Kick-Ass Women of SciFi & Fantasy: Rosie McClendon

“It’s best to be ruthless with the past. It ain’t the blows we’re dealt that matter, but the ones we survive.”

This post is a two-fer: a book review of one of my desert island books, that also happens to contain one of my favorite kick-ass women of Fantasy. I first read this book in college, and even though I’d read plenty of Stephen King by then, including The Stand, I immediately labeled it my favorite Stephen King book. Since then, I’ve read almost everything he’s ever written (and the rest are on my shelf waiting), and having recently revisited Rose Madder, I can say with certainty that it’s still my favorite.

This may come as a surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with King. You may never have even heard of this book. We tend to think of his horror classics: The Shining, IT, Misery, Carrie, or stories that have been adapted into movies, miniseries, and shows: Dark Tower, Under the Dome, The Mist, 11.22.63. If you google Rose Madder you’ll find many posts stating it is a “B side,” including some comments from King himself. You’ll find people who thought it too stereotypically feminist, not feminist enough, too supernatural, or not supernatural enough, and people who thought it was good enough, but nothing really special. Yet, I’m in a dedicated Stephen King fan group on Facebook where I hear time and time again how this is someone’s absolute favorite Stephen King story.

I’ll try to convey what’s great about the book without spoiling anything. I hope to encourage people who have never heard of this to read it, as well as those who have heard of it but have been deterred from reading it by negative feedback.

Rose Madder is the story of Rose McClendon Daniels, a wife trapped in a horrifically abusive marriage with her husband, Norman. Norman is a cop, and since he’s with the very people she would call for help, there is little she can do to improve her circumstances. His friends are all male cops as well, and all on his side. Rose is not allowed to work, and has no money of her own, and no independence. She can’t have anything she wants, including a baby, and Norman will make sure of this in as sinister a way as you can imagine. She can’t read. She can’t take a walk outside on a spring day to enjoy the flowers. All she can do is wait on Norman and clean the house. Seemingly up against an insurmountable set of obstacles, one day, after “14 years of hell all told,” Rose has just had enough and tries to leave anyway. She knows Norman will chase her down and most likely kill her, but she goes nonetheless. The only thing scarier, she thinks, would be if he never did kill her–that she would have to live the rest of her life taking his violent beatings. In spite of fear and almost certain death, Rose bravely strikes out to forge her own destiny, and starts calling herself Rosie McClendon, excising his name and presence from her life. But of course, leaving him behind entirely won’t be that easy.

This book is suspenseful. It’s both plot and character driven. While the concept of an abused woman escaping her circumstances only to be stalked by her abuser is not a groundbreaking idea, and while the themes can be a little on the nose,  Rose Madder elicits a hell of an emotional reaction. This book wrenches my gut, it brings tears to my eyes, it makes my heart race in anticipation, I can feel dread creeping up on me from a mile away before something terrible happens. This book inspired me, and many others to be strong when trapped in abusive relationships, and brave enough to leave these monsters. I had originally written “unafraid” instead of “brave enough,” and I want to stress that fear is intrinsic to true bravery in these situations. One criticism I frequently hear about Rose Madder is the villain is too over-the-top. Norman is not just sexist, racist, and homophobic, but takes these personality traits to the extreme. Yet anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship won’t find Norman over-the-top at all.

You can be with a controlling, manipulative abuser who isn’t one tenth as bad as Norman, yet you can picture him doing the extreme things Norman does. If all your boyfriend or husband does (and I use “all” lightly) is hit you, choke you, hold you down and scream at you, eliminate your privacy, isolate you from friends and family, rape you–none of these are as frightfully brutal as what Norman does to Rose in the book. Yet you can imagine Norman having done all of these at some point before moving on to even worse aggressions, and before that, he even acted charming and sweet. It’s a sinister art, what abusers do, tricking and trapping even the smartest and strongest women into almost inescapable webs. Even when someone isn’t quite at Norman’s level, he can still be an evil monster, and you can still picture him doing the things Norman does, no problem. Because if they are capable of invading your privacy, controlling you, hitting you, raping you–what aren’t they capable of? The one who made you cry in wrenching sobs only to sit there, listening, unaffected, or made you fear for your life, has already lost their humanity in your eyes. To you, they are already that extreme monster and you have no trouble picturing them with the fangs or horns they may as well have.

