Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Post: "The Girl You Know" by Kelly Jensen (+ GIVEAWAY)

Hi, all!

Today, I have a very powerful guest post from the fantastic Kelly Jensen. I'm not going to say too much about it, but rather let Kelly do the talking. It is such a great post, and such an important one. I really hope you'll take the time to read it.
The girls you meet in a Courtney Summers book are not pretty. They’re not nice. And they are not shy about either of those things.

But these are the girls you and I both know.

Earlier this fall, Courtney wrote an excellent piece called writing for girls, and in it, she talks about how it was hard to get her work published in the first place because she doesn’t write the easily digestible female main character. She doesn’t force her characters to get through their challenges with an easy way out -- they have to fight all the way through it, and many times, that fight is far from pretty. She doesn’t write girls who follow the rules or submit to the social standards of what it means to be a girl and “take it.”

In Cracked Up to Be, Parker is biting. She’s easy to dislike and write off as the kind of girl you don’t want to get to know. But this is her appeal: she doesn’t want to let you get to know her. She’s burning inside, secrets eating her alive. Parker takes to snark -- a quality that, had she been a boy, rather than a girl, wouldn’t lead to her being “unlikable” or ugly, but perhaps instead “charming.” 

Parker drops out of the public eye and seeks opportunities to get away, to essentially be unseen and forgotten. Her destructive habits, on the surface, don’t impact other people. They’re meant to harm just her. They’re meant to dull down the ache she has internally. She is not, by traditional views, a “strong” character. She is broken and irredeemable.

Of course, we know this isn’t true. We know by the end of the book why she’s taken to such internal torment and why she lashes out the way that she does. Her coping mechanisms are simply that: means of working through her anguish, making mental sense of what happened, and figuring out her own role in everything that went down.

It’s interesting to consider how Parker might be read were she not a girl. If Parker had a penis, would he endure the same kind of reaction from other characters? Would people consider him broken for how he chose to deal with what was eating him up? Or would they accept that something was going on with him, let him have his business and give him space, then readily welcome him back into the fold?

How would readers consider Parker if Parker were a he?

When Regina’s put into a situation where she’s a victim of sexual assault at the hands of her best friend’s boyfriend, she’s immediately labeled the problem in Some Girls Are. There’s no jury here, no opportunity for Regina to state her case. She’s the criminal, not the victim. But unlike Parker, Regina’s coping mechanism isn’t internal. It’s external. She’s out for blood in the same way her former friends are.

Regina is a girl with anger, and she’s not afraid to show that anger. So often, girls are told that anger is an emotion they can’t feel and can’t show. That it’s not becoming of them. That’s why Regina’s actions -- her external expression of those feelings -- are deemed unlikable. And even when she’s pushed to the brink, locked in a closet with the very boy who set off the chain of reactions that sent her from top-of-the-food-chain to the bottom, many find it hard to sympathize with her because of how she’s behaved up until that point. Being put in that closet removes her from the situations she’s causing externally and forces her to instead deal with those internal demons (in more ways than one).

Is she worthy of that sympathy? Of course. She was worthy in chapter one. She was worthy throughout, even with her own aggressive behavior. Her actions aren’t right, and they impact a LOT of people. She is her own problem in many ways. But because she’s a girl, she’s saddled with unfair baggage that says there’s something wrong with how she’s feeling and expressing herself. She’s angry, hurt, and desperate, but she’s also entirely unlikable and can’t be redeemed because of those things.

Regina recast as a Reggie instead would probably make her behavior less unlikable. It might be understandable, even encouraged. Because a boy’s gotta stand up for himself and his reputation.

A girl though. She should just take it.

Grief is ugly to those facing loss, as well as those trying to be there for the person experiencing that grief. But grief isn’t necessarily debilitating -- it manifests in complex ways. For Eddie in Fall for Anything, grief emerges from a sense of wanting to know why. Why is it her father chose to end his own life? Why didn’t he tell anyone he was considering this option? Why didn’t he get help?

It also springs from the questions Eddie has about whether she herself played a role at all in his decision.

Eddie’s grief is selfish. But all grief is. Except, what makes Eddie hard to swallow to those in her life, as well many of those reading her story, is that she pursues that desire to know answers to questions that don’t exist. She pursues the mysterious boy who claims to know things. She pushes away her hurting mother, as well as her mother’s friend. Eddie doesn’t sit around nor pause to consider how her own actions would impact anyone else’s.

But is she wholly selfish for this or is this selfishness considered such because she’s not yielding to niceness? Or because she’s not putting everyone before herself? And while there’s no doubt Milo is a great guy in this story, it’s impossible not to wonder whether that’s because he’s easier to take than Eddie. He’s far less intense.

Consider Eddie as a boy. Would he be selfish then, or would he be a hero for seeking that closure?

Is Sloane selfish for wanting to kill herself in This Is Not A Test? For many readers -- a startling number, in fact -- that death would have been the best resolution to her story. Despite years of suffering at the hands of her father’s abuse, both physically and (perhaps more painfully) mentally, she’s too frequently viewed as whiny and worthless. Even after being abandoned by her sister and having a promise of getting out together be broken, many see Sloane’s anguish as silly. Trite.

