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One more “Taken by Storm” review

April 18, 2010

“Baby I got sick this morning
A sea was storming inside of me
And baby, I think I’m capsizing
The waves are rising and rising
And when I get that feeling
I want. . .”

—lyrics of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,”

the theme song of Michael’s char

I struggle to write a review of the book “Taken by Storm” because my reactions swing wildly from critiquing it fairly as a piece of YA literature and having an emotional reaction as an LDS reader. I’ve divided my comments into “Review” and “General Reaction from an LDS Reader,” but please forgive any muddled thoughts that combine these two arenas. Finally, just to show I’m not trying to rain all over Angela Morrison’s parade, I’ve added a playlist of songs I dedicate to the Leesie and Michael characters. (Because that’s what happens when you read this book and then listen to pop music at the gym at the crack of dawn.)

“Taken by Storm” is the story of a romance between Michael, a diver from Washington whose parents drowned in a tropical storm, and Leesie, an LDS girl who attends the high school in rural Washington where Michael now lives with his grandmother. At its best, the story shows readers the evolution of two kinds of love—Leesie’s religious standards dictate that she adhere to a strict moral code of chastity, but she has never been attracted enough to anyone to want to express affection physically, so her standards have never been particularly challenged. Michael has never slowed down long enough to discover how to love a girl without taking her clothes off, or even contemplate the possibility. As their relationship develops, they discover how much of their personal value system they are willing to compromise to keep each other happy. Thus, at worst, “Storm” is a very long, sensual kissing scene.

“Taken by Storm” is very contemporary in that much of the story unfolds through Internet chat logs, Leesie’s poetry and Michael’s dive logs. Younger readers will likely find this appealing and novel; I wonder if this structure is the result of most teens doing their reading online now, gathering information through lists of bullet-points and search results. Maybe the YA market no longer wants to sit through passages of ordinary sentences unless there are hypertext links to click on.

While the poems and chats and dive logs were novel as literary devices, they were also a bit distracting at times. Michael’s dive logs are an interesting way to document his progress through his grief, but they are sometimes too metaphorical (who rates “depth” of conversations?) to be believable. While much of Leesie’s poetry was tender and appealing, for a few events (especially when she goes to her branch president to discuss her repentance process) I would have preferred to read regular prose. For other moments, such as when she receives a gloating phone call from Michael’s one-night stand, the poetry allows readers to see into Leesie’s heartache without having to witness more graphic sensuality, so it works well.

The frequent changing of story-telling method and perspective makes for a fast-paced, quickly developed tale with enough ups and downs to keep readers interested. Since the primary conflict in the story is Leesie and Michael’s vastly differing values, readers don’t have to wait for much build-up before the conflict is in full-force.

When readers hear from Michael, he uses a lowercase “i” as his personal pronoun, which I find highly distracting. I feel like he’s texting. I don’t care how common it is to leave out punctuation or capitalization for the sake of modernity, I just can’t believe the prose sections of a novel are the right place to incorporate this sort of literary device. Unless you’re e.e.cummings or k.d. lang, you should use capital letters.

There’s plenty of praise and criticism for “Taken by Storm” related to how “real” it is. I’ll add to both sides. I love a YA novel tackling a religious conflict. It is refreshing to read about a character of faith—any faith—and that is novel and appealing and what makes this book a stand-out in the genre.

I love the location descriptions, especially since I have been to many of them. I also like how the isolated, rural location adds to the conflict; if Leesie were growing up in Utah, or even in a metropolitan city just about anywhere else in the world, she would have more LDS associates and a more diverse high school population. Leesie would be less stranded and Michael the New Guy would be less interesting. Setting this story in “Teacup” is both relatable and effective as a plot thickener.

I love the ending. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who cares to read the book, so I won’t. I do appreciate the effort it takes to write some suspense and build-up to a dramatic ending that doesn’t just make it all feel dragged out pointlessly. The ending, in many ways, was the most realistic part of the whole story.

The religious conflict depicted makes “Taken by Storm” unique in the YA genre. In too many other ways, however, “Storm” is the same story of sensuality as too many others in the teen section. I read a lot of YA fiction, and this is my measuring stick for how good any of it is: Would I buy this book for my nieces (ages 14 and 16) or my kids’ favorite baby-sitter (18), who is like a little sister to me? They are all practicing members of the LDS Church and hold the same values Leesie means to in “Taken by Storm.” I buy them books regularly, especially when I find a good one I think will be appealing and uplifting.