And let me be clear: the abusive boyfriend or husband as a villain is one that never gets old. He never gets less scary. He is always disturbingly evil, and sadly, always relevant.

Another major criticism I often hear about Rose Madder is that the painting, one of the most important aspects of the book, isn’t well-described. What a travesty for one of the great modern descriptive storytellers!  Critics claim the reader can clearly envision the paintings in Duma Key, or “The Road Virus Heads North,” and how that description was done in only 112 words while Rose Madder is 420 pages and we still can’t really picture the work of art. But I always thought the painting was intentionally less descriptive than others he’d written. We have a hard time picturing it because it isn’t for us. It’s for Rosie. And a work of art need only speak to one person. We’re given just enough that we have the bones of where everything stands in the painting, but little enough that we can engage with our imaginations and imprint onto the painting whatever we need it to be.

To prove this point, if you search for interpretations of the Rose Madder painting you’ll find several, each containing a woman in a red dress (usually with a gold band on her upper arm) overlooking a temple or other stone structure (usually shielding her eyes) while a storm brews above. The woman’s hair might differ slightly from painting to painting, but it is usually blonde, except when brown to show the woman as Rosie McClendon, and the stone building might be in various states of decay, or might be to the right or left of the woman. But the fact that everyone comes up with basically the same picture means it can’t have been that poorly described. (I’ll include some interpretations at the end of this post.) The differences according to the artist’s interpretation are just that: what the artist/reader wants or needs most from the painting. What Rosie needs, is exactly what the book says. She sees the woman on the hill as free, unencumbered by men, society, or even a bra. She is comfortable, strong and brave. Rosie sees the subject of the paining as someone who isn’t too afraid to say yes to life and get what she wants, and it inspires her. And Rosie does indeed start getting what she wants.

Some say this is too convenient: that she, without struggle, gets the perfect job for her and becomes relatively famous within that field. But this never bothered me because I saw it as a sad reminder of the wasted potential of so many women in abusive relationships who aren’t allowed to leave the house or have their own financial independence or fulfilling careers. Who knows how many other things Rosie would have been good at besides this? Maybe she’s just really smart and talented, and all it takes is to get out in the world and try some new things to discover your potential.

People also complain that the book is too feminist. And I could write a whole book on how people are unjustifiably turned off by the word “feminist.” Others will say this book wasn’t feminist enough, or was adequately feminist but too cliché in its feminist aspects. I could also write a whole book about how, for some reason, it’s almost impossible for anyone to do anything “feminist” without someone taking issue with it. To keep it short, this is how most non-feminist women discover feminism: in its most basic form. Things become cliché to us after being inundated with them time after time. But for someone who has been imprisoned as long as Rosie has–for countless women just like her, the Indigo Girls aren’t a cliché feminist band; They’re new, exciting, and innovative. The same goes for the seemingly textbook diversity check-off. It’s an introduction to intersectional feminism, not an advanced course. It’s a starting off point for women who need a little inspiration to get going. Complaining about it is the equivalent of saying kids need to be reading Dickens and Fitzgerald in school instead of Harry Potter. Maybe if we let them enjoy Harry Potter and cultivate a love for reading, then later they’ll want to read Dickens on their own.

This is fitting since King is often criticized as not being literary enough–undeserving of writing awards or accolades–mostly because of the inclusion of supernatural elements in his work which gets him cast aside as “genre fiction.” Yet there’s as much insight to be gleaned from a King story as any other literary work, and it’s often less of a chore to slog through.