Sloane’s own personal history should have no bearing on how she reacts when everything in the world changes. Except of course it does -- you can’t unwrite your own past. When you’ve lived a life where following the rules and being obedient is a requirement and suddenly you’re tossed into a world without those rules, you have no internal cues from which to make sense of things. And if you’re Sloane and your plans for your own death were disrupted, all you can do is hope that you aren’t a burden onto other people in the way you’ve been a burden to your own family.

Girls are told they should be bright and positive. That they should hope. That when something bad happens to them, they should pick up the pieces and move on. Or more -- they’re told they’re never actually broken, that there are no pieces to “pick up,” that whatever they’re feeling or experiencing or thinking inside is self-pity and isn’t real or justifiable.

That if they feel anything other than rainbows and butterflies, if they appear any way other than ready to serve and submit to those around them, they might as well die because what’s the point? Girls should be secondary characters in their own stories. If a girl wants what other people have -- to feel good, to feel loved, to feel like she belongs no matter what -- then she is ungrateful for even being given an opportunity to life.

Would we even consider a boy being in the same position as Sloane? And if so, what would that look like? How would the other people stuck with him during the zombie apocalypse react to his behavior? Would he be told that his life would be better if he were dead instead of actively feeling what it was he felt? Would he deserve the moments of affection and care others give him?

All girls have witnessed something that’s impacted them.

All girls have been victims of bullying on some level -- for reasons out of their own control.

All girls have felt anger.

All girls have experienced grief and the need to find answers to questions they have.

All girls have felt alone.

Courtney Summers writes the girls we know because she writes the girls we are sometimes: ugly, confusing, frustrating, seeking, desiring, breaking, bending, taking, and making. We’re all complex and dynamic, unlikable and brutal. We’re all agents in our own lives, rather than passive actors here for others around us.

Our stories don’t have solid endings -- even when we’ve come to the conclusion of a series of events, there are often things left unresolved, open, with the possibility for more, whether that “more” is from a place of hope or not.
There’s no need to slap a bow on top of a package that’s complicated; instead, these stories shake the boxes, untie the ribbon, and opens the box.

These are stories about being a girl and fighting against everything we’re told isn’t allowed in order to be a girl.


Thank you SO MUCH Kelly for that beautiful post. It's such an important topic, and one I think gets brushed aside all too often. I've said it before and I'll know doubt say it again but, to me, the characters in Courtney's books are so incredibly real. They are real characters facing real issues. Not pretty, happy-ending issues, but rather the painful, brutal problems people face every day. Her books are important. Powerful. Real. And need to be read.

Now, Kelly has been EVEN MORE AWESOME and is offering up a giveaway! One grand prize winner will receive a copy of ALL of Courtney Summers novels! That's right, all of them! That's one copy of WHAT GOES AROUND (the bind-up of CRACKED UP TO BE and SOME GIRLS ARE), FALL FOR ANYTHING, and THIS IS NOT A TEST. How epic is that?

Giveaway Rules:
- Must be 13 years or older
- INTERNATIONAL (where the Book Depository ships!)
- You do NOT have to be a participant in the Read-Along to enter
**If you ARE a participant, you will get extra entries!
- Not responsible for lost or damaged prizes (sorry!)
- I reserve the right to disqualify as I see fit (aka don't fake entries pretty please!)
- Fill in the Rafflecopter form to be entered!
The giveaway will last from NOW until DECEMBER 30th at 11:59pm!
Good luck, and enter away!

- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)


  1. I LOVED the analysis on the characters in Courtney's books in this post. Actually, I wish I had known about this read-a-long sooner, because I actually just binge read all four of her books thanks to the library and LOVED THEM ALL. Especially Fall for Anything, but as someone who has been living in a whirlwind due to her father's passing, I 100% felt like I knew where she was coming from. I love all of Courtney's ladies -- even Parker, who really is what this post represents and I felt like she was easily the hardest to understand and get to know. She was definitely my polar-opposite!

    Amazing post! :)

  2. Why do I want to read all of her books ? Because I have only read 2 so far (This Is Not a Test, Some Girls Are) and I'M COMPLETELY IN LOVE WITH HER AND HER WRITING AND HER CHARACTERS. So, if I won this giveaway it would be perfect for my plans of making a Summers altar in my room soon enough.

  3. This is an interesting post--I've just read three of these books and am in the middle of reading This Is Not Test. I've heard Summers' characters called unlikeable before, but this is not how I see them. I hurt for these girls. Reading about them strikes a chord and reminds me of my own angry, hurting teen self. I wish I had books like this around when I was that teen. It would've been nice to know I wasn't alone. (I'd like to win the set to give away to a teen I know who might need them.)

  4. I've two of her books as ebooks and I would like them on my shelf. I've learned so much from them, and changed so many of my concepts. Courtney books are so powerful and unique. If I don't win this, I'll certainly buy them, because I believe that she's an author who really has something to say.

