Jo Talks Books: On What Makes A Good Retelling

Hi all! I hope you’ve all been staying well in the past month and that you’re not all going too stir crazy being stuck inside. I actually got inspired for this month’s discussion post by an article I wrote for Cape Chameleon whilst I was out in South Africa. I was comparing Bridget Jones Diary and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as retellings of Pride and Prejudice, and it got me thinking: What actually makes a good retelling?

I’ll admit I don’t read a massive amount of retellings. Part of that is just that I don’t find many that appeal to me, and I don’t find a lot of variety in the stores being retold (how many Beauty and The Beast retellings do we really need?) and part of it is that it’s really difficult to do a retelling well (or at least for me it seems to be)!

So what makes a good retelling (for me anyway)? Well obviously the source material, the inspiration for the retelling is incredibly important. Fairytales, myths and legends seem to be incredibly popular as inspiration, likely because there are many different versions of these stories in the first place, so there’s much more to draw on when it comes to reinterpreting them. Classic stories reinterpreted within modern frameworks also seem to be quite popular.

Whatever you chose to draw from, it’s important to pick a story to rework that you can do something new and interesting with. There is no point retelling a story if you are just going to tell the exact same story that has already been done before, with a few minor tweaks. Retellings are a chance to get creative, to tell an old story in a completely different way than it has ever been done before.

Think of the live action Disney remakes: whilst it is fun to see our favourite animated Disney movies done with real actors, do they actually do anything different with the stories? Not really. Retellings are a chance to take a story that may have centred white, cis, straight people before and allow marginalised communities to see themselves centre stage (or at least they should be). They’re a chance to take classic stories and rework them in a different way for a modern audience. There is so much room to be creative, and for me, that’s one of the most important things that I’m looking for when I read a retelling: I want to see that the author has done something new and different with the source material.

Of course, you do still need to be able to recognise the original tale in the retelling, but personally I prefer if this is done through subtle “nods”. This is where authors acknowledge the origins of their retellings in small ways: be it through the names of the characters, or having certain moments in the plot reflect points in the original telling.

A recent example of a story that did this really well for me was Night Spinner. Addie Thorley’s fantasy story takes The Hunchback of Notre Dame as it’s inspiration, but it’s set in a fantasy world. You can see the nods to the original tale (Enebish is scarred and banished to a monastery, religion is a large part of the story) but it takes place in a completely different world and so the plot and the stakes are different and of course, the main character in Hugo’s tale is a man.

A trap I find a lot of retellings fall into is making the characters carbon copies of the ones in the original story that they are retelling. Obviously these characters have to be recognisable (though if you’re doing a fairytale retelling, there’s obviously a bit more leeway as there are so many different versions) but you can allow a reader to identify a character without having them be exactly the same as their original counterpart.

Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte fell into this trap for me, Jamie and Charlotte are great-great-great grandchildren of Sherlock and Watson, but yet they seem to be exact carbon copies. I can’t say I really know anything about my great-great-great grandparents, and whilst it’s possible I do share some traits with them, it’s highly unlikely that we are exactly the same. I read another Sherlock Holmes retelling, Every Breath by Ellie Marney shortly afterwards and she did much better with this, it was easy enough to recognise the “Holmes” and “Watson” character, but neither of them felt like exact carbon copies of Conan Doyle’s characters.

A good retelling should also challenge the problematic elements of the original story and improve upon them. For instance, a Beauty and The Beast retelling definitely needs to tackle the whole Stockholm Syndrome element of the story and I’ve yet to read a retelling of it that handles it well (A Curse So Dark and Lonely attempts to by having Harper come to Emberfall whilst trying to protect another girl, but kidnapping is still part of the story, which you know isn’t great). Many fairytales, like Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty etc, all involve a lack of consent in one way or another. Many classic stories involve elements of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. In order to successfully retell these kinds of stories for a modern audience, it’s vital to face these kinds of issues head on and not brush them under the carpet.

I also feel like a good retelling should give you some kind of new insight on the original tale. Whether it is expanding the perspective of one of the secondary characters (like Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, which explores how the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland came to be that way), gender swapping the main character or introducing a classic tale into a modern setting, a retelling should allow readers to explore familiar stories in ways that they may never have thought about before.

The types of stories that are retold and the ways that they are retold do sometimes seem to play it a little safe for me. There’s a plethora of different stories out there that could be retold and yet we do seem to see a lot of the same stories being retold over and over again. Beauty and The Beast, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, among others seem to have innumerable retellings. I’d love to see retellings of stories that I’m maybe not as familiar with, or stories that don’t get retold all that often.

I’d also really love to see more retellings use the opportunity to add more diversity to the original stories: I know there are amazing retellings written by AOC out there, but I would definitely love to see more. Most retellings do seem to draw on stories from Western culture and it would be amazing to get to see more stories from other cultures retold.

I also think historical retellings are definitely an area that is under utilised. I read Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes a few years ago, and I loved how she took the history of the Gunpowder Plot and added a fantastical twist to it. I definitely think there are many other historical events and people that would be brilliant fodder for retellings, it’s something I would definitely consider writing myself someday!

There’s a reason why retellings are so popular: they largely draw on tales that we are familiar with, tales that we may have nostalgia for from our childhoods and allow us to see new sides to them. However, there is a very fine line between following the original source material too closely and veering away from it too much and I think this is where most retellings fall down for me. They either stick so closely to the original storyline that I feel there’s no point, or are barely recognisable from the original story. They’re really hard to get right, and though I’ve find ones I’ve enjoyed, I’ve yet to find a truly great retelling: at least in book form.

So there we go, that’s my thoughts on retellings. What do you think makes a good retelling? Any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

I don’t know what my next Jo Talks post is going to be about, I’ve got some ideas for future posts, but I’m not sure what I’m going to feel like talking about yet, so I guess you’ll find out when I do! In the meantime, I should have my April Book Vs Movie post up at some point this week, I’m going to be talking about Noughts and Crosses and the new BBC adaptation, so it should be a fun one!

Jo Talks: South African Adventures!

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Hi everyone! I hope you are all safe and have been keeping well in the current uncertain health climate. The UK is on lockdown for three weeks, and as I currently don’t have a job, I will be keeping busy with lots of blogging and reading and watching TV, whilst we wait for the world to return to some semblance of normal.

Anyway, for my first discussion post back, I wanted to talk a little about what I’ve been doing for the past few months whilst I’ve been out in Cape Town, since I haven’t really been talking about it much on the blog. We may not be able to travel physically right now, but I can relive my travels virtually for you guys!

I went out to Cape Town back in January, for a project that was meant to last twelve weeks (though in the end I had to leave after ten). I was based in Muizenberg, which is a coastal suburb in the Western Cape, and my office was less than five minutes away from the beach! My project was obviously Journalism, and I was writing for Cape Chameleon, an online magazine run by Projects Abroad, the volunteer organisation I was working for.

I got thrown in the deep end pretty swiftly, as soon as I arrived, I had to come up with an article idea and write a pitch based on that month’s theme of Human Rights. I had seen about the #AmINext movement on Twitter, a few months prior and I was interested in seeing what had happened since then, with gender based violence still being a prevalent issue in South African society. Initially, it was quite a struggle to get people who were willing to talk to me about it, but my supervisor and I managed to secure three interviews in the end. The article turned out really well, and it was a great start to my time in Cape Town. I got to interview some really cool people, and talking to a woman from Rape Crisis in Cape Town really inspired me. One of the best parts of being a journalist is getting to hear stories of people doing amazing things and to share those stories is a real joy.