Now, I am not one to shy away from conversations about intimacy or blush over difficult conversations— I have been a newspaper reporter in the past and am now a breastfeeding counselor, so it’s not like I shy away from the nitty-gritty of life. I suppose I am trying to clarify that while I hold LDS standards I do not consider myself a prude. But—this is the technicality—I am not convinced there is value in wallowing around in “reality” for the sake of entertainment when it is not uplifting. There is too much lip-sucking sensuality in “Taken by Storm” for me to give it to the teen girls in my life. They need to read well-told stories about girls like them who overcome challenges, but they don’t need to read about close calls in parked cars or girls whose values get worn down while trying to rescue uncouth boys. However “real” those stories might be, they are not encouraging.

I’ve read enough YA novels to know the sensuality in “Taken by Storm” would be considered mild by most, but I’m not “most” and neither are my favorite young women.

I wish very much the story of “Storm” could have been told with less skin. The physicality of Michael and Leesie’s relationship is so paramount that it becomes all their relationship is about. This cheapens the whole story and reduces the more significant conflict of faith—and makes Michael out to be downright sleazy. The story itself is uplifting, but it got dragged through the mud and that makes it disappointing.

More Generalized Reaction of an LDS Reader:

It is easy to root for Leesie because Morrison makes it clear that Leesie has some big goals and motives but is thoroughly pitched as the ultimate underdog. Characters must be real and therefore flawed, especially in a coming-of-age-type story (or else a story about them growing up would be meaningless) but some aspects of characterization and cultural details in the book seem highly UN-real.

I cannot buy Michael’s cocky attitude and overconfidence when it comes to womanizing. I get that Michael’s casual relationship concepts are inherited from his father, but this kid acts like he’s been living in a nightclub for the last 10 years and is preparing for a career on a used car lot. It’s hard to suspend disbelief when Michael’s ongoing assumption is that it’s always up to him whether or not he will have a romantic relationship with any given female. I know a lot of 17-year-old boys of varying backgrounds and value systems, and even the experienced ones are plenty insecure. Michael apparently believes his own publicity agent’s praise a little too much, since he is so aware of his awesome chick-magnet hair and lanky irresistibility. Even as the only child of doting parents, I would expect his character to be a little more self-aware and a little less full of bravado, although perhaps Morrison exaggerates this character trait to illustrate Leesie is the first girl who has made him second-guess himself at all. I swear the dude’s theme song is “Sexual Healing.” Whenever he messages Leesie “i need you” it never means he needs to talk about his grief and trauma, only that he’d like to lose it in a tidal wave of hormones. I lost respect for him early and never really regained it.

Leesie frustrates me to no end. I can’t say she is a good role model for LDS readers, and I can’t say she is a good representation of an LDS girl for readers of other faiths. She is so caught up in following arbitrary rules that she forgets the purpose for the rules, and never really explains her motives to Michael. He’s left to see her religion as restrictive and her God as vengeful.

I don’t get the “Ice Queen” angle, either. Does Leesie really not have any other friends at school before Michael arrives? Where’s her brother in all of this? Does maintaining chastity really make her a complete social outcast? I find that hard to believe, but Leesie is not much fun, sulking around and dividing her associates into Virtuous Me and the Wicked World. Perhaps the other chaste and sober girls are drinking Slurpees and going to the movies in Spokane while Leesie assumes they, too, are mean tramps. Other people have strong values too, but Leesie seems to miss that. (If I were to buy into her perspective or the stereotypes in the story, I’d have to believe the diving culture is one of casual sensuality. . . . And I bet a lot of divers out there would take issue with that broad generalization.)

However unfair, it’s always fun to tease someone who takes herself too seriously, and I’m afraid Leesie does. The scene of driving over hills is the only glimpse readers get of a Leesie who might have fun. Generally, though, Leesie lives her values like she is a constantly suffering martyr, and this is a deeply discouraging message for young female readers. I understand she is hassled for being different, and I understand she is young and her perspectives on life and her faith are maturing, but why does she have to be portrayed as so unhappy and apologetic to live her testimony? Her commitment to her faith should make her joyful, but it sure doesn’t seem to, even in spite of the conflict she feels.

I was disappointed that Leesie’s college plans were a big secret from Michael. What would he expect her to do after they graduate? Major in making out with him? He comes from a family wealthy enough to afford diving and traveling; surely his parents anticipated university studies for him, too. Even if his college plans are on hold because of his grief, he would expect Leesie to have her own plans. The fact they never discuss this aspect of the future makes their romance less meaningful to me; this would have been a big part of them getting to know each other and becoming real friends. But they stop talking about real things too soon and substitute all analysis for physicality. Bummer.

