Annotated Bib. – Gender Roles in YA Fantasy

As we navigate through life, we will forge our characters and slowly discover what our identity is through experiences and personal events. Oftentimes though, we are influenced by the people around us or by the things that we are exposed to. Although many will argue the contrary, books play a big part in our lives, as the worlds and characters we are confronted with will open our eyes to a myriad of scenarios and personalities that can unconsciously guide us or provide us with someone we can relate to. For authors that can be a great motivation or a strenuous pressure as many readers will unconsciously choose role models within the characters they encounter. That is why it is tremendously important for books to be written with powerful positive characters, yet young women often are faced with the opposite when browsing through Young Adult Literature.

Young women already face pressure when it comes to social acceptability. As Mary Pipher writes,

“Girls have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much; be polite, but be yourself; be feminine and adult; be aware of our cultural heritage, but don’t comment on the sexism. Girls are trained to be less than who they really are. They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become.” (Pipher, 44)

In literature too we see women often portrayed in an unfavorable light. Janet Peterson points out how “[f]or decades, textbooks and literature available to young adults have generated bias against females.” (Peterson, 1) The damsel-in-distress setting is all too common, where we have a weak and passive female just waiting for a big strong man to come to her rescue. In horror stories girls are often shown to be hysterical and unable to use their wits or brain to formulate any sort of plan.

Young adult literature has come a long way when it comes to the portrayal and empowerment of women. Books such as The Hunger Games and Divergent have presented us with strong female protagonists, yet Antero Garcia argues how even then “depictions of traditional femininity still finds these characters as subservient and meek.” (Garcia, 77) Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Among the countless titles that exist in YA literature, there exists books that challenge this concept and introduce us to girls who refuse to be painted with the expected brush of femininity.

Fantasy is a great genre for these empowering women, for it allows them to confront missions and quests that wouldn’t be possible in a realistic setting. The following books are all stories in which the protagonist must face the constraints of femininity and we shall see with further detail just how they overcome them and the different courses of action they utilize to achieve that

Cashore, Kristin. Graceling, Orion, 2008

In the Seven Kingdoms, children with mismatched eyes are Graced, gifted with an extreme skill. While for others it may be swimming, flexibility or intelligence, Katsa is Graced with killing. She is lethal with hand to hand combat and has deadly accuracy with arrows, knives and daggers. As such she is under the command of her uncle the King, who uses her to carry out cruel punishments to anyone who might displease him. Yet one day Katsa meets what might prove to be her match, a Graceling fighter by the name of Po. Despite not being at her level, he challenges Katsa to more than just fighting, as he forces her to confront herself about her true nature and provides her the courage she needs to defy her uncle. Together they set out on a journey to rescue Po’s cousin and to possibly save the Seven Kingdoms. Although she has never lost a fight to Po, could it be that she just might lose her heart along the way? As they reach a Kingdom hazy with lies and deceit, will Katsa’s Grace be more than enough to protect not only those she cares about but also those unable to protect themselves?

Despite being trained with a single purpose, Katsa begins to question her missions and starts an underground organization dedicated to fight the corruption and evil within the kingdoms. She shows us that if we take a leap of courage and reach out to others, we can help those who are unable to help themselves. In her travels, Katsa also noticed how despite being the weakest and most vulnerable, girls and women were taught nothing of fighting and instead relied on the protection of their fathers, brothers and husbands. Women were expected to be the mistress of the home, someone used to produce heirs. Katsa prizes her independence and buckles under the thought that she should entrust her protection to someone else. As consequence, she sets out to give fighting lessons to girls all over the Seven Kingdoms, determined that they should have an equal chance of defending themselves as anyone else. She demonstrates to readers that girls can also be strong and brave in the face of trouble.

Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure, RHCP, 2014

As a lady born to a noble family, Alanna of Trebond is destined to learn the art of magic, but she instead switches places with her twin Thom and heads to the capital city of Tortall, to King Roald’s court to become a knight. Her brother takes her place and sets out to become a sorcerer while she changes her name to Alan and braces herself to living her life as a boy. Although her skills back home were known, court life proves to be tremendously harsh, as Alanna tries to balance a dawn to dusk work schedule while trying not raise suspicion about her gender. She has to learn how to overcome her smaller size and weaker physique so that she will not get left behind and thus be able to stand her ground to anyone without getting caught.