Over the next nine weeks, I wrote an article per week, which might not seem like a lot, but when you have to research, organise interviews and write the article, all in one week, the work quickly piles up!

It could be a bit frustrating when you were reaching out to sources for an article and it seemed like no one was getting back to you. This was especially true when I was sorting out my controversial topic articles, because the subjects I covered were quite sensitive (gender based violence and illegal abortion), so people were more reluctant to talk to me. People also seemed to be slower to get back to me than I’d encountered before in the UK, so that was another hurdle to work around, especially when you working on quite tight deadlines. Still, it’s all part of being a journalist, and persistence paid off in the end, I was able to get the interviews I wanted.

Working in South Africa was obviously quite different from working in the UK: my office was pretty relaxed, and there were only a few volunteers on my project: for the last month I was there, I was the only one. This was actually quite nice, as it meant our supervisor was able to help us more on an individual level, and I liked the more laid back atmosphere, it was definitely very different to newsrooms in the UK that I’ve been in!

I also loved the freedom of getting to choose what I wanted to write and really revelled in that opportunity, as I know when I get a job, I won’t always get to choose the stories that I get to work on. This meant that the portfolio of articles I ended up with really reflected me and the kinds of stories that matter to me, which was brilliant.

Outside of my work, obviously there was a lot to explore and do in Cape Town over almost three months. I made a great group of friends, there were five of us girls who hung around together a lot and we’re already planning on meeting back up again when we’re all able to travel once more! It was great to get to meet people from different places around the world: in our group, there were two of us from the UK, two from Holland and another girl from Denmark. We’d have socials every week organised by Projects Abroad, but we also had our weekends and evenings free to explore what Cape Town had to offer.

I did a lot of really cool things in my time in Cape Town. Obviously the Safari and the whole Garden Route trip was a highlight, a group of us spent three days travelling along the Garden Route, which is basically a road trip you can do along the coast of South Africa, where there are a lot of tourist attractions. It’s a pretty packed weekend, but it was so much fun. Going on Safari is something I’ve always wanted to do, and it definitely lived up to all my expectations, I loved getting to see all these animals in the wild. The highlight was definitely the lions, but it was just so cool to get to see animals that close, with no glass or cages. We also explored these really cool caves, the Cango Caves, went ziplining and canoeing and went out to these really gorgeous viewpoints.

I would definitely recommend doing the Cape Peninsula tour as well if you do go to Cape Town. This is a lot shorter than the Garden Route, it’s just a day tour but it was super fun: we got to see beautiful views from the Cape Point lighthouse, the Cape of Good Hope and Chapman’s Peak Drive. We also visited the penguins at Boulders Beach (yes, South Africa has penguins!) and took a boat cruise to see the seals in Hout Bay.

I definitely took advantage of the sunny weather as much as I could by doing a lot of outdoor activities. I particularly loved going to the outdoor cinema, watching films under the stars is definitely not something that’s all that common in the UK, it’s too cold most of the time! Me being me, of course, I jumped on the opportunity to go horse riding on the beach, as I’ve not ridden on the beach in years. We also tried sandboarding, which was something super fun that I would never have got to try at home.

One of the things I really loved about Cape Town, and South Africa in general was the sheer abundance of food markets. We have markets in the UK, but not to the same extent and it was such a cool thing. These markets had so many different food options from around the world and it was so great to be able to support local businesses whilst I was out there.

The last several months in South Africa were even more than I could ever have imagined they would be. I went out to improve my skills as a journalist, and I definitely did that. I got to speak to so many amazing people whilst I was out there, and I really stretched myself as a journalist. This was particularly true with my controversial topic articles: gender based violence and illegal abortion.

For both, I was really worried about covering the subject matter sensitively, and obviously coming from a different culture, you have to be really careful that you approach them in a non-judgemental way. When I pitched the article about abortion to my supervisor, I was really worried that she would reject it as too controversial but she really supported me, and honestly, those two articles actually turned out to be the ones I was most proud of. I learned that I didn’t have to stick within my comfort zone, and I could stretch myself to cover difficult topics, and do them well.

Obviously, it wasn’t ideal that my time in South Africa came to an abrupt end because of coronavirus. But in the ten weeks that I was there, I had the most incredible time and it’s an experience that I’m never going to forget. Getting to live and work as a journalist in a different country has always been a dream of mine, and I feel so lucky that I got to do it right out of University. I made the most amazing friends, I got to do so many wonderful things and I got to explore a wonderful country. It was my first time in Africa and it definitely won’t be the last, I will be going back as soon as I’m able to travel again!

Obviously I have about a million and one pictures that I could share, but I’ll leave you guys with a few of my favourites:

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Riding on Noordhoek Beach

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Up close with the lions!

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Up at the top of Table Mountain

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On Cape Point Lighthouse

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing whilst I’ve been on semi-hiatus the past few months! I really enjoyed my time away, and though of course I wish I was coming back in better circumstances, I have missed blogging and am really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and posting more now that I’m home.

If you’d like to read any of my articles, here’s the link to Cape Chameleon, my articles are pretty easy to find as they’re all recent!
https://capechameleon.co.za/

I know this has been a super long post, but I have one more admin thing before I leave you all for today. I obviously was still reading a lot whilst I was away and whilst usually I would review everything I read on here, I’ve decided I’m not going to write up full length reviews for the nine books I read whilst I was gone. Instead, I’ll start afresh with my latest read, and instead do a round up of mini reviews in a longer #RockMyTBR update post. Reviews are incredibly time consuming for me, and it makes more sense to do it this way, especially since I was not keeping notes whilst I was away.

I’ll be back next month with more actual book talk, though I don’t know what about yet. In the meantime, I should have my #RockMyTBR roundup of January-March in the next few days, so keep an eye out for that.

Jo Talks Books: How My Blog Has Changed In The Past Six Years (Sixth Blogaversary Post!)

Hi guys! I know I said longer posts from me would be rare whilst I was in Cape Town, and they will be, but I couldn’t not do anything for my sixth blogaversary, which happens to be today. Yes, six years ago today, I was a Lower Sixth Student, just looking for things to help me get into University and deciding that starting a book blog would be fun. Now, I’m a University graduate, I’m living abroad for the first time in my life & I’m loving every second of this new adventure. I could never have imagined when I first started doing this that I would still be doing it six years later, or that it would become so much a part of my life, and I want to thank everyone, whether you’ve been reading since I started or just found me today, for supporting me and my blog for all these years!

Honestly looking back on some of my old posts, I kind of cringe a little. Back in 2014, I really had no idea what I was doing, and it shows! My old reviews, compared to what I write now, are quite cringeworthy, they’re not formatted all that well, I’ve definitely improved as a writer since then and I think my newer reviews are just more detailed and in depth than some of my older ones were. But I wouldn’t want to take those early reviews down, flawed as they are, because they show were I came from, and how far this blog has come in the past six years.

