Saturday, December 13, 2014

When The Authors Get It Wrong

That is one damn scary thought. I really don’t have any statistical proof when I say this; just making a na├»ve observation, but I think that the majority of bookworms lead extraordinarily ordinary lives. As in not terminally ill, not a psychopath, not an assassin, have never been raped, don’t have Asperger’s, don’t have LGBT related acceptance issues, are not Holocaust victims, don’t have dead parents, lovers, or best friends. And that one line just described the themes explored in about the majority of realistic YA novels.

So why are they written? If I had cancer (God forbid), I really don’t think I would have like to read The Fault In Our Stars ­– would you? Would you like to read about how a girl in remission meets her one true love at a support group who in the end dies? Or My Sister’s Keeper where Kate’s cancer felt like some deux ex machina tool to find a boyfriend who also dies? I’d most probably read some chick-lit day in and out and celebrate Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl movies and lots of K-drama. And maybe some of those inspirational books people in my life feel obligated to buy me.

So these stories are written for the sake of the ones with extraordinarily ordinary lives. So that we can empathize – like Atticus advises Scott to climb into someone’s skin and walk around it if she wanted to understand a person. All this bigotry and hate in this world bubbles up from the fear of the unknown – maybe gays are mistakes of God and they are just a blemish on this world, right? Thus marks the entry of anti-LGBT activists.

Speaking for myself, I would have to say that books made me a better person. It is with some shame that I admit this, but I’ve been brought up in a society that is extremely prejudiced. Where mentally-challenged kids are openly referred to as “retards” – I haven’t heard a more polite term in my mother-tongue. Where gays are freak shows. Where cancer patients are regarded as sorry sights. (Please don’t judge us – we’re growing).

So that now we’ve answered the question of Why These Books, let’s move on to the title of this post. How thorough is your book? It’s shit-scary even contemplating about writing a book that features these issues – I mean, damn it, how do you do justice to your character? Fine, so you have a way with words and you feel like there’s a story waiting to be told. But your character’s voice. His agony. Her strength. How do you put it into words if you’ve never been through it, personally?

Research. Lots of it. Interviews with people like your character, their loved ones, doctors, psychologists, reading memoirs, war-accounts – the whole shebang. Katherine Stockett wrote about her fears of not being able to write in the voice of a wronged black maid in the South in the Author’s Note in her The Help. And I totally understand her. I don’t know much the book came under fire for political incorrectness but I do know that it affected me in some way. And GOD – Jodi Picoult. See for an idea of the research involved in her books. Just reading it made me tired and awed at these superheroes. And maybe you should also read Patricia McCormick’s Sold and Never Fall Down and Cut to expand your list of brave authors.

But what if they are still wrong? Murphy’s Law, being what it is, is bound to turn up author inaccuracies. The idea of this post came when I was scrolling through the reviews on GR after I had finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls. While I was reading the book, the thought that kept popping was why the hell she was known as the Author of Speak when Wintergirls was this good. If you aren’t a cutter (like me), don’t have an eating disorder (like me), don’t know what it feels like to hear that your best friend committed suicide (like me), then like me, you will feel short of breath at the magic Anderson wields with mere words. I mean. That Book. Is. Just. And I provided those conditional clauses in my judgement because I really don’t know how you would feel about it if you were Lia. It’s not a book you read curled up with a coffee in hand; it’s a book you clutch to firmly trying shit-hard not to fucking cry, and pray for girls like Lia and Cassie. So once I had recommended my GR friends how they should really read it, I happened to see some other reviews. That left me confused. So what was LHA doing? Merely showing off her writing skills and shamming us?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know if Jacob in Jodi Picoult’s House Rules is who a kid with Asperger’s actually is. I don’t know if Gabe in Beautiful Music For Ugly Children represents the trapped individual living in a body of the opposite sex. I don’t know if closure is as elusive as it was for Oskar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But I do know that these books needed to be written because else we would continue thinking that we were “normal” or "okay" and they weren’t. 

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