just couldn’t stop; it was time to find out what happened. And yet, I’d really been dreading reaching the end of this series. For some reason, I found myself outright resisting reading too fast, or too much of one book at a time. I just…didn’t want this storyline to come to an end.

Just one of the many, many fantastic fan-imagined art images you can find by spending (way too much) time on Google.

This is most likely why I spent so much time looking for all the images I included in this post…

Okay, am I actually going to start reviewing now?

Throughout Omen of the Stars, it’s clear that a lot of things are coming to a head. There is an evil enemy gaining power, the Dark Forest cats. They are the cats that were just real, complete (read unprintable swear words here) in life, and when they die — quite often in bloody battle — they don’t go to a nice, peaceful afterlife (which is StarClan) — they go to (makes sense) the Dark Forest.

Dun-dun-dun!
(Dovewing and Ivypool) If only it could always be like this…

As we read through the Power of Three, we’ve been introduced to Lionblaze, Jayfeather, and Hollyleaf, who are siblings (from the same litter, so, littermates). There’s a prophecy about a trio who will rise to become more powerful than any other cats in living memory, and it’s so that they can defeat this terrible enemy. Because there were three in this litter, it’s just assumed that all three complete the prophecy. (Remember what I said about breaking my spoiler rules? Hold onto your hats, everyone; this is just the start.) Turns out…the prophecy is not that simple and clear-cut.

Lionblaze and Jayfeather are part of the trio; the third is a cousin of theirs, Dovewing. They all have special abilities and skills, apparently from birth, and they hone them to become the greatest threat the Dark Forest has ever seen.

And they’ll need all the help they can get. There are several formidable warriors on the villains’ side, and since they died, they’ve been stewing in what they see as wrongs the Clans did to them. So, the bloodthirsty desire for revenge has been growing; and of course, there’s nothing but time for these lost souls…

Oh my gosh, look! …Where was I? Sorry, just admiring the fan art again…

So, of course, the Dark Forest tries to trick otherwise loyal Clan cats to join the wrong side of the Great Battle…

And the worst part, for me, is that StarClan, which has always watched over the living cats, and not let Clan rivalries divide them, has let the Dark Forest encroach even on that.

One of the major issues throughout the books is the fact that the warrior code — which is basically their laws and regulations — is shown to have some pretty big flaws, and it creates tension not only between the Clans, but within the Clans, too. It means that if you belong to, for example, ThunderClan, you can’t take a mate from, say, RiverClan. But do cats from different Clans still fall in love? Of course. Do some cats take huge offense to that type of thing? Oh, my, yes.

A perfect example is when Tigerstar (think WORST GUY EVER) came to power, back in The Prophecies Begin. He decided that all “half-Clan cats” (meaning mixed parentage) didn’t deserve to live. (Yes, I’m talking genocide.) So, needless to say, he had to be stopped. However, it raised the very important question — how many cats kind of agreed with him that half-Clan lineage was dangerous to the society as a whole?

Gasp… Thank you so much for sharing your creations with us, guys, seriously.

So, I completely love it that Lionblaze and Jayfeather are in fact half-Clan themselves. And Dovewing’s grandfather (Cloudtail) actually started out life as a kittypet. That’s right, he was born to a housecat and then he grew up in the forest and became a warrior. But to many, that makes his origins and his blood tainted — and then his granddaughter is one of The Three! Well, guess what — kittypets are more than good enough for StarClan!

This is the other thing Tigerstar hates: kittypets. Since Firestar, one of the best leaders ThunderClan has ever had, was born a housecat (Cloudtail is his nephew), Tigerstar has had it out for Firestar from day one. And since The Last Hope really states a lot by its title, you get the idea that not only are The Three going to be majorly needed, but, chances are, so is the cat that was once prophesied to save all the Clans.

(Yes, we mean Firestar. Of course we do. To me, this was really a no-brainer. Some of the other cats are really shocked by just how important a former kittypet is to the salvation of their families and civilization as they know it. A really good lesson about not judging a cat by his origins.)

The all-powerful trio first alluded to in the Power of Three series.