I’ve definitely learned a lot in the time that I’ve been doing this, what works and what doesn’t. I started out as purely a review blog, nothing else, but I figured out pretty fast that I was going to need more than that in order to build up a readership for my blog. I tried out memes for every day of the week, but quickly found that was unsustainable, so I stuck to just one: Top Ten Tuesdays which I’ve done for almost five years now, and is probably responsible for at least half my followers!

I tried read-a-thons but I worked out that I just didn’t read that way anymore, the days where I read a whole book in a day are long behind me so I didn’t really get along very well with that, so I just had to accept that as fun as it looked when the whole book community was joining in on a read-a-thon, they just weren’t for me.

I’ve realised over the years, that in order to keep blogging fresh, and interesting, I want to keep trying new things. Even if they don’t necessarily work, that’s okay, I’ve tried a lot of things for the blog that haven’t necessarily worked, but it can get a little montonous doing the same things, week in, week out, so I like to try new stuff, to keep things feeling fresh for me, as well as my readers.

In the six years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve gone from just doing reviews in the first year and then I’ve expanded every year since, with memes, awards and tags, challenges, discussion posts, recaps and updates, writing related posts and most recently comparisons of books with their movie adaptations. I worked out that having multiple weekly posts didn’t really work for me, so I stuck to one weekly meme and all of my other posts are monthly. So much of blogging is trial and error, even now I’m constantly learning and trying new things, that’s what makes it fun.

I have to admit, the look of my blog hasn’t really changed at all, I’ve never been much for web design, and since I’m not self hosted, I don’t really have the choice of loads of different designs anyway. I think going into the next few years of my blog, I might work on clearing up some of the tabs so it’s a bit easier to navigate, but I know I’m never going to be a web design queen!

I had no idea when I first started doing this how hard book bloggers work, or how much stuff was involved in it! I didn’t know about ARCs, or blog tours, Netgalley or any of the other stuff that came with it. I didn’t know how many hours I would spend writing posts, coming up with ideas, thinking up ways to make my blog better. Basically I had no idea how much blogging would become a part of my life, six years later, it’s not just the thing I did in order to get into Uni, it’s something that I love, and all the hard work (planning out three months worth of posts in just over two before going away being a prime recent one!) has definitely been worth it.

The biggest change in my blog though hasn’t been the small physical changes, the better writing, different features etc. I’ve changed a lot in six years, I was 17 when I first started doing this, with no idea how long I was going to do it for, or how many people would eventually end up reading my blog. I’ve always been proud that my blog reflects a little piece of me, but more than that, with each year I’ve been doing it, that changes slightly. 17 year old me, does not have the same voice as 23 year old me, the things I care about have changed, my reading habits have changed, the way I interact with the blogging community has changed. It’s a funny thing blogging for this long, because I can look back over old posts, and they’re like little time capsules of the person I was, at 17, at 20 etc.

Looking towards the future, all I really know for this blog is that it’s going to keep on changing. Whether it’s me turning more towards adult fiction as I find myself relating to YA less and less, focusing more on my writing pursuits as I work towards hopefully getting published one day, my little corner of the internet will keep changing, because I will keep changing. I also know that I will keep learning.

The entirety of the last six years of blogging has been a series of trial and error, working out what works for me and what doesn’t, having to keep adapting how I blog based on where I am in life, especially now that I am no longer a student and am looking towards getting my first permanent job. The first five years of blogging, was so intertwined with my life as a student, so it’s definitely been interesting to see how that has changed, even in just the last six months.

One thing I do know that hasn’t changed, and won’t change, is that I write for me. What I’ve liked to write has changed over the years, but first and foremost I want this blog to reflect me and to be proud of what I put out there. It’s been amazing to me that so many people have wanted to read what I have to say and I’m so glad that the things I’m passionate about have found an audience with so many of you. As many of you know, I love VE Schwab, and one thing she always says is write what YOU love, and if an audience loves it too, then that’s great.  I think in the last six years, I’ve definitely done that with this blog, and I’m so glad that it seems to have found an audience!

So there we go, those are my rather rambling reflections on the last six years of blogging! If you are a blogger, how long have you been blogging for? Has your blog changed a lot in the time you’ve been doing it? Let me know in the comments!

I don’t think I’ll have a discussion post for you next month, as I’m still here in South Africa and I’m trying to mostly stick to my blogging hiatus (with the exception of these pre-planned posts), but I should have one when I get home in April.

 

Jo Talks Books: 2020 Reading/Writing/Blogging Goals

Happy 2020 everyone! I hope you all had a great time, wherever you were and whatever you did to bring in the New Year. I had a lovely evening with my parents, we had a three course dinner at our local pub, which was delicious and then watched the fireworks and toasted the new decade at midnight.

I’m really excited to start a new year here, it’s hard to believe that I will have been doing this for six years in February! This year is going to be a little different as I’m going to South Africa from 11th January till the 24th April, so I’m taking my first break from blogging in six years. I won’t be abandoning you guys completely, I have Top Ten Tuesday posts planned, I’ll be planning some Book Vs Movie posts and I’ll be doing something for my sixth blogaversary obviously, but I probably won’t have lots of lengthy reviews, discussion posts or writing posts whilst I’m away.

But I’m still here now, and onto the topic of today’s post. As it’s a New Year, I wanted to share my Reading/Writing/Blogging goals for the year, I always like to start off the year by looking forward to the things I want to achieve throughout the year, it gives me things to spend the year working towards. I did pretty well on my 2019 goals, and I’m hoping that I can do even better on this year’s goals. As with last year, I have a mix of blogging, writing and reading goals, but I’ve gone down to 10 goals rather than 12 as I thought that was more achievable:

  1. Complete Goodreads Challenge

As always, I will be working towards my Goodreads Challenge goal throughout the year. I managed 42 books last year, which was amazing, and the best that I’ve done since I started doing the challenge. I’ve started at 24 again this year, I’d like to try and beat the 42 I managed this year, but honestly if I get more than 30, I will be happy.

2. Complete my #RockMyTBR Challenge

Another annual one, I’m doing my #RockMyTBR challenge again this year! I managed to read all 12 books last year, so I’m hoping I’ll do the same this year. I’m really excited about all the books that Twitter picked again this year, and I managed to find some new favourites from this challenge last year, so I hope I’ll do the same this year.

3. Finish a first draft of either the This Is Not A Love Story sequel or Underground Magicians

I’ve been working on the first drafts of both these novels for several years now, so I’d really like to get at least one of them to a complete stage this year. I just didn’t have a massive amount of time to work on them last year, especially with prepping This Is Not A Love Story for querying, but I’m hoping that this year I can get at least one of them to a stage where I can start editing.

4. Read more adult fiction

I’ve been, not necessarily veering away from YA in the past few years as it’s still most of what I read, but I have discovered a lot of adult books that I’ve really loved and have found myself actively seeking those stories more. So this year, I want to make a concerted effort to read more adult books, as I know I enjoy them, and I want to expand my reading even more.

5. Read more books by authors of colour

I always intend to read more diversely, but I know I could do so much better in this area, so this year I really want to actively seek out stories by authors of colour, especially women. I don’t want to set a number on it, like I’m going to read X amount, but I definitely want to try and read more.

6. Catch up on 2019 releases

This is another annual one, as there are so many new releases that I want to read every year and I never get to all of them, I still have some of my most anticipated 2019 releases, like Call Down The Hawk and King of Scars to get to, so that’s definitely going to be a priority this year.