I love that Rose Madder opens with the image of a book being torn apart. Because reading is dangerous to tyrants. Even a Harlequin romance is powerful. Rosie might get inspired by a strong, independent woman and start getting it in her head that she can go anywhere and be anything, just like Rose Madder inspired women to leave their abusive relationships. If that was all it did, that would still be enough to make it one of my favorites. Books help us empathize with people in these situations and might make us want to help them too (like women helping each other in Rose Madder becomes such a powerful strength). There’s power in reading, and Norman (and men like him) want all the power. They want to control what we do, and even how we think–especially what we think of ourselves. Because the second we mark our price tag up, it’s game over for them. Their power is gone.

I’m not going to sit here and state that everyone who found a flaw in this book is wrong. It’s not perfect. But it elicits strong emotional reactions, it has staying power–people remember it, even ones who didn’t particularly love it–it has a compelling main character even though stories like hers have been told before, one of the most heinous and evil villains I’ve ever read, and it makes a profound statement about the power art and literature have to free us.

And what does the average reader say in refutation of all the negative criticism? The people in my fan group who laud it as their all-time favorite say: “I just liked it. There’s just something about it that spoke to me.” And it spoke to everyone a little differently. It spoke to other fans in ways that I didn’t consider when it spoke to me. But, like the Rose Madder painting, art need only speak to one person in just the way they need it to.

 

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Horror Lovers, Sink Your Fangs Into This Scary Little Flash Fic

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“I’m falling…”

Dear fellow writers and readers, might I ask a favor? My story, “Hell’s Laughter” is currently in the Running Scared horror writing contest on Inkitt.com. It’s a really short read, so it takes no time at all to check it out. If you like it, please vote it up so I can stay in the top 10 and make it to final judging. Click the link below and then click the heart to vote. Also, if you review it, you get entered in a raffle to win amazon.com gift cards. Incentive! Thanks, everyone.  🙂 LLAP

http://www.inkitt.com/stories/10483

For The Promise of a Wish: Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle Series

I read a lot cover_ravenboys_300of books–one to two per week. Some are boring, some are entertaining, and there’s some I love. Yet it is still rare to discover one so captivating, so engrossing, that I’m immediately pulled into the world and can’t make myself stop reading, even at two in the morning when I have work at six. That shelf is usually reserved for the likes of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, two series from a small group of my favorites. It’s a very exclusive shelf, and for having read hundreds of books, it contains only a select few: The re-readables. While there can be many books on my “I loved it” shelf, I’m very particular on what makes the “Favorites.”

Maggie Stiefvater presents a new contender in her Raven Cycle series, the first three, entitled The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. The books are about friendship, bravery, adventure, and the overwhelming need to uncover something more in life. Blue, a hard-working public school girl who possesses some psychic ability, finds unlikely friends in four rich, prep school Raven Boys who team up in search of a dead Welsh King whom they believe will grant them one wish.

However, this story is more about the chase than Dream-Thieves-Coverthe capture of the prize, favoring the journey over the destination. The characters investigate clue after clue, growing in their own development as well as in their relationships with one another. One particularly interesting character connection, among many, exists between Blue, and one of the Raven Boys, Gansey. Book one begins with a vision Blue has of Gansey’s ghost, learning that the only reason for this vision means Gansey is either her true love or that she killed him. Turns out it’s both. Gansey will die if Blue kisses him. The reader worries for him constantly throughout the course of the series, fretting over his supposedly imminent death, his fatal bee allergy, and the constant precarious predicaments the characters place themselves in. While Blue tries to develop feelings for and date another character, Adam, it’s obvious that she and Gansey are meant to be, which only heightens the drama of the series. Should she tell him about the vision? Should she let their relationship progress? It also dramatizes the romantic tension in the story because the more Blue and Gansey interact, the more we want them to kiss, and of course they can’t.

But the romance subplo17378508t is just that, albeit an interesting one. There are three other main characters to consider (one of whom has the power to extract physical objects from dreams) as well as many compelling secondary ones. The heart of this story is in the friends’ quest to find The Raven King–the title of book four to be released 9-29-15 . Like I said, it’s more about the puzzle than the prize, and I fear that if the team actually does earn a wish, by the time this perilous journey ends, they’ll need to use it to save one of their lives.