Alanna is a character that proves to be a great role model. She does not conform to the roles given to girls in her time, and instead does all that she can to fight for her dream. She isn’t afraid to ask for help, recognizing that there are areas where she is weak and can benefit from the help of others. When she is singled out and starts to be harassed, she refuses to let others fight her battles for her and instead works herself to the max, training and learning all she can till the day that she finally confronts her bully head on and defeats him in an honest fight. Via her courage and determination, she proves that with hard work and persistent effort we can indeed reach our goals and defy those who mistreat us.  

Forrest, Bella. The Gender Game, Nightlight Press, 2017

The toxic Veil River separates two vastly different lands. Towards the East lies Matrus, a land governed by women, and to the West lies Patrus, a land dictated by men. Violet Bates is a Matrian girl with anger issues who has been rotated among several correctional facilities as punishment for trying to smuggle her little brother to Patrus. Tim was found to have ‘aggressive tendencies’ and is therefore unfit to live in peaceful Matrus, yet Violet knows that is far from the truth. Due to several misconducts, Violet is given the choice of crossing into Patrus as a spy or to die for her crimes. Under the facade of marriage, she enters the patriarchy, where women are possessions of their husbands with no right to work, drive, vote, testify or able to own money or property. If she ever hopes to see her brother again, Violet has to set aside her emotions and morals in order to undertake the dangerous missions Matrus demands of her, while at the same time making sure to play the part of a weak and submissive woman who abides by all the rules. Yet Violet has never been a fan of rules, and she starts to wonder where she truly belongs.

Despite her circumstances, our character is a strong and skilled fighter who refuses to let herself be swept away in the concept of how women should be and behave. Even though she is often scared, she faces everything that is thrown her way with steeliness and determination instead of taking the easy way out. She does her best to protect the people around her without hurting innocent people.

DeStefano, Lauren. Wither, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011

Seventy years ago, scientists managed to create a generation of children immune to any disease, practically perfect. Yet when these children grew up and reproduced, their offspring and all their descendants were born with a terrible flaw. Males live to the age of 25, while females only have 20 years before they’re eradicated by a terrible virus. The remaining perfect race, the First Generations, refuse to give up on humanity and constantly perform experiments in a desperate attempt to create an antidote. Rhine Ellery is one of countless girls who ends up getting kidnapped and sold off to a wealthy husband to breed more children and keep the population going. Rhine must navigate through the conflicting feelings she has towards her husband, the trust and wariness she has towards her sister wives and the constant desire to let her twin brother know she is alive. She conspires to escape along with one of the servants, but will she be able to make it before her time runs out or will she be caught again in the grasp of her cruel father-in-law?  

Although she is caught in a dire trap, Rhine does not break in spirit. She learns to trust her sister wives and together they form an alliance against their husband. She demonstrates to the readers that there is strength in unity. By reaching out and becoming friend of the entire staff under her husband’s house, she allows us to see that differences in statuses should not matter when forging friendships.  

Pierce, Tamora. The Will of The Empress, Lindfield, N.S.W: Scholastic Press, 2005

Sandry’s cousin, the Empress of Namorn, has been insisting that Sandry visit and oversee the extensive lands under her name for years. Finally Sandry relents and armed with her mage friends enters her cousin’s court, where she must use her cunning to survive. Empress Berenne however, has set her eyes on the individual skills that Sandry and her friends possess and has set her mind to maintain them in her Empire no matter what it takes. She offers money, power, love, fame and liberty of magic use to Tris, Daja and Briar individually, yet they remain loyal to Sandry. In order to gain full access to Sandry’s wealth and lands she only needs to marry her off, as the beautiful Empress is quite capable of controlling any man within her Empire. When numerous courting attempts fail, the young nobles of Namorn turn towards a frequently used method of matrimony: bride kidnapping. By kidnapping a girl and forcefully getting her to sign a marriage contract, the couple are now legally wed and as such the husband has the right to all the property and wealth of his wife. The Empress always gets what she wants yet Sandry and her friends did not earn their mage medallions at such a young age for nothing. Will the combined forces of her friends be enough to return back home, or shall the will of the Empress continue to succeed?

