The Girls Who Lived

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When it comes to female fictional characters, I know my type: the stoic, strong, emotionally-detached loner with a burden (maybe a chip?) on her shoulder. NAKAJIMA, Youko (12 Kingdoms), KISSHU Arashi (X), Balsa (Seirei no Moribito), Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games series),and Katsa (Graceling series) are basically different incarnations of the same archetype. I like that they’re tough, but not unyielding. They’re more than able to take care of themselves, but they are all capable of love and would rather take care of other people. I like that they’re capable in many things, but still accepting of their own weaknesses and would ask for help, even though it would kill their pride and independent spirit in the process.

The boyfriend and I are currently both obsessed about Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. We both read the novel last month, and got the chance to watch the movie this past weekend. This novel was published in 2004 and won the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. This short work follows Daisy, a sixteen-year old from New York, who is sent to England to live her with maternal relatives. Her father has remarried and is expecting a child, so instead of having to deal with Daisy’s rebellious attitude, he decided that sending her to live in the idyllic English countryside with her cousins would do her a world of good. Little did she know that her life as she knew it would change and she would have to use her smarts and her spirit in order to face the horrors to come.

The enemy in How I Live Now isn’t as easy to hate as the Hunger Games‘ President Snow. Daisy and her cousins are essentially innocent bystanders (along with the rest of the population of the UK at that time) who just have to survive until everything blows over. Daisy isn’t like Katniss, who’s expected to survive and to thrive as a symbol of the revolution of the various districts. Daisy’s goal is simple: to get back to the farm, to make sure she and her cousin Piper survive the trek, and to meet up with Edmond and the rest of their family. How I Live Now isn’t a dystopia — the political system is never discussed or elaborated upon fully; all we know as readers is that there terrorists, there’s war and destruction, and there is a military faction trying to get back into the country to reinstitute order. It’s really more of a war novel than a dystopia novel, which, for me, gives it a wider appeal since it’s more plausible to imagine the scenarios happening if/when war happens.

In certain examples of this type of books, the word that frequently comes up is “survival.” Katniss, though traumatized physically and mentally beyond what any normal human would ever be expected, manages to survive to see the old regime destroyed and her world changed. But is she still the same person? While there are still facets of the old Katniss still to be found, what we see at the end of Mockingjay is a mere ghost of the Katniss who comes out like a bright shining flame in the first Hunger Games. So, yes, she survives, but almost as a shell of who she once was.

I’d like to suggest another word to use in Daisy’s case: resilience. In psychology, resilience is the ability to cope with a stressful or traumatic event, but with an emphasis on being able to return to the psychological state (to “bounce back,” as it were) prior to the trauma. Maybe it’s the New Yorker in Daisy (snerk) but I thought it was pretty remarkable how she was able to recover from the stress and trauma caused by living in a war zone, seeing death and hunger, facing fear and pain — and be able to return to the farm and to basically be her cousins’ strength. Maybe this is what happens to certain people when they’re facing a dramatically stressful event: instead of curling up into a ball and hiding, their brains and bodies go into emergency mode. These may be the people you’d least likely to expect to make it out of a war zone alive, but somehow they do it.

And maybe that’s why I like these types of characters. Life is hard and scary enough, but seeing how these fictional characters can deal with awful things is a good kick in the butt to me that I can probably survive whatever silly stressful thing I’m dealing with now.

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