There have been romantic moments in this book where I’ve anguished that Blue and Gansey can’t be together. There have been times where I’ve marveled at the creative and fantastical world building. There have been times where Stiefvater has evoked terror in me, a chilling scene creeping toward a scary moment I know is coming. Don’t all the best stories elicit an emotional reaction? I will gladly trudge, and suffer, and dream, and explore with the characters all for the promise of a wish. It’s that age-old yen for wanting, something, anything, more.

This series mixes suspense, mythology, fantasy, horror, and romance in a way that is unputdownable. I eagerly await Stiefvater’s fourth and final edition to this addictive series, and encourage book-lovers everywhere to catch up on the first three installments before then.

True Love Requires Sacrifice: A Review of Ensnared by A.G. Howard

EnsnaredThis is going to be a long one people; I’m pretty emotionally invested at this point. Let me preface by asserting that I am a fan of A.G. Howard and this series. Despite any negative or positive aspects of the books you read here, I recommend you go out and buy all three of them. After all, it must be good to elicit this emotional reaction. I love Howard’s writing. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll blindly accept any story-related decision she makes. The first two books in this trilogy, Splintered, and Unhinged get five stars from me. Ensnared had five too, right up until the very end. I give most of the book five stars for keeping me enthralled, but the last few chapters get two stars for taking the easy, most convenient way out, and if I’m not sugarcoating anything just because I like the author, a cowardly way out.

The ending is weak. Love requires sacrifice. When true love is involved with more than two parties, someone is bound to get hurt, and they should. That’s how it works.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you try, it’ll often leave a bad taste in your mouth, and that’s the case here. Instead of being elated that Alyssa gets the best of both worlds, I’m frustrated that things worked out so perfectly for her. I don’t believe it. It’s not Wonderland magic I have trouble suspending my disbelief for, it’s the completely unrealistic reactions of the characters—all three of them. Jeb was on point when he asked Alyssa “What am I supposed to do with that?” Referring to the difficult truth that after he is dead and gone, Alyssa will continue to live a happy life with Morpheus. Morpheus was dead on when he said “I’m tired of waiting. I won’t be a gentleman.” Both guys are in the right. The very least you deserve in a romantic relationship is monogamy—to have the person you love reciprocate that love only for you in return. The boys miraculously changing their minds and emotions and magically being okay with Alyssa loving both of them doesn’t sit right with me. Who would be okay with that? Alyssa shouldn’t be okay with it either. She should feel like she’s doing a constant injustice to both guys because she is. She’s giving only half her heart to people who are giving her all of theirs.

So Alyssa can marry Jeb, lose her virginity to him, have children with him, grow old with him, watch Jeb die, and then live happily ever after with Morpheus? And everyone is okay with this? When I first read this possibility in Unhinged I thought: the author won’t use that. She’d never bring it up so early in the series and then use it at the end of the trilogy—it’s too predictable now. But that’s exactly what she did. I have to imagine the Jeb fans are just as disappointed as I am on the Morpheus side, because neither side really gets what we want. What we want is for Alyssa to choose and make a commitment to our guy. But she remains disappointingly wishy-washy through the final pages. I just don’t buy it. I’m afraid in true love it’s all or nothing. I know it’s supposed to be magical and perfect—happiness all around. But that’s not how it translates for me. How can Alyssa truly say she loves either of them, when she isn’t truly devoted to either? I’ll admit her heart being split down the middle plot line was interesting—but that was because I was so anticipating her choice and the consequences of it—whatever it might have been. I was hoping for masterful writing illustrating the emotions in the aftermath of this choice, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted Alyssa to make, even if it hurt me. Because the nature of the love triangle, the choice, should hurt. You shouldn’t be able to escape from such a thing not only unfazed, but utterly blissful, not even in fiction, not even in fantasy.

