Discussion: Gratuitous Violence vs Conservative Sex in (mostly) YA

Book Discussion, Uncategorized

I was inspired to write this post after I was listening to a recent Writingexcuses podcast featuring the very popular horror author, Darren Shan who as you might know wrote the Cirque de Freak series which is a horror series for a middle grade/YA audience along with a series of other adult and YA horror. Brandon Sanderson posed the question, “Is there anything you can’t do when writing horror for children? and Shan’s responsImage result for lord loss darren shane was:

One thing I’ve found with my editors and publishers is sex. You can be as violent as you want. [I wrote a book called] Lord Loss and [there’s a scene where] a boy walks into a bedroom, his father’s hanging upside down from the ceiling and his head’s chopped off, his mother’s ripped to pieces, his sister’s been cut in two and a demon’s behind her back moving her hands like puppets and that was all acceptable.

It seems to be this growing trend or existing trend I suppose that the more grittier and violent a YA book is, especially SFF and horror, the more authentic it is. This was some of the praise for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Laia exists in a world where you see violence around every corner and promises of rape at several points. It’s not the first YA book to do this although I have to admit I think An Ember in the Ashes is the more graphic than most other YA fantasies out there. This was only confirmed in the sequel, A Torch Against the Night. Tahir is definitely not afraid to chop off some heads and cut off some fingers. But usually a statement like that has been met with praise. But now I wonder, is it something to praise? In some ways, I attribute this Image result for game of thrones season 6 postertrend to Game of Thrones. Now I’ve read the first book but haven’t read the rest nor have I seen the TV show. I don’t mind hearing spoilers so usually when my friends tell me about last night’s Game of Throne episode, they’re usually talking how violently this person was killed or how many people died this episode. I learned to equate, “that episode was so good” with it’s probably because something really violent happened. Everyone tells me not to get attached to the characters because they’ll die but the thing is I like getting attached to characters and honestly what’s the point if everyone dies? What’s the point of showing such an overtly violent world? I understand I’m really oversimplifying GoT, but I’m only talking specifically about the violence. I see the appeal of dark and gritty fantasy worlds and seeing characters pushed to their limits. It’s in fact, why the stakes feel so high in An Ember in the Ashes. but at the same time aren’t there other creative and interesting ways to develop a harsh world, a cruel character without just escalating a narrow definition of violence?

I’m currently reading Half the World by Joe Abercrombie and it kind of proves my point of the “narrow definition of violence” where a harsh world is depicted only through how violent (how many stabbings, killings, deaths) it is. Many reviewers have praised that the more violence there is, especially in YA, the more realistic it is. But it’s funny because the amount of violence portrayed versus the amount of sex portrayed doesn’t feel like it’s correlated at least in YA. In adult books, there seems to be a more equal balance between the two.

Darren Shan mentions that all that violence in that one particular scene of his book was allowed but what about sex? He elaborated that:

In my vampire series Cirque Du Freak, at one point there’s this process that vampires go through which I had called vampuberty and my publisher said no, you cannot say ‘vampuberty’, we must not mention anything that has any slight sexual connotation whatsoever.

I found that disheartening because that means it’s ok for kids to read about heads getting chopped off and people being cut in half but it’s not ok to mention puberty? A confusing but natural process that affects every kid at some point? Now my problem is not with how much violence is portrayed but the fact that such a triggering scene was assumed to be well handled by kids but things like puberty were supposedly “too adult” and must be kept in the dark like a bad secret. According to Shan, the reasoning behind the ban on vampuberty was because “teenage boys [didn’t] want to talk about sex or read about sex” which is an assumption that is laughable at best. I think it’s a shame to be honest, because this is a real opportunity to teach young boys (and girls) about something that is in reality, just very confusing and maybe something like that mentioned in a book would have helped them better understand it. Even in YA books with copious amounts of violence, the romances are, for the most part, conservative and chaste eImage result for wither lauren destefanospecially regarding the main character. Think of The Hunger Games trilogy where kids are literally killing each other to the death (Rue!) but the romance itself is almost too afraid to show itself. I cannot tell you how many times the main character “blushed” or how much they made puppy eyes at each other in YA. To be fair, it might have to do with the fact that violence is prevalent at any age but the concept of sex is relatively new to teenagers. By the way,
I’m mentioning this under the assumption that the more violent a world is, the more sex there should be although that theory is probably inaccurate. I’m merely pointing out the trend that it is perfectly acceptable to input more violence into a book but the amount of sex or even sexual connotation has stayed relatively the same. In the YA novel, Wither by Lauren Destefano, a man marries 3 girls including our main character. He proceeds to have sex with his other two wives (consensual if I remember) but the main character never does have sex with him or vice versa because that would just be distasteful wouldn’t it.

