This is a guest post by Jill Cooper
As you know, Emlyn’s second novel Open Heart came out last week; well, I loved it (review here). So I took to the streets–um, actually the blogs–to see what other people were saying about the book. I was pretty surprised by how some people reacted to Simmi’s self-destructive nature. Some downright hate her (one even ranted) and I’m still trying to figure out why. I can understand frustration, but outright hatred really? Seems like a pretty strong reaction.
Here’s some food for thought: If you took the same qualities and gave them to a man, would your feelings change?
Here’s an example: Walt is the type of guy all girls want to date. He’s charming, a smooth talker and always has a smile plastered across his handsome face. Unbeknownst to others, he struggles with his own inner demons. He’s faced adversity and survived, but is scared by what he’s done in the past so naturally withdraws from those he loves. He develops a coping mechanism–one that is bad for him and could lead to a lot of new problems.
He’s been dating Alex(is) for forever. Even though she’s crazy about him, Walt thinks of her more as a really close friend; he’s still happy to be with her, because Walt really cares for and is happy with Alex. Then a new girl moves to town and happens to catch Walt’s eye. She gets him, understands him. Maybe she’s the answer he’s been looking for, maybe she can help quiet his demons forever.
So what do you think? Everyone wants to be the new girl, right? The one who can settle down this charmer, fix him, and make him hers forever.
Now, ask yourself this, how would you feel if Walt wasn’t a boy, but a girl? Do your feelings change for the character? And if so, why?
Gut check question for the day, why do so many readers hate Simmi, a character with real problems who is hurting on the inside, but the same readers aren’t bothered by male characters who have manipulated, lied to, and even verbally abused women in fiction? Sure, they’re hot and look great without their shirts on, but some YA dark male leads (all the way back to Buffy, and further) are downright emotionally abusive to their girlfriends… And we drool over them, we fawn, we want to be the objects of their attention.
Why? Why do we hold women to a different standard than to the men we want to fix, change, and call our own? Is it because we don’t like seeing our own flaws reflected in others? Does it make us so uncomfortable that our defensive reaction is to hate?
Are we so afraid to face the truth in us, we would rather fix our men than fix ourselves?
Simmi is real. Sure, she has problems, but guess what? We all do! Maybe we prefer all our female heroines be picture perfect where their only inner dialog relates to how beautiful they are or how their hair flows gracefully off their shoulders. Bah!
I’ll admit, Simmi is wrong a lot of the time–she shouldn’t try to fix herself or feel better by binging and purging, she shouldn’t compare herself to others, and she shouldn’t lead on one boy while falling for another… but such is life, such is being a teen.
Personally, I enjoyed reading about Simmi and found it to be almost therapeutic in a way. Not because she was like me, but because I can look upon her and say, “Don’t worry, it’s going to get better. You’re going to grow up. You’re going to learn to love yourself. And you will be an inspiration to others who feel just like you do. You’re not alone.”
Weigh in here. Have you read Open Heart? Did you find yourself hating Simmi, pitying her, relating to her? Is there a double-standard in YA fiction? Discuss!
About our guest poster:
Jill Cooper is the author of The Dream Slayer out in June 2012, focused on Natalie Johnson, a girl with her own weight issues and the ability to create a magical world just by daydreaming. Visit her at www.jillacooper.com
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