So, as we draw closer to the Great Battle… As a reader, there were a whole lot of cringe-worthy moments. For example — as the Dark Forest (literally) gets their claws into nice cats, and tries to turn them, figuring out which ones may be traitors, and may not be, became priority number one. There were some cats that, if they turned out to be traitors, it would simply have broken my heart. (And of course that of the other characters… Er, really, I know it’s just a story…)

The other big thing was needing StarClan to get it together. In StarClan, there aren’t supposed to be boundaries, enemies, grudges or resentments. There are no separate territories to fight over; no reason to remember your differences. It’s all one big hunting ground, and the cats who lived noble, honorable lives — and that’s most of them — get to enjoy each other’s company and watch over their descendants and the friends they left behind. So when StarClan split, it was devastating. The living cats needed them more than ever, and… Oh, my gosh…

Both sides poised for battle!

But here comes in a very interesting thing (that I honestly didn’t think was that big a deal): the Ancients. (Wow, was I wrong.)

The Ancients are the cats whose descendants formed the Clan system. Their history has mostly been told through Jayfeather’s experience (and some time travel moments worthy of Star Trek). But in The Last Hope, there are some major players from that group that really step up to the plate, in the present time. Just amazing.

And, yes, StarClan gets its act together. Never doubted it. (Okay, for a bit there…)

A montage of some of the big plot points from the other series.

All of the information in the last 4 series have been leading up to this point…

From The Prophecies Begin, when Firestar receives his nine lives from StarClan.

And so, we finally reach the Great Battle…

Before I get into the outcome of that: This is literally what I think of the Dark Forest leaders. (I have never sworn so much while reading juvenile fiction.)

  • “Mapleshade, you witch!”
  • “Darkstripe, you bastard!”
  • “Hawkfrost, you a—–e!”
  • “Brokenstar, you wanker!”
  • “TIGERSTAR!” (read unprintable words here)

Begin major spoiler alert:

Hollyleaf, a lost but not forgotten warrior, who more than deserved a chance at redemption.

Hollyleaf thought she’d naturally be the third cat in the prophecy, since she was Lionblaze and Jayfeather’s littermate. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the truth. And being half-Clan really wrecked Hollyleaf. She made some very bad decisions, and ran away from ThunderClan, and was believed to be dead. Not only is she not, but she saves the lives of others in the Great Battle.

Get the tissues out. There was so much crying last night…

Since I generally only have time to read when Muffin is in bed or eating, I usually end up reading late in the evening or very early in the morning. Sometimes, this means I have to keep my feelings about a twist quiet, so that I don’t wake other family members.

Sometimes at 6 a.m. in my house, you might hear shouted out, “YELLOWFANG RULES!!!”

Last night, the tears flowed freely, and my husband asked me why I kept talking to the book.

(Totally worth it.)

Yellowfang came back to defend her adopted Clan in grand style. The Ancients were just awesome. Warriors like Whitestorm and Longtail and Honeyfern returned from their afterlife to kick serious evil feline behind. So…much…crying…

And Spottedleaf…oh, my, Spottedleaf…

Firestar and Spottedleaf, dear friends in life, dear friends forever.

Spottedleaf and Firestar were close friends — okay, almost more than friends, but Spottedleaf was a medicine cat, and she was supposed to not take a mate or have kits, in order to serve her whole Clan and treat every single cat as family. It’s a medicine cat rule. I think it’s kind of an unfair rule. But Spottedleaf chose to abide by it completely, and she never acted on the love she felt for Firestar. There’s a lot of honor in that. Firestar respected her decision; plus, he fell in love with Sandstorm. It all worked out. And after Spottedleaf died, she kept visiting Firestar in his dreams to help, warn and guide him when he became leader. What she wanted most for him was happiness.

So, when it came time to save Sandstorm…Spottedleaf made the ultimate sacrifice.

OH. MY. GOSH.

Firestar and Sandstorm, great mates for all of Firestar’s lives.

More tissues, please.

