The book you want your ten-year-old daughter to read.
And while you’re at it, your ten-year-old son too.
Like many people, I react negatively to books, movies, and television shows “with a message.” The last thing I need is a little lecture at the end of the story a la the old stop-motion Davey and Goliath. And yet, my favorite television show of all time, had a message, a big complicated one. For me at least, The Wire was about the ultimate power of institutions and the futility of trying to fight them from within (and without) but especially within. Is my acceptance of this deeply “message-oriented” story because it doesn’t have a religious origin (that I know of)? Is it because I agree with it? I don’t honestly know. Even lighter fare like Harry Potter and Star Wars have messages even if they are big and fluffy.
It got me thinking about my own novels. They’re just entertainment right? Or are they?
The first book in The Madrona Heroes Register Series was not just the start of the story, it was the start of my fiction-writing. I’d written for years, but never fiction. I knew the story I wanted to tell in broad terms, but the actual process of writing a 70,000 word novel scared the hell out of me. One of the ways I tackled that problem was by reducing the number of variables. I knew my heroes would be a group of kids. Why not my kids? I know them pretty well. At the time my son was 12, and my daughters were 10 and 7. And sure enough, my main characters are three siblings that happen to be those exact ages. And as the kids return for each successive book in each successive fictional summer, my novel children and my actual children are all exactly a year older as well.
But I didn’t just choose my kids as the stars of the books, I chose my middle daughter, as the main hero of the very first one. It’s her journey that we’re on. It’s her that we’re rooting for the most. And I didn’t just choose it out of convenience or a desire to make writing my first novel easier (and not just because she’s a super interesting character in real life as well). I chose her as the protagonist because she’s a girl. And there are already enough books with male protagonists to last a lifetime. Would people have liked the Harry Potter series less if Hermione had been the main character? If you ask me, she already was in many ways. But it’s not her name on the marquee, is it?
So, there it is — an opinion. A message that there aren’t enough books with female heroes. And we’re talking about literal heroes in this case as in my books the kids get super powers. It’s a perspective that my books can’t help but convey, or “shove down your throat” if you will. And it doesn’t end there. Over the series there many more interesting female heroes, not to mention, interesting characters that are Asian, Black, gay, divorced, refugees, old, disabled, homeless, and more. And I chose all that. I did it on purpose. Because that’s the world that I see in front of me and the world I want to write about. Am I preaching? Am I showing my bias? Am I trying to send a message? Do I even care?
Yeah I guess I do.
I am telling this story for a reason. For a few reasons actually. The first is that I want to create a world filled with characters that you the reader will care about. I want it more than anything. Every reader I find that cares about these characters is a gift to me. The pleasure it gives me is akin to meeting someone who cares deeply about my actual children. But there’s another reason I am telling this story. I worry about my daughters. I worry that the energetic, independent, assertive, almost super-powered young girls that I see at the age of 10 will hit a point around the age of 11 or 12 when they see what the world really thinks of them. Where the institutions around them, advertising, movies, TV shows, video games, books, music, sports, the business world, school, where it all tells them that they need to be a certain thing. An object to be defined by others. And I know in my heart it can’t be avoided. My daughters love to interact with the world around them, so they are going to swim in those messages. There’s no avoiding them. But that doesn’t mean I’m helpless.
The young women of my books are energetic, independent, assertive, and actually super-powered. They’re all different. And even though they may be superhuman, they all have human frailties as well. And I wrote them that way because I don’t want my daughters to lose those incredible qualities to a culture that tries to crush them into shapes that society finds pleasing. And while I’m at it, that’s the kind of women I want my son to respect and appreciate. So the books are for him too.
In retrospect, I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to admit that there is a message in my books. After all, it’s the truth. And if I’ve learned anything writing these books, is that the moments that resonate the most with my readers are the ones that do the best job conveying the hard truth of each of the characters. So it’s probably time I tried to do that not just in the my books, but when I talk about why I wrote them as well.