As an LDS reader, I wonder what card she hands to Michael that he can’t see in the darkened car. Is it a “For the Strength of Youth” card, which many LDS youth carry in their wallets to remind them of their standards? Many of the rules Leesie tries to follow are “family rules,” not general LDS standards, and I worry a bit that readers of other faiths will get the mistaken impression that “maintaining chastity” to Mormons means “doing only what you can do with both feet on the floor or with the width of scriptures between you.” The LDS “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet states “When dancing, avoid full body contact with your partner. Do not use positions or moves that are suggestive of sexual behavior.” There is no mention of keeping the distance of a Book of Mormon or any other urban legend about LDS standards.

Real LDS standards are much broader than Leesie’s many, detailed rules. In the “Sexual Purity” section, the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet reads, “Before marriage, do not do anything to arouse the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage. Do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person’s body, or touch the sacred, private parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not allow anyone to do that with you. Do not arouse these emotions in your own body.

“In cultures where dating or courting is acceptable, always treat your date with respect, never as an object to be used for your lustful desires. Stay in areas of safety where you can easily control your physical feelings. Do not participate in talk or activities that arouse sexual feelings.”

In “Taken by Storm,” Leesie tries to follow the letter of the law but has completely lost the spirit of the law. Who cares where her tongue or her feet are if she has lost control in every other way? She claims to be motivated by hopes for a temple marriage, but she sets herself up to break her standards again and again by not staying “in areas of safety” and arousing “the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage.” She clings to arbitrary “rules” as if they will save her from temptation, but she makes the choice to be tempted over and over again. I suspect she comes out of this relationship a bit humbler about her abilities to resist temptation.

Why does Leesie feel solely responsible for rescuing Michael from his grief? In such a small town, I’d expect a school guidance counselor to be all over the situation, and grandma’s friends to be ready to help, too. Grandma doesn’t seem to have any friends, and the school doesn’t seem to have a guidance counselor. If Leesie’s family knows Michael’s grandmother, I would expect them to put her in touch with LDS Family Services for low-cost grief counseling or some other helpful hook-up. Leesie is close to her family; why don’t they have Michael over more? If Leesie is active enough in her LDS congregation to attend weekly activities and dances, I would expect to meet (at least in passing) some other LDS leaders and youth. Where are the friends of her missionary from Spokane? They might have been good friends for Michael. We only meet the rather unsupportive Kimbo69 on Leesie’s Internet chat log. “Storm” is a story primarily about two characters, but where is the supporting cast? I realize I am quibbling about details that would have cramped the story, but some aspects of the tale just wouldn’t have played out in real life the way they were described.

As a last grumble at LDS inaccuracies, I was surprised to read about the two inappropriately-dressed girls who crashed the dance. In reality, they would never have gotten past the church foyer before a chaperone stopped them. Nearly all dance guests would have a dance card that they and their bishop (or friend’s bishop) signed stating they had been interviewed and agreed to follow the rules and standards of attending an LDS dance. At the dozens of LDS Church-sponsored youth dances I have attended as both a teen and a chaperone in four states and Canada, there have always been at least two adults near the entryway to welcome guests and check dress code compliance. There is usually a bishop nearby, too, ready to do any last-minute interviews to give a dance admittance card to any friends of other faiths or from other areas who decide at the last minute to attend. Often, there’s a box of extra clothes with jackets and neckties and even a frumpy long skirt or two in case someone goofs and doesn’t get the dress code right. But it’s widely publicized, adhered to and enforced, and nobody wants to have to take any spare clothing from the Nerdy Box of Shame. Hanging out in the parking lot would also be next to impossible with chaperones all about, but please don’t anyone think an LDS youth dance is some kind of social police state. It’s more like running into all your parents’ relentlessly cheery friends and needing to greet and hug every one of them. The moment of Leesie introducing Michael to the temple is important and well-done. Still, unless Leesie and Michael had an invisibility cloak, it’s unlikely they would just walk out of the dance early and stand in the parking lot without being interrupted.

Why didn’t an editor catch the use of “unthaw”? That’s the ultimate Utah-ism. I guess Leesie’s parents must be from Utah for her to use this “word.”

The paperback cover is pretty, but the model is wearing a scoopy tank Leesie would never choose to wear alone.

Of course “Taken by Storm” is a work of fiction and of course not every detail of every moment will be addressed in the story—that would be impossibly cumbersome. But I balk a bit when the plot asks me to suspend disbelief about unlikely events related to my own faith and culture.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010 5:21 pm

    following: tl;dr XD

    I actually think the chat-logs format is quite a faithful depiction of how teens (and non-teens) talk to each other. It happened, in the case of the book, that her friend was long-distance, but it’s definitely true that a person might rely primarily on electronic communication even if the person they are speaking to lives up the road (me being a case in point, here).