7. Get Netgalley ratio up to 80%

I had this one as a goal for last year as well, but I didn’t manage to achieve it this year, in fact my ratio at the end of the year was exactly the same as it was at the beginning of the year! It did go up slightly, but then went back down when I requested a load of books…..

8. Buy less physical books/do another unhaul

These two are kind of connected, so I decided to put them as one. I want to only buy physical books that I’m really excited for this year, I have Netgalley, Kindle, Audible, so it’s not like I will go without books if I buy less physical copies, and I really need to slim down my book collection a little more before I move again, so unfortunately, I will probably have to do another unhaul this year.

9. Tackle some of the 500+ page books on my TBR

I have a tendency to leave the longer books on my TBR languishing on my shelves, I don’t have a massive number of them, only about 5 or 6 that I own, I think, but if I could knock a few of them off my TBR this year, that would be great!

10. Read more new to me authors

I know I’ve had this as a goal in previous years, but I wanted to bring it back this year because although I read about 16 new authors last year, I only found about five or six that I really loved, so I’m hoping that this year, not only can I read more new to me authors, but I can also find more that I want to keep coming back to.

So that’s my goals for the year! Do you set reading, blogging, writing or life goals for the year? If not, then why not? What are you goals for 2020? Do we share any? Let me know in the comments!

I’m not really sure what my Jo Talks schedule is going to be for this year yet, because obviously I’ll be in South Africa through till April, I’ll definitely have something in February for my six year blogaversary though I’m not sure what that will be, and then I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled one a month from April, so it shouldn’t be too disrupted. If there are any specific topics that you’d like to see this year, then let me know in comments. In the meantime, I will have reviews of my last two books of the year, plus my #RockMyTBR 2019 wrap up in the next few days, so look out for those!

Jo Talks Books: On The Second Year of My Bechdel Test Experiment

Hi everyone! It’s almost the end of 2019 and the start of a new decade, WHAT? I can’t believe that this year has gone so fast, but then I never can. For my final discussion post of the year, I’m bringing back a topic from last year and talking about the results of my second year of doing the Bechdel Test with my books. For anyone who is not aware of what the Bechdel Test is, it’s a test for female representation in media, usually used for films. The three criteria for passing the test are as follows: a) are there two or more female characters, b) who talk to each other & c) about something other than a man. It’s a pretty low bar to pass, but you’d be surprised how few things actually do.

I read 40 books this year, or at least as of the time of writing this post, I’m hoping to read a couple more before the year ends. Of these, I analysed 33 of them, so two less than last year, as two  were a non fiction which couldn’t really be used, four were comics (which I could have analysed, but I didn’t review them) and the other was an audiobook that I just forgot to look for Bechdel Test passing content in!

Of the 34 books that I analysed, 22 of them passed the Bechdel Test, whilst 11 did not. This is pretty consistent with the results from last year, with the same amount not passing and only two less passing the test. Of course, last year, all the books I read were involved in the stats, whereas this year there are seven that weren’t, so had I involved all the books, the results may have been slightly different.

Once again, almost all the books that passed were written by female authors, but this year, all the books that failed were also written by female authors. This more reflects the gender bias of my reading though, as I only actually read one book by a male author this year, and it actually did pass the test! I also can’t really say this year that books written by female authors with female lead characters were more likely to pass the test, because although all the boks that passed had female lead characters, all the books but one that failed had at least one female narrator as well.

The issue of male narrated books not being as easily able to pass the Bechdel Test was also evident this year, but only in three books, The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue, You and Strange The Dreamer. These books are slightly different to the ones that failed last year though, as You fails by design, it’s about a stalker, so it would be incredibly ironic if it passed the test. The Gentleman’s Guide fails on the simple fact that it only really has one named female character Felicity, though even if it had had more, it probably still would have failed as being narrated in Monty’s first person POV means that he is involved in pretty much every conversation. Strange The Dreamer fails pretty much entirely because it is narrated by Lazlo. There are several female characters but we barely get to see them interact without him.

This year, most of the books that failed the test probably should have passed, because a large majority of them either failed because they didn’t have enough female characters (easily rectified) or simply that their female characters didn’t speak to each other about anything other than men. Take Finale, the final Caraval book: it would have been so easy for it to pass the Bechdel test, it has two female narrators, all they had to do was talk about something other than a man. However because the book revolves so much around their romances, it doesn’t! All that’s really required is a brief exchange about anything other than Legend or Julian. It would have been so easy and yet the book is so focused on the men that it just doesn’t happen. The Diviners also could have quite easily passed, there are multiple named female characters in that book, and the second book does pass the test, but all they seem to talk about is the men in their life, so it fails. To Kill A Kingdom was quite frustrating in this regard as well, because it had a conversation that would have counted, but because Lira’s mother is not named, it doesn’t.

Stalking Jack The Ripper, The Last Namsara and Uprooted, all have main female characters, but they all fall into the trap of having the “one important woman” who only really interact with men, and when they do interact with other women, their conversations all revolve around men.

The same is true for Alex and Eliza, whilst there are other women surrounding Eliza, she only talks to them about Hamilton. The same is true of Romanov, Anastasia has multiple sisters, but they only really speak to each other about their father, brother and romantic interests. This could have something to do with the historical setting, but I don’t believe that, as other historical fiction I read this year, Enchantee and Hamilton and Peggy both passed the test, and presumably historical women did speak about things other than men!

Whilst the books that didn’t pass this year were mainly of the same vein, not enough female characters or where there were, they just didn’t interact, there was more of a variation between the books that did. Like last year, we had the obvious passers and the just barely, though unfortunately, I would say there were more of the latter category this year.

The ones that quite obviously passed, had lots of female characters who interacted frequently through the book. Books where relationships between female characters were integral to the plot. These were books like King Of Fools, where Enne and her new criminal enterprise with her girl gang was a significant subplot, or The Priory of The Orange Tree, where the women are the leaders in their own stories and the interpersonal relationships between them are integral to the plot. Bedlam also has multiple women at the centre of the story and Valkyrie relies on their support and advice, so there are multiple interactions between her and other women. A Girl Called Shameless also had a lot of interactions between women, unsurprisingly as feminism is the focus! Catwoman: Soulstealer also has quite a lot of interactions between women that aren’t about men, as Selina, Harley and Ivy are the focus, Luke is definitely secondary to the women.

Vengeful was kind of an in between one for me, because it does focus on women and power, so the women are very much at the forefront, and I wouldn’t say the Bechdel passing content was quite as throwaway as some of the other books, but there’s not as much content that passes as Priory, King Of Fools or Bedlam.

Many of the other books I read this year had quite narrowly passing content which was a shame. Ninth House just passes based on a conversation between Alex and her professor, but were it not for that, it would probably fail, as there isn’t all that much dialogue and Alex and Dawes’ conversations usually revolve around Darlington. We Are Blood and Thunder, it took almost the entire book to find a conversation between Lena and Constance that didn’t revolve around a man. Kingdom of Ash should definitely have had more conversations between women that weren’t about men, given the size of the book and the number of female characters that there are in the book. I don’t know if I just didn’t look out for multiple interactions as much this year as last year or if there was just less to be had, but it definitely felt like a lot of the books only narrowly passed.

I found it more difficult to judge in audiobooks, mostly because I generally have to go back to look for Bechdel Test passing content, and it’s a lot easier to do that in physical books than it is in audio, so I don’t know if that affected my results at all this year.