In this outcome, Alyssa’s attention is never fully focused on either guy while she lives out her life. It’s like constantly texting your boyfriend while you’re out with your girlfriends—your attention isn’t fully devoted to either party so what’s the point of even being out?

By the way, can we take a side trip for a moment to expand on Alyssa losing her virginity to Jeb? Didn’t we find out way back in chapter one of Splintered that Jeb already lost his virginity to a 19-year-old waitress because he’s so cool and popular? But then he lectures Alyssa on not giving her’s away because she’s too special. Double standard much? Morpheus was so sexy throughout the whole series I sort of wanted something to happen between Alyssa and him. Then she and Jeb are at least even. File this away; it will be relevant later, I promise.

Here’s where it gets really ridiculous. Not only are both guys totally cool with sharing the girl they love because it’s “best for her” and at the end of the book they both turn selfless beyond reason, beyond what human nature allows for, but they are actually bros now—BFFs! How wonderful. Just like Edward and Jacob became friends in Breaking Dawn, just like Bella always wanted them to be, no matter how unrealistic that is.

And I get it. It’s hard. The author has so much invested in these characters at this point that she wants a happy ending for all three. Not only that, but whatever guy Alyssa chooses will disappoint HALF her audience: either team Jeb or team Morpheus. That’s scary. But it’s the risk you run with love triangles.

I’m not saying don’t do love triangles. People can have feelings for more than one person—that’s an awesome thing to explore in writing. But just for once, I want an author who creates a love triangle to have to deal with it and resolve it in a real way. That means one of the choices doesn’t conveniently die, eliminating them as a prospect (Nightshade trilogy) and that everything isn’t wrapped up in a too neat, too convenient package (Breaking Dawn). Remember that ending? Jacob has been hurting because he loves Bella and her heart will always belong to Edward. At least Bella is making a huge, difficult decision. She will lose Jacob, her family, and her chance to have children. All this she will sacrifice for her love for Edward. That is fantastic conflict. But wait, she magically gets pregnant even though Meyer already established vampire bodies are frozen and can’t change or produce fluids like blood, waste, or yeah, semen. So Bella gets to have children after all. Then, Jacob magically imprints on Bella’s baby. He no longer has to feel pain, because all of a sudden, all that love he felt for Bella is gone. Better yet, he will forever be part of her happy family, especially since the danger with the Volturi never comes to a head. We’re still going. Bella as a vampire, has a magical, unheard of restraint over her blood-lust so she won’t have to stay away from her parents after all. Everything works out. I actually would have gained more satisfaction from the story before all those magical happily ever afters. It’s harder to write and it’s sometimes harder to take, but if it leaves some characters unhappy and imperfect, it’s usually the more interesting and more realistic ending. Yes, I do want realistic in my vampire novels. I love fantasy, but if the characters don’t have feelings and emotional reactions like real people do, then there’s nothing grounding it, and there’s nothing to relate to.

Unfortunately, a too neat ending is exactly what we have in Ensnared. The conflict Alyssa faced between her two halves, Wonderland and the real world, was the driving force of the trilogy. It would have been the most important decision of the story and she never had to make it. Not only do I refuse to believe either guy is okay with this, more, nay, MOST importantly, Alyssa does not have to choose. Why introduce a difficult choice if you don’t have the courage to eventually make said choice? Yes, you will disappoint half the fans but at least you won’t insult their intelligence. Alyssa gets to have both guys, and all three of them are happy about it? I’m sorry, but no way.

I know I should be thrilled that everyone gets everything they want, and no one gets hurt, and nothing bad happens. Instead, I feel that in trying to appease everyone, Howard pleased no one. Part of the problem is, I don’t feel everyone did get what they want, not truly. I’m surprised more people don’t feel like I do about the ending.

Why can’t just for once, a character make a real choice? Think. Decide. Who do you really love more? And then bravely make that choice knowing full well you will hurt someone. Because that’s how it really works. This is what really bothers me. Because it’s so much more unbelievable than Wonderland and AnyElsewhere and any kind of magic. It goes against human nature. Selfishness, jealousy, the justifiable desire to have the woman you love, love ONLY you in return–that’s real human nature. And this is why I can only give the end of this book in a series I loved two stars—a rating befitting the courage it took to write this ending.