It was time for Firestar to move on. We all saw that one coming. But it doesn’t feel tragic. It feels right. The Dark Forest was defeated; some of its leaders utterly destroyed (and, man, did they deserve it). A new day dawns for the Clans; so much has been lost, but so much resolved, forgiven, and it’s been proven that they can go on.

As I watch my own kittypet (his name is Toby) sleeping so peacefully on the recliner, I can’t help but wonder, if there really was a Clan system in the woods behind our neighborhood, would he join it, become a warrior, defend their way of life? Would those cats welcome him? Even make him a leader?

The majestic leader of Thunderclan, Firestar.

 

cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, writing

Out of the Wild

Or…my (most likely only) attempt at a Warriors fanfiction…

The woods beyond his housefolk’s garden just seemed intimidating to Toby. For one, he didn’t like to get his paws wet, so he didn’t want to stray too close to the lake. For another, the Twoleg place where his housefolk and their neighbors lived was familiar, comfortable, and safe. At the lake, and in the woods, there were strange animals, and they could be dangerous to kittypets like Toby.

He had heard stories of wild cats living out there, in groups of fierce fighters, not afraid to defend their hunting grounds with tooth and claw. Some of the other kittypets, the brave ones who wandered further than their gardens, and even over the Thunderpath, had seen them. A few had even talked to these wild cats, who called themselves Warriors, and lived in a way most kittypets could never imagine.

But sometimes kittypets went to live with them. When the lake flooded several seasons ago, and some of the Twoleg families had to move away while their nests were being repaired, Frankie and Jessy from down the road had to seek shelter with the Warriors. It was the group called ThunderClan who took them in when their Twolegs had to leave the village. Jessy came back, and then went with her family to a town by the mountains. But Frankie stayed with ThunderClan. He came back to visit every now and again. Except he called himself Stormcloud now.

“Warriors have different kinds of names from kittypets,” he’d explain to anyone who gave him a confused look.

“Can you imagine?” said Rascal, who lived next to Toby. “Having to catch your own food, and sleeping outside in leaf-bare?”

“It’s not so bad,” shrugged Minty, who had stayed with Jessy and Frankie (er, Stormcloud) in the woods after the flood. “The Clans stick together, look out for each other.”

The Warriors hadn’t always lived by the lake. They had come from a forest far away; they had made a Great Journey to reach their new home here, after their forest was mostly cut down to build a new Thunderpath. The thought made Toby sad. He couldn’t imagine having to leave your home in that way, so quickly and against your will.

Because of that, and because some of the wild cats had helped kittypets after the flood, Toby felt sympathy, compassion, and a sort of respect and awe towards the Warriors. He knew Minty felt he wouldn’t be alive without their help.

But still, Toby wondered, if it was him, forced out of his cozy nest, having to hunt for himself, and sleep under the stars, in all kinds of weather, would he be all right? Would he ultimately choose the life of a Warrior, or return to the life he knew?

“One of our greatest leaders was born a kittypet,” Stormcloud told Toby one day. “His name was Firestar. He died before the flood happened, before my time with the Clan. But the stories they tell about him! How he was just like us, living with a Twoleg family and eating their food and wearing a collar. But then he left his housefolk near the old forest, and went to live with ThunderClan, and after many moons he became their leader. He led them through attacks from their enemies, and sickness, and on the Great Journey… He saved them so many times, and they were lucky to have him looking out for them.”

Would he able to do that? Toby wondered. Could he ever be a leader like Firestar?

If the Clans allowed kittypets to become that powerful, maybe they truly weren’t that bad.

children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, movies

Moana: A Review and Some Thoughts

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So, although we’re a little late to the party, we watched Disney’s Moana last night, and it did not disappoint.

In recent years, I have shied away from Disney films, mostly because I don’t like watching yet another sub-par movie produced by a studio whose best decades appear to be behind it. It makes me sad; especially as someone who (like most of my generation) grew up on the Disney classics (not just the European fairytale adaptations, but also such brilliant pieces as Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp). After the extreme letdowns of Frozen, Zootopia, and Inside Out, I was ready to run the opposite direction from Disney/Pixar, and make my family exclusive Dreamworks viewers.

When we saw the trailers for Moana, and White Fang said, “Let’s give it a try,” I silently groaned.

