All this month, we're discussing the books we wish we'd written. As I thought about the very long list of books I've enjoyed, it suddenly occurred it's not so much the books themselves, but certain characters that I wish I'd crafted.
It all began with Nancy Drew. She was the first protagonist I'd ever read by myself, the first chapter book I ever checked out of the library on my own. I was in second grade and insisted my mother buy me 'pumps' and take me out to 'luncheon.' Nancy was everything -- brave, smart, uber-talented at everything she tried. In second grade, it hadn't yet registered that she was too perfect. Reading her stories encouraged me to be braver, willing to try new experiences. It's almost four decades since second grade and I still fondly remember solving mysteries with Nancy.
After Nancy Drew, I turned to romance and cut my teeth on those old Harlequin paperbacks and later, Barbara Cartland stories. You know what I remember about them?
The heroines all needed to be saved in some form or another and the heroes all obliged. I can't remember a single character.
Not so with Edward of Twilight. Say what you will -- he's a creepy stalker, he's self-obsessed -- there is something oddly compelling about a century-old character trapped in a teen's life forever. I love that Bella forced him to face the contradictions he'd wrapped around himself -- courtly, gentlemanly and then suddenly, jealous and controlling. I love that Bella was the one who saved him.
Speaking of saviors, let's talk about Harry Potter. I first heard about these books on the news when critics were trying to get them banned because of anti-Christian themes, satanism, witchcraft and so on. Book-banning insults me so naturally, I sought out and read the first three stories that had been published at that time. I adored them. I fell instantly in love with the poor orphan boy and found myself plotting out his next adventure. Anyone who calls these books anti-Christian has clearly never read them; Harry is a Christ figure who must willingly sacrifice himself for the good of all. But aside from all that, Harry as a character is sheer brilliance. A child raised in a unloving environment probably should have become a criminal, a sociopath, but he found his own way, surrounded himself with good strong people who would, eventually, become the family he'd always hoped for. While he was the Chosen One and the Savior, Harry was also very much a human boy, learning to be not only who he was meant to be, but who he wanted to be.
This summer, I've circled the date on my calendar for the movie premiere of If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. I've been Team Adam since I read that book several years ago. I love Where She Went even more, the sequel to If I Stay, told entirely from hero Adam Wilde's point of view. Adam is a rockstar wannabe (who reaches that goal by the second book) and falls for a classical cellist. His character is so strong, I could practically hear the music he played.
Finally, we reach Roarke, of Nora Roberts/JD Robb fame. Ah, Roarke... Christian Grey, Gideon Cross -- all the billionaire heroes -- none of them sizzle for me the way Roarke does. Earlier I mentioned contradictions -- no character I can think of walks a finer line between extremes than Roarke. Ruthless and dangerous, he's also vulnerable and almost ripped in half at Eve's hands in many of these novels, not just the first.
I can think of no greater tribute to an author than for our characters to live in our readers' heads long after they close our books... and hope someday, I am capable of such a feat.