From a woman’s standpoint, two guys might be fun at first. But I know I couldn’t truly love and accept my life with someone knowing I’m spending eternity with someone else after he dies. I would just be waiting, dying to get to that part of my life. Which it seems, a bit, like Alyssa does at the end. So why even live a life with Jeb? Because she owes him one mortal life? Because she feels sorry for him? Because it’s her responsibility to keep him from depression? Because she selfishly wants to have her cake and eat it too? These are all terrible reasons, especially since the taste of that cake must be so unsatisfying with only half the flavor.

Men reading this: from your standpoint, could you really be okay with getting the woman you love only after decades of her living a happy life with someone else while you patiently and chastely wait? That’s what I thought.

So make a choice. The ending won’t be perfect. It shouldn’t be. People aren’t perfect and life isn’t perfect. It shouldn’t be. Not even in books. Sacrifice. Hurt. If you’re going to have fantastic realms full of happy, delicious fluff that only Wonderland could provide (and which, granted, we love) you must sacrifice something else. Because it’s all just too perfect. It can’t all be rainbows and kittens.

Again, I love Howard. I love her books and I follow her on Facebook. Howard is an artist, able to paint her world and characters vividly and tell engrossing stories. But I read her explanation of why she chose the ending she did, and it reinforced what I already assumed. I also read that she cut 10,000 words out of the final draft to meet publishing requirements and I’m perplexed as to why a chunk of those 10,000 came out of the all-important ending, and not, say, the beginning where we’re learning all about the dad’s family and were thinking: can we get to AnyElsewhere already? Another problem with the ending is that is was rushed.

At first I didn’t mind because I have absolutely no interest in hearing about Alyssa’s life with Jeb, how mundane it was, their skateboard-themed wedding, how many skater kids they had, or if Jeb ever snapped and ended up hitting Alyssa or the kids. (Sorry, but real people from those kinds of physically and psychologically abusive households don’t end up as sweet, gentle guys) Jeb was violent throughout the series, always threatening to beat someone down, holding Alyssa’s wrists, knocking her down, even if that action was aided by magic, abuse is not okay. Period. I didn’t like Morpheus better because he was sexy, or wore eyeliner, or could fly; I liked him better because he wasn’t violent or controlling and Alyssa never had to walk on eggshells around him. Morpheus gives Alyssa the freedom to make her own choices and to fly or fall on her own. Ask any girl who’s actually been in an abusive or controlling relationship and I bet they’d agree with me in seeing something scary in Jeb. It’s like the poem “My Papas Waltz” by Theodore Roethke: People from happy homes see a cute dance; people from abusive homes see the father hurting the child. But I digress. The point is, team Jeb should have been furious because Alyssa’s entire human life with him was glossed over and summed up in a few paragraphs. Morpheus fans should be unsatisfied because we didn’t get to see any of those dreams with him “teasing and taunting” her, and we get barely a glimpse of Alyssa as queen.

Speaking of which, would you be okay with your husband or wife kissing you good night and then going to spend time in their dreams with another person they loved? I don’t think so. Girls, picture it this way: would you be okay with your boyfriend splitting his love between you and another girl? Of course not. So why are we okay when Alyssa does it? It’s unsettling to me.

If it were up to me, I’d have done one of three things: 1. Alyssa chooses Jeb. She decides (the key word being “decides”) that she can’t let go of her human life, and she sacrifices Wonderland, or finds some creative way to take care of it without her being queen, without the dream child. 2. Alyssa chooses Morpheus. By book three it felt more like she owed Jeb (at least one lifetime) than loved him anyway. Let’s be honest, who is choosing the real world of working 9-5 over being queen of Wonderland? 3. This might be my favorite. Alyssa chooses neither guy, deciding she doesn’t want to hurt either of them by choosing the other, and rules on her own. We see too few female characters stand on their own in YA lit. If Morpheus is still single in 1000 years and they still want to have the dream child, have at it. What’s the rush into marriage Alyssa? You’re immortal. By the way, marriage to more than one person, that’s polygamy. I mean I guess she technically waited for Jeb to die, but still. She was in a relationship with both of them her entire life.