  5. I love Courtney Summer's books. Her characters resonate with me on some level, especially Regina. When she went through all that fiery emotional turmoil, I felt my own desperation from the time I was given a mixture of silent treatment, belittlement, and harassment. Courtney Summers got girls right. She got humans in a community right. I can't thank her enough for doing what she does. So thank you, Courtney Summers, I can't wait for your next book.

  6. I love Courtney Summers. I've only had the opportunity to read one of her books, but it is so amazing. And I just love her portrayal of characters, and the fact that she writes some of the strongest female protagonists in ALL of YA.

  7. I completely agree. That is the reason I love her books so much. I am so sick of reading about weak women who are told it's good to be weak and then reading reviews of books that perpetuate that attitude. I've bought every one of her books and will continue to do so, because her books are incredibly honest and true.

  8. Thanks for a great post. I had not heard of these books, so I hope I win! I want to read them all.

  9. I would like read her books because they seem so interesting and i have heard all good review about it

  10. Thanks so much for your great analysis of Summers's work. I just read my first of her books--This Is Not a Test--and have been excited to recommend it to my students. I think it's so important for *all* of them (girls and boys) to read books that feature realistic characters who help them to process what it's like to be a person with flaws (or, really, just what it's like to be a person since we all have flaws). Anyway, I'd love a set of books to include in my classroom library! :)

  11. Would love to share these titles with my students!

  12. Awesome, awesome post about some of my very favorite books. Thank you for writing about this topic so beautifully.

  13. because i have heard nothing but good things about them and just love the uniqueness

  14. I have heard such good things about her books but have never had the chance to pick one up.

  15. Hi guys!
    I love Kelly's post. I only read Cracked up to be by Courtney but it's became one of my favorites books from this year. And when I read reviews from the book I found a lot of comments from people saying they hate Parker because she was so autodestructive.
    I gave her the benefit of doubt because I knew she was like that for some reason.
    So I want to read Courtney's books because I loved Parker and I want to meet all of her other characters.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  16. I've heard great things about This is not a test.I really want to read it.I guess all her books are great.I'm just curious to read them all.

  17. I've never read this author, but she sounds like someone I should get in my library for my students!

  18. I've never heard of these books before, but Kelly's analysis has piqued my interest. Plus I love complicated characters who are sometimes difficult to like.

  19. This is such a great post. So far I've only read Some Girls Are, I loved how real it was and how real the characters were - I can't wait to read the rest of Courtney's books.

  20. Great post! I haven't read of any books by Courtney Summer but I really want to! Especially This is Not a Test!

  21. I have read all of Courtney's books and love them so I would love to have a set to give away to my local library.

  22. I'm half way there so I believe I'll get to read Fall for Anything soon. Basically I love the way Courtney creates her characters. They're so realistic it's hard not to love them. Great giveaway :)

  23. Why do I want to read them? Um.. let's see.. Tanja, Jenni, Giselle--everyone raves about Courtney's books and I am just so intrigued, but I don't own any of them yet so yeah, it'd be awesome to read 'em. Plus, I hear that her stories are very character-driven and me approves! Thanks for this great giveaway:) Have a great Christmas!

  24. I never read one of her books before!

  25. I absolutely loved This is Not a Test, which makes me want to read the rest of her book :)

  26. This is not a Test was wonderful! I'd love a copy to re-read whenever I want and to lend to my friends (I borrowed it from the library). And usually when I love a book to pieces I devour the rest of the author's library as well, so gotta get my hands on the others too!

  27. I haven't read any of her books yet but I am very eager to read This is Not a Test.

  28. I heard that she writes such strong, raw and emotional characters. Thanks for the giveaway!

  29. I read Fall For Anything and Some Girls Are years ago, back when Fall For Anything came out, and to this day they are both still two of my favorite books. I always meant to read her other two books, but my library doesn't have either.

  30. I have already read This is Not a Test. I was just expecting a book about zombies and it was so much more. Courtney's writing blew me away and had me completely mesmerized. I would love to read This is Not a Test again(I borrowed it from the library the first time) and read any other books she's written. Her writing is so emotional and her characters are easy to relate to. Thanks for this giveaway :)

  31. I so want to read about zombies. I'm also curious about the likeability issue--a lot of genres don't question this quality about the characters (and you want to meet some unlikeable people...).

  32. I've heard good things about Ms. Summer's books but have not read them so I would love to start.

  33. Cracked Up To Be is unfortunately the only Courtney Summers book I've read, and I loved it. I've read the description of her other books and I'm sure I would enjoy them just as much.

  34. I want to read all of the Courtney Summers books because I fell in love with her first book, Cracked Up to Be, and I love how real her heroines are, how they aren't traditional protagonists, but that doesn't make them any less relatable. Thanks so much for this giveaway.

  35. I've read cracked up to be and fall for anything and loved both. courtney summers has such a distinct style, that you don't see often in ya lit.

  36. I have never read any of these books before. I love finding new authors and would really like to read these.

  37. I can relate to Sloane in "This Is Not a Test". I know what it is to have your world turned upside down (but if zombies rose, I would not try to off myself like she did). That being said, This is Not a Test was one of the best books I read last year and turned out to be one of my favorite books ever! Winning this book set would be awesome. I love Courtney and would love to see what her other books are like!


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