Note to the preview people: Please stop making *such* cheesy trailers that do not do the actual movie justice.

I cried at least 4 times before the end of this film. Moana is amazing. Not only is the animation the complete, utter zenith of current technology and talent, the intense inner beauty of the story that permeates every single scene should move even the more jaded adult viewer. There are so many glorious individual moments, in character interaction, developing backstory, foreshadowing, and personal growth.

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And can we just talk about our heroine for a minute here. The title character and protagonist is DA BOMB. Daughter of the village chief, Moana isn’t just beautiful and smart, she is a beautiful soul, and she is intuitively smart — she doesn’t simply retain knowledge and put it into practice well, she figures things out with her heart. The true absolute gorgeousness of this young woman as who she is makes me cheer and hold out hope for the future of humanity.

Moana is not a damsel in distress. Nor is she a clever girl who still ends up getting rescued by the guy. Unlike any Disney movie I’ve ever seen before, Moana becomes the embodiment of the power to change her circumstances and lead her people. (I feel my chest swelling with feminine pride even as I write this sentence.)

The female icons in this story are incredible. Moana’s grandmother; her mother (who shows unwavering faith in her daughter); even the island goddess; they’re all excellent examples of what and who little girls can grow up to be, whether they choose a traditional or pioneering path.

Let’s focus on the story itself for a bit. The messages of never giving up, of redemption and forgiveness, are powerful. The inner strength Moana must summon to continue her quest is awesome. The inclusion of Polynesian legend and culture feels authentic and interesting. This is not another “politically correct” grab at the diversity platform — this is simply a tale of a Hawaiian tribe and part of their history.

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And the PIG. After the unbelievable cuteness of this fictional pig, I may be giving up pork products forever. 

The music wasn’t just fun — it was relevant to its part in the story, it was well-produced, it was moving. (That’s another refreshing departure from my more recent experience of Disney.) And of course the animation of the ocean, the stars, the mountains was all breathtaking.

I have never been to Hawaii; I have often considered going (particularly after Lilo and Stitch — just without the aliens). But now I really want to go, and I think I’d be seeing this island paradise with new eyes — not merely the eyes of a European descendant who spends a lot of time in a rather cold climate; but as a tourist who can appreciate the rich and layered beauty of the landscapes, the culture, and the lifestyle. (That’s the real win for increasing tolerance, by the way.)

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So, if you’ve already seen Moana, good for you. If you haven’t — rent it from Netflix (as we did), request it from your library, grab it from Redbox. Skip the popcorn this time; acquire some coconuts and bananas and mangoes. Gather the kids and grandkids round, and let this tale encourage them to go after their visions of the future.

Just one last note in my gushing about this film — can I have the pig?

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Autism, cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, movies, reading, Science fiction, writing, Young Adult fiction

My Writing Influences

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Good morning, everyone! Per the poll on my Twitter account, oh, only about a hundred months ago (no, really, about a week, I think), I will be selecting the next few blogging topics based on the feedback from those of you who actually read these posts!

The top choice was *my writing influences*. So, I present you with the answer to said subject. (Disclaimer: I did warn you ahead of time that you asked for this…)

Cats. And other animals, but a lot of cats. The tricky thing about trying to write about animals is that, as humans, we can only get inside their heads so much. Or, so I believed.

For a long time, I’d wanted to include talking animals in my writing, and my attempts fell flat. Then I started reading Warriors by Erin Hunter. I’ve waxed poetic plenty about that series in other posts, so I won’t go full throttle here, but suffice it (for the sake of this topic) to say that it completely changed my mind on what was possible.

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Mythological creatures and tales. Since I was old enough to read on my own, I was hunting down stories of the ancient Greek legends, Grimm’s fairytales, and pretty much anything involving unicorns, dragons, and mermaids. I gobbled up almost everything I could find centering on all the species of faeries and animals that don’t exist. I’ve adapted what parts of the legends work best for my story when it comes to The Order of the Twelve Tribes.

