I finished Zoe’s Tale a few weeks ago, and really liked it. John Scalzi got the character of a teenage girl right, even if there were a few points where it was like he was channeling Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody. But even the smartassery wasn’t that bad and Zoe and her friends were engaging and sympathetic, their actions and reactions realistic. The story itself was reminiscent of Heinlein at his best. Scalzi nailed it.
The book reminded me not only of Heinlein, but of a sort of chick-lit from the 60s or 70s (or earlier, but that was when I was reading it). This wasn’t Nancy Drew (which I never liked) — these novels were by an author or authors whose names I’ve forgotten. They were stories about the concerns of teenage girls. Sports, school, relationships, yes but with a difference from today’s YA — the girls were all smart. They had personalities. They had relationships with their parents that were honest, even if there was conflict. They were expected to learn and grow. They had boyfriends, but they didn’t define themselves by their boyfriends, and often they mostly had boy friends. Their boyfriends also related to them as equals, whether in class or in the sports arena. In short, these novels were probably written to guide girls of the 50s and 60s and 70s from adolescence to young adulthood. They were teaching girls how to be grownups. I hope Scalzi doesn’t feel that I’m damning with faint praise here — Zoe’s Tale could be one of these books and that’s a good thing.
And then I think of Twilight and oh, how very much do I miss those books.
Wiser, funnier, and better bloggers than I have engaged in Twilight literary criticism. It is literary criticism, though I’ve heard it described as jealousy. I’m not jealous of Stephanie Meyer’s success. I read most of the series and liked probably half of it. But Bella Swann is broken. The series presents her as whole and normal. Yet she is stalked by her boyfriend, she lies to her parents and what few friends she has, and she is a very very bad friend. She is wholly narcissistic. She sees other people only in their relation to her needs and desires. She is not smart (though she is described as being very smart). And tellingly, instead of Bella changing and growing, the series fixes her forever as an adolescent, forever a teenager.
Now maybe Twilight fills a need in adolescent girls. I asked K why she liked the series, and she said it was a romance, it was fun, it was escapism. When I pressed her on her feelings about Edward, she acknowledged that he was a crazy stalker. She also said that Bella herself was obnoxious. And yet people read these books obsessively (there’s actually some good writing and scenes that jump off the page). So sure, whatever Stephanie Meyer has, I want some of it!
I just wish Bella were a character that a girl could be proud of.