“Not Being Like Other Girls” & Milk Crate Rage

Many moons ago (it was probably only one), I referred to this Tumblr user who vehemently believes many things such as the idea that Batman is a Mary Sue (I digress), Mary Sue’s are often targeted towards female characters (I agree) and that female characters are often classed as Mary Sue’s because they are feminine and they get what they want (I digress again).

A segment I want to focus on today is the following from the original post:

“Why does someone falling in love with her make her a Mary Sue? Well, she hasn’t “earned” this awesome dude character’s love. What has she done to show she’s worthy of him?”

To be honest, I understand where she’s coming from. A few scrolls down my Tumblr dashboard reveal random spouts of hate/vitriol/condemnation for female characters that have a relationship with the main guy and very rarely do I ever see a post where someone says that he doesn’t deserve her (and not in an angsty/romantic way either).

It’s a problem for sure but being the professional fence sitter that I am, I don’t believe that Mary Sue’s are Mary Sue’s because they haven’t “earned” love or proved that they are “worthy”.

Frankly, I often consider them to be Mary Sue’s because there is absolutely no substantial lead up to these so called “relationships”. She doesn’t need to earn his love or show she’s worthy but some sort of hint as to why the characters are attracted to each other is good. For example, maybe she’s a professional hyena breeder and her stories remind him of that awesome time he had in Africa to celebrate his wisdom tooth removal anniversary?

Remember, it’s also important to note that this is a two way street. Too often, guys in books settle for the “I don’t know why, but there’s something about you that’s different to all the other girls” line which I hate with a fiery passion that can only be matched by my intense dislike for café’s that use milk crates as chairs.

My heart knows rage when I see one of these at a café. Source: Creative Commons/Flickr

My heart knows rage when I see one of these at a café.
Source: Creative Commons/Flickr

First of all, not only is it biologically impossible to actually be the same as other girls (unless human cloning happened and nobody told me) but for goodness sake, WHAT IS THAT SOMETHING? In any story, whether it be in a book, film or television show, character and plot is what drives it. People need to take the time and effort to develop characters that actually have a personality with their own motives, interests and backstory that are not in direct relevance with their love interest. Simply saying that magical love-at-first-sight happened is not good enough unless a love potion is involved. I need to know enough about these characters to see what makes them tick and why they behave the way they do.

Loki wants to know why fictional characters do what they do. Source: gif-central.blogspot.com

Loki wants to know why fictional characters do what they do.
Source: gif-central.blogspot.com

In summary: A character is not a Mary Sue/Marty Stu if they fall in love with each other, but it does make me raise my eyebrows if there is no basis as to why the characters like each other.

As always, thanks for sticking with me and please let me know what you think about my rage with this “Not being like other girls/guys” BS. Is this just me? Am I crazy? (Check yes and yes for both)

Till next time #readoutsidethebox,

Not Another Mary Sue

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What other Mary Sue’isms annoy the hell out of you? Or like the Tumblr user I mentioned above, do you not believe in the concept of a Mary Sue at all?

YA Fiction with Disabilities ft. Lennie Small

When I started wracking my brain for a book to talk about when it came to YA fiction with characters that have disabilities, I realised that there was disappointingly few options to choose from. Which you know, isn’t great considering I’m writing a blog about diversity in YA fiction.

However, one of those very few options that I could remember was “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck which I read in year 10 – and didn’t particularly like.

"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

Upon reflection, it was probably because it was a compulsory text for school and anything that I have to read and then answer questions for is not something I’m going to enjoy (with the exception of “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini which tugged on my heartstrings like a sad kitten with cotton wool).

But regardless of whether I enjoyed the novella or not, Steinbeck’s character of Lennie Small struck a chord with me that quite possibly warrants a re-read on my behalf (and yours) and further discussion.