Music. I do have a writing playlist (which changes to fit with my current WIP). As those of you who have read Masters and Beginners will know, I’ve placed song lyrics at the start of each chapter throughout the novel. These are homages to my playlist while I was writing/editing Volume 1. So, that will be different in each installment. But it gives you a pretty good idea of what I’ve been listening to.

My previous life in England, and all the English authors I’ve read since forever. Charles Dickens, Peter S. Beagle, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling — it’s a kind of a small miracle there are any American authors on my shelves. (And, yes, there are a few.) But these Brits developed my craft, the type of pacing I follow, the use of (hopefully) clever humor, and reinforced my passion not just to tell a story but to tell it well.  

And since I spent 4 years in Great Britain, I’m just used to thinking in both American and the Queen’s English at the same time, and so many of my characters started morphing into people who originally came from London/Cornwall/Oxfordshire/Edinburgh, and I didn’t fight it.

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Doctor Who. I would flat out be lying if I claimed my writing hadn’t been influenced by Doctor Who. (I have at least three TARDIS references in Volume 1 alone, for the love of Gallifrey.) And while it may seem a bit too ambitious, I truly hope that some day, in some way, I can create something on a parallel with the beauty of some of the early episodes of the show’s reboot.

Warehouse 13. If any of you have seen that TV show, you’ll probably recognize bits of the Warehouse in the Annex, and the sort of structure of the Regents in the idea of the Council and the Order’s hierarchy. (And this is as close to spoilers as I get, I swear.) I’ve had a few really favorite programs, but few have truly stayed in my heart as much as DW and WH 13. 

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Theories on lost knowledge or cultures. Again, for those of you now familiar with the plot of Masters and Beginners, you’ll know that I’m fascinated not only with the mythology and legends of different civilizations, but you may have noticed that I’ve dug pretty deep to find some unique twists for my story. My ideas about the origin of faeries and the Nephilim are actually not completely my own; they’re developed from some very old (think the Middle Ages) and rather obscure Celtic and Hebrew lore. But I took the jist of a lot of research and bent it and molded it until it was shaped like The Order’s world.

Autism. It’s impossible for me not to see life through the lens of autism. And since I’ve read about 62% of the YA/fantasy novels ever printed, I can tell you with some authority that there really aren’t that many healthy, realistic depictions of autism out there. So I decided to write my own. In Volume 1, I’ve introduced not one but two characters on the spectrum (one it’s stated early on, the other will probably be a surprise to most of you). In Volume 2 and beyond, there will be a much greater focus on them.

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My furry angel. You’ve all seen this picture by now, as Toby is my muse for the artwork on the series. (Feel free to ooh and aaw over his cuteness.) Having a real life model for cat behavior was very helpful for putting together the characters of Jules and Sammy.

Pretty pictures. It sounds almost trite, but if you think about it, it’s really important to surround yourself with beauty when you’re hoping to be creative — especially when you’re writing about really serious things like discrimination and losing loved ones and staring down your own imminent demise. (And here you thought I was just writing about fun and glittery faeries and talking cats!) It helps to remind you that — as Samwise Gamgee would say — there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for.

So, there we are! I hope this appeals to your sensibilities of what you wanted to know about what influences my fictional work! Don’t forget to put a specific question for me in the comments for next week’s post, Author Q & A!

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Autism, books, children's fiction, family, Fantasy fiction, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

How to Successfully Raise a Second Generation Bookdragon

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(And, what the heck is up with my super long titles these days?…)

This is an important issue, something that we need to consider when we venture into parenthood and spawn — er, bring our lovely sons and daughters into the world. (Yes, I really mean “lovely” while I have a toddler literally pawing at me to obtain a restricted object.)

Anyway, when we (meaning people who value reading) have a family, the idea is that we want to pass this love on to our own children. And how should we do that? Well, of course there’s reading to them when they’re still too young to understand not to chew on books. And encouraging them to visit libraries (once they’re old enough to rein it before they destroy the whole building). And once they are old enough, to choose something to read. Not just the assigned stuff for school, but something for fun.