I suppose it also has to do with the fact that America is in reality a conservative country. I’ve heard of many libraries that ban books with consensual sex in them but allow books that have graphic rape in them (a lot of these books were for required reading) because that totally makes sense. Even in books like Divergent, sexual assault is more graphic than the actual romance. Let’s have high schoolers learn about rape but not about consenting and pleasurable sex between two people!

It obviously looks like I’m advocating for less violence and more sex in this post..lol..but my point is that maybe that the more violent a book is does not make it any more authentic and realistic and that sex should be more openly talked about because consensual sex is kind of important, ya know?

Let me know your thoughts on what I’ve discussed!

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October 2016 Wrap Up!

Uncategorized, wrap up

October as a reading month was pretty much expected. Some novels, a graphic novel, a play and a short story so just the usual for me. But I’ve got a lot to say about these books so enjoy!

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

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4/5

I should actually watch some of the plays I read being performed because that’s how it was meant to be consumed but I guess I’m content with just reading them right now. I decided to read an iconic play from the 50’s. ARITS follows a black family from Chicago who have just come on a huge inheritance from their recently deceased grandfather. The play grapples with the characters’ polarizing desires as to how this money should be spent. Of course, these desires are just a platform to reveal these characters’ pride, aspirations and sense of justice which in turn reveal how those values suffered when faced with the racism and racial segregation of the ’50s. Besides weaving these themes with a deft and effortless hand, Hansberry asks, Is this fight for equality worth it when you can’t change people’s ingrained prejudices? I thought this was so eloquent and quietly powerful.

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

This is the sequel to the book An Ember in the Ashes which I gave a 4 stars when I first

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3/5

read it. ATATN continues right after the first novel and Laia and Elias are still on the road to breaking Darin out of Kauf and Helene is tasked to kill Elias. This sequel was not quite as good. What is as good as the first one was the way Sabaa Tahir handles plot and suspense. The plot is not over the top gratuitous but it’s enough to keep me really engrossed in the story. I think she also writes suspense pretty well. What doesn’t work as well for me is the characters. We get an additional perspective from Helene in this book so we could get a glimpse of what was happening in the Empire while Elias and Laia were on the run and although I found her plight sympathetic I could not for the life of me feel totally invested. I also thought Laia felt so bland because her character was so focused on Darin, Darin, Darin. Elias was definitely the most sympathetic character but that’s an obvious choice because he goes through so much shit in this book. I thought the first book resolved the love triangle but plot twist it’s not resolved and just really annoyed me. There was also a plethora of YA tropes in this one like the “I-have-to-stay-away-from-you-because-I-will-only-end-up-hurting-you” trope which just makes me want to shake someone. Overall, I will continue with the series if only for the plot; I think the ending really opened up a lot of possibilites for the sequel and I am quite excited.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

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4.5/5

This was actually a reread for me and although I didn’t like it quite as much the first time; this book still has a special place in my heart. This is the third book to the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch, which remains my favorite adult fantasy series. And this installment is my favorite in the series. You know a book is special when you are left in awe of how this author manages to give you such an immersive experience with amazingly imaginative worldbuilding and characters that you love with all your heart. I’m still eagerly awaiting the fourth book in this series which was suppose to come out in September but is now once again delayed (it’s been delayed like twice already) until 2017 because the author is getting married. Rude. Jk. But still. I now know the pain that Patrick Rothfuss/George RR Martin fans feel. It hurttttss.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

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3/5

I can see how incredibly important this book is in the history of AI science fiction. It is basically a bunch of interconnected short stories exploring Asimov’s created laws of robotics with different characters and time periods. This book is, above all, a book of ideas and philosophy so everything else is used as an extension of those ideas. And although these ideas are fascinating, it doesn’t make a compelling story and I just found myself bored.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I also finished the sequel to Six of Crows this month and it was fabulous. You can read my review here.