I talked last year about the limitations of this test, so I won’t go into it again, as the results this year have once again reflected it, though it was quite interesting that this year, a large number of the books that failed were female led and didn’t pass because of lack of female interaction. I think that’s something that definitely needs to be addressed in fiction, especially YA: a lot of authors will write a female led book, but she is the only one, the “special” one and is surrounded by men. It’s all very well having a female led book, but your female lead should have meaningful interactions with the other women in her life, and talk about things other than men, because whilst teenage girls do talk about them, it’s not the only thing in their lives!

It’s interesting how my results this year can come out with similar numbers to last year, and yet be quite different in terms of both the quantity and quality of female interactions in the books that passed. The Bechdel Test isn’t the most nuanced test in the world, never has been, but you can get quite a signficant difference in the amount of content that passes, as well as the reasons for failure.

So that’s my 2019 Bechdel Test results! I’ve really enjoyed doing it over the past few years and it’s definitely made me more aware of both the quality and quantity of interactions between women in my books, so it’s definitely something I want to continue on with in the coming years.

I’ll have another discussion post for you quite soon, my annual beginning of year 2020 Reading/Writing/Blogging goals. In the meantime, I will have my last Top Ten Tuesday of 2019, as well as my End of Year Check In, on New Year’s Eve.

Jo Talks Books: Did My Most Anticipated Reads of The Year Live Up To Expectations?

Hi all! As we’re coming to the end of 2019, both the end of the year and the end of a decade, I’m feeling reflective. Cait at PaperFury does one of these kinds of posts every year and I always love them, I’ve wanted to do one of my own for a while, but I never really read enough new releases to make it worth it. Thankfully this year, I have, so I thought this would be a great time to share my thoughts on my most anticipated releases and whether they lived up to expectations or not.

So I had 22 books on my most anticipated releases of 2019 lists for both halves of the year, and I read (or attempted to read) 10 of them, which isn’t bad, though obviously I would have liked to read more, some of them I will be reading next year though. Anyway, enough of my usual too many books, not enough time excuses, here are my thoughts on my anticipated releases of 2019 that I actually did read this year:36492488

  1. We Hunt The Flame-Hafash Faizal

Expectations: I’d heard really good stuff about this one, everyone was so excited about it and since I’ve been finding YA fantasies quite same-y in recent years, I was looking forward to trying something quite different, and I’m always looking to find more diverse fantasies.

Reality: I didn’t finish this one. I was I think maybe two or three chapters in, which yes, I know doesn’t seem like much, but I just wasn’t feeling the urge to read it, I was running out of time on my Netgalley download and I didn’t feel like I wanted to pick it up, so I decided to DNF it. I may go back to it at some point, but at the moment I’m not really feeling like it.

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2. Ninth House

Expectations: I’ve LOVED Leigh Bardugo’s previous books, so of course I was really hyped over her adult debut. The talk about the controversial dark content of the book didn’t do anything to put me off, because I love my books dark and I heard so much great stuff about this book before I read it.

Reality: I did enjoy it. Really I did. But I potentially may have overhyped it in my mind? It was good, such a creative concept but it was just WAY TOO SLOW for me, and I felt like the world building was kind of overwhelming. The end was good though, so I’m hoping for more from the sequel.

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3. The Fountains of Silence-Ruta Sepetys

Expectations: I was really excited for this one as I’ve really enjoyed Ruta Sepetys’ previous books, and I love reading about time periods that I’m not as familiar with, so the idea of reading about Spain under General Franco really appealed to me as I’m not all that familiar with that period of Spanish History.

Reality: I was bored. I read over 200 pages of this and I still wasn’t into it. I’d been reading it for almost two months, my Netgalley download was running out and I decided that it wasn’t worth trying to power through when in all likelihood, I wouldn’t finish it anyway. This is possibly one of my biggest disappointments of the year because I really enjoyed Between Shades of Gray and Salt To The Sea. Hopefully her next book will treat me better.

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4. Into The Crooked Place-Alexandra Christo

Expectations: I was SO SO EXCITED for this one. I really loved To Kill A Kingdom when I read it in March, and so naturally when I saw she was releasing a book in October, I was completely on board. When my friend Hannah read it, and said she loved it, I was even more excited because we have very similar tastes in books.

Reality: Expectations met. I didn’t love it quite as much as To Kill A Kingdom, but I still really enjoyed it, definitely one of my favourite books of the year. I loved the characters, the writing and the plot was on the whole enjoyable, if a little slow paced and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel when it releases (hopefully) next year.

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5. The Priory of The Orange Tree-Samantha Shannon

Expectations: I was SO HYPED for this one. It had dragons, it was feminist, parts are Elizabethan inspired, everything about it sounded like something I would absolutely love and I was fully prepared for a new favourite read.

Reality: Okay, so my expectations may have been a little high for this one. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I really did, the writing was great, as was the worldbuilding but I felt like the pacing and the characters weren’t quite as good as I would have liked. I still enjoyed it enough that I will definitely read the future books that Shannon is planning in this world, but it wasn’t quite what I had built it up to be in my head.

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6. A Girl Called Shameless-Laura Steven

Expectations: The Exact Opposite of Okay was one of my favourite books of last year, so naturally I was expecting something pretty brilliant from this second book, I was hoping it would be one of my favourites of 2019.

Reality: Big disappointment. I really wanted to love this one as much as the first book, but to be honest, it didn’t really feel like it needed a sequel? The humour wasn’t quite as funny as it was in the first book, it was pretty slow paced and I just didn’t enjoy it as much.

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7. Descendant of The Crane-Joan He

Expectations: I saw this book described as the Chinese Game of Thrones, and naturally since I loved Game of Thrones (until Season 8 ruined it), I was massively excited for it.

Reality: It disappointed me, but mostly because it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be? I was expecting this massive, exciting, fantasy adventure, but it wasn’t anything like that. It was pretty fantasy-lite, more of a political drama, the characters were pretty flat, the romance wasn’t great and it left a lot to be desired in terms of the ending, especially being a standalone.

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8. King of Fools-Amanda Foody

Expectations: I liked Ace of Shades, it wasn’t a new favourite or anything like that, but the ending was so exciting that I was really anticipating the second book, and hoping for something that really blew me away.

Reality: Expectations met and then some! It was so much better than Ace of Shades, the pacing was faster, the stakes were higher and because I was more familiar with the world and characters, I enjoyed it even more. There were so many excellent new characters introduced, loads of great plot twists and the ending just blew me away. I’m so excited for Queen of Volts next year!

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9. Romanov-Nadine Brandes

Expectations: I was really excited for this one because I loved Fawkes when I read it last year, and I really enjoyed studying the Romanovs during my History A-Level, so the Romanovs with a magical twist seemed like the perfect book for me.

Reality: I enjoyed it, but not as much as I hoped. There wasn’t quite as much magic as I would have liked, it was more historical with a light bit of fantasy, and it was quite slow paced, with a tendency to romanticise the Romanov family. I did enjoy it once the pace kicked up, but I was hoping for something a bit more exciting.

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10. Finale-Stephanie Garber

Expectations: One of my most anticipated books of the year, I loved Legendary last year and I was really hoping for an explosive, pardon the pun “Finale”.