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Now, with my oldest, I have successfully created a monster. (Yes, I meant to say it like that.) When he was in 4th grade or so, White Fang was growing a bit tired of the juvenile fiction he was accustomed to (he’d already gone through Harry Potter, and didn’t care for Percy Jackson or A Series of Unfortunate Events). So, in an effort to make sure boredom stayed away, I went on the hunt for a long series with an age-appropriate target audience. After wearing holes in the carpet at my local library, I discovered Warriors.

Warriors is brilliant. It has action, mystery, friendship, love, family, and plenty of death. (Don’t worry, nothing too gory.) Cats die all the time — in battle, from sickness, from being on the wrong side of a human road, from something going wrong with having kittens, and sometimes, even just from old age. So while I wouldn’t recommend it for your 6-year-old, I can confidently state (just Google “Warriors fan art”) that middle-schoolers and up love this series.

And this epic is perfect for breeding good bookworm habits (that will one day turn against us). The series requires an attention span, remembering what happens from one book to the next, analyzing character motivations, and even “shipping” their favorite couples or potential relationships.

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White Fang has certainly lived up to all of this, and more. He has read over 50 books (including some of the novellas and manga) in the Warriors “canon,” knows some of the YouTube fan videos by heart, used to be involved in one of the roleplaying games, started his own fan community, and has decided just what needs to happen next in the newest series.

Last week, I pre-ordered the third instalment in A Vision of Shadows, so that it would arrive on release day (just like a good bookdragon parent), and when it showed up in his room, he proceeded to stay up late reading the first 100 pages. That’s a good boy.

However, this type of behavior can breed obsession. While there are much worse things than Warriors that he could be fixating on, he’s a bit predisposed to getting slightly obsessed, anyway, and he needs to have other stuff going on in his life. Like, friends, school, sleep, balanced meals…

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And — just to prove what a truly bookdragon parent I am — since he has almost completed his TBR (yes, I’m serious), and Shattered Sky was nearly the last item on it as of January 2017… Yes, I am freaking out a little here. Because I am not made of money, and I cannot order the rest of the TBR right now, and at the rate he’s going, Shattered Sky will reach its place on the shelf before this spring break is out…

See what I mean about the plan backfiring? Here I am, thinking it’d be just great to have someone else in the family who shares my passions, and then…

And in terms of sharing the fandom, I will not be able to read Shattered Sky until he finishes it. But I currently have my own TBR, and A Vision of Shadows #3 is a bit further down it. So I will be behind him, again. (I’ve been playing catch-up with Warriors forever.)

And he’s already told me something that happened, drat it.

I have officially created a monster.

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Autism, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, reading, writing, Young Adult fiction

The Autistic Bookdragon

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How do we differ from other bookworms? We may have a very different reading experience than most people, based partly on how we perceive emotions, partly on our personal triggers, and on our preferences for taking in information.

Take yours truly as Exhibit A. I generally don’t read romances, because I simply don’t have a very romantic nature. (Yes, you may think of me as Spock. I consider that a compliment.) I gave up reading murder mysteries because a) oh, the boring and predictable formula, and b) all the yucky gross crime scene/scientific details. (Science has too many big words and concepts that I only partially grasp; and I pass out when I scrape my knee, so hearing all the nitty-gritty on someone else’s murder is just no.)

My favorite genres are fantasy and history, and I definitely prefer YA. This is for several reasons — too much explicit language and/or sexual content makes my skin crawl (in a very bad way). So I pretty much gave up reading adult fiction about 3 years ago. (I’ll make an exception for nonfiction if it’s a subject I’m really interested in.) Also apparently a lot of adults enjoy reading about relationships and jobs, neither of which I am an ace at, not in the traditional sense. The non-relatability becomes a major downer.

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Given that a whole bunch of the world doesn’t think the same way I do, it’s kind of hard to find characters that I can really feel something for, beyond just enjoying their story. There are a few masters of the written word who have produced this in me — Terry Pratchett and Erin Hunter. To give you an idea of what percentage Vulcan I am: I did not cry at the end of The Book Thief, The Raven King, Mockingjay, Allegiant, or A Monster Calls. (I did at least have a lump in my throat, don’t worry, I’m not Khan.) But I will sob actual, messy tears without fail during the climatic scenes of Mort, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Thud!, and The Last Hope. After finishing Forest of Secrets (Warriors: The Prophecies Begin), I literally could not sleep. (See, I am not a robot.)