For those who haven’t read the book, the general storyline is as follows:

Two migrant labourers named George Milton and Lennie Small are ranch hands at a Californian farm and dream of owning their own one day. George is protective over Lennie who is physically strong and is described as being “simple-minded”. Amidst other happenings (e.g. racism at the ranch against another character and a flirtatious ranch-owner’s wife who doesn’t have a name for some reason), Lennie eventually runs into trouble due to his fixation over petting soft things and George struggles to help his friend from the wrath of others.

Steinbeck’s representation of Lennie Small is as relevant as it was during the late 1930’s as it is today. Although in today’s society, mentally disabled individuals are far more accepted and supported in comparison to Depression era mobs (with their sometimes literal pitch forks), Lennie’s feelings of helplessness may still be reflective of those with special needs.

Lennie in the book is a gentle giant. Society is not understanding of his disabilities. He’s innocent and child-like in so many ways but his brute strength and lack of control leads to some unfortunate happenings and nobody except George really understands or tries to help him.

For those with mental disabilities, feelings of helplessness are a very real thing. They may have good intentions but their lowered degree of cognitive reasoning and understanding of the world could lead to sticky situations where they may do or say things that they didn’t intend to be harmful but ultimately is. Lennie in the book is not only a character I sympathise with, but one that I would like to read more about. As I have come to realize that I know startlingly little about mentally handicapped individuals, I feel like fiction is a great way to even begin to bridge that gap of understanding (or lack thereof in my instance).

So while I probably wouldn’t recommend this book for those who do have a mental disability (Spoiler alert: it is not a happy ending for Lennie), I would recommend it for others who want to be emotionally compromised by how unfair everything is in the story.

As always, I am no expert on the topic so please correct me if I’m heinously wrong about something. Thanks for reading, please comment below or on any of my other social media accounts and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What YA books featuring characters of mental disabilities do you recommend?

Running the Maze and Making Waves

Yesterday, I just finished my second cinema screening of “The Maze Runner”. Was it that great that it deserves two (very overpriced – in Australia anyway) viewings? Yes and No. To be honest, I only went a second time because my little brother is on school holidays and he didn’t want to go with friends because they talk during movies and he can’t stand it (and yet is too nice to tell them to be quiet). So out of sisterly love and any excuse to munch on more calorie laden snacks, I agreed to watch it a second time.

"The Maze Runner" by James Dashner (complete with an accidental advertisement for Dymocks!)

“The Maze Runner” by James Dashner (complete with an accidental advertisement for Dymocks!)

The interesting thing I found was that even though it was the second time I was watching it, it didn’t diminish my sense of smugness surrounding the racially diverse characters in the film (and book) – Which sounds weird, but hear me out!

I was having this conversation with a friend the other day, and we were marveling at how surprising it is to see Asians in big films that are actual characters as opposed to caricatures. In Hollywood blockbusters I’ve come to expect ethnic characters to suffer some untimely death or to succumb to some stereotype that makes me want to roll my eyes so hard that it stays permanently at the back of my head. It sounds awful, but that’s what Hollywood frequently presents. Ethnic characters take the back bench. They are rarely the protagonist. If there are some deaths happening, they bite the dust first.

And it’s not fair, but more importantly, it’s a damaging mindset in terms of representing racial diversity.

Enter “The Maze Runner” – a book by James Dashner that has been turned into a film. It’s about a boy named Thomas who meets a group of boys called the “Gladers”. The general point of the film/book is that their memories are erased and they have no idea what’s happening but they have to get out using the only route possible – a gigantic maze filled with these mechanical spider monsters called “grievers” (probably aptly named since they are very intent on giving you grief. Through death and exercise mostly.).

Putting aside the plot for a second, I was extremely impressed by the amount of racial diversity in the cast (and how casting directors for the film kept true to the books in this respect!). I was even more impressed that ethnic characters were not type cast because of their race.

tmrphoto

Some of the cast from The Maze Runner

It seems like I’m a fickle person. On one hand, I want diversity in what I read and see but on the other hand, I don’t want them exhibit “stereotypes”. Can I have it both ways? You bet your sweet bippy I can.

