Friday, May 20, 2016

Faith-based Dystopian Fiction and the World of "I Am Margaret"

I couldn't say much about books 2 and 3 of the "I Am Margaret" series without risking spoilers for new readers, so I kept my spoiler free review fairly vague. However I know some of my blog readers have already read the series and are probably interested in my more specific thoughts, so here they are!

My spoiler free review of "I Am Margaret"
My spoiler free review of "Three Most Wanted" and "Liberation"


It's funny, if I had actually looked at the cover of "Three Most Wanted" before reading "I Am Margaret" I would have figured out right away that Jonathan was safe to make it through the first book. But I didn't, and so there was a moment in IAM when I genuinely thought he was dead. Part of this is Turner's great writing, but another part is because I read "Someday" first and knew that Turner had no qualms about killing off characters when necessary. Thankfully, IAM is pure fiction and unlike "Someday" does not have to kill off characters for accuracy's sake. There are still enough deaths in the series to make the stakes real, but not so much that it is too hard to read.

Well, okay, I almost couldn't get through the part where Bane was kidnapped right after the wedding. I was reading this during breakfast, and my husband left for work right before Bane was kidnapped and oh my goodness. I was an emotional mess. That was difficult.

Except that I wondered if Bane really was going to get killed off so that Johnathan could have a chance with Margaret. I know, how awful of me, right? I have to say, I still feel that the weakest link in the story is that we never saw Bane and Margaret falling in love. I think for me I have trouble with the "childhood friends grow up to become sweethearts" because in my observation, when you grow up with someone, you think of them as sibling/playmates rather than romantic interests. If Bane and Margaret had started off platonic and then fallen in love, I think that would have worked better for me because then at least we would have seen it develop. Since we do actually see Jonathan falling in love with Margaret, I (at least) was more connected with that story.

HOWEVER. Stranger things have happened, and honestly it was vital to the plot structure of "IAM" so I understand why Turner made the choice. The love story is an important motivation for both Margaret and Bane, but their romance is not what the story is about. The story is about the choices we make for faith, and the series handles this brilliantly. I really loved every minute of it.

(Although Turner focuses on the Catholic angle, she makes it clear throughout the story that all religions are persecuted under this mandate. I would be very interested in a collection of short stories about the Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Buddist, etc sufferers in this world.)

Perhaps the coolest part of the story is when the Vatican comes into play, and we get to see all of the different religious orders taking various roles as the plot unfolds. Seeing how the Vatican survived as basically a ghetto state, and then how they escape by holding the historical artwork 'hostage' was a pretty brilliant and believable scheme.

I also really loved that Margaret's female hormones came into play. Having her emotions run wild after getting her implant out was so tremendously realistic, and was woven into the story in a way that made it more real, without it seeming (to me, at least) as though Margaret was in any way reduced to "weak female" because of her hormones. Having her chart her cycle is a detail that some readers might find a little squeamish, but to me, made the story all the more solid.

Another part I really loved was the protests. I felt it worked really well, especially with how big protesting has been in our current day and age. Usually in Dystopian Fiction, the EVIL GOVERNMENT will not hesitate to do whatever necessary to maintain their power. However the world of IAM is dependent on a government that became oppressive slowly, with a gradual limitation of freedoms that creepily mirrors our own world today. While I struggled in book 1 to understand how such horrible things could be allowed, book 3 made it more clear. And because the government insisted they were peaceful and making the best decisions for everyone, they couldn't gun down/arrest all the protesters without alienating ALL the populace. Which also felt tremendously real - and hopeful! So I really liked that touch.

One fact that I found interesting was that no one, not once, suggested that Margaret could not marry Bane because he wasn't a Catholic. In my Protestant circles, marrying anyone who doesn't agree with you on fundamental religious doctrine is a BIG DEAL. I briefly dated a non-Christian and that was a major source of contention both externally (with my family) and internally. When I exited that relationship, I knew that I could never again date and certainly not contemplate marrying someone who did not share my religious beliefs. I am not certain if this aspect of Margaret's story is because of the changed world, a difference in Catholic/Protestant doctrine, or an English vs. American thing. I am quite sure that at least one of my Catholic friends will read this blog post and come up with a good explanation. (Hey friends! *waves* got anything for me?)

I continue to really enjoy Turner's ability to use characters with disabilities as her heroes. I CANNOT wait to see what develops with Bane in book 4. There is so much room for drama and character development!

I also hope that book 4 will continue to explain how the many regulations of the European government came to exist. Specifically I hope for more details on how the organ harvesting developed. At this point in the series I can accept that it did develop, but I still have a hard time imagining how. Was it more violently protested at first? How did so many parents over the years willingly give up their 'imperfect' children? How was the idea first presented to the population, and were 'examples' necessary to get everyone to agree peacefully?

