Saturday, April 11, 2015

Art of the week-2

This is a drawing by my friend Abhyam Shukla, blogger, artist, occasional costume designer and only sometimes an architecture student. He's my go-to guy when it comes to all things creative and you can hope to see a lot more of him here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Top 7 YA Heroines

I like books which has lots of girls in them. That's just my personal choice. YA is one of those genres which is driven by a strong female following. Girls get a chance to shine in these novels, and female readers get to cheer them on. So it's no surprise I spend a lot of time thinking about my favourite YA heroines.

Here I've listed my top 10 YA heroines of all time. Of course, the list is not exhaustive by any means, because I am yet to read all the YA novels out there. But at the same time, I've read more YA than most people, so you can trust me.

So, we begin the countdown with number 7:

7. Sam
(Novel: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Author: Stephen Chbosky)
Sam: Our past doesn't define who we are.
Sam is one of those girls who has made her mistakes and is now looking to start over, and that is very honorable in my eyes. We shouldn't let our past dictate who we will become, and Sam knows that. In spite of a trashed reputation, a history of molestation and a series of bad boyfriends, she proves herself by being a good friend and getting into a good college. Success isn't about achieving fame or money or anything like that. Sometimes it's about overcoming your circumstances and exceeding people's expectations. I think Sam did just that.

6. Juli Baker
(Novel: Flipped, Author: Wendelin van Draanen)

Remember when you were a kid and fell in like? Juli Baker could remind you. She's the kind of person who is so good at heart, she can't spot the darkness in people around her. The hilarious way in which she always assembles her thoughts to read 'Bryce Loski likes me', even when the opposite is true, had me rolling on the floor laughing. I think the fact that she keeps embarrassing herself is testament to what a lovely person she is, and like a lot of lovely people, she probably won't have her goodness recognized till she's out of high school. I wish more people were like Juli Baker (I also wish a boy would plant a sycamore tree for me, but that's another story.)

5. Katniss Everdeen
(Novel: the Hunger Games series, Author: Suzanne Collins)
True Hero

She's heroic, brave and the face of a revolution and how many people can truly say that. However, she's the heroine of a series about a tyrannical society in which a reality show is based on kids killing each other, so of coure, she's all that. What I like about her is that when she says that she doesn't want to lead a revolution, when she says she doesn't like cameras following her around, I believe her (unlike characters like Bella Swan, who seem to secretly enjoy being the centre of attention). She's a pragmatic young woman with a lot of weight on her shoulders and truly an inspiration to many.

4. Bridget, Carmen, Lena, Tibby
(Novel: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, Author: Ann Brashares)

This series of novels was what got me hooked to YA in the first place. I think it was the realistic portrayal of four teenaged girls that drew me in. The four best friends had completely different set of challenges to overcome in each book, but I could relate to each and every one of them. Bridget's story mostly had to do with overcoming her mother's suicide. Carmen dealt with her parents' divorce and later with living in a blended family. Lena primarily had a love story. Tibby's story in the first book was about finding unlikely friendships and the sorrow of losing a true friend, and later she dealt with finding her identity. Not much happens in the books. Most of the paragraphs describe the characers' thoughts and my favorite are the ones in which they think of absolutely random things because I do that too. Also, I never can resist a story about female friendships, and this is by far the best such story I have read.

3. Elanor
(Novel: Elanor and Park, Author: Rainbow Rowell)
If she were my girlfriend, I'd live for her too.

Okay, so she's a chubby little girl who's madly in love with her first boyfriend. She's one of those girls who pretends to be tough as nails and has had a hell of a life, but is sweet and adorably innocent on the inside. She's aware of her flaws, but she's not one of those girls who pretends to be surprised when someone calls her pretty. And the way she fears running out of time with Park? What makes Elanor number 3 on this list is that she's a real person, with real concerns and feelings and looks and goals, and the fact that she's flawed doesn't matter at all because that's what makes her who she is. As a girlfriend, she was simply adorable, especially the part where she picks up fights with Park just because she's bored. I think every boy should aspire for a girlfriend like Elanor and if they already have one, they should never let her go.

2. Hermione Granger
(Novel: the Harry Potter series, Author: J.K. Rowling)

Hermione has the capability for logical reasoning as well as strong emotional articulation. She's a girl, through and through. I was glad Rowling didn't turn her into some kind of tomboy with killer moves. Hermione made being a bookworm seem like a good thing, being a nerd seem cool and in spite of not being a conventional beauty, had one of the cutest romances in YA history. Her gender doesn't define her. She sucks at both quidditch and cooking. I think what really drew me to Hermione was the way she freaks out over marks and exams and all that and isn't afraid to show that she's tense about these things. A lot of girl don't want to let people know they're smart or serious, and I think those girls should learn something from Hermione.

(Okay, so I know a lot of people will have a problem with Hermione being no. 2. For all the Potter fans out there, she deserves to be No. 1 on any list. But bear with me. I couldn't give away number 1 to anybody except....)