    I liked the dive-log format: it was different and so far possibly unique. I do think the narrative didn’t always fit it, but as a device, it gets points! Good fiction must, in some senses, be a challenge to write, too, and from a writing point of view, I do feel that the dive-logs would be hard – and let’s not even talk about the poetry. Perhaps the challenge to yourself as a writer would be to write a cohesive book with a coherent story, without ever resorting to plain prose. I’m happy to forgive the structural shortcomings purely on that basis!

    The big issue, that Rivenheart, you and I all seem to have in common is the extent of the sensuality. I actually would like to argue against both what you said, and what Angela said in her comment, that compared to current YA, it’s peanuts.

    Firstly, I don’t think that reference to other writers is an acceptable justification for something that is personally questionable. I do realise this isn’t true for the Angela Morrison, because we had a conversation about that, but as a general point for anyone else: if something is in discord with your personal measure of rightness, it can’t be alleviated by an arbitrary comparison to other objects in the same group. That’s moral relativism.

    It is also not true that ‘most’ YA contains very sensual or sexually explicit content – while ‘most’ YA certainly makes repeated references to it – sexuality is a large part of the adolescent experience – only a specific section of writers make it their mission to give a play-by-play account, and YA readers are aware of who those writers are, especially if they’ve done some research before reading (by which I mean ‘reading Amazon reviews’). The rest of YA, however, relies on the traditional method of engaging story-telling, sympathetic characters, and artisanship. Sarah Dessen, for instance – she wrote a book about RAPE without ever a) being explicit, or b) losing emotional impact, and at no point was the reader short-changed by the absence of graphic detail: it was related in a kind of secondary way – in the way you might indicate a tree by talking about the leaves and maybe a branch (does that make sense?).

    Secondly, sensuality – and sexually explicit content – in YA is a very recent phenomenon. I’ve been reading YA since I was 12 years old – before the ‘YA’ term was even coined – and that was more than 12 years ago. I’ve watched this genre emerge even as I was growing up, separating itself from the ubiquity of children’s books, and yet distinctly pre-adult. The name of the genre might be new, but the themes of YA have been around as long as literate young adults have existed. I remember when Judy Blume’s book was the one people would read secretly behind a large World Atlas! So the justification that sensuality and explicitness are commonplace in YA isn’t longitudinally valid. It is common NOW – but that is the work of three or four years, not much more than that.

    Times have changed – this is true. Children grow up fast, and live fast, and perhaps young people are no longer content to read trite books without any action. But I wonder how much of it is due to their internal and environmental influences, and how much it owes to their socialisation (and also to the fact that you can’t find books for young people that are not explicit, anymore). But I have this wild and crazy idea that if a story is good enough, it can sell without sex. Teenagers who have begun reading recently won’t know about the long legacy of YA that began BEFORE Twilight – other writers have the power to remind them of it, but they can’t be if there is nothing on the shelves (with attractive covers, by authors born in the latter third of the last century) to prove to them otherwise.

    I think talking about intimate matters in books will become – if it isn’t already – a double-edged sword. There are benefits in it, but there are also harms that perhaps have not been foreseen, which have a role already in shaping the approach and attitudes of impressionable young people to their lives, their selves, and other people. And so writers have a responsibility to understand the influence they have over the minds of their young readers, and not misuse it.

    • Kaimalino permalink
      April 19, 2010 7:03 pm

      I like your “it’s not really everywhere” argument. It’s true. I have not previously given Dessen the respect she deserves for keeping “Just Listen” so clean while maintaining the impact. (Have you read her “Keeping the Moon”? I just got it at the library’s surplus book sale, thinking of you.)
      I had been trying to think of other current YA authors and books that keep the sensuality to a minimum without compromising the story. I mostly come up with writers that lean towards fantasy (LDS authors Shannon Hale and Jessica Day George both come to mind) but they still manage to create romance to sigh over. Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s “Dairy Queen” series had kissing scenes, for sure, but it never felt like she was playing the movie reel for readers or that the whole story was about those encounters. The characters were defined in so many other ways and that’s what made the story appealing.
      A well-told story really can sell without sex, but lately it does require some looking to find such a book. (I also remember the days of Judy Blume being scandalous!)
      If the recent intensifying of themes of intimacy in YA lit has taught me anything, it’s that parents should be reading right along with their children so there’s plenty of opportunity to discuss questionable themes when they arise. I know many mothers and daughters bonded over reading and discussing “Twilight” together–I would hope that’s the norm and not many parents of reading teens are in the dark about graphic scenes in their children’s books, no matter how they feel about the topics addressed.