Decisions, decisions…I’m reading this book as a huge Morpheus fan and even I’m thinking Just pick Jeb already. I hate him, but I’d rather Alyssa be resolute. Or choose Morpheus and make Jeb have to grow okay with himself, be strong in life and as his own person without being dependent on Alyssa to remind him he’s a good person. Or pick Jeb, and let Morpheus find someone else. I was excited when this was briefly discussed in the book, but Morpheus only wanted to wait for Alyssa while she got her fill of another man and then finally came to him a lifetime later. Sure. Who wouldn’t be thrilled about that? In the end I didn’t care what Alyssa chose, I just wanted her to make a choice. As a writer, as a creative professional, when you create a love triangle you have to be willing to put on your thick skin and follow through. I hate to say it, because this option is a cop-out as well, but Howard would have been better off writing two endings, one where Alyssa picks Jeb and an alternate ending where she chooses Morpheus. Fans could decide which one they wanted to read and believe as true. At least then fans would have some sense of satisfaction in the relationships they’ve poured their hearts into.

Remember when I said my little rant about Jeb losing his virginity would be relevant later? Here it is: I have a big problem with the fact that Jeb can lose his virginity to another girl yet simultaneously be so controlling of Alyssa. He was going to have sex with Alyssa too on prom night because I guess he can do whatever and whomever he wants and remain infallible in Alyssa’s eyes for whatever reason. Aside from the fact that Jeb is a total jerk, controlling, and despite what the author keeps saying, will probably turn out abusive like his father—aside from all of that, it upsets me on a smaller scale that Alyssa loses her virginity to Jeb in the mortal realm and Jeb silently pleads her not to sleep with Morpheus on their one, last night together—Morpheus doesn’t even try, making him far the superior gentleman. Since Jeb already lost his virginity, Alyssa should have gotten to sleep with Morpheus. I mean the author wanted to make things even, right? Heart split right down the middle and all that? So why is Jeb her first, but not the other way around? No fair. Meanwhile Morpheus has to wait, unable to touch her, while she has children and a full life with Jeb. How is any guy anywhere okay with that? Jeb too, has to live knowing full well that when he’s gone Alyssa will have an eternity with another man she loves. He says that it’s the same as a wife remarrying after her husband dies. I disagree. This is a whole new ballgame.

Furthermore, I have a problem with this disturbing trend of jealous, possessive, psychotic, broken, abused, depressed, scary guys somehow being portrayed as sexy and romantic in YA lit. It’s not okay.

Morpheus while flawed, at least gives Alyssa the freedom to make her own choices and she never has to watch what she says around him. He’s safe. I feel safe when I read scenes between Alyssa and him. During scenes with Jeb, I always feel like he’s balanced on the needlepoint of rage, waiting for something to inevitably tip him over. There’s no possibility Morpheus ever loses control and physically harms Alyssa. Can we say the same about Jeb?

But what about Alyssa’s fleeting plan to choose neither guy and rule on her own? She would have been such a strong, independent female character that way. Instead she allows two men to share her while not being fair to either of them. So when I finished reading ensnared it didn’t feel like happily ever after. I didn’t feel the magic or the love. My feelings fluctuated on a scale from unsatisfied to angry to sad.

I’ve read the ending three times now and I want so much to love it. I’ve tried to accept it and embrace it like most of the fans have. But at the end of the day, for me, true love is between two people, not three. Half a person isn’t, and shouldn’t, be enough for anyone. Morpheus and Jeb are giving all of their love and only receiving half Alyssa’s in return. They share her, which doesn’t work in true love. True love is not that simple. It demands sacrifice and complete devotion.

Do you agree or disagree? Sound off below.