Tuesday, January 11, 2011
(Mean) Girrrl Power, Victorian-Supernatural Style
Any action advancing my own girl power, despite what society might say, will do quite nicely, thank you. And so much of this novel focuses on young women's attention to and judgment of their appearances, that working with image will factor in strongly.
So: I'll ponder my own persona to refine it, both in real life and on the interwebs. AND I'll own up to the fact that most people buying and talking and blogging about books these days are female, so those are the folks I must think of as my primary audience and the first wave of Action Readers.
Let's face it, plenty of research has shown us that when you give $ or education to women, they tend to use these resources to improve their entire communities at far higher rates than men do, who tend to use substantial amounts for their own personal purposes. AND women tend to make up 85+% of the people in book groups. So why not begin by focusing primarily on women and youth for our movement to change the world, one book at a time?
Don't get me wrong: I love men. And they will be welcome at all times. But this book has helped to convince me - through the mode of story rather than argument - that women who own their power and beauty can change not only this world, but the Realms beyond.
And, conversely, they can be far crueler than men, not only to advance important purposes in their lives, but sometimes just for sport. So I want all my endeavors to contain elements that reward behaviors that demonstrate compassion and non-harming, helping to shape young women especially into the decent folks who can save the world. The 'killer instinct' will survive on its own, I have no doubt.
So you may be asking yourself, what in the world is this book about, anyway? Well, you might remember Libba Bray from Going Bovine, the recent Prinz winner (best YA fiction of the year) and my review What If Holden Caulfield Wrote The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy? (link here). This is her first novel, quite far afield from GB in time period, tone, and focus. And utterly solid, compulsively readable at that. It's the first in a trilogy, of which I realized I'd read the last book a year or so ago when one of my students was doing so as well. Reading A Great and Terrible Beauty has been a bit like watching the ole claymation classic (and best Christmas special EVER), "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town": "Oh, so that's why he wears a red suit!" and "Oh! He laughs Ho! Ho! Ho! just like a seal!" I finally understand much more of the backstory to The Sweet Far Thing and rather wish I'd gone in the order the author intended!
Super-quick Summary/Teaser: Gemma Doyle, recently of India where her mother was murdered trying to save her from the otherworldly evil-incarnate Circe, arrives at Spence Academy in England only to find a group of uber-catty teens playing some pretty vicious mean-girl smack-down day in, day out. Gemma keeps having visions of other Realms, including those of a little girl who leads her to a cave in the forest nearby where she discovers a diary of two previous Spence girls who became witches and then died trying to conjure ole Circe. One thing leads to another and 2 catty girls plus Gemma's poor, ungraceful roommate create their own little cult. One wants beauty, one love, one power, one to know herself. Rising action of the plot ensues.
And a rip-snorter of a plot it is. You will NOT be bored reading A Great and Terrible Beauty, though you might be appalled at the girls' actions, and I wouldn't suggest reading it just before sleep... Although it's not wildly graphic most of the time, creepiness abounds, not to mention some surprisingly steamy dream sequences.
Sample Chapter to test the waters of Bray's style in this novel (oh so different from Going Bovine), try this excerpt:"Chapter One"
Sweet theme-related Bray quote from the bonus author interview: "The thing is that every choice carries with it a sense of personal responsibility and accountability and a degree of insecurity. You have to live with that and step outside the fear." (11)
Give it a whirl if you're ready to own your girl power, or just want to recall the darker side of growing up.