Yesterday my boys had a little girl over to play, who’s the same age (7) as my oldest. They are a bit sweet on each other. The children were playing dress-up (knights and princess), and I was reading Girl, Hero, the new book by Carrie Jones, coming this August. I emerged from its riveting pages long enough to hear the following conversation:
Youngest son, to little girl: “S., can I rescue you now?”
S: “[Oldest son] is already rescuing me.”
Youngest son, still hopeful: “Can’t I rescue you too?”
S: “No. I don’t need you.”
Youngest son: sigh.
Me, to myself: “Gender stereotypes! Argh! Girls don’t need rescuing!” And I thought of the recent flurry of thought about this issue over at Guys Lit Wire. And as I returned to Girl, Hero, I decided that this is a book that I will try to get my boys to read when they are teenagers. It’s a book that will, perhaps, help them understand what it might feel like to be a girl stuck in a situation that stinks in many ways. A girl who would like so much to be rescued, but who, in the end, learns that taking action beats escapist day-dreaming.
Here’s what’s bad in the life of Liliana Faltin: her beloved stepfather died, her mom’s creepy, creepy, creepy (and alcoholic) new boyfriend has moved in, her best friend has proved shallow and unfriend-worthy, she is beginning to realize her father is gay, and her sister is being beaten up by her husband. All this is told in Lily’s letters to John Wayne, her hero, the man of action who always went in with guns blazing. Unlike Lily.
Because it’s hard for a freshman in high school to pull out metaphoric guns and start firing away. It’s hard to figure out what you can and can’t do in situations that are too horrible to talk about with your peers, especially when you are trying to make new friends (because your old best friend’s a jerk) and one of the new friends is a cute boy…
Despite the fact that this story is told in letters to a dead movie star (which I was initially doubtful about), and the writer of the letters is an unhappy teenage girl, the plot moves along briskly, without descending to maudlin introspection. Liliana is a great character—lovable and slightly wacky. The supporting cast don’t become nearly as real—but this book is so much about Liliana, and is told so firmly in her voice, that it would have been strange for them to be completely three-dimensional. They are the objects off which the echolocation of Liliana’s thoughts bounces as she tries to figure out where she is (apologies to anyone who finds this metaphor tortured).
That being said, here’s another reason why I am going to try to get my boys to read the works of Carrie Jones. She writes the nicest high school boys ever (in this book, it’s Paolo, who’s cool and sweet and understanding), and I want my sons to be that nice too. Although even Paolo has to be put in his place:
I [Lily] say, "If zombies were chasing you and you had to run away, parkour* style, what would you do?"....
Paolo thinks for a second, still walking. "Are you with me?"
"Because then I'd have to take care of you, too."
"No. You don't have to worry about me, just rescuing yourself."
Fortunately, Carrie Jones is not one of those authors who puts in a lot of texting and slang and reference to this year's popular culture and stuff like that, so her books should not be too terribly dated seven years from now...and sadly, seven years is probably not enough time for being gay to become a non-issue and Amnesty International to become irrelevant.
*parkour being that extreme running where you practically run up vertical walls. Part of why Paolo is cool.
Carrie Jones is also the author of Tips on Having a Gay (ex)Boyfriend, and its sequel, Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape), making Girl, Hero her first published book without a parenthetical title. It has also been discussed in duelling reviews at The Edge of the Forest and at Teens Read Too.