The Fear Girls

Category: Books

The Mystery of Nancy Drew, Sometimes Role-Model

caitlin_biconBy Caitlin Clarkson

As a young girl, I was a voracious reader. I read everything I could get my hands on; American Girl books, various fantasy series, Call of the Wild and White Fang, the occasional mystery sneaked from my mother’s bookshelf, and plenty of Nancy Drew. The problem with being a speedy reader, however, is that I never could remember what happened in the books after a while- in one eye and out the other.

So when the opportunity to reread some Nancy Drew came up, I jumped at the chance, if only to see what exactly had engaged so much of my time all those years ago. And let me tell you- these books are kind of bizarre. It’s like Nancy was some crazy pre-feminist experiment to see how far this whole “independent woman” thing could be taken. Nancy is young, white, attractive, and wealthy. She already has tons of advantages in life, so the inclusion of intelligence and superior sleuthing skills makes her damn near perfect.

Nancy, this young feminist icon, has few obstacles when it comes to expressing her independence. She’s backed up by her lawyer father, her two best friends, and a very supportive boyfriend who never seems to mind helping her sneak into abandoned mansions instead of going out dancing.

typical Nancy Drew hijinks

typical Nancy Drew hijinks

After a few books, you start to get the idea that Nancy is this elaborate fantasy; I can’t blame young girls for being inspired by her, especially when she was first published in the mid-20th century. Unhindered by the Great Depression or WWII, Nancy is dedicated to helping those in need (and indeed, she rarely has other obligations- she’s a high school grad who lives at home and, I suppose, cultivates her numerous hobbies and skills when not solving mysteries). Despite the work she does and the danger she is often in, Nancy never accepts compensation for her good deeds. Because of course she wouldn’t.

And that’s where the problems with Nancy start- she’s just too perfect. It makes her pretty impossible to relate to; how many wonderfully talented and whip-smart, courageous girls do you know who also don’t pay rent or even cook for themselves? Who never fight with their ever-so-slightly less than perfect friends or boyfriend?

To be completely honest though… I sort of prefer this crazy robo-Nancy to where she’s been taken in more modern adventures. After going steady for over 60 years, Nancy breaks up with long-time beau Ned. She trades her convertible for a hybrid. She starts showing up on the covers of her books not discovering clues, but stealing glances at boys while in revealing clothes. She becomes less head-strong, more polite. She is frequently subjected to violence and friend drama.

When compared to the new Nancy, Nancy Classic ain’t so bad. She has all the independence that could be afforded to an 18 year-old girl in the 1950s. And, interestingly enough, I found it refreshing to read about a girl who isn’t bogged down in social drama that will be conveniently wrapped up almost the exact second after she solves the mystery.

She may not be easy to relate to, but there’s something wonderfully simple about a mystery book for girls that is just about the mystery, and not whatever else the detective has going on in her life. Nancy is an odd cousin to other old-school detectives (Dick Tracy, Sam Spade, Johnny Dollar, Rocky Jordan, Boston Blackie- I can name names for days) who never have anything more distracting to deal with than a throw-away femme fatale or secretary. The only difference between them and Nancy is that Nancy is constantly underestimated by her foes until it’s too late.

solving real mysteries, like a real detective

solving real mysteries, like a real detective

So while Nancy herself is perhaps difficult to live up to, I’m still pretty excited by the idea of a girl who sets her mind to a task that isn’t related to boys or friends, and is confident enough to get the job done without the explicit approval of her dad or boyfriend. In a world of teen fiction full of complicated emotions and interactions simply fraught with intense meaning, it’s nice to kick back with a smart girl who just does what she wants, and does it well.

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What We’re Reading: The God of Small Things

By Taylor Majewski

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a microcosm of gender issues that examines the foundations of post-colonial Indian society. This debut novel by Arundhati Roy, published in 1997, is the recipient of the Booker Prize and the Sydney Peace prize, as it challenges the injustices women faced and continue to face in India. The novel tells the story of Ammu, a divorcee, single mother, and educated woman living in Kerala, India during a time that predated Western Colonialism, a time in which the “Love Laws” were practiced and abided by. The Love Laws determined who a person can love, and how, and how much. Simply put, a person can only love and marry another person from their same caste and religion, and insurgents would be ostracized or even killed by the community. The basic concept of the Love Laws in which the novel is centered around was foreign and shocking to me, and at times it makes the story graphic and difficult to read. However, Roy’s character Ammu is a powerful representation of a person secondarily ranked in society, who challenges power structures to improve positions for women.