Thanks to James Dashner (and the film makers), ethnic characters are not only being represented but represented well. It may not be a groundbreaking first but it’s definitely something (so don’t take this away from me!)

Exhibit A – Minho

Played by Ki Hong Lee, the character Minho is not sidelined because of race. The below picture of an interview with him explains it best:

Ki Hong Lee talks about why he liked the role of Minho (Source: Tumblr user 'awaitingideas')

Ki Hong Lee talks about why he liked the role of Minho (Source: Tumblr user ‘awaitingideas’)

He is his own character, and his character and actions do not depend on the protagonist of the story (aka Thomas). He is athletic, strong and sarcastic. At no point does he suddenly start doing kung fu (Transformers: Age of Extinction, I am glaring at you) or start speaking with an accent. To see an Asian being one the main characters of a big film makes me so happy it’s almost ridiculous if it wasn’t so valid.

Exhibit B – Alby

Alby telling it how it is

Alby telling it how it is

Alby is the leader of the Glades and as an African American character, I am 1000% glad that he was not relegated to some damaging stereotype that the media feed us. He isnt’t a baddie, a violent man (except when he was, because he was saving someone else), the sidekick or comic relief. He, like the other characters, were their own person outside of their race. He wasn’t a harsh leader, but a compassionate one who pushed for harmony amongst the Gladers but made tough decisions when he had to. You go Alby!

So while these are only two examples, believe me when I say that there was a whole melting pot of ethnicities in the movie (and book, although it doesn’t go too in depth in terms of character descriptions for everyone) and boy was it beautiful. While this is only one movie in the grand scheme of a million, hopefully it sets a precedent amongst Hollywood directors who make young adult adaptions and movies. If I were even more optimistic, I hope that authors of YA books are more willing to incorporate racially diverse characters into their books because they are seeing that not only does it sell, but it feels hella good amongst readers and viewers to see some realism in books and media.

Anyway, I am the worst at word limits but thanks for bearing with me! As always, you can have a chat with me about this post or anything else on this site, my Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Have you watched “The Maze Runner”? Were you as impressed by the diverse cast as I was?

Defending Batman – What makes a Mary Sue #1

My friend posted a link to this Tumblr post onto my page the other day and it’s surprisingly given me a lot to think about. What exactly is a Mary Sue and is it necessarily a bad thing? Another issue she raises is the lack of vitriol that goes towards male versions of the Mary Sue – are female characters unfairly targeted?

As with a lot of things, the answer is not a simple ‘yay’ or ‘nay’. So, let’s talk.

Below is an excerpt from her post:

“So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in between torrid romances she rejects them all because she dedicated to what is Pure and Good. She has genius level intellect, Olympic-athelete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. She is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes guys want her more. She has no superhuman abilities, yet she is more competent than her superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. She has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact she treats them pretty badly.  They fear and respect her, and defer to her orders. Everyone is obsessed with her, even her enemies are attracted to her. She can plan ahead for anything and she’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy her are inevitably wrong.

 God, what a Mary Sue.

I just described Batman.”

I think it’s interesting that this blogger has used Batman as an example as a male Mary Sue. While I personally don’t like Batman much as a superhero (don’t attack me with your batarangs!), I don’t agree with the above assessment of his character. Before I go on further though, I have to say that there are obviously male versions of the Mary Sue (but for the purposes of this blog, “Not another Mary Sue, Marty Stu or other variations” would not be catchy or memorable). Badly written characters are not gender, racial or anything else exclusive. Male Mary Sue’s are out there and while I agree that they don’t get as much negative attention, they exist for reasons that I will probably touch upon another time.

