Ugh! Have you ever read anything so perfectly you—your style, your voice, your humor, even your weirdly disparate interests—that you that know4 stars.
Ugh! Have you ever read anything so perfectly you—your style, your voice, your humor, even your weirdly disparate interests—that you that know, deep down in your heart of hearts, that you could have written it? Should have written it? Then you, my friend, will understand my current pain, because that is exactly what I felt upon reading this bit of Greek mythology-infused YA flash fiction.
The story begins with Lydia, a modern-day teen, attempting to sneak out of her father’s house one night for a bit of harmless fun: friends, music, dancing, etc. When she opens her bedroom window, however, she’s greeted not by the fresh air and freedom she expected, but by a literal shower of gold that quickly resolves itself into the shape of a teenaged boy—Pêlos—who explains that he is, in fact, a Greek god come to seduce her. He then promptly trips over her computer cords and suggests that she might be more sexually attracted to him if he took on the form of a swan or a bull. Needless to say, the seduction doesn’t quite go as planned. Or does it?
I love—love! love! love!—everything about this story: the way it brings the Greek gods and their old-fashioned values into decidedly modern times, the YA perspective, the fish-out-of-water humor . . . everything! It’s all so perfectly up my alley that it kills me—KILLS ME!—that I didn’t think of it first. Why didn’t I think of it first?! UGH!!! ...more
I had zero percent interest in John Green's Paper Towns, a seemingly stereotypical teen romance novel, until I read online that it was actuall2 stars.
I had zero percent interest in John Green's Paper Towns, a seemingly stereotypical teen romance novel, until I read online that it was actually written as a take down of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. You know, the oh-so-beautiful-but-oh-so-quirky girl who takes an inexplicable interest in the story’s male protagonist, despite his being as bland as unbuttered toast. That trope.
First coined by The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin, the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl broadly refers to any female character that “exists solely . . . to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Think Kristen Dunst’s character in the movie Elizabethtown, or Natalie Portman’s in Garden State.
[image error] The problem with such depictions, of course, is that they deny female characters their own wants beyond the male lead’s affection, so it’s nice to see a YA author like Green telling teens—and the world at large—“Hey, that’s not an okay representation of women.”
“Paper Towns is devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the lie of the manic pixie dream girl . . . I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling the novel The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.”
Bold words! But does Green deliver? To answer that, we must first examine the plot of Paper Towns itself:
Quentin Jacobsen has loved his neighbor, the magnificent Margo Roth Spiegelman, since they were childhood best friends. As they’ve grown older, however, they’ve drifted apart. Now high school seniors, Margo is part of the popular crowd . . .
[image error] . . . And Quentin? He’s an honorary band geek, too tone-deaf to play an instrument but still allowed to hang around the band hall:
[image error] Needless to say, he and Margo don’t spend much time together any more—which makes it all the more magical when, late one night, Margo cracks open Quentin’s window and climbs, quite literally, back into his life, summoning him for a night of wild adventure:
But just as Quentin finally seems to be connecting romantically with his Dream Girl . . .
[image error] . . . Margo disappears, leaving a string of mysterious clues in her wake. Did she intend them for Quentin? Can he use them to find her? And, most importantly of all, does Margo even want to be found?
The answer to that last question, of course, is a resounding “no”. As Green says in his aforementioned Tumblr post:
“[T]he novel ends (this is not really a spoiler) with a young woman essentially saying, ‘Do you really still live in this fantasy land where boys can save girls by being romantically interested in them?’”
But here’s the problem: Margo likes Quentin. A lot. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard for her to walk away from him. Ultimately, however, she knows she’s a free spirit who doesn’t, in her own words, buy into the “allure of a life rightly lived—college and job and husband and babies and all that bullshit.” And Quentin does. She wouldn’t lift him up; he would just hold her back. So she walks away—tearfully—regretfully—but determinedly.
[image error] Yes, that’s certainly a break with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tradition. But you know what would have been an even bigger break? If Margo wasn’t romantically interested in Quentin at all.
