Essay, Ramblings

The Hero Complex and the Importance of Representation in Young Adult Literature

Whilst I make my way through some good reads (and reread some old favorites sorry couldn’t resist whoops), I’ve got some thoughts.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism lately about the hero protagonist in young adult literature. While I want to say that I get the criticism, I don’t. Sure, we need to celebrate our run-of-the-mill characters. Our average-Joes. I’m not saying they should be ignored.

What I am saying, however, is that all teenagers and all young adults and, honestly, all humans are the heroes of their own stories. Why can’t they be written as such?

There are young people in the world *raises hand* who suffer from mental illness. We struggle with our minds. Like Jacob wrestling the angel, we are in constant battle for control over something that should be so simple — our brains and our own thoughts. And yet, we have unpredictable moments of weakness. We have moments where we hear these voices that tell us how unimportant we are. How replaceable we are. How burdensome we are.

And then there are books. I think of how there are books in this world and I sigh with relief. I can’t begin to list how many books have saved me. Book lovers abuse books so often, too! We let them sit on our shelves for years and years and years to collect dust and wait and pine for us. Like a loyal dog, they’re still there waiting for us, even after we’ve cheated on them with newer, prettier, thicker tomes.

Okay, Lauren. We get it. What does this have to do with heroic protagonists?

Ever go to a Harry Potter midnight premiere? (Aww, remember those days?) People dressed up. People carried wands. People proudly wore their house colors and showed off their collected merchandise. And every single nerd attending that movie and/or book release felt immortal. We felt powerful. We felt brave. And we understood how valuable we were.

Harry Potter was the Boy Who Lived. He was special at Hogwarts. It didn’t matter that he lived under the stairs in his muggle world. Here, in this new and magical place, he was revered and irreplaceable.

And so too are the young people reading these books.

Being a young adult is hard enough. You’re stuck between being an adult and being a kid and so others either treat you as though you have to carry the world on your shoulders or as though you’re the one who needs to be carried. Add a feeling of invisibility, a sense of insignificance, and the rising diagnoses of mental illness and it’s clear to see that students are in need of some reassurance and comfort.

While I applaud students who seek out literature that is beyond their reading level (I was totes that kid. Let’s face it, I’m still that kid.), they should have an option to read — well, whatever they want, really. I’m sure students can find heroes in classic literature. I remember feeling inspired by Jane Eyre and her independence as a young(er) reader. It’s possible.

But imagine a reader picking up Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe after they’ve begun to identify as someone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Imagine a reader who has only seen white heroes in the media finally finding someone who looks like her in The Wrath and the Dawn series.

Imagine a reader feeling incredibly anxious and depressed due to recent events involving police brutality and coming across The Hate U Give.

The protagonists don’t even need to be wand-wielding wizards to be the heroes of their stories (although, have you read El DeafoNot enough people are talking about a graphic novel about the beloved deaf superhero). And when students begin to see books as a mirror into their own worlds, they respond in a far more positive way. These books stick. And when books stick, we create better readers.

Let’s create a world of better, more inclusive books.

All right. Enough of my ramblings. I’ve been under the weather the past couple of days so expect a lot of tea reviews this weekend.

Like, a lot.

Keep reading, my loves.

Book Review

Book Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy

 

DSC_0774Tash Hearts Tolstoy
Written by Kathryn Ormsbee
Published by Simon & Schuster
Page count: 367
Tea Pairing: Yerba Mate for those times when Tash needed a meditative moment. New to yerba mate? Try this sampler from Adagio to find your favorite. And don’t forget – there’s a honey sale going on as we speak!

Natasha Zelenka, nicknamed Tash, is an aspiring film creator. With the help of her best friends and some willing novice actors, Tash produces a webseries titled Unhappy Families based off of one of her favorite Tolstoy novels. It’s her dreamto go to Vanderbilt and study filmmaking. And when her webseries gets a shout-out from a popular YouTuber and a nomination for a Golden Tuba Award, her dream is likely to become a reality.

Even better, her nomination means she has a chance at meeting fellow YouTuber Thom Causer, a boy she’s been flirting with since they discovered each other’s channels. But can she keep her friends as her focus shifts to her successful webseries? And how will Thom react to her confession that she’s a romantic asexual?

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I’ll be honest, this book is a little slow in the beginning. It took a while for me to get into it.

(Which, after the fact, I found a little cute because you know what other books take a while to get into? Literally anything Tolstoy has ever written.)

But once you get into it, there are so many beautiful things about this book:

  • An asexual protagonist. Let me repeat for the people in the back. An asexual protagonist. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with an asexual protagonist and her story is so accurate. Her confession of her sexuality (confessionS, actually, as people who come out never really come out once) is often met with confusion and misunderstanding and sometimes even anger. But we have something wonderful here. Tash sticks to her guns and never once sacrifices her happiness or her comfort for a boy. She knows who she is, she spent a long time getting there, and her message is that you should never sacrifice yourself for someone else. Such a great message for teens.
  • The theme of friendship and family. Ormsbee has every reason to let Tash pursue her dreams and leave behind everyone she knows, especially when things in her family grow tense. But Ormsbee lets her readers know that it’s so much braver and better to stick with the ones you love.
  • The message that our idols aren’t perfect. Yeah, Tash hearts Tolstoy (it’s right there in the title). But one of my favorite scenes includes her admitting that in all actuality, Tolstoy was a pretty crappy guy. Perhaps that’s why I had trouble getting into this book. Tash would wax poetic about how amazing Tolstoy was and I knew better. That scene was such a moment of redemption for me and it doubles as a great message for readers.

Ormsbee’s book truly surprised me in the end. I’m going to miss this one. And I really wish there was a Tea Time with Tash vlog because I would totally watch it.

(Let’s face it, I’d watch Unhappy Families too.)

Give this one a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Read on, my friends!

Uncategorized

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Where do you read? After a long day at work, I spoiled myself and found a spot by the water at my favorite park. Naturally, I brought some reading material with me. Tolstoy’s not a bad model, am I right?

I’ve been MIA lately, actually, because of Tolstoy. I always promised myself I’d finally read War and Peace and with a trip to see The Great Comet on Broadway in late July, I devoted an entire month to making that happen.

I’m good when it comes to two things:

  1. Time limits. Give me a date when something needs to be finished and it’ll be finished.
  2. Doing things that people tell me I can’t. Which is pretty funny when you think about it. I’m as obedient as they come. But if you tell me that I’ll never finish War and Peace, well, guess what? Imma finish War and Peace.

So the takeaways of this? War and Peace is long. War and Peace is heavy — it actually took me some time to get used to walking again without the Russian tome sitting in my purse. The Great Comet is strange and magical and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and I recommend it. (The lighting, you guys. THE LIGHTING.) And quite happily for me, I’m back. I’ll be reading and reviewing hopefully a lot, starting with the above book.

Any book requests? Anything you’d like me to cover? Want some bookish recipes? Reach out and I’ll happily oblige.

I’ve missed you guys. Peace and love,

Lauren