1. Frankie Landeau Banks
(Novel: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau Banks, Author: E. Lockhart)
We need more Frankie fan art ASAP

The reason Frankie is no. 1 on my list is because Frankie is me, with guts. All the thoughts in her head? I have the eact same thought wreaking havoc in my mind all the time. I share her questions about feminism and feminity, I have the same doubts regarding boyfriends as she does and throughout me life, I have searched for meaning in teenaged fun like her. She's one of those girls who goes to a party, looks around her at people having 'fun' and acting silly and says, "Why do they look so happy? Are they really happy?" Guess why I'm a no-show at parties. She doesn't lie to herself. She knows who she is, she knows who people want her to be and she resents her inconsequentiality. At the end of the day, Frankie is not a bad person. She's just a strong girl, something that is way more controversial in a teenager's world than we care to admit. She's my hero (I mean, bras on all the male founders' portraits? Seriously? I wish I had the guts to do that.) I know that she's a brilliant person, not just a brilliant girl, and if she were real, she would've gone on to do great things in her life.

(After writing this post, I realized how white it was. I mean, seriously! There are no colored faces on it. We need more books with women in color, especially in YA. Of course, there are such books in the market, but they are labelled 'multicultural' instead of blending with all the other YA novels, and to me, that's just unfair. I want to read novels about girls from various cultures, but not when their ethnicity/nationality/cultural background is treated as their only identity. Also, when will we have a full-fledged YA market in India? I think it's high time we started writing novels about our own culture, and that too for all demographics.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gay in YA

Recently, while watching my new show The Fosters, I witnessed what was probably the youngest homosexual kiss in the history of television. Thirteen-year-olds Jude and Connor share their first kiss in what was a natural progression to a sweet, youthful love story. It took me by surprise when I realized that the portrayal of LGBTQ community in media is somewhat strange─ we’re taught to believe it’s an adult thing, as though it’s something people transition into, not something people are born into. To make matters worse, the video was age restricted on YouTube, while racier scenes featuring heterosexual characters are given a free pass.

This got me thinking about the portrayal of LGBTQ characters in YA novels. Thankfully, literature has seems to have embraced characters from the community with open(er) arms than television. It’s not that I have read tons of novels featuring gay characters. Most of the books I have read featured straight people. However, I have come across some wonderful portrayals that I believe played a role in shaping my perception of the community.

First, let’s talk about a novel that was primarily about being gay.  When Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden first came out, being gay was a much bigger deal than it is today. This is a story of a girl falling in love with another girls. It starts out as a friendship, as the protagonist are still confused about their sexuality, but turns into a love affair that is no different from any other love affair, but is still condemned by society. Of course, I didn’t really relate to the challenges because I have never faced them myself, but I enjoyed the book and treated it like any other love story in which the leads are struggling to stay together.

There are some writers who focus on the LGBTQ community. David Levithan is one of them. His novel, Every Day, is about a soul that lives in a different body each day, was an attempt to show how we fall in love with people, not sexes. I didn’t agree with the philosophy completely, because at the end of the day, even gay people don’t fall in love with straight people, but I understood it. Recently, I read his short story Your Temporary Santa and fell in love with it. In the story, a gay relationship was treated just like a straight one, and I found it to be the best in a collection of short stories. Another memorable David Levithan book is Naomi and Ely’s no kiss list, about a young girl who has loved her gay best friend ever since she can remember and is faced with the need to move on.
The Perks of Being Wallflower had Patrick. What I liked about Patrick was that he was a vibrant, colorful character who wasn’t defined by his sexuality. He was, first and foremost, a good friend and remained so even through tumultuous periods of his life. I felt his pain when his relationship with Brad came to a brutal end. What happened to them, I wouldn’t wish it on any couple.

The last book I read with a gay protagonist was Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. It made me realize that even in a country like the US, which is supposed to be much more liberal than India, being gay is still a taboo for a lot of people. The truth is that homophobics are not villains. They are people like you and me, with families and friends and jobs to go to, and as long as you are straight, they’re probably going to be very nice to you. They’re not evil monsters. It’s just that they have a rather straight and narrow mindset, venturing out of which scares them. Not just people, but whole neighborhoods can be homophobic, which is especially true in more conservative cultures.

I’m a heterosexual female and perhaps my opinions regarding this matter are not entirely agreeable. But the truth is that I have never met an openly gay person in my life, which saddens me because statistics show that it’s impossible never to meet a homosexual, which basically indicates that millions of men and women are still in the closet. What’s sadder is that I have heard stories of closeted Indian homosexuals living lives as married men/women. These books have, in their own small way, helped me see that the LGBTQ community consists of people who are not very different from me. I think if more such books were written in India, we would be able to understand each other better. Maybe by the time my children are my age, people will just be people and won’t carry labels like ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ and neither will books.

Art of the Week-1

This is a portrait of my friend Ipsitha, and the artis is Rounok Ghosh. I believe it's one of the most touching portraits I have ever seen. When my father saw it, he said it was probably a digitally edited photograph. After Rounok died last year, we visited his parents, who showed us the original painting. We lost our best artist, and a good friend. We still miss you, Rounok.