      • April 19, 2010 7:10 pm

        I will reply properly later, but quick hit: Maggie Stiefvater. I mean, there was what she called ‘werewolf nookie’…but it was nowhere near sleazy or graphic and actually – the whole book was kind of beautiful. Also, Eva Ibbotson’s books for older readers (Secret Countess, A Company of Swans, Morning Gift, Magic Flutes, etc – US has different titles).

  2. April 21, 2010 12:48 am

    Long comment warning~!

    I’ve read everything Sarah Dessen’s written! One of the few authors whose books I buy before reading – and one of the many authors I WAIT AND WAIT for books from, gah. Keeping the Moon was called Last Chance here – that was her first book, I think. Just Listen is actually one of my favourite Dessen books, up there with Along For The Ride (read that next!). The first one I read was a chance picking-up at the library of This Lullaby, many many years ago – I can’t remember why now, but it left a really strong impression on me. Maybe it was Remy’s tough-girl character? Anyway, I really don’t remember XD Sarah Dessen is probably the reason I went back to YA (after having abandoned it for fantasy et al.), at a time when its quality was really deteriorating – and maybe in line with things happening in my life at the time, too.

    I actually can’t think of too many YA authors right now that could be called ‘clean’. I think maybe books geared to the YA age-group that don’t contain ‘mature’ content are often just grouped with children’s books. Writers like Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer, Mary Hoffman, Diana Wynne Jones – they all write for that age group, but they’re not about romantic encounters. I’m thinking…Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants? I think that had a few dodgy parts, which is a shame because the non-dodgy parts were really good. Ah, my mind is a book-blank now.

    On my computer desk right now, I have Celia Rees, Sally Gardner, Jaclyn Dolamore and Laura Powell. All clean, all teen! I also have a book by Colin Robson called ‘Real World Research’.

    In the kind of culture I’ve grown up in, that still exists (second generation migrants from non-European, non-English speaking countries), there isn’t any parental supervision of what you read – not an effective one, anyway – and the parental-connect is a luxury they are unlikely ever to experience. Parents and children are living across a cultural and linguistic divide, so they have very little idea of some of the things happening in their daughters’ lives, and in their books. Also, these are not conversations either parent or child would know how to have.

    Part of my concern is there: these girls aren’t at a level where they’ve worked it all out, and they frankly aren’t able to self-regulate adequately. With no guidance in defining their limits and clarifying their moral standards, without realising it, they’re heading for a black hole in terms of their relationship with their faith and culture.

    This is part of what we do in some of our outreach programmes with teenage Muslim girls – because they don’t have that parental link that their peers have, we do our best to pick up what’s ‘lost in translation’, as second-gen veterans of the waters – we’ve fought and struggled our way through a secularised system to hold onto our sense of identity that our faith and mother-culture are a fundamental part of, and we know the pitfalls, the problems, the challenges of being what I call ‘half-and-halfers’.

    Argh my keyboard is annoying me too much for me to write much more coherently right now! I might have to revisit this. Again.

    *edited to fix a typo XD

    • Maryam permalink
      April 21, 2010 12:58 am

      In the kind of culture I’ve grown up in, that still exists (second generation migrants from non-European, non-English speaking countries), there isn’t any parental supervision of what you read – not an effective one, anyway – and the parental-connect is a luxury they are unlikely ever to experience. Parents and children are living across a cultural and linguistic divide, so they have very little idea of some of the things happening in their daughters’ lives, and in their books. Also, these are not conversations either parent or child would know how to have.

      “Part of my concern is there: these girls aren’t at a level where they’ve worked it all out, and they frankly aren’t able to self-regulate adequately. With no guidance in defining their limits and clarifying their moral standards, without realising it, they’re heading for a black hole in terms of their relationship with their faith and culture.

      This is part of what we do in some of our outreach programmes with teenage Muslim girls – because they don’t have that parental link that their peers have, we do our best to pick up what’s ‘lost in translation’, as second-gen veterans of the waters – we’ve fought and struggled our way through a secularised system to hold onto our sense of identity that our faith and mother-culture are a fundamental part of, and we know the pitfalls, the problems, the challenges of being what I call ‘half-and-halfers’.

      this is so powerful. i can’t even describe how this makes me feel. i guess because i intend to stay close to and aware of my kids as they grow and to be involved in what they’re involved in and even read what they read, etc, then to hear about a group where parental involvement is so far from easy/possible in this way, that there is such a gap, a canyon, and you and others are trying to be in the middle of that space… well, that’s just really powerful and hopeful and beautiful.

      (i know that was a bad sentence. sorry.)

  3. Maryam permalink
    April 21, 2010 12:59 am

    darn, my quotations failed there. the first 3 paragraphs are saya’s. sigh.

    • April 21, 2010 1:11 am

      Fixed!

      About 78% asleep right this moment – so more tomorrow insha-Allah!

