Why I Encouraged My Teenage Daughter to Read #Outlander

When I was fourteen, I read Flowers in the Attic. Several of the other girls in my grade were reading it…whispering about it…stashing it away when the teachers walked by. Of course, I had to read it, too.  I was lucky; my mother was always happy to buy me books (although, had she read the book herself, she might have rethought that, at the time).

Some of my schoolmates had borrowed the book from their own mothers…and by “borrow” I mean that they took the book after their moms left for work and then slipped it back into place before their moms came home in the evening. In the time in between, we consumed the story with a kind of perverse fascination.

So this was what grown-ups read!

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300So when my own fourteen year old asked if she could borrow my battered copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I didn’t hesitate long before passing the book to her. My heart skipped a beat as she dashed to her room to start reading but, to be perfectly honest, this was likely more concern for the fate of my beloved book than for how my daughter would react to the story.

No, that was a given.

This was one of those books that would leave a mark on her soul.

Some stories do that…they stay with you forever. I simply wanted to make sure that her first Adult Book was one worthy of the honor.

I read a lot of the same books that my daughter reads. Not because I am policing her reading, but because I want to share in it. When she comes to me sobbing over some book betrayal, I need to know who has earned those tears. But some of the books targeted to teenagers seem to portray the female protagonists as perpetually enduring some Great Tragedy, or waiting for a male character to define them/save them/notice them/love them.

Not all of the stories, mind you. There are some really good YA books with strong female characters who represented a wide range of diversity. But, honestly, we waded through a lot of simpering fools to find a few strong female protagonists. And a lot of the love interests shown in the books were either sparkly or broody. Many were emotionally manipulative or controlling. If she was going to have a “book boyfriend,” I wanted better for her.

So when I realized that my daughter seemed interested in this massive tome which made me laugh out loud, and ugly cry, and real passages aloud for the simple pleasure of feeling the words on my lips, I didn’t discourage it.

In fact, I encouraged it.

I scoured the books to find passages which showed the strength of love, the resilience of the human spirit, the anguished soul clawing its way out from the pits of despair. Some passages I read aloud. But sometimes, I left the book conspicuously next to the sofa—pages temptingly dog-eared—like an offering.

So when she finally asked to borrow the book, it was a relief, really.

“Where are you?” I’d ask eagerly. But not too eagerly.

The book served as a way to talk about hard things, scary things, awkward things… We talked about love and sex and respect and mutual pleasure and consideration between couples. We talked about marriage and expectations and the roles we construct for ourselves (and those that others wish to inflict on us). We talked about sexuality and about when feelings aren’t reciprocated. We spoke of honor and vows. Of promises kept…or not. We shared tears and heartbreak and loss. We talked about rape and brutality…and of healing. We spoke of hope and faith and trust.  We talked about when to hold on; we talked of when to let go.

I let my fourteen year old daughter read the book not in spite of the fact that the books is mature, but because it is. I let her read the book because I know that a book can be more than just entertainment—more than just a story.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a book can be a conversation…or at least the beginning of one.

 

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The Best Boyfriends are a Work of Fiction

When it comes to boyfriends, real men can’t compete with the fictional variety. In the real world, whatever romantic instincts that Real World Guy may have once had is summarily quashed by the Testosterone Trapping Trifecta of carpool duty, lawn chores, and unpaid bills. The Bad Boys (and some Not-So-Bad-But-Still-Really-Hot-Guys) who lurk between the pages of a book, however…well, they could teach a guy a thing or two about wooing women. Here are five Literary Lovers who should be required reading for men:

  1. Jamie Fraser (from the Outlander series). It doesn’t matter if he has just brawled with a dragoon of redcoats, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser is never too busy to say soft things in Gaelic to a certain wild-haired nurse who fell through time and ended up in his plaid swathed lap. Equal parts boyish charm and, ahem, “unflagging enthusiasm,” Jamie is handsome, funny, smart, and strong. Seriously strong. Strong enough to want a equally strong woman. Even those who would never, under normal circumstances, dare deface a book by dog-earring pages or (gasp!) highlighting text may find themselves surreptitiously marking The Wedding Night scene and leaving it somewhere their husband might stumble upon it…say, perhaps, the bathroom? (In case you were wondering, that sound you just heard was that of some twenty million Outlander fans flipping through their battered books to re-re-re-read *that* scene.)
  2. Four/Tobias Eaton (from the Divergent trilogy). Another Book Boyfriend who could teach the men of the world a thing or two about romance is the strong, quiet Four of Divergent. Like Jamie Fraser, Four likes his women strong; but where Jamie is playful, Four is dark and brooding–perfect for those who want a bit of a Bad Boy but without the lying, cheating, or other drama that too often accompanies the “real life” version.
  3. Josh Bennett (from The Sea of Tranquility). If you haven’t read The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, you are missing out on some prime Book Boyfriend material. Although tragic, Josh is not pitiful. His painful past has provided him with a profound strength and the desire to protect others. Achingly sweet and undeniably awkward, he is the tortured soul from high school that we all wanted to save but never could.
  4. Ron Weasley (from the Harry Potter series). I know what you’re thinking, “What? That ginger kid from Harry Potter?!” But think about it…Hermione is incredibly smart, right? So she likely gave it some thought before picking Ronald Weasley. In fact, it’s entirely possible that there were lists and charts and perhaps some algorithms involved in her decision. Let’s see…well, he has that “ginger thing” going for him. And, despite the fact that it couldn’t have been easy being known primarily as “Harry Potter’s BFF,” or as “The Youngest Weasley Boy After, You Know, All the Really Cool Ones,” or as “That Painfully Mediocre Quidditch Player,” Ron manages to conduct himself with a surprising amount of grace. He frequently uses humor as a way to navigate the awkward spells (*snort* sorry, couldn’t resist). To his credit, he not only endures Insufferable-Know-It-Alls, but he also seems to have a bit of a soft spot for them (*cough* Hermione). But perhaps one of the best selling-points for having Ron Weasley as a Book Boyfriend is his family. Take a moment to consider your mother-in-law. Now consider Mrs. Weasley. Your mother-in-law. Mrs. Weasley. Need I say more?
  5. Severus Snape (Yes, more Harry Potter characters). At the risk of alienating everyone who has read this far, I am including on this list one of the most under-rated romantics of all…Severus Snape. Yes, I know that he might not have the dashing good looks of say, Gilderoy Lockhart, but Snape can be depended on to keep a secret, to be true to his self, and to be true to those he really loves. Always…. He is even willing to put his life at risk in order to protect the son of the woman he loves. (The son she had by another man, mind you.) If that doesn’t say a something about devotion, I don’t know what does!

I won’t lie, there is a reason that Jamie is #1 on the list. Fortunately, Hubs has taken a few cues from Himself: he has been known to speak with an impressive Scottish accent when he wants to charm me; he does own a kilt and isn’t afraid to use it; and he has, on occasion, called me Sassanach (always to glorious effect).

Of course, the fact that I can’t seem to shut up about Outlander may have something to do with it….  (Still, if it gets Hubs in a kilt, it can’t be all bad, right?)