Sunday, August 21, 2011

In defense of the unlikable heroine: The Splendor Falls

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. Has there been a move in YA towards more likable heroines? From Sarah Dessen to Meg Cabot, heroines in YA fiction seem to be trending….nice.

And while I enjoy reading about characters I identify with (and anyone you talk to, after I’ve paid them $5, will be happy to tell you how nice I am), it’s also a refreshing change to read about someone who isn’t quite so kind. And I’m not talking about Bella Swan, who, while not malicious, isn’t actually very nice at all to her poor parents or “friends”. I’m talking about someone who is thinking about her actions outside of how they relate to her sparkly boyfriend.

That’s why Rosemary Clement-Moore’s The Splendor Falls comes as such a breath of fresh air. Her heroine, fallen ballerina Sylvie Davis, is an unapologetic bitch on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her narration is pungent and her observations are frequently spiteful. Sylvie has good reason for being so cranky – her promising ballet career come to a crashing halt with a freak accident and she’s been shipped off by her emotionally unavailable mother to the deep South.

And true to her irritable introduction, Sylvie doesn’t make an effort to think the best of everyone. Her natural reaction to everyone is basically derision and dislike. She's antagonistic towards basically everyone she meets. And she’s a realistic ballerina – she’s grossed out by butter and pats the grease off the pizza she forces herself to eat. Certainly not healthy, but on the mark. I know I'm not making her sound like a whole lot of fun, but she was, and in addition, she felt authentic - like a full fledged character, not a stand in for the reader.

While its heroine is unique, the plot of The Splendor Falls is pretty much straight up Southern Gothic Paranormal (if such a thing exists): mysterious happenings in night cause the heroine to start asking questions and stirring up trouble, bad things happen and she has to decide who to trust. Several other reviews have mentions that it reads like a contemporary Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. As I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Peters’s seventies-tastic mysteries (seriously try them, they're a delight), this only improved my opinion of The Splendor Falls.

While the plot is nothing groundbreaking, the characters - from Sylvie's Aunt Paula to the Teen Town Council are entertaining. And, in proper Southern Gothic form, the atmosphere is excellent. So if you're in the mood to try a some YA with a bit of bite (um let me be clear that the paranormal happenings are NOT vampiric thank goodness), I'd recommend The Splendor Falls.


If you like The Splendor Falls try:
Texas Gothic. Clement-Moore's second book features the practical and reality-based Amy Goodnight, who finds herself put upon by mysterious happenings and the eccentricities of her extended family. I actually liked Texas Gothic as a whole more than The Splendor Falls, but while the extended cast of characters is more interesting, the heroine isn't as unique, as Amy is pretty darn, wait for it, nice.

Make sure to avoid:
Beautiful Creatures. The plot of Beautiful Creatures makes it sound like classic Southern Gothic with a twist: a male protagonist infatuated with the mysterious new girl in town. Sadly nothing else about this VERY long and pedestrian novel stands out - the characters are cookie cutter and the plot feels drenched in tar it move so slow. Neither Elizabeth or I managed to make it to the end, but I can't say that either of us cared.