      • Maryam permalink
        April 21, 2010 1:32 am

        how did you do that?

  4. Maryam permalink
    April 21, 2010 1:32 am

    i think this is a really interesting critique, and i keep wondering how i’d feel if someone did what i’d consider a poor job of portraying a sufi teen. i’m working on a novel now and all of these comments make me think about my writing, my characters, and the massive mountain of stuff that, in my opinion, is behind every book written. i think it’s possible that so much (or all) of writing is deeply personal, and that a lot of triggers are sprung from the past even that the writer might not be aware of. i’ve written some really wierd stuff that i go back to and i see after time has passed, and i’m amazed i could fail to see how it is so sexist/wrong/dishonest to the character, etc. BUT it was what i needed to write because writing is a personal process.

    i’m not saying angel morisson wrote what she wrote because she had to get that out. um, maybe i’m not. maybe i am. maybe it’s a combination: what she felt moved to write, and what she believed would be read or need to be read. i haven’t read this book, but i can see by the reviews that from her POV she wanted to write about this struggle and the big sex question. it was right for her to write about. l.m. montgomery wrote all these great love stories, OVER AND OVER AND OVER i mean really when you read her short stories and all the books, and there she had a lousy marriage and severe depression. so… it makes sense to me. the only problem with writing what you need to get out is that sometimes it really gets out and people print it and read it and critique it. and it doesn’t sit well with everyone. and actually i think that’s okay.

    having deep sympathy for all writers right now.

    i keep hearing the voices of the muslims on this blog tisking me for my heroine who is definitely not following the rules (which is not my way of saying she’s sleeping around, no). maybe she’ll be excused because she’s half jewish, but maybe not. HOWEVER, i excuse her. she is who she is. she is so real to me that it doesn’t matter. i am willing to bet all the money i have ($50 for next week’s groceries to be exact) that angel morission whose name i may be mispelling feels that leesie is real as anything. in her original response way back in the first review, a self-defending response which by the way i deeply respect and thought she put really well, she said leesie couldn’t be too perfect. it wouldn’t have been the same book at all if leesie was a rock of faith. she got to choose.

    we get to choose what we read, and yes, i know we’d all like to read books that have nothing but heroines being strong and making self-respecting choices, but that’s mostly because we want ourselves, our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, our aunties and our friends to be strong and make self-respecting choices (not to forget ALL of our brothers, uncles, and male friends as well!). characters like leesie trigger some of us to stomp our feet and demand more of writers, when really we want actual people to be strong and more full of faith and determination. and yeah i know that we also want to be surrounded by good fictional role models. i’m not bashing that, but i am saying that writing is sometimes about creating a character who is far from perfect. who is annoying even. she won’t annoy everyone. someone somewhere will relate to her and get something good out of the book. hopefully, if she’s got no good points at all, nobody will read the book and want to be her–but if they do, it’s not angela morission’s fault. there’s a disconnect in the way a lot of people grow up — being raised and taught more by society and culture than actual people, parents, elders, etc. a book that reeks of sex is a symptom. lots of teens are having lots of sex, period. a book about that struggle may have a place in the world. (don’t jump down my throat now, i haven’t read the book! i’m just going on what’s been said!)

    okay, i’m not going to delete what i wrote even though i just went back and reread the review. i’m going to leave this and also note that i may be way wrong. the book could be the most shameless portrayal of an LDS girl’s struggle to not-have-sex. it could just be awful. and michael. god almighty, i hope there are books for my son to read one day that have male characters who are not sexaholics.

  5. Maryam permalink
    April 21, 2010 12:46 pm

    new morning, new thoughts: on the other hand, stereotypes/poor role models can be deeply toxic. i keep disney well away from my children, among many other romances-for-kids and images of women being sexy and men being unemotional/disconnected. and a lot more. i’m careful because i know they absorb everything and i know this absorption starts at birth. i’m picky about what i read to myself because i know this all goes in to me too, and does at any age. i guess i feel like people won’t be as drawn to characters like leesie if they aren’t growing up feeling like her, and that’s what i meat by it being a symptom. but having stronger characters who are still human and have faults is a good place to start. that was my point i think. ah, tired and have said too much and yet not enough.

  6. Kaimalino permalink
    April 21, 2010 4:00 pm

    “characters like leesie trigger some of us to stomp our feet and demand more of writers, when really we want actual people to be strong and more full of faith and determination.”