Ammu is a member of the middle class bourgeoisie, mother to fraternal twins Estha and Rahel. She initially married a man from a different caste and religion, divorced him, and consequently was not welcomed back into her father’s home after violating the Love Laws. Her children were even considered illegitimate due to her infringement. As the novel progresses, Ammu falls in love with Velutha, a Dalit, or Untouchable, a member of the lowest class. Their relationship is an illegal cross-caste liaison of revolutionary significance within the novel and shapes the struggle that Ammu copes with in her rebellion.

India is similar to the United States regarding gender issues because even in a post-fairness culture, the fight for gender equality continues.  Ammu is a fictional pioneer who sought to alter the hierarchy of rights and power between men and women in her rejection of solely serving as a wife and mother to someone she was supposed to love under the law. She wasn’t satisfied with being subservient in her society and defiantly risked her life in the name of love and her children.

As a tragic love story with a distressing setting, this book is not for the light hearted. But Roy crafts beautiful relationships between Ammu, her children, her mother, and Velutha which all invigorate the compelling effect of her revolt. The novel shows special insight into a possibly unfamiliar culture and is a promised great read.

Recommended Reading: The Girl Who Was On Fire

 By Caitlin Clarkson

I, like nearly everyone else it seems, has been caught up in the Hunger Games fever. While the film was finally knocked from first place at this weekend’s box office, it’s already grossed a more than respectable $365.9 million. I’ve been delighted to bond with several people over our mutual fondness for the series. But now that a month has passed since the film’s debut, and the release date of Catching Fire has yet to be announced, what is a fan to do? There are only so many times you can argue the sparse merits of Peeta vs. Gale, or philosophize over the fact that by being excited by the film, we are placed in the same position as the bloodthirsty Capitol citizens.

     For those of you craving a more thorough analysis of the world of The Hunger Games, here is my recommendation: the completely engrossing The Girl Who Was On Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy. The book is made up of 16* essays edited by Leah Wilson and focuses on a wide variety of topics, from stylist Cinna’s role in making the people of Panem notice and root for our heroine Katniss (in Terri Clark’s “Crime of Fashion”), to how modern science has already given us a world full of muttations (in Cara Lockwood’s “Not So Weird Science”).

     As someone who has a tendency to read too quickly, I encourage any of you planning on picking up The Girl Who Was On Fire to read only an essay or two a day. Nearly each one has enough content for you to mull over for quite a while. My favorite essay in the book, “Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of your Fist” by Mary Borsellino, has been present in the back of my mind for the past week.

     In her essay, Borsellino discusses how the villain of The Hunger Games trilogy, President Snow, sees Katniss as a girl who either is in love, or is a rebel. What President Snow fails to realize is that in the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, loving someone and showing that love is literally revolutionary. “With every interview and appearance,” explains Borsellino, “[Katniss] declares herself loyal to something other than the Capitol. And love has already proved to be more powerful than the Capitol, because both of District 12’s tributes have survived the Games.”

     Borsellino goes on to compare The Hunger Games to other stories where to love is to rebel: V for Vendetta, and more interestingly (and one of my personal favorites), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. While the love between Winston and Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four failed, the love Katniss felt for Peeta and Prim drove her onwards and is eventually what made her triumph in the end.

The piece of graffiti Borsellino’s essay is named after.

     Not every essay is an absolute gem. Some are perhaps a bit shallow; one or two failed to  wholly capture my attention. But there is more than enough substance in this slim book to keep a fan satisfied for quite a while. Personally, I think Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ breakdown of how the Peeta vs. Gale debate may actually be about which side of Katniss the reader prefers (a girl who loves and cares for others vs. a revolutionary) is worth the price of the book alone. Her throwaway line about how we should really be Team Buttercup is just icing on the cake.