The noble women in this novel are used as pawns, unable to live their own lives or make decisions. Our character however refuses to be told how to live and who to marry. She uses the power of friendship to tackle these problems head on and demonstrates that with the help of those who we hold dearest we can battle anything out. She drives home the point that girls should find someone who values them for who they are and not for their position or wealth. Towards the end Sandry knows that with her absence the women in her lands will continue to suffer, and after the advice of her friends she relinquishes her title to her uncle, thus providing protection to all the young girls in her vicinity. With this action we can see that sometimes we have to let go of what we treasure the most in order to do the right thing.

Works Cited

Antero Garcia, Gender and sexuality and YA, pp. 77–93, SensePublishers, Rotterdam, 2013.

Peterson, Janet. “Gender Bias and Stereotyping in Young Adult Literature.” Children’s Book and Media Review 17.3 (1996): 2.

Pipher, Mary Bray. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves Of Adolescent Girls. Riverhead Books, 2005.

The Graphic Novel & Movement

Although comics have long had their own well-developed community and different forms of graphic novels-manga- have been popular in other countries for a while, graphic novels have recently also risen in popularity here in the US. In a press release from 2017, NPD Group reported a 15% sales growth from the previous three years when it came to the comics and graphic novels category.

But how do graphic novels work anyway? We know there must be a story as with any novel, yet can a ‘picture book’ truly be as impactful and deliver as great a message as a normal book? We seem to have this misconception that serious adult books contain no illustrations whatsoever and that any sort of images renders a book infantile. As Scott McCloud points out, “traditional thinking has long held that truly great works of art and literature are only possible when the two are kept at arm’s length” (140)

That is false. No matter how great a novel is, we are forced to employ a skill that not everyone has: a powerful imagination. With graphic novels, a whole new world opens. We are no longer constricted to a pool of words and dependent on a sometimes lazy or inexistent imagination. Via illustrations we can better comprehend a story and truly grasp the meaning that the author is trying to get across. We can do so because we are no longer reliant on just one sense, as graphic novels try to provoke the five senses, a process described by McLoud as synaesthetics. Josephine Machon states how “(Syn)aesthetics derives from’ synaesthesia’” and explains that by stimulating one sense – in our case vision – the other senses can also be stimulated (13). An everyday example would be attributing a particular scent to colors or to words.

We don’t associate the scent of lavender to this particular word, right?

So how do graphic novels accomplish this? Let’s focus on sound. Graphic novels use text to represent a sonic event. Sound effects are added throughout the story to pull us in and to put us in the shoes of the character.  Aaron Meskin notes how “[t]hrough an interesting use of visual signs, but primarily through the use of onomatopoetic words, comics are able to represent temporally-extended processes or events in such a way that traditional visual mediums such as painting standardly do not, since they eschew such symbolic means of representation.” (100)

In the following video, comic artist Mark Crilley goes into further detail into just how exactly sound is added into a comic.

He explains how small versus large lettering reflect the volume of the desired sound.

Loud noise depicted by large lettering
Soft noise depicted by small lettering
















The font of letters tend to go hand in hand with the tone of the sound.

As the panic starts to set in, the font becomes more distorted.

The shape of the words affects how the sound is represented in the page.

Although they are soft, the sounds jump out and seem to follow Rose everywhere.

Through all of this we can see how sound is shown in a comic, but how is motion represented? How do you show motion in a static medium? “How do you show this aspect of time in an art where time stands still?” (McLoud, 110)

Comics often indicate that an object or a person is moving quickly by drawing a series of lines emanating from that object or person. These are speed lines… they are representational in that they indicate features of the story-world, namely the speed in which objects move. (Meskin, 97)

Meskin calls them speed lines while McCloud says they can also be called ‘zip-ribbons’. In essence, these lines are used to represent motion, a passage of time.