    This is exactly it. Leesie can do whatever she wants, since she is fictitious. It’s only when I see her as the Representative of LDS Girls Everywhere that I start to get uneasy. And if (through some kind of brain-melting process inside my head where fiction becomes reality) she becomes the teen girls I love, well, then I break out in a cold sweat.
    I do think for everything that completely annoys me about Leesie, some readers (LDS and of other faiths) will relate to and appreciate her struggle as she learns she is not immune to temptation. That is a message that is not necessarily uplifting to read, but is necessary to understand.

    You’re so patient to read so much blather about a book you haven’t read, Maryam! I love how you frame your comments with your gentle parenting philosophies. . . so much stress in the world would dissolve if that sort of mothering could be the norm.
    After high school, I spent a summer working at a gas station (which solidified my academic drive to do well in college, BTW) and my heart felt squeezed whenever small children were functioning as translators for their parents. My Spanish is clunky but good enough to skip the Preschooler As Translator awkwardness, but I always wondered if relying on their young children to help the function in daily situations robbed the parents of some dignity and affected their relationship with their children in not-so-positive ways. It’s important for children to be useful, but it’s also important for them to be allowed to be children. Those parents, too, are probably not aware of what their kids are reading. I wonder who is helping them with their “half-and-half” adjustments. Cheers to “aunties” and “uncles” who step up to point the way when parents cannot.

  7. Maryam permalink
    April 23, 2010 7:03 pm

    i’m so glad i made myself understood, at least to you kai. cold sweats, yeah. and thinking about my kids in the future? deep breaths now.

    someone must email me the ending of this book. i’ll never read it, but i must know the end!

    wha??? i guess i’m not signed in.

  8. April 26, 2010 1:30 am

    Maryam, on a completely frivolous note, your comment impressed me with how you spelt Angela Morrison’s name wrong in a different way each time. Totally priceless. ❤

    I think it's natural for people to take personally what they consider an unfaithful representation of some part of their identity, be it faith, colour, nationality or culture, among other things. I guess that's the danger in writing about what you don't know. I think there's less to argue with when someone writes from an inside perspective, and that, perhaps, is the point where you have to allow people to be different.

    A few years ago, there was a book called 'Does My Head Look Big In This?' by an Arab-Australian writer, about a girl, a Muslim teenager. I didn't 'agree' with everything that was in it, but it was a valid and authentic representation of a) real life, b) real struggles, and c) Islam. The writer's second book, 'Ten Things I Hate About Me', however, I felt was on far dodgier ground with the Islamic stuff, and where I had recommended her first book to many people, and indeed sold it to them, the second one I didn't think was even appropriate for us to sell.

    There was a disorientating blurring between faith and culture, all wrapped up and presented as entirely faith, and the characters' actions lacked internal consistency. It didn't make sense, and I kept wondering 'what the heck is going on?' On top of all of that, it seemed to carry a completely wrong take-home message, and I couldn't give that to any of my girls in good conscience. A Muslim writer writing a book with a Muslim protagonist knows she isn't just writing any old book. She's writing a book for every Jamilah and Amal out there who will read it, and she's offering them an answer to their problems.

    I think some writers don't realise how great a position of responsibility they are in – because at this point it's not just about telling a story. You have to understand your story is falling on impressionable minds, so you have to tell your story – your real honest-to-god story – with a wisdom of execution that not only will you not fail yourself, but you won't fail your reader.

    But, er, tangent. Back to the point.

    ‘i keep hearing the voices of the muslims on this blog tisking me for my heroine who is definitely not following the rules’

    (I feel like you mean me XD)

    Stories like these aren’t really about following the rules, though, are they? They’re about what happens when you break them, and how, despite – or maybe because of – that, you find a way back to your inner truth – and this touches on what Angela said in her earlier comment. If the character is perfect, there’s no story. But the inner truth has to really be It. Because if that is weak, then the story’s weak. Taken by Storm was a huge win on that front, despite my other reservations about it – it had the strength of its conviction right from the first page, literally.

    ‘lots of teens are having lots of sex, period. a book about that struggle may have a place in the world.’

    Do a lot of people miss the danger of exposure? You know, when you give people ideas, of things they would never have thought of on their own? This is something that concerns me because I’ve seen it happen with some very dangerous things (I’m not talking about sex). I think people don’t take it seriously enough, and maybe because they haven’t properly understood just how damaging and dangerous it can be. So if I’m super-extra vigilant and even uptight, believe me, I have very good reasons, and it’s more important to me to protect people I care about, than to be thought liberal, which is the beginning and end of the matter in that kind of situation.

    And I am so not sending my (speculative and fictional) kids to school in this place. I have (nearly?) two degrees and they had better be good for something. Homeschooling it is.

    PS – I have no idea what everything I’ve written is about. I was shooting off random thoughts at complete tangents.