*Be sure to buy the newer “movie edition,” as the first edition has only 13 essays. I bought the first edition, and am genuinely upset about not being able to read Brent Hartinger’s delightfully titled essay “Did the Third Book Suck?”.

The Hunger Games – Because we really needed another heroine with boy troubles.

By Sophia Rowland

  The Hunger Games. I get it. The young adult fantasy genre is sort of our generation’s current fad, the big thing that everyone is diggin’. As a young adult fantasy writer, I can get on board with that. As a feminist writer, I can always get on board with a female lead, especially one like Katniss. Or so I thought at first.

Before The Hunger Games, we had Harry Potter and Twilight. Before Katniss, we had Hermione and Bella. Two very different heroines. Hermione is arguably a pretty rad role model for young girls. She does well in school and assists our hero, Harry, in defeating a powerful and evil wizard. Hermione was certainly encouraging to read about when I was eleven and felt insecure about my frizzy hair and glasses. Knowing Hermione was a nerd made me feel okay about being one too. The author of the series, J.K. Rowling, gives Hermione a lot of room to grow in the course of her seven-book series, and what I like most is that Hermione is not entirely defined by her boy troubles.

Bella has boy troubles, too, except her boy troubles are the focus of all four Twilight books. Bella is sad in New Moon (the second book in the Twilight series) when Edward the vampire peaces out. She’s so sad she cries about it and nearly kills herself by jumping off a cliff. My opinion: not compelling, author of Twilight series Stephanie Meyer! But seriously, this is a popular heroine who is COMPLETELY defined by her relationship with men. We hardly know her in any other way, and that is outright ridiculous.

Honestly, I think romantic troubles are important aspects to include in young adult novels, whether the main character is male or female, because when you’re going through puberty, that is kinda what you focus on… the preferred sex. However, it isn’t the only thing going on. Puberty, or even just growing up, has a lot to do with personal growthgrowth beyond being in love. And I believe Rowling does a pretty decent job with Hermione on that front. Meyer, as I mentioned before, does not do such a great job. For me, neither Bella or Hermione really hit the nail on the head. What the young adult genre has been needing is a heroine readers (both male and female) can admire. A heroine who is strong and who isn’t defined by boy issues, or love triangles…

That’s why I was excited when I first met Katniss.

In the beginning, it was love at first sight with Katniss. She comes from a tougher, less privileged universe than Hermione and Bella, and she has real survival issues to deal with. That’s another issue with Hermione and Bella: they are both in school. So with Katniss, you get away from that “checking out the dudes over lunch” scene. Not to say that the school setting isn’t effective, but it’s a little played out when you return to it book after book in a series.

Katniss is also a hard-asswhich, believe it or not, is really refreshing. Although Hermione is powerful, it sure seems like she spends a lot of time crying and nagging the two other heroes. Still, that is pretty good compared to Bella, who has no personality at all.

Anyway! So I’m reading The Hunger Games and I’m like, “Yeah, you tell ‘em Katniss. You go! I hope you don’t die.” She handles situations well and logically. And I dig that Peeta, the male lead, encompasses more stereotypically female attributeshe’s sensitive, arguably more sensitive than Katniss. And a sensitive hero with a grumpy butt-kicking heroine is a fantastic dynamic to be sharing with kids. Seriously, boys need to know it’s okay to be sensitive. One example of this in the story is that Peeta clearly harbors romantic feelings towards Katniss, and when she learns about them she brushes them off. This is in part due to the novel’s dystopian setting, which makes Katniss pretty suspicious of everyone and everything, but it’s also because she has more important things to worry about…like staying alive.

There are political themes in The Hunger Games that are genuinely different from other books in the young-adult genre and I feel like Collins is doing a great thing by commenting on how awful and powerful reality TV has become. I mean, although we don’t have shows where teens are forced to kill each other, The Hunger Games makes you think about the TV shows we do have. Isn’t there something a little Survivor/Fear Factor-esque about the Hunger Games? And when the tributes are picked and given stylists to give them make-overs, doesn’t that just scream America’s Next Top Model or Bridalplasty? One of the most popular shows on TLC is Toddlers in Tiaras, which encourages mothers to spray tan their four-year-old daughters and parade them around like dolls…when are we going to realize that something is wrong here? The Hunger Games is a little bit like Pixar’s Wall-E where even though the future portrayed in the story is just fictional, there is a degree of warning in the message. Something that doesn’t settle right in our stomachs as we leave the theater or close the book. I mean, isn’t this why Fahrenheit 451 is still popping up in high school English classes across the country?