I have very little patience for characters whose motivations I cannot understand. If they’re breaking a law out of complete choice, not because there’s no other way to accomplish what they need to do, then I probably won’t finish the book. If they’re too caught up on their crush, when there are so many other nice things in the world waiting for them, I probably won’t like the book. If they make a choice I would never make, then even if it fits the story, I’ll determine I don’t like that character, and often not that author.

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I don’t do well with really long paragraphs full of incredibly descriptive big words — that all could amount to, “Andrew walked into the kitchen, opened a cabinet, and took out a glass.” My brain simply doesn’t comprehend the point of writing this way, nor can I truly imagine all of this stuff. That’s why I like the movie versions, because then I can really visualize what a Hobbit-hole is, or a dais, or just how much treasure Smog is hoarding.

(Yes, I have an IQ of 142, but I can’t whistle or figure out how to use the lawnmower, or determine just what color “puce” is. We all have our flaws.)

So I greatly prefer simplified writing styles, which are most often found in MG-YA novels, since middle-schoolers aren’t expected to know what the word “iridescent” means, or just how a political conspiracy works. And although there’s now the controversy about too many NA novels being labeled YA, I’m mature enough to decide for myself whether I want to read those selections or not. (Most of the time I choose not.)

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And I don’t like literary analysis. It was the major reason I decided not to major in English. I can totally do, “In The Scorpio Races, Puck is worried about her older brother going to the mainland because they’re already orphans, and she’ll feel that she’ll lose him, too, if he leaves the island.” I cannot do, “In The Wednesday Wars, there are several allegories that correspond the Vietnam War directly to rites of passage made by ordinary teenagers.” (White Fang and I read that for a book club, and neither of us got it.)

Before I read a book, I have to hunt down spoilers, because I need to know if there’s anything in it that will set off my triggers. (Among them: gory violence, violence against animals, too much swearing, graphic bedroom scenes, descriptions of surgeries, reptiles featuring prominently, and scenes written from the viewpoint of a drug-induced hallucination.) It’s a bit time-consuming, but worth it, if I can avoid being majorly scarred for a few months afterwards. (Yes, months. One word — Mockingjay.)

For those of you wondering if all of this doesn’t mean I really limit what I read — well, yeah, to a degree, I do. But I am totally okay with that. Having less choices helps cut down on the possibility for overstimulation. And staying in my comfort zone is a must 90% of my life.

So, if you happen to know of some great kids’ authors, pass on the recommendations.

 

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children's fiction, Children's Health, family, Fantasy fiction, reading, writing, Young Adult fiction

Discussion: Tropes in YA That Need to Take a Break

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(Note: None of these photos were taken by my hand, using a cat I know, or books I own. Per my usual aesthetic, I borrowed them from Google.)

So, this is a topic that’s been getting a lot of batting around on the online forums lately. I’ve seen several posts on the subject in the last few weeks, and a few of them I agreed with wholeheartedly. This is becoming A Big Deal.

Whenever you read a lot from one genre, you find that certain formulas are applied to many of them. (This is also called “tropes.” Don’t ask me why. I only discovered that myself about 3 months ago.) In YA fiction, there have developed some tropes that are so predictable that many readers (the fanbase of this genre) are warily eyeing new releases, anticipating that these books will contain these tropes, and potentially ruin the reading experience.

Examples: Orphan protagonists (think Harry Potter spinoffs to the enth degree). Rebellious teenagers just for the sake of being rebellious (sorry-not-sorry, folks, but drinking/smoking/drugs/underage sex still is not cool). Lots and lots of swearing and sexual jokes. Absent parents — either they’re dead (see above), or they’re simply not aware of/don’t care what their kids are up to. True love at first sight between a ridiculously naive female narrator and a stereotypically “bad boy” main character. Love triangles between said narrator and said bad boy and a new guy, the “kind she should go for.”

