Okay, I’ve returned—still in one piece. (Major accomplishment for an author who goes in search of reviews on GoodReads).
“Why,” any seasoned or sensible author would ask me, “would you do that to yourself?”
It’s a perfectly legit question, but I’ve got a perfectly legit answer: to confirm something I expected to find there, namely: reviewers who commented on how Ellie, my main character in GRAVITY, speaks. More specifically, how she swears…a lot.
The fact that Ellie swears, in and of itself, is not the salient point of this blog. After all, swear words are not the sole commodity of teenaged boys. I mean, it’s not like their larynxes are formed differently, empowering them with the ability to drop the F-Bomb when a girl’s larynx can only form a “Gosh darn” or maybe a strongly emphasized, “Shoot!”
Kidding aside, there is a real issue here, and it’s one I was cognizant of while writing Ellie. She, like other girls who swear a lot, are often perceived/labeled as:
It’s not a box I’m fond of. Not a box I can live in. And, the more I crafted Ellie, I realized she couldn’t either.
From a sampling of Ellie’s narrative in GRAVITY:
It’s a damned stressful thought as I stand in my bra and underwear in front of my closet, scarfing my third Snickers bar and staring at every item of clothing I own and now despise. Also, my reflection in my dresser mirror is scaring the shit out of me. What the hell happened to my hair? Have I stood in front of my closet so long that my hair actually dried in those crazy white-blond spikes? One tap with the palm of my hand tells me I absolutely have. My alarm clock tells me there’s no time for another shower. My closet tells me I still have no idea what to wear, but I’m out of time so I have to put on something. Anything. Kate is expecting me to pick her up in less than twenty minutes, wearing actual clothes, and to make it worse, she doesn’t know about Jack.
God help me, she doesn’t know about Jack.
I am so fucked.
163 words. 4 swears. Honestly, that’s only 2.45% of the words crossing the line of “socially acceptable language for girls,” a line which Ellie clearly refuses to stand behind. Though she is willing to take a stance above it.
Why? Because she refuses to grow smaller in order to fit into all those little boxes of expectations the world puts on girls. Know what? I really, really, really love that about her. She spends her time OUTSIDE THE BOXES flinging herself off a ski jump at 60 miles per hour and flying the distance of a football field with the same confidence a surgeon has when cutting into a human body.
“Hell yeah,” Ellie says with every thought, action, statement, “I’m going to do this crazy thing because I am so fucking amazing, I CAN!”
Ellie is a complete and utter badass, which is something I thoroughly enjoyed exploring as I wrote her. It turns out, as I scanned GoodReads, I’m not the sole person in the Badass Ellie Fan Club. From an ACTUAL review on GoodReads:
+Loved Ellie, Jack, and Kate
+Great explanations and descriptions of skiing
+Swearing! Sex! No slut-shaming! Teens being teens!
+Ellie and Kate are perfect *love*
+Loved the family dynamics and issues
+Loved how it acknowledges the luck & privilege necessary to ski
Ellie is not the usual YA female protagonist and neither is her best friend Jack. Which I FUCKING LOVED. Seriously, so refreshing. They sneak into bars, have sex including flings and one night stands, make some stupid decisions, talk shit and swear, brilliant, and are figuring shit out the hard way. Plus, no slut-shaming!
If you’re a tut-tutter, check out all the other books for you instead.
Ah…the sweet, sweet moment when someone gets the art you make. [Deep sigh of satisfaction]
Of course, there were plenty of tut-tutters, as the reviewer above called them. Here’s a sampling of their thoughts:
Giving up at the 22% mark. The first person POV of this particular teenager is grating on my last nerve… entirely too many tall tales of her fucking girls, her preferred word choice.
What stuck out to me the most, and I wrestled with, was the dialogue. Ellie for a seventeen-year-old is way over the top crass. I couldn’t buy that this was a teenager. I think her dialogue kept throwing me out of the story.
And though this one didn’t specifically address the issue of language, it did reveal a filter through which girls are expected to behave:
Eleanor’s Blair Bitch Project was doomed from the very start, to be honest. I can’t believe her best friend convinced her to do something like that since it was predictable that sooner or later Eleanor would hurt someone she cares about. The fact that she blamed everyone but herself for the mistakes she’s made bothered me….
I couldn’t help but picture a lot of those reviewers looking a bit like this:
I also couldn’t help but wondering if Ellie had been, say, Steve, would I be writing this blog today? Would I have those reviews for evidentiary material of society’s reaction to a girl who is fluent in cussing?
I doubt it very much, but let’s take a look at another narrative, similar, but with one important revision:
From SOMETHING I WROTE JUST FOR THIS BLOG by Juliann Rich
It’s a damned stressful thought as I stand in the locker room, towel wrapped around my waist and staring at my uniform in my locker. We’re twenty minutes out from the final game of the state competition, and they’re all counting on me. Coach. The team. My parents. Even the fucking college scouts in the stands. They’re all looking to me, the star quarterback, to lead them to victory and I cannot—under any circumstances—drop the ball.
I run my hand over my buzzed hair and grip the back of my neck. My head is still pounding. The dizzy spells are getting worse, if anything. They have been all week since two hundred and sixty pounds of pure stupidity hit me out of nowhere like we were in a WWE match instead of running a pre-State scrimmage. At least my pupils are equally sized again. No way could I have lied to the doctor about that.
The room spins. The floor shifts. Sparkles dance in front of my eyes until I’m half convinced some asshole bedazzled the shit out of my uniform. I take a step backward, hoping like hell I’ll feel the bench behind my knees. I do and land on it instead of the floor.
God help me, I am so fucked. We all are.
Now, Mr. Football Star with the secret concussion may not win Eloquent Speaker of the Year Award, but I have read many (countless) books with male protagonists whose narrative and dialogue resemble this written just for you sampling. What I have not read are many reviews with stingy stars citing the crudeness of male speech or use of swearing.
Which makes me ask WHY?
It’s a good question and I encourage you to think about it. You’re more than welcome to email me your hypothesis here.
But know this: I am not in the slightest upset with those reviews or reviewers. I believe when an author puts a book into the world, the author needs to be able to let it go. It’s like raising your child until your child is no longer a child and enters the world. Sure, you hope the world will be kind and understanding and that your child will be well received 100% of the time, but you know that’s an unrealistic expectation. Your child, like you and your parents and their parents before them and so on, will face some hardship.
It’s called life.
As it is with raising children, so is it with publishing books. I don’t look over my grown son’s shoulder every second of every day, and I also don’t read every review. In fact, it’s become my rule to only glance at the overall rating to, you know, make sure the world hasn’t collectively decided my book sucked. Then I quickly navigate away from GoodReads to other fun places like, oh I don’t know, SnapChat. Where I am the bomb no matter what anyone says or writes!
We’re nearing the end of this blog and my other SnapChat videos are just lame so I might as well come out with the salient point I’m hoping to make to the reading public at large: Listen up! Girls Swear and It’s Perfectly OKAY!
Side note: Girls also have Sex and That’s Perfectly OKAY, too! But that’s another blog post for another day.
For today, I’ve revealed one box we stuff girls into and how we can break them out through the power of the written word via the point of view of an empowered female protagonists.
Not a bad day’s work. I’m pleased. I also guarantee there will be more blogs to come.