The Hunger Games offers young readers a lot to think about: questioning aspects of government and social economics, and the relationship between power and greed, to name to a few. The Games are a way to keep people oppressed, and this is an interesting aspect of the story that Katniss considers. The social oppression of the games and then her winning seems to cause an identity crisis within her. Now she has the means and money to survive and provide for her familybut this means now she has time to think about who she is and what she wants. And what she wants is…

Hold on. Wait a second…did this book just end with a love triangle? That guy Gale, who was in the book for like the first 15 pages is now a possible contender for Katniss’ heart? But wait, maybe she likes Peeta after all! Oh, this is so confusing… who will she pick? Oh, I have a question

WHO CARES?! Katniss, did you not just murder a bunch of teenagers? Are you seriously concerned about which boy you like more? Do you NOT have more serious issues going on in your life? What happened to all that identity issue stuff? Questioning the government? Wanting a better life? I liked that! That was about you! Not about boys.

It’s funny. In Twilight one of the key ingredients to the story was Bella’s love trianglewho does she like more? Edward the Vampire or Jacob the Werewolf? In Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince, Harry doesn’t even want to talk to Hermione because all she’s worried about is her love triangle with Ron and Lavender. And this battle of ‘does Ron like me?’ seems to take up a lot of the plot. Love triangles aren’t always bad things, but haven’t we had enough of them?

Everything in The Hunger Games is written pretty decently, and the plot compelling EXCEPT for the love triangle. Had Katniss’ initial worry in the series been that she loved Peeta for the wrong reasons, or that their connection was based solely on survivor’s guiltI could have gone along with that. But I didn’t see where the Gale connection was coming from. Katniss never seemed very concerned about love, and the turn was very unnatural.

And in some ways this isn’t even Katniss or author Suzanne Collin’s fault. What is the most disturbing is the desire to spin the Twilight phenomena of ‘picking teams’ onto The Hunger Games. “I’m Team Peeta” a.k.a. “I’m Team Edward.” I think Twilight established early on there was no Team Bella. So what does that say about Katniss?

Like I said before, I think it can be a good thing for young adult novels to have romantic aspects. And romance always has its bumps, it doesn’t need to be sugar-coated. But this was a book about survival, identity, and politics; I think we could have been spared another love triangle and another heroine with the same old boy troubles.

Recommended Reading: The Selves by Sonja Ahlers

 By Nusha Ashjaee

I’m not entirely sure how to refer to this book. Drawn & Quarterly published The Selves back in 2010, making me wanting to call it a comic book. However, it’s not a narrative in any traditional sense, and Sonja Ahlers isn’t a cartoonist. She’s a poet and visual artist known for her DIY style, collecting and rearranging found images to create provocative and feminist collages. This book is no different from those installation pieces.

The Selves is an examination of the role of women in pop culture. Collaging clippings of Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, a young Angelina Jolie, babies, children, fashion of the ‘70s and ‘80s, hamsters, kittens, and quotes from Sylvia Plath and Kate Bush, Ahlers attempts to create a portrait of the woman based on how they are portrayed in the media. As the title suggests, that single portrait is put together by many different versions of the self, creating a schizophrenic identity of the woman today. This book is the diary of the young girl; a portrait emulating the feeling of anxiety between her public and private self.

Visually, it is stunning. I would describe the artwork of The Selves as leather and lace. Ahlers uses the underground, punk-rock style of the zine and brings a sense of delicacy to it with overtly feminine clippings and photographs as well as including her own handwritten cursive and watercolors. The combination of these forms brings a sense of witticism on its own, but Ahlers has a knack for creating humorous compositions that carry a lingering sense of vulnerability and heartbreak.

Living in the midst of social networks and blogs where we are all consciously constructing our public personas, The Selves is a smart, funny, and intriguing look on how the external feminine self is put together and the tension it creates with the internal self.