Monday, March 31, 2014

A Fib, a Brit, & a Cupcake

That title just reeled you right in, didn't it?

I told you a little fib last Monday.  I said I didn't have any grand plans for the week, & I kind of did (depending on your definition of 'grand').  I didn't want to tell you about them so as not to jinx them.  Let me back up a minute to last spring . . . & fyi: this story involves a young adult book series that has recently made its way to the big screen, so if you're on the fence about that second cup of coffee, I'd pause & get it now.

My book club read the first two books in the Divergent series last spring, Divergent & Insurgent.  I enjoyed the books; they were a nice distraction from my enormously pregnant belly.  When you're weeks away from giving birth, you always want to escape to a world inhabited by a skinny teenage girl who is, for lack of a better term, a badass who can defend herself, but isn't opposed to taking a break from fighting evil to make-out & occasionally wax poetic about life with the brooding & mysterious guy with whom she's constantly thrown together, who is himself quite skilled in badassery.  I, along with my fellow book club members (& throngs of teenage girls), eagerly awaited the release of the third & final book in the series, Allegiant, which hit bookshelves this past October.

It's difficult for me to discuss Allegiant.  I read it in October when it was released, met with the book club, & thought I had thoroughly exercised my Allegiant demons the night we all met to pull our hair & scream about the book, & possibly curse the author, Veronica Roth, in hushed tones.  It's one thing to read a bad book; it's another, entirely more emotional matter to be two books deep into a series you like, having formed (admittedly potentially odd & unhealthy) attachments to the characters, & then be blindsided by the author with the concluding novel.

If you've read the books, you're likely assuming a certain someone's death fuels my anger, but you would be wrong in that assumption.  Allegiant is just poorly written overall, full of gigantic plot holes, & rather than answering questions raised in the first two novels, every chapter seems to open a new can of worms.  By the time you-know-who dies, I did not even care.  It is a pointless death the way it is written.  I can accept the death of fictional characters when a death is purposeful, however not when it is a plot point that, in my opinion, the author carelessly adds toward the end of the novel for shock value, perhaps hoping readers would be so shocked they would forget the many pages of worthless dribble they'd just waded through, searching in vain for the characters they grew to love in the first two novels in the series.

If you've not guessed, my grand plans for last week involved meeting the book club ladies to watch the film adaptation of Divergent.  Prior to settling into my seat in the darkened theater Tuesday night, my lap overflowing with popcorn, I hadn't thought about Allegiant in months.  With two kids & all the health issues that have arisen this year, there really hasn't been time to sit around mulling over the epic disappointment of Allegiant, but it all came flooding back as I sat through Divergent.  The thing is, the movie is good; I love the cast (which includes Kate Winslet), the acting is, I think, above par for a young adult book series to film adaptation, & the screenplay hits the notes from the novel that need to be included in this first film to entice the non-reading audience & ensure they return for the second film, due out next March.  Let's pause a moment to roll our eyes at those who don't read books.  

Okay, continuing, I realized as I sat & stewed & drank decaf at IHOP with the book club ladies that I had been hoping the movie would be ho-hum.  I wanted to dislike it.  I needed the film to further cement my detached, nonchalant attitude regarding the series.  I dismissed the series when I read the final page of Allegiant, severing my ties with the fictional characters I'd grown to love dearly in the first two novels & moving on with life, never again to fangirl over anything Divergent-related.  The series & I made a clean break, & I thought I'd moved on.  If you're not already singing it after reading this gripping narrative of my Divergent dilemma, let me just tell you that Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" was my theme song last week . . . I finished crying in the instant that you left / And I can't remember where or when or how / And I banished every memory you and I had ever made . . . It's so hard to believe but it's all coming back to me . . . 

I'm going to lay it all out on the table (no more fibs) & tell you that since last Tuesday night, I have reread most of Divergent.  I am so angry with myself.  Admittedly, a contributing factor to my renewed affair with the ex to whom I swore I'd never return is a man named Theo James.

This, for those who may not already be aware, is Theo James:

And because I am thorough, this is also Theo James:

*Take a moment*

He's a British actor who plays the male lead in the Divergent series, & he's just fabulous in the first film.  When casting directors seek & find young men to portray fictional characters to whom I've grown attached, I often have a few complaints (for example, Peeta, of Hunger Games fame, has blue eyes in the books . . . it's kind of a big deal (to Katniss & to me), & yet, no blue eyes in the films), however this time, nothing.  Nada.  It's like the casting director was inside my head as I read.  Mr. James is a relatively unknown actor, which is odd considering he's almost thirty, but that's due in part to the years he spent earning a degree in philosophy.  Sigh.

