I started this post intending to talk about the influx of Mormon women on the scene of YA fantasy--from the horrifying (Stephanie Meyer) to the fabulous (Shannon Hale)--but I don't know that I have anything interesting to say on the subject that hasn't already been said. There's been an influx of YA fantasy by Mormon women in the past few years. This is partly because they hit just the right note of wholesome and romantic.
For the most part, you wouldn't know their religion to read their books, which I respect from an author of any faith. I love Shannon Hale, especially Princess Academy. I don't remember realizing that she was a Mormon.
But the book I recently read, Entwined, by Heather Dixon, sent me flipping forward to About the Author with a niggling suspicion. And while the brief bio doesn't say she's a Latter Day Saint, it does say that she lives in Salt Lake City, where she grew up one of eleven brothers and sisters. I'm making an assumption. Look out, because there are further generalizations ahead.
The story was a lovely retelling of a fairy tale I loved--twelve sisters, locked up and forbidden to dance by their controlling father, find a secret passageway and sneak out to a magic garden where they dance each night away. Their tattered dancing slippers give them away, and their father, determined to figure out how they're sneaking out, offers any man who can solve the mystery the daughter of his choice in marriage.
The retelling keeps just the right amount of fairy tale while adding just the right amount of depth. The father is not cruel, but overcome by the loss of his wife and unable to communicate with or understand his many (many, many) daughters. The gentlemen are not offered random hands in marriage, but a chance to meet and woo, should they and the young ladies be agreeable. The magic is embroidered into the fabric of the world, the danger that the girls are trifling with sneaks up on them, and (always very important to me) their reasons for not seeking help when they're in over their heads are mostly believable.
I say mostly--let's work our way backward with my observations. (What lies ahead are spoilerish, but not entirely spoilers. No details, and most of the generalizations are eminently guessable.)
Our heroine, Azalea, the eldest sister and the one most conscious of the danger they're in, is pretty much rescued by--well, all the men. Her beau, her dad, her sisters' crushes. The girls are all helpless--though
kicking up a fuss like the spitfires they are. Still, it's not until the fellas come to their rescue is the day saved.
Which is not to say they're fainting lilies. There's some tomboyishness, some defiance, some stubbornness. But the only grown woman to appear in the entire book is the sickly mother who dies in the first chapter, and a woman's virtues are her good character and her love for her family.
Family is a big part of this book, and in a nice way. It's about being close to people who can't always show their feelings, and who you don't always agree with or understand. It's about loving fiercely and belonging to each other, which is all lovely. But it's also about the fact that a girl's job is to hold her family together, because her widowed father isn't capable. Somehow, this incapacity is more than just a character trait of this one man; it's because he's a man. I wish I could explain it better.
There are pettier things, too, which I bridled at while I was reading but can't really remember now. I'll quote you my favorite one, though. It's Clover's birthday, so she's wearing a corset for the first time.
"Do you like the corset?" [asked Azalea.]
Clover tried to keep from smiling, but her face glowed.
"I...can feel my heartbeat in my stomach!"
"Aye, that's what it feels like to be a lady!" said Bramble, among the general riffraff and clattering of seat taking and plate getting. "It's corking. I love it."
I'm not 100% sure what to make of this. But I'll tell you, it had part of me scratching my head.
I apologize if I'm generalizing about Mormons and strict gender roles. I do know something about the LDS church, and I don't think I'm being outrageous, but I also know that everyone, everywhere is different, and that what a group professes is not what any individual adherent believes.
Am I saying Mormons are sexist? I might be assuming that. But I'm definitely saying that this book sees "feisty" as the height of female vigor, and something you'll probably grow out of at that. It's not like me to notice things like this; I wonder what other people thought.