This is a guest post by Farsighted super fan, Rebecca Boucher
“I’d rather you hate my characters than forget them,” I often say, and it’s true. None of my characters has been more universally hated than Simmi Shergill, the protagonist of Open Heart. Through buckets of tears, I gave this character my deepest, most crippling insecurities coupled with the standard teenage angst. I loved her, because I pitied her and identified so completely. While at the same time, I hated her, because she represented everything I hated about myself. Reactions from readers have been similar. I’ve gotten letters thanking me for writing such a real character who has to deal with real problems that many of us faced in teenhood or even as adults–body image insecurity. Others have given up on the book finding Simmi too selfish to be tolerated. What gives?
Gaging reader reaction to Open Heart has been fascinating. What does it say of our attitudes toward gender? Race? Good-looking people versus not-so-good-looking people? My good friend, Jill Cooper, speculated on this phenomenon in her post “The Double Standard in YA Fiction: We Love Bad Boys and Hate Flawed Female Leads–What Gives?” Now, I’d like to welcome another of my friends, Ms. Rebecca Boucher, to share her thoughts. Being that she’s both a Farsighted and a Twilight super fan, she couldn’t help but make the connection. Enjoy!
It’s funny. Open Heart and Twilight have more in common than you might think–especially if you look a little deeper. They are both centered on female leads, each with similar insecurities. Both like to think they are strong-willed, when really they define themselves mostly on how others perceive them. And isn’t this central to the high school experience for all of us?
But how they manifest these insecurities is what sets them apart. Bella broods and relies on self pity and the need for attention. She also starts to think that becoming someone different (aka a vampire) will fill the void. Simmi withdraws and wants to blend into the walls. She turns to self destructive behavior of a different kind, developing an eating disorder. But at the root of both their problems lies the insecurity of self image, self doubt, the feeling of worthlessness, and the idea that they are different.
So why do we accept Bella as she is and root her along? Why do we give her a free pass on her self loathing when so many of us hate Simmi for the same feelings and inner dialogue. Let it be known I am not a Simmi hater. I love Simmi. She needs more of our understanding than Bella. Could it be because Twilight follows the formula we all know well? Girl meets boy. Boy fights for girl. Boy gives girl a “reason to live”. Boy thinks he is protecting girl as he is overbearing and slightly stalker like. Girl thinks she can handle and change boy.
Really, Open Heart is the same way, Simmi is just taking the lead.
Open Heart has the similar cast of characters. Rich kids and middle class, (Think Cullens and Simmi’s family v. Alex and Sharpi) Popular and below the radar (Brady and Ronnie v. Bella and Jacob) Glamorous and fashion forward (think Alice and Sharpi in their roles as friends of the leads.) You have Dax sweeping in and popping up on Simmi’s radar. Dark and different, not really dangerous, but tempting. Not unlike Jacob. But it’s Simmi who is front and center. She is the one pulling the strings, playing the boys off each other and manipulating the outcome.
For all her self doubt she is the one taking the lead. And we are uncomfortable with that.
We have no problem when Edward stalks into Bella’s room in the middle of the night or shows up where he is least expected. But when Simmi tells Dax where to meet her, when she placates Alex and runs to the arms of Dax, we cringe. When Simmi breaks up with Alex and runs right into the arms of his arch enemy we scream in disbelief. We hate her. We fail to see that she is searching for understanding and challenge. Simmi needs to be “seen” for who she is. Not for what someone else made her out to be.
The realness of Simmi is what we are uncomfortable with.
As adult readers of YA we forget the challenge high school put before us. Many of us had that self demeaning inner dialogue of Simmi. But now we can look back on it with perspective and know that things will change. Age brings clarity. It’s easier for us to see Bella led around by the boys and taken care of. We don’t like to think of ourselves as Simmi, that is too painful to confront.
When Emlyn gave Simmi real emotion, real problems, she gave her depth. That is where the difference lies.
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