Hello! June is coming to a close, which means Mary and Emily are here to discuss their second book in their Summer YA Book Club Series, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst. Just as a reminder, we reviewed The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich at the end of May, and we have two more books coming up at the end of July and August: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli and finally The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon.
But back to the book we're discussing this month!
Mary: So this month we're talking about Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst! It's a high fantasy novel that follows Dennaleia, a princess, as she prepares to marry her betrothed Prince Thandilimon, BUT the novel takes a turn when Denna actually falls in love with her betrothed's sister, Mare. The two fall in love and work together to uncover a secret plot that threatens to destroy their kingdom! Classic fantasy plot.
Emily: I would say yes it was pretty classic.
Mary: The twist is that two princesses fall in love, if we want to call that a twist.
Emily: I don't think it's a twist when it's set up from the beginning, and they're holding hands on the cover of the book.
Mary: Hahaha this is very true. I guess I should say, the spin on classic fantasy tropes
Emily: So obviously what drew us to this particular novel was its lesbian romance at the center of the story, but before we get into the book... lemme ask you this. Aside from being about two lesbians falling in love, did this book do anything interesting with the YA fantasy genre?
Mary: Hmmm that's a good question.
Emily: Oh also I guess in the summary you forgot to mention that Denna has magic powers. And a la Elsa in Frozen, she's very "conceal don't feel," which is interesting considering Elsa's maybe a lesbian as well...
Mary: I'm not entirely sure if this book is doing anything interesting with the genre. I have to admit I don't read a lot of fantasy novels, and am mostly familiar with fantasy tropes through D&D (one day I promise to do a blog on tabletop rpgs Bc this is the millionth time I've mentioned it). For me, this novel is working as a mystery with a fantasy setting. It's not new per se, but there are some good genres being mashed together for an ok effect. What did you think?
Emily: So let's do a basic world set up for errbody. (here I go. don't stop me)
Mary: Go go!
Mary’s blog post this week is adapted from a presentation she delivered at the Children’s Literature Association Conference in Tampa, FL today!
It’s 8AM, first day, so I want to start with a little exercise. The photograph on the left is me, Mary, and though I hate describing myself, as most people do, I would say I’m funny, empathetic, emotional, smart, and, sometimes, gullible. I’m a pretty tame person, all things said. I like an early bedtime.
The photograph on the right is my avatar, or one of them. It’s a character I play in Dungeons and Dragons, Vektro Velakov. Aside from being half genie, Vek is attention-seeking, impulsive, and hopeful. He’s also emotional, and often worried in the ways I am in real life. I say all this to emphasize the point that I am not my avatar—I’m not a man, not as attention-seeking as my avatar, yet we share many similar qualities. The idea of using avatars to represent oneself is not a new thing in the world of gaming. Old school tabletop RPGs ask players to create and pilot characters of their own design and contemporary video games, like the Fallout series, Skyrim, etc., frequently include an option for players to customize their character down to minute details. Avatars in tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, and in video games like the OASIS system in Ready Player One, are both different and the same as their creators, and ultimately they blur the line between fiction and reality. They occupy a strange liminal space in the gaming world and fiction inspired by it. These avatars are simultaneously the player and not the player. The self and the other. Avatars afford players the chance to behave in unpredictable ways, guarded by the reassurance that their character isn’t them, not exactly. We are our avatars, but we’re not.
(Spoilers for Ready Player One to follow!)
I want to start by saying that I'm not the first person to point out the connection between possessed female bodies and burgeoning adolescent female sexuality. The 1973 film The Exorcist, which I would argue is the exorcism tale upon which all other contemporary exorcism stories are based, has been the center of many critiques about what this popular story is saying about the fear of female sexuality.
It's a tale as old as time, really. Girl meets demon, demon takes over girl's body, girl begins to say sexually suggestive things to terrified adults, girl masturbates with a cross, and the terror just escalates from there. In the end, the demon must be exorcised from the young innocent girl's body by a priest, an older male priest to be precise, so that order can be restored. The young innocent girl's tarnished body can only be made right again by the "power of Christ," suggesting the adolescent female body is unclean and this can only be mitigated by submitting to the patriarchal religious leader.
I know I'm harping on The Exorcist here, but that's only because The Exorcist, to me, is the movie that created the demonic possession film genre as we know of it today; the list of movies that follow this pattern of adolescent female possession is ever-growing. And this isn't just Hollywood misogyny; a lot of people believe there is religious precedent for this. Most recently, in the extremely disturbing Netflix docu-series The Keepers, we were shown how religious beliefs about the uncleanness of adolescent female bodies can play out in extremely destructive ways. Women's bodies and minds are traditionally seen as more vulnerable, more susceptible to evil, which is why women need the help of a pious man to guide them away from their demonic predilections.
Or do they?
This week Mary and guest blogger Bryana Fern share their thoughts on Wonder Woman. Mary tackles her prejudices against the character in general (and boy did she have a few prejudices), while Bryana tackles why the film is so important for women, but also for the superhero genre in general.
We want to hear your thoughts about Wonder Woman, too! Shoot us an email or tweet or find us on Facebook to let us know what you thought of the film and how Wonder Woman has been important to you.
When I was 16 years old, two of my coworkers at the local public pool told me about the Witches’ Castle. The eerie, supposedly haunted structure was located in Utica, Indiana, just a few miles away from my hometown. The two girls were stunned that I’d never heard of it, especially since it was one stop on the all-night torture-and-beating spree of 12-year-old Shanda Sharer in 1992 – a night that ended with her brutal murder. The Witches’ Castle already had lore surrounding it, but after Shanda’s murder, it became a local legend.
Like any adventurous teen girls in this situation would do, the three of us planned an after-work trip to the Witches’ Castle to see it for ourselves. There, in some shallow woods on a hill overlooking the Ohio River, were the stone remains of an old, creepy set of small buildings. Weather-beaten and overgrown, the crumbling structures immediately gave me an unsettled feeling. Shanda’s murder had been 12 years ago, but knowing that she’d been brought to this spot and beaten was enough to make it feel weird – maybe even wrong – to be there.
After I got home that evening, the first thing I did was ask my mom if she remembered the story of Shanda’s murder, an event I had never heard of before that summer. She remembered it pretty well and told me a book had been written about it. I immediately found and read the book. Then I found another book. I had to know everything I could about Shanda Sharer and the four teenage girls, ages 15 to 17, who killed her.
Shanda’s murder was the crime that got me hooked on crime. I don’t know if it was her young age, the fact that her killers were the same age as my friends and me, or the proximity to my hometown, but I was fixated with what happened to Shanda and why. I wondered how disturbing my Internet search history would look to anyone else. I searched for articles about the trials, about Shanda’s family, about when the killers would be released from prison. I looked for photos of Shanda and her killers that might not have been included in the books I read. I wanted to know what our local papers said about this tragedy back in 1992. Was I a full-on weirdo?
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.