All right, I’d better stop before everyone hurts their heads bashing their keyboards in agreement.

And I am not the only one who thinks we need to set fire to these tropes and run the other way.

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Here’s why these tropes are harmful:

Most of the time, they create an unrealistic picture of adolescence. Especially when we’re addressing impressionable 13-14-15-year-olds. We should not be telling them getting drunk/breaking into cars/skipping school is fashionable and necessary to live a full life. More YA novels (contemporary, fantasy, historical) need to be presenting realistic consequences for this type of behavior. We need to have more unplanned teenage pregnancies, rehab center admissions, accidental deaths (that aren’t romanticized) addressed in such fiction. If our children are the future, then I think we’ve pretty much shot our future in the foot by encouraging it to steal liquor from their parents and sleep with the whole town before its 17th birthday.

It gives young people unrealistic and even dangerous expectations for relationships. Young ladies, listen to the voice of reason — If you meet a young man who wants to take you on a shoplifting spree instead of to a dinner with roses and candlelight, dump him, now. He is not the man you’re looking for (in fact, he’s not a man at all). And to the young gentlemen out there — If you’re stuck on a girl who “can’t decide” between you and some other guy, go find someone who totally appreciates you without constantly comparing you to someone else. You deserve better than that.

On a slightly less serious note, it’s just plain tiresome for readers to keep coming across the very same character types/plot premise. We know the narrator has faced tragedy. We get it already. Stop moaning. Why can’t we have a happy, positive orphan (like Anne of Green Gables?) Or a kid whose parents are divorced but is determined to make the best of his/her new situation? The most inspiring stories are the ones where the main character didn’t let their circumstances steal their hope. Not the ones where they just wouldn’t shut up about their crappy lot in life.

Back to the very serious — bad parenting is no joke. What, exactly, is the point of having parents of teen characters being “so cool” that they’ll let their kids stay out till 3 a.m., possibly committing petty theft, or enacting the ritual that lets Cthulhu back into the world, without seeming to care? It is not cool, people. Parents are supposed to be role models for how to behave as adults. They need to care what their kids are doing at 3 a.m. And if they’re bad parents to prove a point — could they be addicts, mentally ill, or (unglorified) criminals? — then I really think the author has a duty to the next generation by establishing that these are problems in life. Not a career goal or something we can just make fun of and ignore.

Personally, as an author and a parent, I take pride in writing about mature, stable moms and dads who aren’t afraid to discipline their kids for breaking the rules, work at their marriages, and hold down law-abiding jobs. Dysfunctional families need to stop being seen as the norm to create a concept of functionality in our future spouses/parents/leaders.

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When I was growing up, I remember reading lots of YA novels that focused on the negatives of substance abuse, of healthy ways of dealing with a break-up, of all the reasons not to choose “the bad boy/girl,” of why you should finish school and get to know yourself before trying to find a soulmate. Apparently these books aren’t being sold anymore — or they certainly aren’t selected by publishers post 2010. Instead, the market is saturated with all these tropes — and they’re setting a very, very wrong example.

Here are some YA authors that I would point to as setting a good example (go look them up, everyone): Robert Beatty, Carrie Anne Noble, Erin Hunter (the Warriors series), still JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, indie author Nate Philbrick, and Tony Abbott (most recently, The Copernicus Legacy).

And although my publishing date isn’t set in stone yet, I’ll take a moment to shamelessly self-promote. The Order of the Twelve Tribes: Volume 1: Masters and Beginners should be available in the spring. It’s a contemporary fantasy novel (first in a series), with very little impolite language, no underage sex, functional families, homeschooling, and the concept of taking responsibility for your actions.

Here’s a summary:

When Sophie Driscoll’s grandmother dies, her parents take over running the Annex, a warehouse facility that stores magical artifacts and documents proving the existence of faeries. As she and her brothers, Flynn and Cal, adjust to a new house, new friends, and a new way of living, Sophie discovers that one of her new acquaintances is protecting a dangerous secret. Now caught between two equally imposing groups — one of which is after the girl’s very blood –Sophie and her family must prove where their loyalty lies — and survive the choice they make.

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