Further, I hope to see more details on what the rest of the world is doing during all of this, find a love interest (or vocation) for Jonathan (although I still believe he might end up dying), find out what happened to Margaret's parents, and see Margaret get pregnant (because that would be so epic). I'd also really like to see what other groups or sections of the underground are run by a) people of other religions or b) non-religious who nontheless believe that everyone has the right to freedom of religion. Of course, as an American I would particularly love to see how America has developed during all this, but that is possibly too complicated to explore as a sidenote.

Most of all I just really hope book 4 comes out soon!


Ashley Stangl said...

Catholic here to help! Catholics are absolutely allowed to marry non-Catholics, but they must receive a dispensation from the bishop, and they must plan to baptize and raise their children as Catholics. The Church makes it clear that mixed marriages are difficult, and the couple is asked to seriously consider all the potential problems before marriage. But the Church doesn't want people to convert just because they're marrying a Catholic; people are supposed to come to the Church out of belief, not societal pressure. The marriage between Bane and Margaret would not be considered a sacrament, but it's still a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church.

The Vatican stuff is the best! The Pope is so cool, and I love that the Swiss Guard are the elite military force, and just the whole fact that Vatican City is is own little society. Book 2 is my favorite because of the brilliant way the climax uses the Vatican setting.

I agree that the hormone stuff in Book 3 was a nice touch, but I could have done without the Natural Family Planning details. It would have been fine if Margaret had mentioned it in passing, but she goes on and on about the details and grinds the plot to a halt. And I liked that the protest was used to defeat the Evil Government, but since Margaret was mostly watching it on TV, it felt very vague and faraway, which weakened the climax.

I share your hope that Book 4 shows more about how Sorting came into existence. The biggest weakness of the books is that it's never clear how or why society accepted such huge changes. Book 3 took steps in the right direction, but I hope the next book goes even more in-depth. I want to hear the arguments of the "true believers" who think Sorting is a benefit to society. I love your idea of seeing other religions' struggles--I hadn't considered that angle! And I really want to have some scenes in Africa! I'm really interested in their government structure.

Sorry for the long comment, but I rarely get a chance to talk about these books (for most people in my life, the book are too gory or too religious for me to feel comfortable recommending them).

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Thanks for chiming in, Ashley!

My understanding was that Catholics could marry non-Catholics as long as they agreed to raise the kids Catholic, so that's not so much my issue as that not one person counseled Margaret to think deeply about marrying someone who wasn't even religious. My guess is that Bane will convert by the end of book 4, and that's possibly why no print space was allotted to the issue.

That's funny, I would have liked to hear MORE about NFP! I don't know what your marital status is, but I've been married two years so it's a very relevant topic to me. Also, I suffer from a hormonal disease, endometriosis, so I found it interesting to see how female problems affect an action heroine. (usually action heroines only suffer wounds and PTSD). But to each his own! ;)

It's a fair point about the climax of 3 seeming distant. To me, it felt realistic that Margaret wouldn't be present for every single important event in the books, and I liked that for once an action heroine wasn't allowed to rush into every single dangerous melee. It's a difficult balance to walk, I think. I'm curious, how would you have tweaked the ending? (Not being critical, I'm genuinely interested in what you think would have flowed better.)

No worries about the long comment, I'm excited to have someone to discuss the books with! I'd love to get my husband to read them too, but he's a slow reader and it'd be a year before he'd be done with all of them!

AnneMarie said...

Elizabeth, I love reading your review!!! My thoughts are a little bit scattered right now, and unfortunately I haven't read these books for a handful of months, so my memory of all of the specific points isn't super fresh. But, I'll give it a whirl :) Also, blogger wouldn’t take my comment because it said it was too long, so I’m breaking it up into 2 comments 

I think it's interesting you bring up the Bane/Margaret religion thing. Like Ashley said, this is allowed, and in fact, most Catholics I know wouldn't really raise an eyebrow at that kind of thing-I guess many of us are so used to it happening that it doesn't surprise us at all. But, I definitely see your point, that perhaps it would have been a good touch to have a few more cautious people who voiced their concerns to Margaret, since there are probably people out there who would be a bit more concerned. Then again, in the dangerous dystopian world of IAM where people are fighting to live one day at a time, it also seems like this wouldn't be the biggest concern to a lot of people, in the grand scheme of things. I was just so happy for Margaret and Bane to finally get married that I didn't even think critically about this. Ugh, yes! That part after the wedding was so sad, and I think it was a gutsy move on Turner's part to dare pull something like that on us readers :P Though it did make things so much more satisfying when they finally were brought together again.

I actually really like how Bane and Margaret have a solid foundation of friendship and how we don't necessarily see them go through the process of falling in love. I like how Turner's portrayal of them made me focus more on their dedication and sacrifice to each other (which we see a lot of in Book 1) than a growth in emotional tenderness. I like Jonathan, but as I watched him fall in love with Margaret, I also thought about something that I once heard someone say in a talk: In dramatic circumstances, you can probably fall in love with anybody. This isn't necessarily going to be 100% true, but in a scary life-and-death situation (like when Margaret and Jon were in the camp in book 1), I think it's a lot easier to cling to those you are with, and suddenly you find yourself falling in love (I don't know if you watch The Walking Dead, but I recently saw seasons 1 and 2, and saw something similar to this at play). So, while it is sweet to see Jon and Margaret, I personally enjoy Bane and Margaret's relationship much more, and personally think it is better.

