Adele Walsh on Mary Sues

Adele Walsh is another, and possibly my favourite, perpetual adolescent. She’s taken another break from her review/commentary website Persnickety Snark (which is really quite awesome and bookmarkable), to grace us with her ever-appreciated presence (and snark… the snark is always appreciated).

Mary Sue? No, thank you

I hate Mary Sues.

I loathe them.  I want to hurt them.  I want to ruffle their hair and kick their butts.  I want them to have sharp edges and quizzical thoughts.  I want them to be more concerned with life’s bigger mysteries than whether or not they should go with a shoddy pallor and fangs or long incisors and excessive body hair.  I want them to want more for themselves.  I want them to seek more than romantic entanglements because without them, they find themselves just as uninteresting as I do.

When I started blogging I didn’t know what a Mary Sue was.  I did.  But I didn’t. 

For those of you unfamiliar, you will soon realise that you are on first name basis with Mary Sue.  Wisegeek defines Mary Sues as “…a character in a work of fiction who exists primarily for the purpose of wish-fulfilment on the part of the author. She plays a prominent role in the work, but she is notably devoid of flaws or a complex personality, and she usually represents the pinnacle of idealized perfection.”  Crack open a fan fiction story anywhere and you will have yourself a Mary Sue.  It was so prevalent that the readers of fan fiction were the ones to coin the term.  And some say no good can come of fanfic?

Mary Sues are the current literary trend in young adult literature.  There are many that buck the trend but it seems like so many of the books that are making the serious money are the ones that are shells rather than fully formed, well crafted beings.  To put it bluntly…that blows.

This week alone I have read a handful of books, none of which have a shadow as their protagonist.  One or two might flirt with the idea but for the most part they are representations of teens in a myriad of settings reacting in understandable ways and piquing interest through their motivations rather than who they snog.  I love a saucy kiss as much as the next person but it shouldn’t propel the plot (and the personality) of a protagonist for an entire afternoon read.

Cath Crowley’s Charlie longs for country boy Dave but also writes and performs music, speaks to her dead mother and grandmother, befriends old enemies and struggles to connect with her father. Released as Chasing Charlie Duskin in 1995, Crowley was shortlisted for the CBCA’s Nook of the Year Award for Older Readers and deservedly so. This year, five years after its Australian release, the book will be released on US shores rebranded as A Little Wanting Song

The new name doesn’t really spin my wheels but titles like this give me hope. Hope that some readers who find so much joy in the insipid goings on of Mary Sues in paranormal love entanglements with vampires, angels or flying monkeys (a girl can dream) might also pick up a novel like this. That her sweeping prose and relatable characters might spurn on more discerning reading choices. 

If not Crowley, then perhaps they should dust off an oldie but a goodie. If they like snoggable rogues, how about Tamora Pierce’s George? Alanna: The First Adventure introduces the reader to a world of heightened emotion, a magical setting and some swoon worthy fellows.  And the female protagonist kicks ass…literally.  Maybe we can sell them on the Disneyfied idea of a sweltering hot prince and a dashing but naughty King of Thieves?  What girl wouldn’t want to delve into that world? 

Or perhaps I could shove Kristin Cashore’s Fire into their arms if fantasy’s their bag?  Or Kathy Charles’ study of a death hag if the morbid side of life and a dark sense of humour is their kind of thing?  Or maybe I toss Lili Wilkinson’s Pink at them and hope they have an appreciation for musical theatre?  The point is… (and yes I have one) readers will only move away from their Mary Sue fondness if they develop a more discerning appreciation for a well rounded protagonist. 

Many teens became reacquainted with reading through Twilight, Hush, Hush and Fallen but that isn’t all there is. If that’s all they want to read then we have to get creative.  Find ways to hide the carrots in the mashed potatoes, make distracting plane sounds as we shove the spoon into their mouths.  There is a bigger world of fantastically amazing protagonists out there and I want to share them.  I want to see these layered women of wonder be immortalised on the big screen, to have the tomes grace bookstore shelves in numbers more than one.  I want a lot for these characters.  They deserve more. 

Ultimately, readers deserve more.  We need to want more, find more and push more.  But how will they know this if they continue to re-read the same Mary Jane tomes over and over again?  I will have to satisfy myself with those of my circle who want the same thing I do, to encourage those in my wider sphere to read one of my recommendations and world domination will soon follow… won’t it?

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William Kostakis

Blogger William Kostakis is an award-winning, twenty-year-old young adult fiction author. His debut title, Loathing Lola, was released in 2008.