Anyway, back to Batman (and yes I know this blog is meant to be about diverse YA books!). I know I’m being finicky, but Batman is not the richest guy on the planet – not in the world where Gotham exists or even where DC comics exist (isn’t Lex Luthor loaded?). He obviously doesn’t have genius level intellect or else there would be no comics or movies because it would hella boring if he were able to figure everything out on his own. He doesn’t defeat enemies with ease as displayed by that brutal display of ass kicking by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Batman really doesn’t have unshakeable and loyal friends despite the fact that he’s not a terribly nice guy. Other than his trusty pal Alfred, who does he really have? People might be obsessed with him (or more likely, his sense of mystery and insanely low voice), but I think people use him more often than actually being attracted to him (i.e. Miranda Tate earning his trust in TDKR).

So what was the point of me responding to the Batman is a Mary Sue post? Was it just for the sake of being juvenile and pretty much saying “BATMAN ISN’T A MARY SUE, SO THERE YOU HATER!”

Nope, it wasn’t.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy to label characters as a Mary Sue which is fairly understandable since the term isn’t an exact science. Here, the blogger has named Batman even though I think her claims are unsubstantiated in some areas. Other times, people throw any protagonist under the bus simply because they have a few “good qualities” that irritate people. To me, that’s not what makes a Mary Sue but since I feel like I’m fast  approaching TL;DR territory, I’ll save what else I have to say for future weeks.

“But NAMS!” you say as I leave, “I thought this was a blog about reading diversely, not just a chat about Mary Sues and superheroes!”

You are right. But as I briefly mentioned earlier, even diverse characters are not immune to being Mary Sues. In order to encourage and promote the reading of diverse characters from awesome books, I want to make sure that I am talking about good characters who are not Mary Sues (and what better way to find that out other than discussing it?). After all, isn’t it worse to have a superficially diverse character that ticks all the awfully offensive stereotypes than to not have diverse characters at all? Isn’t being represented inaccurately worse than not being represented full stop?

Anyway, if you have something to add or something to vehemently rebuff, comment below or through any of my other social media feeds.

Until next time,

Not Another Mary Sue.

What’s this all about?

“Not Another Mary Sue” is an initiative that is exactly like what it sounds like.

Confused? Don’t be. Simply put, NAMS (catchy acronym, I know) is a campaign to abolish, eradicate, put a stop to encourage young adult readers and naysayers who don’t see the value in YA books to read diverse characters who kick fictional ass*.

And by diverse, I mean characters from different backgrounds, whether that be cultural, different sexuality or the portrayal of disabilities (I’m sure there’s more, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it).

So where did this brain child come from? Well, first of all I can’t really take credit. There’s loads of other ‘Diversity in YA’ type campaigns out there (there really is, that’s an actual name of a site. Check it out.) and there’s an undeniable amount of rage going on about the lack of diversity in fiction on Tumblr alone. Other than that though, I guess the reason why I started this is my own frustration with the lack diversity in what I read. It’s the same thing repeated over and over again in YA books (not all books, obviously) – heroine who everybody loves for no fathomable reason who saves the day with flaws that are not actual flaws (being clumsy is not a flaw when it’s endearing guys).

I don’t know about you guys but I want to read something that real people can relate to. I want to read about experiences that no mater how dystopian or supernatural, is still identifiable on a human level (even if they’re a bloodthirsty vampire). And more importantly, I want to read good books that have characters that are not always black and white but a thousand different shades of grey (not 50 shades though) who make me think beyond my own little bubble.

Still with me? Or do you think I’m a little crazy?

Either way, give NAMS a little love on my other sites. Or you can argue with me, that’s okay too as long as you’re not trolling me and you actually have a point to make.**

Thanks for bothering to read all this and I hope to hear from you soon!

– Love NAMS (did that make you a little sick? I’m sorry, I promise to never sign off with that again***)

* Fictional ass-kicking is not guaranteed.

** Although trolls traditionally belong under a bridge, I understand they now lurk in the depths of the internet. Sorry to restrict your freedom and all that, but go elsewhere please.

*** There is no promise.