Thursday, June 25, 2009

Literary Heroines (Spoiler: If You Expect to See Any Bella Swans Here, This is So Not Your Place)

I'm sure I'll think of some later on today that I left off the list but for top literary ladies.

1) Jessica Darling

She always, always gets number one on my list because she is just about the most self-actualized, intelligent and unbelievably witty female protagonist I've really had the pleasure of reading from the perspective of.
I posted the picture of Second Helpings because even though it is the sequel to Sloppy Firsts, it was the first of the Megan McCafferty series that I read. On the day that I bought Second Helpings, I was at the local Borders with some old girlfriends of mine. We had previously been in a fight that lasted 15 months-one composed entirely of pretending the other was dead to the world. Anyway, we all made up and attempted to return to the normal and went to the bookstore as we all pretty much lived there anyway.
I found Second Helpings on the shelf and I remember seeing it on Amazon and being curious. The plot seemed tailor made for me, as Jessica in that point in the book was a senior in high school ready to take the next step...and I was also a senior in high school " "
The semi-rekindled friendship between the girls and me burned really fast back into ignoring one another but I didn't give a damn. I had Jessica Darling to read about and for the better part of my senior year of high school, I was happier than a million clams, reading about Jessica and her family, her friends, her classmates and the always entertaining and enigmatic Marcus Flutie.
I bought the rest of the books and devoured all of them.
Jessica is one of those very rare girls in society who speaks her mind and does not side in with the cool crowd, rather she despises her popular friends who are similar to the Blythe dolls in the fact that they have huge vapid minded heads and itty bitty bodies.
She is also very intelligent, not only academically but topically. The amount of pop culture references in these novels are not only alarming in the fact that they are funny and well-phrased but they will stay relevant for years to come. Very few writers can pull that off.
I also cared deeply for Jessica. This was highly unlike the Gossip Girl series where by the end of the day, I didn't care what happened with Serena and whathisface and whosthatbitch and the never ending name dropping of DiorKiehlsGucci that decided that since the story lines were pretty flat and stupid, by dropping in some expensive designer names you can at least give the illusion that there was substance to the dramatic lives of others.
Jessica influenced me on the essay I wrote as part of my college application to the school I currently attend. The question of choice was to discuss in two pages a piece of art/movie/book that highly influenced who I was today.
1) I don't have any art that radically changed me as a person. I have a few photographers I like but no artwork of the oils and pastels variety.
2) I've only had a strong reaction to about three movies ever and I wasn't about to write about them because aside from reaction I got and how well made the movies were, they all had morose themes. Reading my paper would compel the reader to put his/her head down and give up on humanity or at least feel upset.
The movies, by the way, were:
4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days (the scene with the aborted fetus was harrowing)
Requiem For a Dream (Jesus Christ, I watched this when I was 14. Not only did it make damn sure I would never be a crack addict but I felt like throwing up after I watched it. Getting a vomit reaction is rare for a movie to do.)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Beautiful and it made me really appreciate my life. That sounds like a nice paper, huh? No, I would go off into a tangent on how the rest of society was too spoiled and self-centered to care about anyone else...etc)
3) You know where I'm going with this one.

Four pages of writing later, Jessica, my transcripts, and a portfolio of all of my other writing went to the university. I was accepted. I like to hope that whoever read the essay enjoyed it and maybe they decided to go out and read one of the books.

In short, Jessica Darling is like the amazing big sister I never had. Throughout the years, I've been with some girls who have reminded me in small doses of Jessica but only in small doses.

I've never had 'heroines' before but Jessica is probably the girl I most aspire to be like.

2) Cyd Charisse

8th grade. 13 year old Heather is pissed off at EVERYTHING you can think of. She does not want to wear pink or any other color expect red and black. She will not do that homework assignment and will instead turn in something else. She won't pay attention in class or listen to her parents or hang out with her brothers or be civil to her classmates. She is uprising and having her rebellion earlier than planned, if it was planned at all.