Sorry, John Green, but if you’re going to take down a myth, take it all the way down. Stopping halfway only does a disservice to Margo, which is a shame since she is by far the most interesting character in the novel. During her and Quentin’s night of mystery and mayhem, she is full of spiky charm—charm that is sorely missing during the middle section of the novel, when it’s all Quentin, all the time.
Because let’s be clear: Quentin is boring AF. He is only interesting when Margo, in true Manic Pixie Dream Girl-fashion, makes him interesting (for example, by conning him into being her getaway drive for the night). In her absence, Quentin pines. And pines. And pines. He reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition approximately 20,000 times. He sleeps with Margo’s old blanket because it smells like her. He neglects his best friends, prom, and graduation and gets unreasonably angry with anyone who won’t let him blather on about the wonder that is Margo Roth Spiegelman 24/7.
Yet Green allows Quentin to carry the story after Margo’s disappearance for roughly two hundred agonizing pages as Quentin slowly—sloooooooowly—comes to the realization that maybe he didn’t know Margo Roth Spiegelman at all. Maybe his Dream Girl was, in fact, just a dream, an idea he projected onto the real Margo, who isn’t all that happy to see him again when she finally reappears for the novel’s last 24 pages.
Until, that is, Green forces her to bow to convention and confess a baffling attraction to Quentin. Because how dare a female lead not love the male lead, right? Wrong! Bad, John Green! Bad!
So much for stabbing the patriarchal lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the heart. Sigh!...more
17-year-old Kaitlyn never should have agreed to donate her body to science upon her death. Because one day, after a horrendous accident, she wa1 star.
17-year-old Kaitlyn never should have agreed to donate her body to science upon her death. Because one day, after a horrendous accident, she wakes up to discover she is now part-human, part-machine. But the scientists who turned her into a cyborg didn’t mean to leave her with any human emotions—emotions she dare not display, for fear they will delete what little remains of her humanity. Of course, it would be easier to hide her feelings if she weren’t so attracted to Lucas, one of the very scientists who converted her. He seems different than the others, though. Will he tell her what they’re plotting? Can she trust him? Can she even trust herself?
Sounds like a decent enough set-up, right? Unfortunately, its execution suffers from a whole host of problems, including issues with pacing, an agency-less heroine, a lack of plot, a sophomoric love story, and the kind of cheesy writing one would expect to find in a romance novel.
Consider, for example, how Crane begins Kaitlyn’s story. A logical start would be with Kaitlyn waking up post-surgery to discover her new and unwanted mechanical body parts. She would be shocked and confused, just like the reader, and together they would slowly learn what, exactly, happened to her. Or Kaitlyn’s story could begin in medias res, with her breaking out of the top-secret lab, possibly with Lucas’s aid. Flashbacks would then reveal Kaitlyn’s life, death, and cyborg afterlife, eventually catching up to the present—i.e. Kaitlyn mid-break out—when it would finally be revealed if her escape attempt proves successful.
Crane, however, begins with Secret Option #3: Kaitlyn walking down a hallway. Granted, she does meet sexy scientist Lucas at the end of that hallway, but it isn’t their first meeting and she already knows he makes her feel things she shouldn’t. No, this is just a routine check-up, with Kaitlyn sitting passively while Lucas examines her. Why on Earth would Crane write such a boring intro, you ask? Because it frees up Kaitlyn—i.e. Crane—to tell us, the reader, exposition, which is apparently what passes for plot in Crane’s mind. Because time after time after friggin’ time, Crane tells, not shows, us important information, sapping her story of any energy it might have possessed.
Even worse, it saps Kaitlyn of both personality and agency. Of course, the argument could be made that she isn’t meant to have a personality—the scientists built her to be a living tabula rosa—but that’s not an appealing trait in a lead character. Besides, she’s supposed to have human emotions. Humans want things. She should want things, too. Things like finding out about her parents, escaping from the scientists, and returning home. Things that might, potentially, lead to a plot. But Kaitlyn doesn’t. All she wants is Lucas, and even then she won’t actively pursue him. She’s rather sit around, passively, until he makes the first move.