Reality: I think my expectations may have been a little too high for this one. I was expecting a really exciting end to the series, and in reality, it lacked a cohesive plot, and none of the plot threads introduced at the end of Legendary really seem to be utilised. I’m so disappointed, because I think this one could have been a lot more than it was.

So there we go, that’s what I thought of my most anticipated books of the year! I think what I’ve learned from this is that I have far too high expectations of most things I read and they’re usually impossible to meet. I’d say that I will learn from this and lower my expectations for next year, but the likelihood is I won’t!

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Do you have a tendency to put too high expectations on the books you read as well? Let me know in the comments!

I should have another one of these up at the end of the month, talking about the second year of my Bechdel Test reading experiment. In the meantime, my next post will be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post.

Jo Talks Books: On Rediscovering Audiobooks

Hi everyone! I’m back with another discussion post for you this month, which I had intended to post in October, but sadly I just didn’t have the time, so I saved it up for this month instead. One of my resolutions I made for the year, back in January was to read more audiobooks, and though I put off on starting it until July, I’ve really enjoyed my adventure into audio and definitely plan on continuing reading audiobooks for the foreseeable future.

I actually have kind of a strange history with audiobooks, because I did used to love them when I was a kid. This is really going to age me, but when I was a kid, I used to listen to audio books on cassette tape (yes, I know, when I was young cassettes were still a thing), and I really enjoyed them. I remember I used to have the physical book, and the cassette and I’d read along whilst listening and it was something I always used to enjoy, I especially loved listening to the Sophie books by Dick King Smith.

But then I stopped. I can’t even remember when and I don’t know why but I just stopped listening to audiobooks. Maybe because cassettes weren’t really a thing anymore, maybe  I didn’t know where to get them from, maybe it was just easier to get my hands on physical books from the library? Honestly I don’t know, but past the age of about 8 or 9, I didn’t really read audiobooks anymore, and the years passed and they kind of fell off my radar.

When I joined Book Twitter in 2015, and in the years since, I noticed that a lot of people were talking about audiobooks, audiobooks that they’d enjoyed, whether audiobooks counted as reading or not (they do) and various other things. I wanted to get involved in the discussions, but at the time, I wasn’t having the greatest reading year & I didn’t really want to try and dive into a whole new format.

Flash forward to four years later and I still hadn’t tried any audiobooks, despite my friend Nicola, and the entirety of Book Twitter talking about how much they enjoy audio as a format. I don’t know if the fact that I like to listen to music whilst reading meant that I put off trying audiobooks, because obviously you can’t listen to two things at once, or if it was just my natural procrastinating instincts, but either way, I still hadn’t tried them. Finally after a post-Christmas meal with some family friends, where someone once again told me how much they enjoy audio, I decided to make it a resolution for this year to try some, and see if I enjoyed them.

I’d already asked Twitter to recommend me some audiobooks, as I had no idea where to start, so armed with my list, I finally took the plunge and subscribed to Audible in June. I wasn’t really sure what to pick as my first book, but thankfully, a Goodreads book group I’m part of (YA Addicted Book Club) were planning to read Priory of The Orange Tree in July, and as I wasn’t entirely sure about lugging the 800+ page hardback around with me, I thought that book would be a great way to kickstart my audio experience.

And it was! The narrator for Priory, Liyah Summers, was great and it definitely helped diving into audio again after such a long time away from it with a book from an author I already knew I liked. Whilst I had always read physical books on public transport, audio actually worked even better for me for this purpose because the chapters are all split into 20-40 minute chunks (some are more, some are less, but generally this seems to be the case), so I could listen to them without having to leave off in the middle of a chapter, because they usually lasted the length of my bus journey.

I’ve also mentioned in these discussion posts that I’m not the most visual reader. Now, reading audiobooks hasn’t meant that I picture things in my head more, but I have found that it has enhanced my reading experience, I feel even more immersed in the worlds, and the characters through hearing the stories as opposed to reading them myself. This is not to say that I don’t still love physical books, because of course I do, but there’s something about listening to the story that just makes it feel even more alive for me. This is particularly true in the case of The Diviners audiobooks, January LaVoy is such a good narrator that you really do feel the creepy, supernatural, 1920’s atmosphere of the books come to life.

I’ve found that I can get through audiobooks a lot quicker than I can read physical books, I’m not entirely sure why that is, maybe the narrators just speak faster than I read, but I can get through a good 3 or 4 chapters on the bus on the way to work listening to the audio, where before, with a very similar commute, I would have only got through one chapter of a physical book.

As I mentioned with Priory, the audio split what was a incredibly large book into much more manageable chunks, so I definitely think for people who are intimidated by large books (like me), audio is a really great option. I’ve done the same thing to finish Kingdom of Ash, I was really struggling with the physical book, because it was just SO LONG, and switching to the audio made it far, far easier to get through.

I think the snobbery around audiobooks is somewhat strange, because in addition to the fact that its ableism, don’t we all start out our lives being read to? Before we learn to read, we are read to, when I was younger one of my favourite things was my dad reading me stories. How are audiobooks really any different? It’s literally just someone reading you a story, the same as many of us experienced when we younger, and it’s been great to come back to that, listening to audiobooks has definitely made me really nostalgic for that!

Audiobooks have also allowed me read books that I might not necessarily have considered buying physical copies of, like You or the Diviners, books that I’ve wanted to try but didn’t necessarily want to sacrifice the shelf space for, and since I obviously have limited shelf space, it just generally is another way for me to read MORE.

Blogging has really helped me in terms of diving into formats that I wouldn’t necessarily have considered before, both with e-books, and now with audiobooks (though I have to say, I actually do prefer audio to e-books, as I’m not a massive fan of reading on a screen, I spend so much time doing that anyway, it’s quite nice to get a break) and this has definitely expanded my reading horizons. I can’t wait to hopefully discover more amazing audiobooks in the near future!

So what do you think? Do you love audiobooks? Do you have any favourite narrators? Did you take a while to fall in love with audio like I did? Let me know in the comments!

I doubt I will have another one of these up this month, given my work schedule, but hopefully I will have another one up next month, talking about the second year of my Bechdel Test reading experiment. In the meantime, my next post will be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post.

Jo Talks Books: On Growing Out of Books/ Authors

Hello everyone! I’m back with another discussion post for you guys, the first of two I have planned for this month, time depending, as I obviously still have other posts to come before the month is over.

This month I’m talking about something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately, and it’s something that I feel like doesn’t get talked about as much as it should in the book community because we spend a lot of time advocating that people read whatever they like regardless of the intended age range (something that I also completely believe in, age range is just a guidance, not a strict rule that must be adhered to). This is that our reading tastes do change as we get older, and though of course you can read YA, or any other age category of books at any age, the further away you get from the target age range, the less you are able to relate to the main characters and their stories, which is a crucial part (at least for me) of enjoying a book.

Despite the fact that I was always an advanced reader for my age, I struggled with “moving up” in age categories, though I could quite easily read at the higher age bracket than the one I was in. I got comfortable with the books in whatever section I was reading from at the time, and although I did yearn to explore more, I also didn’t want to feel like I was leaving the books I loved behind. So I did spend a lot of time reading books that were perceived as “young” for me, and it took a while to admit that I was bored with these books and wanted to try something new. But of course I did, I found more books in older genres that I wanted to read. I also realised that it didn’t have to be either/or, I could enjoy books in my target age range, and also still find the books that I had previously read in a lower age range, fun. And this is how it’s been for most of my life, I’ve straddled age ranges because why not? Who’s to say you can’t find a book written for a 9-12 audience, enjoyable at 13 or 14?

