I checked Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys out of the library for three reasons:
- I love her posts on writing.
- I love her rules for living.
- Her background appears to be similar to mine in some interesting ways.
Supernatural/paranormal YA is not usually my genre, but character is my genre and feelings is my genre and mythology was definitely my genre when I was a teenager, and I ended up reading all four Raven Cycle books in five consecutive days.
I’m not sure that reading is the right word, though. More like actively hallucinating. I remember taking this pause, looking away from the page, and realizing that my bedroom looked wrong because it wasn’t the kitchen in 300 Fox Way. (Then I asked myself: Nicole, can you mentally walk through every room of that house the same way you could walk through the rooms of any place where you’ve actually lived? And I could. It was weird. I’d also created a memory map of Monmouth Manufacturing.)
Even though I love my adulthood much more than I ever enjoyed my teenagerhood—which can be emotionally, though not factually, summed up in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000—The Raven Cycle made me wish I could be a teenager again.
It’s like… I wasn’t just seeing the walls of everybody’s houses, I was also inside those houses—and caves, and cars, and characters’ perspectives. Although I had a very different adolescence, I still had a moment with a guidance counselor and I still had a smile that I put on in public and I still had so many questions about love.
So I felt all of these emotions that are so vividly associated with youth and then I had to put the book down and be in my thirty-five-year-old body. Which was just as jarring as seeing my own bedroom and not the kitchen at 300 Fox Way.
But here’s why I’m actually writing this post:
If you haven’t read The Raven Cycle, I don’t consider it much of a spoiler to say that there are several primary characters and each character is involved in at least two or three intersecting plotlines. Sometimes one of the plotlines will be experiencing some stress, shall we call it—you could also call it property destruction, demon possession, or occasionally blood—but then you get to the next chapter and it’s about characters learning how to trust each other or finding joy in a cup of Dannon “Fruit on the Bottom” Yogurt.
(I don’t have time to write about the role that socioeconomic class plays in The Raven Cycle—and anyway, it’s already been written—but that cheap cup of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt struck me right in the lived experience. Also the sentence describing the bookshelf that also holds cooking stuff. That bookshelf is in my apartment right now.)
Anyway, by the time you get to the fourth book in the series, all the plotlines start experiencing stress. You turn the pages and there is no relief; you keep turning the pages and things start happening that can’t be undone. You watch a few powerful people make choices that you know are going to hurt so many other people and there is nothing you can do to stop them.
And then you take a break and make yourself a cup of Celestial Seasonings tea and check Twitter or the Washington Post as the electric kettle on your bookshelf heats up, and you feel like you are still in the book.
The trouble is that I’m not a teenager, and I’m certainly not a YA teenager who is crucial to the narrative. I haven’t even figured out the love thing to the point that I could—well, now I am getting dangerously near spoiler territory, but what I mean is that I feel very unpowerful right now.
I’m not the Chosen One and I’m not young enough to feel like I could be someday. I’m a background character and I have to watch the monster or the earthquake or the government or the corporations and wonder if the heroes will show up—or if the only person who can fix this is off doing their homework, leaving me stuck within the boundaries of my single paragraph. Calling my reps and saying my one line of dialogue.
There is a section at the end of The Raven Cycle that addresses what we can do when we don’t know what else to do; when we feel powerless and afraid and the bad news keeps coming. I don’t want to spoil it, but I read it I felt so grateful that it had been included. You don’t have to be the Chosen One to do it, either.
Of course, the drawback is that it doesn’t really change anything except yourself. But you already know how I feel about magic only working when it’s applied to your own actions.
Maggie Stiefvater’s #1 Rule For Living is this:
Decide life is going to be great. All other methods will fail without this prerequisite. A decision that life will be great allows a terrible event to turn into a plot twist along the way, not a confirmation that your life is shit.
I love that it begins with the word decide, and I love that it implies that we can write, though not necessarily control, our own stories. Mostly I love that it’s about keeping on, moving forward, doing the work, pursuing happiness if you want to describe it that way—even when, to borrow a phrase I learned when I was an executive assistant at a DC think tank, the situation on the ground has changed.
The situation on the ground is changing faster than I can turn the pages, these days.
I don’t know what to do when all the plotlines start falling apart.
I really want to end this with “I guess I’ll write my own,” which feels like the most selfish and honest thing I could possibly say.
But I’m going to keep doing the work, which is to say doing what I can for the world and then doing my work, which is to say doing what matters to me BECAUSE IT MATTERS TO ME and that is enough reason to do it.
And because, as I wrote earlier this month, I feel emotions through stories—which means that if it does in fact come down to love, this is how I create and share it.
Now go read The Raven Cycle.❤️
Photo credit: Andrea Pokrzywinski, CC BY 2.0.