Monday, July 8, 2013

Review of Graceling by Kristen Cashore as Told From My Soapbox

I’ve read a few critical reviews of this novel.  I’ll agree with some reviewers that you don't need to hate dresses and long hair and marriage to be a strong woman or a feminist. There is some danger in that of Female Chauvinist Pig-ism; that idealizes all things man and puts down women who enjoy "girly" things.  

HOWEVER I don't think that this is what Kristin Cashore is doing at all. Cashore is telling one woman’s story, and in this story, Katsa doesn't like all the gender expectations ascribed to her, and she’s no less of a woman, or more of a feminist, for it.  Based on Cashore’s other novels, it’s clear that she is not flouting Katsa as the only right way to be a woman, simply a way to be a woman.  You can have long hair or short. Like dressing up or not. Enjoy wrestling or sewing. Gender is a flexible social construct and I’m a big fan of defining yourself and respecting how others self express.

One of the things I like best of this book is how much happens. Too often  the author knows this is going to be a trilogy so she might as well drag some things out. At last here is a book about something other than "I love him/but we can't be together/I'll be moody for 300 pages." Cashore keeps this plot busy and moving (And yes, there are 2 follow up books set in the same world, but featuring different characters).   

I also appreciate (especially as Facebook constantly reminds me that people my age are getting married and engaged) that this book isn't about finding love. Katsa doesn't even want to get married, doesn't have time for the men-folk.  (Sidenote: I think Katsa would have a fantastic life chat with Edna Pontellier about being a woman; not a “future mother,” not a “future wife,” but being a present, complete individual.) She's too busy fighting injustice and undergoing self discovery. This book reminds us that love is something that comes along the way when you're busy living your life.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Katsa’s prioritization of social justice or her preoccupation with self exploration, Po wouldn’t have met her, wouldn’t have been interested in her, wouldn’t have loved her.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning says it beautifully: "'Twas her thinking of others that made you think of her."

If that isn’t enough enticement to look for Graceling at your local bookstore or library, I might mention that Katsa is a Graceling- an individual born with a semi hereditary superpower signified by two different colored eyes- and has the Grace of killing. Intrigued yet?
I've always envied Kate Bosworth's heterochromia iridum

Have you read this novel?  What did you think?  What did you think of this representation of feminism? What minor super powers do you possess (I, for example, am fantastic at spotting satellites in the night sky and untangling fishing lines)?


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  1. Yayy!! I'm so glad you liked it! After reading this series Cashore got an automatic buy all novels no questions asked promotion (in my head).

    I agree completely with what you were saying about the feminism - I was so surprised when I saw all these reviews about how overly feminist the book was as that wasn't what I got out of it at all! I agree with everything you wrote about the story (especially the way the love story was approached).

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! I was surprised to read all the criticisms of Katsa being "overly feminist," too. It's clear she's not woman-hating, just wants to do her own thing! -Kate

    2. Are you set to read the rest of the series soon or are you taking a breather? I can't wait to see what you think of Fire - a lot of readers who liked Graceling didn't like Fire and I was surprised by that too. Graceling is probably my favourite of the three but that's only if you put a gun to my head and I have to pick, I think all three are phenomenal.


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