I started reading YA when I was 11, my first ever YA read was Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (though I suppose it could be argued that the later Harry Potter books are YA, but they were marketed for children) and fell in love pretty instantly. I was still reading books from the 9-12 section of the bookshop at that time, but reading Noughts and Crosses opened up this whole new world of books to me, and I started devouring anything and everything YA pretty quickly. When I was younger, there were far more books that straddled the MG/YA divide than there are now, so you didn’t necessarily have to pick either/or, you could read a series which started as MG and then grew with you, like the Harry Potter series, or the Skulduggery Pleasant series.

Once I found YA, I got pretty settled there. I still read the occasional 9-12 book, but less and less frequently as time went on, it was pretty much solely Rick Riordan by the time I was 18. I also ventured a little into adult books, but not very often, Jodi Picoult was pretty much the only adult author that I read as a young teenager.

It’s only really been in the last few years that I’ve felt myself starting to disconnect from YA. I do still love reading YA books, and there are so many YA authors that I really love, but I definitely don’t feel the same connection to the characters as I did when I was younger. And I think that’s understandable. I’m 23 now, the things that mattered to me when I was 16 or 17 don’t anymore, I care about different things now. The romances I loved when I was a teenager, feel cliche to me now. I’ve also found as I’ve got older that a lot of YA feels quite samey. I can feel myself growing out of authors like Rick Riordan, whose books I loved when I was 14, but are starting to feel quite childish to me now.

However, at 23, unlike when I was 9 or 11, there’s nothing for me to move on to? There’s so much focus when you’re growing up of reaching the next target, moving up to the next step, moving on to the new thing but once you’re an adult, there’s nowhere new to go. I want something more than YA, but I find that there aren’t many adult books that actually interest me? I like the pacey stories, the coming of age, the smart dialogue, that can be found in YA, but I want more stories from people in the same stage of life as I am. Unfortunately, it’s not all that easy to find stories that centre protagonists of my age, in any genre really. And so I feel like I’m stuck in this kind of purgatory, where I want to branch out of YA somewhat and find books with characters who are at an age I can relate to more, but I just don’t feel like those books are there, in any genre of fiction.

I think as adults reading YA, particularly YA book bloggers, there’s a feeling of needing to justify our place in the community, because we’re not the target audience for YA anymore. And whilst I do truly believe that you can enjoy YA at any age, I think, at least for me, I’ve felt somewhat of a reluctance to admit my growing disconnect with some (not all, there are still YA books that I really love) YA books and with the category as a whole because it feels almost like you are betraying the idea that you can read what you like no matter what age you are, something I firmly believe in.

I don’t think it’s wrong, or shameful however to admit that you feel like you want to move on from something, or that your tastes have changed as you’ve grown up. I don’t want to move on from YA completely, there are still plenty of YA books that I’ve loved over the past few years, and plenty more that I’m excited for in the years to come. However I do feel like I want to find more books that speak to the place in life that I’m at now, I want to branch out into more adult fantasy, more adult fiction and being more selective about the YA I read, so that I read the books that I’m pretty certain I’m going to enjoy. I know my reading tastes pretty well by now, so I want to find YA that I know I will enjoy, as well as YA books that push boundaries and do something different.

I want to embrace my changing reading tastes as I get older, I’ve learned over the years that it’s no bad thing to feel like you are growing out of a genre, or author, or age category, it just means that you are at a different stage in your life and that different things speak to you now than they did when you were a teenager. I’ve also learned over the years that growing up doesn’t mean that you have to close yourself off to younger age categories of books completely, in fact just the opposite: it’s a chance to discover a whole new world of books. I think sometimes there can be this fallacy that as you get older, your selection of books has to narrow, and I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, you can feel as if you’re growing out of a certain category of books, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think if anything, your pool of books widens as you grow up, not narrows and that is a wonderful thing.

So what do you think? If you are an adult that reads YA, do you feel as if you’ve been growing out of/feeling disconnected from YA as you’ve got older? Do you find it difficult to find adult books that speak to you? Let me know in the comments!

I will hopefully have another one of these up before the end of the month, talking about my experience rediscovering audiobooks. In the meantime, my next post will probably be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday, unless I come up with something else I want to post before then.

Jo Talks Books: Why We Need More Platonic Friendships Between Male and Female Characters In YA

Hi everyone! I’m back with another discussion post for you all, earlier in the month this time, so hopefully I might be able to do my regular two discussion posts this month as opposed to the one I’ve done for the last two months.

This month, I’m talking about something that’s really important to me, and something that I definitely think needs to be seen more in YA: platonic friendships between boys and girls.

The main focus on relationships between boys and girls in YA always seems to be the romance. That’s not to say that there aren’t platonic relationships between male and female characters in YA, but overwhelmingly, the focus still seems to be on the romance. I’ve spoken before about my issues with romance being overly prevalent in YA, and friendships being overlooked anyway, but I wanted to talk specifically about platonic relationships between girls and boys because I think it feeds into a bigger societal issue.

Society, and especially media, constantly reinforce the idea that men and women cannot be friends with each other, that the natural relationship between them should be one that is romantic. Obviously this is a ridiculous result of our heteronormative society, & it is perfectly possible for men and women to have platonic relationships with each other.

If the message that YA books are sending to teenagers is that the only way girls and guys can be friends is if one of them is gay or lesbian, then that’s not a great one for teens to be receiving. It reinforces the toxic messaging to straight teenage boys that girls are something that they are entitled to, that they are objects for their sexual pleasure and not other human beings worthy of respect. It doesn’t send a great message to teenage girls either if the only way that they see boys in the media is as potential boyfriends because it makes it seem as if the only way that we can be worth something is if they are in a relationship.

I’m obviously focusing on heterosexual characters here, but the same goes for queer characters, the only relationships they have with other queer people can’t just be romantic relationships, it’s so important to get to see those characters having friendships, as well as romantic relationships with other queer people. Society is so used to making romantic relationships the be-all, end-all of all relationships, that we forget how important friendships are, and fiction is a great place to highlight that importance.

Centring platonic relationships in fiction would also go a long way in making it a more friendly place for people on the aroromantic and/or asexual spectrum. Of course people who are aro/ace can have relationships of a romantic or sexual nature, but by placing less importance on romantic relationships and showing more platonic relationships, both between people of the same sex and people of opposite sexes, it will allow for a wider range of experiences to be represented in fiction & de-normalize the idea that the only relationships men and women can have must be romantic.

I can genuinely think of very few genuinely platonic relationships between male and female characters in fiction. It’s one of the reasons why the suggestion that Harry and Hermione should have got together in Harry Potter annoys me, because it’s one of very few examples in YA fiction of a girl and a boy who have a purely platonic relationship.

If you introduce a male and female character of a similar age in a YA book, it’s expected that the two will eventually get together, and because of this expectation, a lot of the time authors try to force a romantic relationship that just shouldn’t exist. So often I find in YA books that I don’t feel the chemistry between the love interests, and that they would have worked so much better as friends. I understand that it’s difficult because an expectation does exist for readers that a YA book will contain romance, but it’s so important to challenge this expectation because the more normal that platonic friendships between men  and women are in fiction, it will go a long way towards reducing the expectation for platonic friendships in real life to turn romantic as well.