The end result? A collection of scenes in which nothing much happens: Kaitlyn walks down a hallway; Kaitlyn walks around the laboratory grounds with her one and only friend, Quess; Kaitlyn walks around the grounds again with Quess; Kaitlyn walks around the grounds with Lucas; Kaitlyn walks around the grounds one more time with—you guessed it—Quess. If you think that’s boring in summary, just imagine having it stretched out for 109 mind-numbing pages!
True, there is one scene that briefly flirts with being interesting. An unexpected dinner party unites Kaitlyn, Quess, and Lucas with the head scientist who designed Kaitlyn. Everyone has ulterior motives for attending, and it seems, for one shining moment, their secret desires and plans will suddenly be laid bare. But Crane quickly puts a stop to that, ending the scene before her characters can do something—anything!—verging on entertaining.
Of course, Kaitlyn and Lucas do eventually confess their mutual hormone-addled lust—sorry, I mean true love—for each other, hopefully putting a stop to Crane writing such cheesetastic lines as:
“What would it feel like to have his big, steady hands trail down her body? His lips on her neck? If she no longer felt pain, could she feel pleasure?”
And: “[H]e need to say something, but nothing would come out. She literally took his breath away.”
And: “She wanted to taste him; wanted to crawl into his body and never leave.”
I also assume this declaration of affection finally forces some sort of plot to kick in. Probably Lucas attempting to save Kaitlyn from whatever nefarious purpose she’d been built for, and probably (based on the fact that this book inexplicably has multiple sequels) succeeding.
But, again, I can only assume. Because honestly? I quit reading this book halfway through. Could it have improved by the conclusion? Maybe. But I doubt it. In the end, it simply wasn’t worth the time and effort required to find out, not when there are far better stories in the same vein out there. Stories like Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which also features a cyborg girl on the run, but includes important little details, like an actual plot, fast pacing, funny dialogue, well-developed characters, and a romance that doesn’t make me want to vomit.
My advice? Skip Crane’s Freak of Nature and read Marissa Meyer’s Cinder instead. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
This short story, set in the universe of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, tells how a young Lunar boy named Ze’ve Kelsey became the brutal killer andThis short story, set in the universe of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, tells how a young Lunar boy named Ze’ve Kelsey became the brutal killer and spy known only as Wolf. Yes, the very same Wolf who romances, betrays, and ultimately falls in love with Scarlet Benoit in Book Two of The Lunar Chronicles.
Admittedly, if you haven’t read any of Meyer’s series, that description probably doesn’t make a lick of sense. But if you haven’t read any of The Lunar Chronicles, this short story isn’t for you. It’s not a true stand-alone piece. Rather, it’s meant to be read in the larger context of Meyer’s series. It relies heavily on the reader already knowing the universe of that series, so it’s not going to waste time explaining mundane trivialities, such as where the story is set (the moon), or why the people there are preparing for war (their queen is evil), or what, exactly, the Lunar “gift” is (mind control). Without that information, I’m not sure the story makes a whole lot of sense.
So if you haven’t read Meyer’s series . . . what the heck are you waiting for?! It’s easily one of the best YA fairy-tale retellings out there, seamlessly recasting classics stories—"Cinderella", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Rapunzel", and "Snow White"—into an interwoven whole that mixes together equal parts action and adventure, dystopian sci-fi, mystery, and romance. Basically, it’s awesome.
So go read Books One and Two, and then read this short story—because it does spoil the identity of a major villain in Book Two. Just a heads up.
A short story set in the universe of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles that acts as a prequel to the series.
By covering events that, thou3 stars.
A short story set in the universe of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles that acts as a prequel to the series.
By covering events that, though much referenced in Book One, never actually made it onto the page. Instead, Meyer kindly presents them here: an eleven-year-old Cinder’s arrival at the Linh household; her subsequent (and sadly futile) attempts to impress her adoptive mother, Adri; and the untimely demise of her adoptive father, Garan.
Mostly, though, the story is about Cinder’s struggle to adjust to the changes in her environment—and herself. Because she’s still learning the capabilities—and limitations—of her newly installed cybernetic programming. And, as with any new programming, she can expect some glitches . . . ...more