Graphic Novels

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3/5

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers explores the Boxer rebellion that took place in China from 1899-1901 through the eyes of one Chinese boy named Bao. It’s a good introductory and sometimes humorous take on themes like Western colonialism in terms of religion and the concept of the antihero and how everything basically sucked during this time. The artstyle is very simplistic and almost cartoonish but it doesn’t detract from the horrors of the story. There’s also a little bit of magical realism thrown in. But the story itself drags and is actually a little too conventional when it comes to Bao’s story, you know the underdog who gets bullied but becomes the hero blah blah and is ultimately, just meh.

Short Story

The Ostler by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins is considered one of the first suspense writers which I can definitely see. He has such delightful turn of phrases and really makes you stop in the right places for the full effect of whatever is happening in the story. The Ostler is considered a ghost story and a really creepy one at that. I highly enjoyed it and I definitely want to read some of his full-length novels now.

Let me know what you read in October, if you’ve read any of these and also if you have any recommendations for historical fiction, please comment because I really want to read some in November but I have a surprising lack of them in my TBR.

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Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

book review

20560137Author: Sabaa Tahir

Pages: 446

Genre: YA, High Fantasy

Synopsis: Goodreads

Rating: tealstartealstartealstartealstar


*Gasp* Did you hear that? It was the sound of me in shock that I’ve finally enjoyed a YA high fantasy. It’s been a while (if you don’t include The Winner’s Curse which is more light fantasy). An Ember in the Ashes reminds me of why I loved YA fantasy in the first place, because it is exciting and fast-paced and has characters and ships you become severely attached to.

The funny thing is we’ve seen these plotlines before in YA time and time again. Girl wants to go find a family member. Girl goes to spy on enemy for resistance. Brutal, dystopian society. Romance between girl and boy of different social stations. What makes this story different is that Tahir is not afraid to take her characters to their limits and doesn’t censor or sanitize any of what makes this society brutal (except I didn’t like the use of rape as a plot device). Because of that, she elevates the tension and suspense to their maximum effect and makes this story exciting and action-packed. I was actually scared for Laia whenever she went to spy on the enemy because the consequences were so dire.

The character arcs themselves were very interesting to follow. Instead of not knowing the Empire is bad, Elias already knows he wants to desert the Empire so the reader doesn’t have read about the same old development arc we’ve seen before. Laia, on the other hand, is afraid she is not like her mother who was brave and charismatic. She’s afraid of being a coward and not being able to look out for the people she cares about. I loved her character arc especially because her growth isn’t an entire transformation and isn’t slapping you in the face with how obvious it is. Instead, it’s a subtle growth that quietly transforms her character and by the end of the book, she is ready to take on the world. *Happy sigh* There were also some interesting side characters (including another servant that Laia makes friends with and the Commandant who is..crazy..) that are as equally fascinating and that make for fun and complex relationships and bonds.

As for the romance, there are two love triangles. One for Elias, the other for Laia. *Oprah voice* Everybody gets a love triangle!! (Jk) I’m not one for love triangles so I found it a tad annoying. Elias would think this person was oh so hot and then the next page, he would say the same thing about Laia. And vice versa. Even though it was annoying, I still liked the interactions between Elias and Laia. And I could ignore the annoying parts because the other parts of the book made up for it.

There’s a touch of the supernatural in this book which I felt was slightly incongruous with the worldbuilding. The worldbuilding itself was pretty decent, especially with the histories, cultures, and customs of the two opposing societies. However, the descriptions of the physical locations and buildings and things like that needed work. This book has been promoted as Roman-inspired but I didn’t see any of that except maybe the use of the amphitheater.

I’m glad this book isn’t a standalone because this book definitely leaves a lot of unanswered questions. If you’ve already read this book, I did post a spoiler discussion of my thoughts so you can check that out if you want! Let me know if you’re planning on reading this book!