Both motion lines and multiple images represent a span of time in a single panel.

But that doesn’t mean an artist can’t use the standard panel-to-panel closure to represent a passage of time.

However ‘simple’ a graphic novel may be, it will still be a richer experience for the reader than the traditional book. Perhaps since it hasn’t been that long since they transitioned from picture books to the standard novels young audiences remember the power of visual elements with more frequency, thus attributing for the 57% of overall purchase of comics and graphic novels within the age range of 13-29.

Although it receives much criticism, the graphic novel has much to offer to the reader.

[M]any teachers have shown how graphic novels can help energize students whose interests are hard to capture, can aid low-level and nonnative English-speaking readers through the twinning of words with images, and can challenge higher-level readers to expand their analytical skills to include consideration of visual elements. (Hansen, 57)

Hopefully after all this you can look beyond your reading comfort zone and add a graphic novel, comic or manga to your To-Read-List and challenge yourself to see all the elements included.

Works Cited

Crilley, Mark. “Adding Sound Effects to Comics: 10 Tips” Youtube, 30 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCVwFexvCT0&list=PLBiW8y5LSHK4ajygBf6GBYC5KLBenvkaI&index=14

Hansen, Kathryn Strong. “In Defense of Graphic Novels.” The English Journal, vol. 102, no. 2, 2012, pp. 57–63. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23365398.

Machon, Josephine. Defining (syn)aesthetics, pp. 13–33, Palgrave Macmillan UK, London, 2009.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics, A Kitchen Sink Book, HarperCollins, 1994.

Meskin, Aaron, and Roy T. Cook. The Art of Comics : A Philosophical Approach, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/siu/detail.action?docID=836638.

“Onomatopoeia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/onomatopoeia.

Riley, David. “Comics and Graphic Novels One of Highest Growth Categories in Publishing.” The NPD Group, 6 Oct. 2017, www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2017/comics-and-graphic-novels-one-of-highest-growth-categories-in-publishing-reports-npd/.

Tamaki, Mariko, and Jillian Tamaki. This One Summer. Roaring Book Press, 2014.

Exploring Ethnic Identity: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

I hadn’t stumbled upon (or really sought out) a book that explored the difficulties that youths face in Mexican American families quite like Gabi, A Girl in Pieces did. Through Gabi’s story, Isabel Quintero manages to capture the behind the scenes moments of a teenager caught in the magnetic pull of two cultures in a real and raw way.

Throughout her story, Gabi expresses her frustration at the way her family views both her and the world multiple times. Gabi was born into a family with Mexican roots, which means she must abide and deal with the socially constructed beliefs that envelop her race. And although Gabi takes pride in her ethnicity, she has to constantly prove her ancestry. She writes that “being Mexican-American is tough… your allegiance is always questioned” (Quintero, 34)

Her appearance is a constant source of irritation to her as she feels that she has “skin that doesn’t make me Mexican enough” (Quintero, 35) She is envious of the exotic brown skin that her friends have, noting how “people never say racist things about them… [their] Mexicanness is never questioned.” (Quintero, 35) ) Even her preferences and choice of friends propel her into doubt, as she questions herself “If I don’t like beans, does that mean I am not Mexican enough?” (Quintero, 148) Her mother of course is no help, as she “constantly worries that I might be too Americana.” (Quintero, 34)  

And both her mother and her family have a lot to say about how Gabi should be and how she should behave. For a girl in a Mexican household must keep her “ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas {eyes open, legs closed}” (Quintero, 7) Wearing short shorts automatically means “andar de ofrecida… no darse a respetar {offering and having no respect for herself}” (Quintero, 20)

Judgements

Gabi often feels that these erroneous deep-rooted beliefs create a wall between her and her mom. The beliefs that Quintero uncovers are true for many Mexican households and I can attest to that. Even till today I am personally wary of wearing anything that might pass off as too revealing, and even if do I can still feel the disapproving eyes of my parents, no matter my age. No matter how mild the case, that same belief runs through many families. I agree when Gabi writes:

That was hard to hear- my mom really thinks that all our worth is between our legs. Once a man has access to that, then we are worth nothing, and there is no future for us. (Quintero, 146)

Of course, we know that is false, but what her family says is important to her and affects Gabi because in Mexican communities, family is everything. “Family is one of those things you can’t escape and mine is no different” (Quintero, 62) That is the reason why when the moment arrives for Gabi to move out to college, she tries desperately to reason with her mom that she is not abandoning the family at all. Her mom-like many Mexican and Hispanic moms- has the idea that only white girls go off into the horizon, far away into the lands of eternal temptation. This is a recurring theme in not only Mexican but Hispanic household; that family must always come first; it does not matter if a good opportunity is lost consequently. I have personally seen it happen although the occurrence is a lot rarer as time progresses.

Mirowsky goes into this further as he explains how “an emphasis on the mutual obligations of family and close friends may have effects that are logically consistent but contradictory in their impact on emotional well-being.” (Mirowsky, 4) Gabi experiences this as she vents out how her mom does not care about her or her needs and fails to respect her as a daughter or person.

Responsibility to the group places constraints on the individual, who must take into account the expectations, desires, and well-being of family and friends. This limits the individual’s control over his or her own destiny. (Mirowsky, 4)

Tis a little off-putting at times how this statement and Gabi’s story coincide with both my life and the lives of many Mexican-American youths. Despite the pressure put forward by our families, Quintero urges her readers to surge forward to their destinies. In an interview given a few years ago, Quintero speaks about the decisions we have to make:

Sometimes we have to make choices for ourselves ad for our well-being. Our parents do the best they can, but often they’re tied down to roles that they were given. They’re not sure how to maneuver around new rules. I think it’s our job to be able to move forward and to change things. So do what you want and what makes you really happy. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable but that’s okay, you’ll get through the discomfort.

Works Cited

“INTERVIEW: Isabel Quintero, Author of ‘Gabi, a Girl in Pieces’ • The Strange Is Beautiful.” The Strange Is Beautiful, 31 Dec. 2018, thestrangeisbeautiful.com/interview-isabel-quintero-author-of-gabi-a-girl-in-pieces/.

Mirowsky, John, and Catherine E. Ross. “Mexican Culture and Its Emotional Contradictions.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 25, no. 1, 1984, pp. 2–13. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2136700.

Quintero, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos Press, 2014.

Roseaposey. “I took this last year…” Judgements, 5 Jan 2013,https://roseaposey.tumblr.com/page/3

Intro

Hello everyone!

My name is Fabiola (pronounces Fa-bee-oh-la) and this past semester was my first semester here at SIUE. I already have an Associate’s but am aiming for an English major with a French minor.

While I’m originally from Michigan I’ve spent quite many years of my life living in O’Fallon so SIUE was a great option for me. This summer I’m taking two literature classes (technically 3 if you can the constant French studying) and since everything is online, I shall spend quite a bit of time stuck to my laptop. I plan on spending this summer with my friends and family and on really cracking down on the exercise I never get around to doing. Hopefully by the end of summer I shall have passed my classes with flying colors and have obtained a flat tummy!! Ah, a girl can dream…

Anyways, this will be my second literature class ever, and since it focuses on one of my absolute favorite genres, I am excited to see how it will progress. While I have taken online courses before, none have been as short and fast-paced, so it will be a fun challenge!

I expect to have fun with this class because I have an inkling that we are all huge bookworms and that makes me feel right at home. I’ve moved quite often and early on I made an unbreakable bond with a friend that I could tote around with me anywhere: books. To have at your fingertips so many different worlds to dive in and explore continues to blow my mind and constantly frustrates my parents who practically push me out the door to socialize more.

When it comes to genres, I adore fiction, especially YA fantasy and science fiction. Off the top of my head I can name Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore as one of my fave authors.

I expect this course to open my eyes to the wonders of YA Literature and to be the platform for many enthusiastic discussions. I hope to come out with a better understanding of the gears that constitute this lovely category. For such a condensed course it is fundamental to be active and willing to participate daily.

I look forward to the course and to hear all your ideas!