Monday, October 10, 2011

Paper Girls: Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns

Lately I've been thinking a great deal about two of my favorite female characters in the YA canon: Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young. These two characters, though driven by different motivations and back-stories, share very similar qualities. What I love about them is that they're real, vulnerable, and they aren't perfect all of the time. I feel like these two girls have a depth and uniqueness that many female characters don't have.

And I empathize with these two girls a great deal. Especially Margo. Granted, I'm not some idolized popular beauty queen in a public high school--but the striking difference between the Margo that the world sees and the Margo that Margo sees is the part that I empathize with.

The fact of the matter is, Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young are not perfect. They are not heroines, or victims, or romantic leads. They are not soft and frilly or "one of the boys". They are portrayed as brilliant and mysterious and hypnotizing and yet, the more we learn about them, the more we see that that's all conjecture--sometimes the girls are those things, but it's impossible for them to maintain.

And so we have a Paper Girl.

So often I feel like the bits of me that I know and the bits that other people see do not add up. If you were to take all of the pieces of me and add them together, I don't think that you would get something greater than that sum. I think you would get a mathematical nightmare. I'm inconsistent and conflicted and like Margo and Alaska, most of the people around me have no idea.

I understand why Margo could feel so empty in her paper town and why Alaska smokes to die. It's impossible to maintain an image for other people to see when it isn't who you are. It's exhausting and frustrating and it leaves you empty--a wrapped up gift with pretty paper and nothing inside (or worse, socks).

But the beautiful thing about Margo Roth Spiegelman and Alaska Young is that they have people who love them anyway. Sure, you can make the argument that Pudge only loves the Alaska he sees--but at the end of the book I would argue that he loved the Alaska that he didn't know too. And then you have the wonderful Q, who comes to this awesome realization:

"And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn't being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her. I thought of her asleep on the carpet with only that jagged sliver of sky above her. Maybe Margo felt comfortable there because Margo the person lived like that all the time: in an abandoned room with blocked-out windows, the only light pouring in through holes in the roof. Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made--and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make--was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl." ~John Green

This knowledge sums up so much of how I feel sometimes, and it's one of my favorite quotes in Paper Towns.

My only problem, and the question I would pose to John Green were I to get the chance, is this:

How do you stop being a paper girl?

Because the Alaska and the Margo models don't seem to work long term.

(this post can be found originally on one of my other blogs, however, it was a perfect candidate for this blog as well, so I am posting it here. Original Post)

Monday, October 3, 2011

"What good is supposed to look like"

I have been debating for a while now what exactly I could post on here. While this is more of a recommendation/'rah rah rah' you-should-read-this-book-if-you-haven't already-type post, it is also an attempt to mention the many weighty themes Picoults presents in her book Nineteen Minutes which make it so intriguing (sp?).

For many obvious and even more subtle reasons, I love, love, love this book. Its one of those that I couldn't put down, despite its length (to me anything over 400 pages is a bit hefty, but that's just my humble opinion). The title to this post comes from a journal entry which serves as an ongoing division between each chapter. I love the use of this technique. It is one of the factors which gave me the feeling of wanting to read more- this whole idea of, well, whose journal is this? Why did Picoult use this literary device? The journal entries give insight into one of the main character's deepest thoughts- but the whole time I was reading the book, I was like 'ok, surely this person is going to say their name or give some dead-give away clue as to who they are'. Well, I got nada. It was interesting to see the development of this character through their journal entries which they intended to keep private, and conversely, were not able to speak these words to another human being in their life and thus resorted to and found comfort in writing down their thoughts.

I still am unsure as to if this book would 'qualify' as YA lit. It certainly is based on young adults, set in a high school with teenagers, but some serious, life-changing events occur that (in my mind atleast), force it out of the comfort of young adult lit into adult fiction. Some of the weighty themes I alluded to earlier include but are certainly in no way limited to the following: teenage angst, anger, violence, bullying, depression, memory, the legal system, being 'on trial', unrequited love, friendship lost, parent-child relationships and communication, bearing and rearing children, teenage/young pregnancy, absence of parents (physically and emotionally), disconnect between parents and children on emotional and psychological levels, etc. The mere fact that these and more themes are so wonderfully woven together throughout the story are the many reasons why I love and recommend this book.

The journal entry which the title to this post comes from reads in its entirety as follows:

"Nobody wants to admit to htis, but bad things will keep on happening. Maybe that's because it's all a chain, and a long time ago someone did the first bad thing, and that led someone else to do another bad thing, and so on. You know, like that game where you whisper a sentence into someone's ear, and that person whispers it to someone else, and it all comes out wrong in the end.
But then again, maybe bad things happen because it's the only way we can keep remembering what good is supposed to look like."

I love this particular journal entry. Thoughts?