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Spoiler Discussion: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book Discussion

So I just finished An Ember in the Ashes yesterday and I wanted to spew out my thoughts. I will be posting up my non-spoiler review very soon if you haven’t read the book. But for now, long story short, I gave it a four out of five stars so I really enjoyed it. Spoilers from here on out!

The Masks and the masks

First off, I still don’t get what the masks actually look like…like it would have to be thin I’m assuming because how else would it meld into your skin??

The Precious Cinnamon Rolls aka our main characters

I really liked all of our main protagonists. I have a soft spot for Elias (add him to my list of book boyfriends) but I really liked Laia too. I feel really bad for all the shit she had to go through at Blackcliff but her character development was beautiful. You know, not always believing what people tell her and finding out the true meaning of courage and sacrifice (I sound like a Hallmark card). Helene was understandably frustrating. I mean she has grown up in a world where loyalty to the Empire is a must. I mean you have to remember that the way she thinks about slaves and scholars came from the empire teaching that to her so I can’t really be expected to like her way of thinking. I’m super happy about getting her point of view in the sequel and I almost wish she wasn’t blood shrike because I would want to be at least a 20 mile radius away from Marcus.

The Not So Precious Cinnamon Rolls

I really liked the Commandant’s character and how she showed absolutely no mercy because usually there’s some small chink in the armor with these types of characters or some really tragic backstory but there isn’t with her character and the fact that Tahir was brave enough to push the boundaries on the violence (that “k” scene tho..) really amped up the tension and suspense because I was actually scared when Laia would go off and spy for the Resistance thinking she was going to be caught at any moment. Heck, I was even scared whenever she was talking about basically anything to Izzi.

I also kept thinking something bad was gonna happen to Izzi but nothing happened so that was good..*knock on wood*

The drama! The romance!

I also have mixed feelings about this love square that we’ve got going on or more like two love triangles..I liked that there was a love triangle with a male character but I felt like it wasn’t necessary. Because romantically, there’s nothing really to explore with Helene’s character. I don’t think there was any way it could have worked because Elias doesn’t want anything to do with the Empire but Helene wants everything to do with the Empire. I feel like even if they were good friends, Helene would have still done the deal because that’s how loyal she is. On the other hand, I felt like the love triangle with Laia, Keenan, and Elias was more warranted because Laia feels that Keenan understands her predicament whereas Elias understands her as a person. But I got annoyed with Keenan, mostly because I ship Elias and Laia.. The moon festival scene was so cute *_* and who can forget the scene after the Third Trial..

Also, I low-key ship Keenan and Izzi..

Also, it sounds really harsh but I was kind of annoyed with Darin for going to jail!!!! (jk) But Laia was sacrificing everything for her brother. I just feel like I needed more development and interaction between Laia and her brother for me to be invested in their relationship.

Oh No You Didn’t

I knew that the Test of Loyalty was definitely fighting Helene but I didn’t quite believe it because that is just cruel. Fighting your best friend to the death?? But I think it’s interesting that one of them would have killed the other and there weren’t any real hard feelings after that from Helene. Like ok, you almost killed me!! But that’s ok because you were just doing your job!! ha. ha. ha. I thought one of them would have backed down and say no but I liked that Tahir pushed the characters to their limits (almost).

For the literary critic in me

I have noticed a recurring trend in YA. It’s ok if there’s extreme violence in your book but the romance always has to chaste..like what..it doesn’t fit..

One thing that did really bother me throughout the book was the use of sexual assault. Not in the way it’s used necessarily (although the scene with Marcus and Laia felt a little gratuitous to me), but the concept surrounding it. The Commandant mentions that it would have been better if Laia had been scarred because then she would have been ugly and not be raped. This sentiment is consistently mentioned and it bothered me because beauty does not enter into the rape equation. Being beautiful does not give you a higher chance of being raped. That’s essentially like saying if your clothes are too revealing, you have a higher chance of being raped or vice versa. Rape is about power no matter who it is.

I realized I had a lot to say so kudos to you if you stuck till the end. If you did, comment moon cake below and let me know your thoughts! 😉

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