The only thing I wasn't mad about was the bookstore and the library, my lifelong saviors. They understood me totally. And so the day came to pass that I checked out Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn, drawn simply to the cover jacket of the girl who also seemed mad like me.

Okay, so Cyd isn't mad. She's just misunderstood. She's got an awesome surfer boyfriend named Shrimp, a best friend in Sugar Pie, Shrimp's grandma, and her other BFF, a rag doll named Gingerbread. Her mother Nancy and the rest of the household in Pacific Heights can't deal with the 16 year old's antics anymore so they send her out to her dad Frank's in NYC. Along the way, Cyd learns about her family, herself, and all of the little life lessons you can unexpectedly be handed.

A big thing that reasonated with me picking Cyd was the fact that she had a stuffed doll that even at 16 (and later on in the series as she grows older) that she didn't quite put down. When I was 16, I had a stuffed Pillsbury Doughboy ('Bobo') which I had since I was 10. Cyd mentions in the novel that Gingerbread and herself have a connection of sorts where they can just look at each other and know what the other is thinking. ESP via stuffing. Likewise with me and Bobo. I still have him today. I know there's like a time when you're supposed to grow out of stuffies but I never envisioned that happening with me. I still don't ever see it happening. He makes up a huge portion of who I am and there are tons of memories and people associated with him that makes me very valuable to me.
And that's the end of that chapter.

Jessica Darling = incredible big sister I never had
Cyd Charisse = coolest BFF I wish I had at 13

Cyd is not scholarly or academically driven but she is not some stupid girl either. She is intelligent in her own way, with her barista skills and the little ideas and schemes she had conjure up on the spot. She is a whole lot of fun and while she keeps herself focused on her dreams in the future, she is not someone who sits there and constantly thinks about tomorrow and lets the today pass her by. She lives for the moment and is very much a part of the moment.

13 year old sullen Heather liked her very much. As does 21 year old Heather still.

3) Laurel

Jessica Darling = incredible big sister I never had
Cyd Charisse = coolest BFF I wish I had at 13
Laurel= the inspiration behind the lovely tragically fictional girls I think of

You have your ups and downs, heads and tails in life. The ups are Jessica and Cyd. One of the downs is Laurel, the haunting female protagonist in Francesca Lia Block's The Hanged Man.

Block's books are unique in the sense that when you read them, it isn't so much about the specifics of the situation and the visualization that you must get upon the first paragraph. Rather her books are sensationally driven. Each sentence is strung into the page like a pretty necklace, filled with adjectives that can quickly size up if we are in a good or bad place and sometimes, turn those places in the opposite i.e. the most beauitful building in the world can be transformed into a rotting, broken down dive.

I can't write much without spoiling it but Laurel is a girl whose father recently died. She lives with her mother and goes to parties with her best friend, parties that appear innocent but really aren't. In this world, there is a fine line between what's real and what's imaginary. Enter Jack, Laurel's love interest.

A very short read that is heavily reliant on Tarot imagery, Laurel is beautiful to me in a doomed way almost. I don't know any Laurel's in my life (unfortunately?) but there are a few in my head that just kind of walk around, a little on the detached side but still able to jump back into reality and feel things.

4) Astrid Magnussen

I have been reading this book since I was 14 and I have loved it for a really long time.

Jessica Darling = incredible big sister I never had
Cyd Charisse = coolest BFF I wish I had at 13
Laurel= the inspiration behind the lovely tragically fictional girls I think of
Astrid= the girl next door I wouldn't ever want to be in the shoes of

Keeping this brief (as I'm at work and my boss is about to have me do something), Astrid has been carted around to a variety of foster homes ever since her mother killed her (the mother's) boyfriend. These homes range from the good (Claire) to the downright awful (Amelia). Throughout it all, Astrid grows and discovers who she is through experiences that while they may be heinous, are necessary to her character and to who she becomes when she is older.
Experience is the teacher, as they say. But in some cases, it isn't fair to throw such horrific experiences at people.

Love to you all,

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