AnneMarie said...

Like Ashley said, the mention of NFP was nice, but I also thought it slowed the plot a little. But, that could partially be because I've read loads on NFP and talk about it a lot, so I'm very familiar with hit. One little mention of it in the story is all I would need to go, "Ok, NFP, charting, gotcha, now moving on..." whereas some readers may have been really confused if Turner didn't talk as much about it. I do like how Margaret's hormones and fertility cycle are brought into the story, though!

The protests were awesome!!!! I also thought it was clever that Margaret was distanced from them. In Book 1, Margaret instigates so many things directly, so I like how since then, we see her in a less active role, watching the fruits of her actions unveil. Also, I'm a bit of a control freak, so I love seeing how a character with such strong leadership is not being brought into every exciting situation, but has to sit back and watch other people do the work-I try to imagine how I would be able to handle the situation of feeling rather helpless as I watch things happen without directly diving in myself!

I also really liked how the Vatican came into play and held the artwork hostage. It was so realistic and fascinating! Book 3 really did feel so much like our own world in many parts, and I think it's fantastic how Turner manages to do this. Oh goodness, I'm both terrified and intrigued to see what happens with Bane! I think he will definitely have some rough times ahead as he handles life without his eyes. I can see this bringing in some added tension with Jonathan, too, because we'll be able to see the contrast of how they each react to their blindness, and how all of it affects Margaret.

I can hardly wait for book 4 to come out!!!! I agree, it would be completely epic for Margaret to get pregnant, and I hope it happens. Though, part of me thinks that if she gets pregnant, Bane will end up dying, and Jonathan will step in to take care of Margaret and the baby, which would make me REALLY sad because I'm a huge fan of Bane and Margaret. I just don't know what's going to happen, and I'm so excited!!!

Ashley Stangl said...

I think Book 3 did have several mentions of people asking Margaret to rethink marrying Bane. She mentioned that Kyle tried to talk her out of it before he left for priesthood, and her parents had issues with it at first, and some of the priests in the story asked her to rethink it. A lot of this focused on Bane's anger issues more than the religious differences, but the religious differences were mentioned. I feel like, especially in the book's universe, if you find a non-religious person willing to get involved with religious people, they're a good marriage prospect regardless of their actual beliefs.

It's great that you liked the NFP stuff, Elena. Personally, I felt like it belonged in an NFP textbook, not a dystopian novel, and it threw off the pace. But I like that it was acknowledged as a valid scientific method.

I don't mind that Margaret wasn't directly involved in the protests--I rather liked that her actions inspired other people to take action. I think the main issue was that Margaret seemed like a spectator to a lot of things that happened in the book, which built up until the climax felt too distant. Margaret was always held back by Bane, or sitting by Bane's bedside, or doing wedding planning or explaining NFP instead of getting involved in what the others were doing. To solve the issue, I'd probably cut back on some of Margaret's introspection and get her involved in what the others are doing, rather than sitting alone so much and reacting to stuff that happens off-screen. Even if we just saw some planning meetings about blog posts or something, it would feel like she was more active and connected to the actions of the wider story. Or it might help to have a POV from someone at the protests--a look into the mind of someone who Margaret inspired, maybe via chapters written as blog posts or something.

I really, really hope that no main characters die in Book 4. Killing Bane or Jon feels like a lazy way to resolve their character arcs and plotlines, and there are much more interesting things to do to characters than to kill them (case in point: Bane's eyes). I can't wait to see how Margaret and Bane and Jon all deal with Bane's blindness. And I really want to find out what's up with Major Evrington; right now, I'm half-expecting a weird "I am your father" reveal, since they keep emphasizing that their eyes are the same. Ooh, could he be that non-religious uncle she's never met? Ah, it'll probably be a more symbolic connection, but allow me my conspiracy theories.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

The similar eyes thing really got to me too! It certainly seems to be building to a family connection revelation, but we'll have to see...

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Catholic Church on mixed marriages.

A) Traditionally:

1) No.

2) Or yes, with a dispensation (like a Catholic royalty marrying into Swedish dynasty got it, hoping to make things better for Catholics in Sweden that way).

3) On condition the Catholic partner:

a) may remain Catholic;
b) may live her or his sacramental life;
c) may raise the common children according to Catholic faith without obstacles from significant other (this condition probably waivered in case of queens in Protestant countries?).

4) And the non-Catholic partner has to confirm this by an oath.

B Now: ecumenism bends some of these rules or even flouts them.

C In the dystopia: one can kind of sense a possibility the Catholic Church is being protrayed as not able to enforce such conditions even if wanting to, and of non-Catholic partners not being able to find a Church where to convert (which would have been a more usual step as to A, 1).

Does this help?