    PPS – Maryam, the ending…oh I can’t. It goes against all my genetic programming and social conditioning to tell someone how a book ends. You’ll have to ask Kai or Rivenheart >_>

    • April 26, 2010 1:50 pm

      saya, i wasn’t merely thinking of you (how rude!) but the others and readers as well. i seem to have Low-Muslim-Self Esteem, being not quite by the book in my life. far from it. and yet i prefer my life the way it is and has been. so… the tisk tisk… it really comes from inside my head anyway. ignore me.

      the danger of exposure is SUCH A GOOD POINT! i guess where i see the middle ground is between books about total chastity where no one has an urge at all, and books where every urge is validated by action… and in between would be writing about the struggle and the emotions behind urges and action or the decision to not act. i’ve read books where no one mentions that this stuff is difficult or confusing, and that MAKES ME REALLY MAD. there is a lot to be said for being sheltered from this culture that worships bodies and sex and attraction above all else. i would have liked to be spared that a lot more than i was (and i believe these things start with “kid romances” like bambi and cinderella, etc, and continues with having television be a constant presence and voice in the house, which is why my kids rarely watch tv at home–only if we’re sick–and then we watch prescreened videos, not whatever happens to come on tv. we don’t have channels anyway. they watch some at their grandparents because i don’t want them to grow up obsessed with tv if they’re never allowed it at all. okay tangent-rant=tv is toxic, especially to kids.)

      good points about writing from what is not personal experience. it can get dodgy (am i allowed to use that word in PA?), especially where religion/culture/gender/lifestyle, okay, all of everything, are involved. i think it is most delicate when you have a reader such as yourself who is caring very much about the truth of things. i mean, no one should write a book assuming they can get away with… junk. (i’m running out of time can you tell?)

      wow, did i really spell her name wrong multiple times?! i am so good. i’m always in a hurry is why. that’s also why i come back and amend nearly everything i write. i spend time thinking and rethinking it and come back to “fix” what i said. sigh. good on you for not following me around fixing my typos. i know it must hurt. 😀

      yeah HOMESCHOOLING!

      come on, tell me. if you wouldn’t sell this book in your store then you can tell me the ending without guilt!

  9. April 27, 2010 2:05 pm

    regarding television and children and addiction and the onslaught of images/ideas, i like the way A Simple Poppy put this: http://thesimplepoppy.typepad.com/the-simple-poppy/2010/04/troubles-with-the-devil-box-es.html#comments

    that’s a messy link. let’s see if it works!

  10. May 2, 2010 2:31 pm

    Noooo I can’t tell you the ending, I’m genetically hard-wired not to! Force Kai to tell you.

    Don’t have low Muslim-self-esteem (awesome term)! You can be self-critical, but being self-defeatist is ultimately self-destructive. That’s a lot of selves in the same sentence.

    Ah, TV. Once, many many years ago, when I was a smaller person than I currently am (that is possible), our TV died. My dad purposely didn’t get another for well over a year, and that broke our TV-habit forever. Before that, we were little TV-squid, stuck on to the sides with every limb and spraying octopus ink at anyone who tried to unstick us. I really liked Poppy’s post about that.

    Given the things that are on TV these days, I think it’s completely legitimate not to offer that option to your kids. It’s difficult to find watchable material even when it’s for kids. I’ve been slowly buying DVD sets of things I used to watch when I was younger, and my siblings – who just about remember when they were on TV – love them. They really don’t make them like they used to.

    EVERYONE can use the word dodgy. You have no idea how absurdly pleased I am that there are corners of PA or Utah where people use out-of-culture language from the other side of the world 😀

    I think people can get away with writing random stuff about things they don’t know about as long as nobody turns up and RUMBLES them. The John Green book I’ve been reading, that Kai sent me, is really driving me crackers – he speaks like he’s some kind of authority about Muslims, making all of these insidious little remarks, when maybe he had one Muslim friend in his life, and that guy was well dodgy. Maybe he counts on Muslims NOT to read his books?

    I’m comparing my reaction to this with my reactions to books about different issues, and it is true they don’t bother me half as much: it’s not personal, so it is, in some way, okay. But knowing that, it makes me much more critical about accepting those other things at face value, too, and I try to address that by finding out the ‘authentic’ view as much as I can. So for instance, after reading Taken By Storm, I consulted several LDS friends about a few things that I wasn’t sure was a personal interpretation, or actually canonical. Maybe when the distinction exists very clearly in our own minds, we make the assumption that other people can tell the difference – of course, that isn’t so. Writing as a Muslim, I find that particularly true, and it usually evokes a baby-and-bathwater kind of reaction in other people, they think it’s all Islam.

    Re: her name, you really did! It’s impressive. I know you’re always in a hurry, you mad lovable woman ^^

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