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"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The story is not a problem.  Kingdoms, kidnappings, intrigue and romance are great.  The unique idea of being “graced, “ born with a super-specialized skill  is not a problem.  It’s a part of the adventure.   The excitement is not a problem.  A Ninja-type, warrior girl conquering large numbers of fighters is always intriguing.  The setting is not a problem.  Kingdoms here are as believable as characters.  The premise of being a graced person is not a problem.  Grace is a gift:  in this case, if your eyes change into 2 colors, you will have an enhanced, specific gift, i.e. sword-fighting or swimming.

Using the term grace to describe a gift for killing is not a problem.  The main character, Katsa, learns that her “killing” gift is actually a survival one.  Working for her king to torture and kill is not a problem.  Katsa matures and uses her free will to defy doing intrinsic evil.  She also heads a secret council dedicated to good works.  Katsa’s deciding that she’s not called to marry or raise children is not a problem.  Katsa never knew the love of a family and lived as an outcast and subsequently lost esteem in herself when she worked to harm people for the King.  She decided to use her gifts to help others and does not feel called to marriage and feels absolutely not called to nurture children of her own. 

Deciding that she’ll take a lover in lieu of marriage and in the name of freedom is a problem.  Too-explicit detail of their private intimacy is a problem.  Contraception via a plant in order to engage in an act intrinsic to children and marriage is a problem.  For the young and still innocent among us, the introduction of the idea of incest is a problem. 

Katsa is the epitome of a pendulum-swing in the battle of the sexes that swings so far in the opposite direction, she throws womanhood off-balance again.  She actually gives up her freedom in the belief that she is gaining it.  That is a lie of the times we live in:  the destructive siren-song of contraception and fornication. With all the counter-cultural work to be done in teaching our children a healthy and happy view of marriage, this is not a book to read alone.  It needs discussion.
I know we currently live in a world that insists water flows uphill when it comes to human sexuality.  Be aware that this book  will not help correct this myopic vision.  It's a fun read and not likely to jar the typical world-view.  Your children need better messages.


book_nerd,  June 19, 2012 at 6:29 AM  

Welcome back! And what a great, thoughtful review. It's been a while, but the other two companion books by the same author have less focus on these issues, especially Fire, if I recall correctly.

In your opinion, would it ever be appropriate to allow a mature 15/16-year-old to read this series or other books with such themes, provided they have a conversation with the parent after about the messages - perhaps a springboard for study into ways to discover the truth and maybe even evangelize a little?

You mentioned not wasting time...what if parents read the book or an extensive review and then ok'ed the hit book of the season with the qualification: this character, like humanity, is a fallen person and makes sinful choices...have fun with the battles, but after we're going to talk about the real cultural battles, k?

Tween Lit Crit June 19, 2012 at 8:20 AM  

glad you took the time to's well-worth addressing!

you help me illustrate why I took a break. I must not have conveyed myself clearly because one reason I write the reviews is exactly because I think with a more mature child, a parent should read along and discuss the decisions characters make and why you'd make a different one. It's valuable and this book is a good example of a story that illustrates good and bad and how critical reading can make you look deeper and explore your own morality. (which will never be perfectly good on earth for real or fictional characters, although some saints have come mighty close).

Because of the seriousness of the issues of our time, i.e. the struggle to balance inequality between the sexes, offering perspective to a teen or tween reading this book could be a great evangelical tool. This book would pair well with John Paul's discussion of the Feminine Genius:

In my opinion, I would consider the scene where Katsa and her boyfriend consummate their relationship borderline pornographic. Actually, it is pornographic, but we live in times that are so de-sensitized to porn, we let too much past our radar screen, especially the less-graphic stuff. (myself included) I consider this highly dangerous to women. Which is kind of ironic, considering the themes of the book. But porn degrades good men and can help make degraded men monstrous. (just ask a cop who investigates sex crimes). I raise girls and refuse to apologize for setting a high standard there.

So, I will revise my review (thank you sincerely) to reflect more accurately what I meant...
If you are pressed for time, don't let them read this book alone.
My opinion is that the sex scene is not for consumption. Keep what is private, private. It's a virtual respect for modesty, a sorely needed virtue today. We must really work and sacrifice to meet that goal. You could compromise here, but I wouldn't. The follow-up books might be better!

book_nerd,  June 20, 2012 at 1:55 PM  

Thanks for the thoughtful response! It has been years since I've read Graceling (as a grown woman), so certain things slipped my mind (like the explicitness of certain scenes). I recently read Bitterblue, and it delves a little bit into the Graceling's characters' choices, but no more than a few lines. The main character of the final book is more trying to reconcile family history and rule her kingdom. As far as I recall, she herself doesn't act on anything.

I vaguely recall Fire (the 2nd book and very different in setting and character). I think that book's main character makes the same choices as Katsa, but it seemed less a part of the plotline.

I suppose you could say all take modern feminist principles to the nth degree.

The Feminine Genius is a good recommendation, as well as Mulieris Dignitatem I would guess.

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