I’ve been attempting to challenge this particular problem in my own work, my first novel, This Is Not A Love Story. I wanted the central relationships in my book to be friendships, and particularly show that if you have a male and a female character narrating your book, then it doesn’t have to turn into something romantic between them. Tiffany is pretty clear from the start that she doesn’t have any romantic feelings towards Cam, and though Cam initially does, it never turns into anything.

The frustrating thing, particularly about YA is that it usually starts well. There are lots of male and female characters that are friends initially, but then it’s revealed that one had feelings for each other all along. Think Katniss and Gale from The Hunger Games, that could have been a really great platonic friendship, but of course, in order to create tension, he had to have feelings for her. There’s nothing wrong with people who were originally friends falling in love, I actually really enjoy relationships that start that way, but it doesn’t have to be true for every friendship between a male and female character in fiction!

We need to tackle this whole idea that “just friends” is somehow a bad thing. That there has to be some kind of a justification for men and women to not be romantically interested in each other. It demeans friendship to put it down as something “lesser than romance” especially when friendships can be some of the most enduring relationships of our lives. This starts by showing children, and teenagers, that friendships are just as, if not more important than romantic relationships by featuring platonic relationships more heavily in the books they read.

The friend zone is a classic myth that is used by men who are rejected. It’s used by men who believe that being nice to women means that they are entitled to have sex with them. If our media, and literature, showed more platonic relationships with men and women, and didn’t perpetuate the idea that men and women can’t be friends, then perhaps myth of the “friend zone” would not exist, because the expectation wouldn’t be that the only relationship men can have with women is a sexual one.

Overall, it is SO, SO important that platonic relationships are highlighted in fiction, both between heterosexual men and women, but also between characters on the LGBTQ+ spectrum as well. We need to show the importance of friendship in fiction, to tackle this idea that romance is the only kind of relationship that really matters, and especially to tackle the idea that men are somehow entitled to romantic relationships with women. I definitely think that having more platonic relationships in literature would contribute to a more healthy understanding of platonic relationships in society as a whole.

So there we go, my two cents on the need for platonic relationships between male and female characters in books. Anyone have any favourite platonic m/f relationships? Let me know in the comments!

I will hopefully have another one of these up at the end of the month, though I haven’t decided what it will be about yet. In the meantime, my next post will be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post, which will be up tomorrow.

Jo Talks Books: I’m Not A Visual Reader and What That Means

Hi everyone! I’m so sorry that this post is so late, I’d intended to get it up earlier in the month but August just completely ran away from me, I’ve been working so much during August that I haven’t had as much time for blogging as I’d have liked to.

Anyway, with all that being said, I am here with an August discussion post for you guys, and this month I’m talking about something that I think I’ve mentioned in my reviews in the past but I wanted to explain a bit more about what I mean by it today.

I’m not a visual reader. I know that sounds super weird, but by that, I don’t mean that I only read books in audio form (though that is of course valid). Instead I mean, that when I’m reading, the words don’t form a picture in my head. I can’t see everything like a movie, I don’t have exact visions of what the characters and the world look like. The words are just words. I don’t know why this is, it’s just been the way that my brain has always functioned. It’s strange because I’m very much a visual learner, I’ve always learned things by reading them, but it doesn’t really translate into being able to picture stories in my head.

This is one of the main reasons I think, why lengthy descriptions and purple prose aren’t really for me. I know that a lot of people really love authors who have that kind of writing style and whilst I do appreciate the beauty of the prose, I just can’t connect to it, because I can’t really picture the descriptions in my head. When I talk about loving world building in books, it’s not because I can picture every aspect of a world, it’s more of a feeling I get of being immersed in the world. This doesn’t mean that I like books that have no description at all, I have to have some idea of what the world I’m in is supposed to be like, but books that double down on every little detail? Yeah that’s lost on me.

It also means that when it comes to movie adaptations, because I don’t necessarily picture the characters or world in a certain way, I don’t get annoyed so much when they don’t match my particular vision, because I didn’t really have one. I get annoyed if they are very obviously not the way that they were described in the text, but I don’t have a specific picture that I am measuring them up to. For example, I got annoyed when Annabeth didn’t have blonde hair in the first Percy Jackson film, not because I had a specific picture in my head of her, but because that was they way she was described in the book.

This doesn’t mean that reading is any of a less enjoyable experience for me, obviously it isn’t, it just means that I enjoy different aspects of the reading experience. I really need some kind of emotional connection with what I read, whether it makes me happy, or excited, or scared or whatever, because I don’t “see” the book in my head, but I feel all of the emotions quite intensely. I don’t necessarily need to know exactly what the characters look like, but I need to be able to connect to how they are feeling or the book will not work for me. I actually really enjoy action sequences, not because I can picture every little moment in my head, but because when an author does them well, I can feel the intensity and am on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen to the characters.

It also feeds into why dialogue is one of the most important things for me in any book. Whilst I may not be able to see the words on the page in my head, when characters have conversations, I can actually hear them quite vividly. Granted, without fail, every character has an English accent, which has caused some quite amusing moments in book adaptations of films where I’ve been “but that wasn’t how they sounded in my head” to books that I knew were set in the US, because everyone has an English accent in my head, but I digress. When I’m writing, I often hear the characters speaking in my head, long before I have any idea of what they look like, or what the world is going to be like, or anything like that. As a reader, this means that I really need dialogue to feel authentic because if it doesn’t, I will hear it in my head and find it really jarring.

I think this is also why on page romances don’t work as well for me as on screen ones. When I’m watching a film, I can see the chemistry of the main characters right in front of me (or at least I should, if the actors are good!) but when I’m reading, I don’t have this. I have to feel the chemistry, and that’s a lot harder to do. Again, this comes down to dialogue for me, if from what I can hear in my head, I can feel chemistry between characters, then I can really get on board with a romance. If not then, I can’t because I don’t see it in my head.

This is actually a more common thing than you would think, it’s called Aphantasia, which is otherwise known as mind blindness. It affects one in 50 people in the population and basically means exactly what I’ve talked about experiencing in this post, you can’t visualise images in your head. It doesn’t mean that I’m any less creative than people who do visualise these things, I can still come up with ideas for stories and write them, I just don’t necessarily picture what I write in my head.

What this means for when I write is that I tend to focus less on the description of places and characters and things and more on dialogue and character relationships. I do have an idea of what I’d like characters and places in my books to look like but it’s relatively vague and honestly I’d rather let readers (if one day I hopefully get published!) fill in the blanks for themselves. It’s a lot easier for me when I’m writing, or reading about real places, especially places that I’ve been to, because I have more of a frame of reference about what those places are supposed to look like.

So there we go, that’s a little insight into one of my experiences as a reader. Is anyone else unable to picture things in their head when they’re reading? Does anyone see everything like in a film? Anyone in between? I’d love to hear from you guys about your reading experiences, so let me know in the comments!

I will be back next month with another discussion post, though I haven’t decided what it will be about yet. In the meantime, I will have a new Writing Corner post for you guys tomorrow, all about writing modern fantasy vs second world fantasy.