Without further boring those of you who do not care at all, I'll summarize & just say that in the first two books, the male lead is a quiet character with a commanding presence & you just fall completely in love with him, & then, inexplicably, in the final book he is a whiny idiot who makes one terrible decision after another, & you're completely distracted as you read, wondering, perhaps even aloud, Where is the guy I adored in the last two books?.  What happens to his character in Allegiant is a travesty.  I thought I was over it, but clearly, I am not.  You'll likely never read this again on my blog, but I am so hopeful that between the screenplay for the third movie & Mr. James's interpretation of the character, significant changes will be made when they bring Allegiant to the big screen.  I don't read much fan fiction (you'll just have to google that if you're not familiar with it), but I can only imagine the rewrites of Allegiant that were spawned by Ms. Roth's conclusion to her series.  If I had the time, I would rewrite the book, if only to provide my addled mind a proper conclusion to the series.

The hard truth is that when you take the time to sit down & read a book, especially a book by an author with whom you're unfamiliar, you're taking a leap of faith that the author will take you to places you want to go, & introduce you to people with whom you want to spend time (& not waste the precious time you have to sit quietly & read).  For two novels, Veronica Roth does just that.  I was intrigued by the Dystopian world she creates in her first two novels, & equally fascinated with the characters who inhabit that world . . . & then everything falls to pieces in Allegiant.  I don't understand the decisions she made when she crafted Allegiant, but when it comes to fiction, the author is god, & just as quickly as worlds & characters are created, they can be destroyed, leaving (crazed) readers wondering why?  

I've always become too attached to fictional characters.  Sometimes it's a problem . . . like when I find myself sitting in IHOP on a Tuesday night working through my anger issues with Veronica Roth (& maybe  googling 'Theo James' on my iPhone).  That's what authors want, though.  They want to create characters their readers love, or love to hate, & then the tricky part is keeping them in character as the plot unfolds.  Veronica Roth seemingly makes no effort to keep her characters in character in Allegiant, sacrificing to them to an ill-conceived plot that has few connections to the captivating story she tells in Divergent & Insurgent.

I once read an interview with Stephenie Meyer, of Twilight fame, in which she said that she hates that  Edward leaves Bella in New Moon (it is completely traumatic, for Bella & the reader), but she felt it was what Edward would do, & so that's what she wrote because she wasn't going to write him out of character.  That statement has always stuck with me (& not just because it's about Edward).  In the limited fiction writing I have done (& the extensive fiction reading I've done), it's been my observation that the longer you write for a character, & the more about them you reveal, the more problematic (to the intended plot, that is) it can become to continually answer the question, What would he do in this situation?, or How would she react to this?  Sometimes, an honest answer to those questions doesn't serve an author's purpose, but, in my opinion, an author should always defer to the character, rather than allowing plot elements to twist characters - characters readers have grown to love - into unrecognizable fragments of their formerly awesome selves.  Maim them, separate them from those they love, dig up dark & terrible secrets from their past, present them with moral dilemmas, subject them to the trials of Job! - the list of possibilities is endless - just don't fundamentally change who they are . . . & you should know who they are, Ms. Roth, since you wrote two novels creating & establishing them.       

Whew.  This has been good for me (I imagine better for me than for you, but thanks anyway for sitting in on my therapy session).  I've never mentioned the Divergent series on the blog, & it was long overdue.  Trey doesn't read young adult book series, so I can't really vent to him.  In fact, here's what he's been reading:

Yeah.  So you see why he so does not care.

So, you're probably wondering about the cupcake.

Despite my raging internal struggle over my love/hate relationship with the Divergent series, life goes on, & on Saturday, Reagan attended her first birthday party post-diabetes diagnosis.  This was kind of a big deal.  We've skipped a few birthday parties since her diagnosis in January.  Diabetes aside, children's birthday parties are completely chaotic, sugar-laced minefields of mayhem.  I mean it's kind of fun while you're there, watching & listening as they all run around & scream, but there's a part of you that longs for a dark, quiet corner where you can curl up in the fetal position with a cup of coffee.  For me, that part is admittedly large.

Now that her sugars are in the normal range most of the time & I understand how to handle the onslaught of sugar that accompanies birthday parties, Reagan & I boldly set out Saturday morning, our Easter basket in tow, for an egg hunt / birthday party.  Reagan spent a good bit of time guarding the cupcakes when we first arrived.  She was unsure of exactly what the party would entail, but she knew she was owed a cupcake.

I coaxed her away from the cupcake display long enough to hunt eggs:

Inspecting her loot:

Swinging . . . with her eyes trained on the cupcakes:

And, at long last, cupcake bliss:

So, as you can see, it's been a week of slaying dragons for me.  Yes, I can wrestle with, & eventually let go of, the anger & disappointment that sometimes accompanies enthusiastically delving into fiction . . . & then repeat the process months down the road when a beautiful Brit brings all the buried emotions roaring back.  Yes, I can take my diabetic daughter to a birthday party & remain in control of both my nerves, & her blood sugar.  I am Mom-who-escapes-daily-stress-via-reading-fiction-that-can-also-cause-stress; hear me roar.


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