Karen at conversation in the bookstore, frequently with herself.

“So many white dudes. I want the new Karen Lord, L, L, no. Um, I wonder if… no, this is sci-fi, where’s YA. Sherri Smith, I think? Yeah, Flygirl, Smith. S, s, s, no! What do I have to do get Orleans? Or the new Seanan McGuire?*”

“Lili! Gotta read Lili. Oh, and the Steampunk anthology! Dylan’s in that, he sent me his story, I haven’t read it yet, I suck, what else is in it? Oh, this looks fun. Holly, and Libba, and ooh, comics! Look, Matt, look! Comics! Yeah, I’m getting this. Lili’s Love-Shy, and Dylan’s steampunk.”

“Oh, Among Others! This book is about how reading makes life bearable even when it’s not. It’s about a girl who – her twin died, and she’s in a boarding school and becoming a sexual being and she reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy I think it’s the sixties? Also, fairies. Different fairies, it’s good.”

*stabs viciously at author’s name on spine* “This guy… this guy, okay, no, I was at a thing with him once, no, no way, no.”

“Hello! I would like to buy these books, and also I wrote this one, would it be all right with you if I signed it? Thank you! I like your nail polish.”

*points to Villette* “Matt, this book is amazing. You read it, and at the end you’re like, why is everything? That’s my review. Don’t read it, though.”

* Turns out I had to hit up the Book Depository. I still love you, Book Depository.

Helen Lowe interview at SF Signal

The excellent Helen Lowe, who is a Christchurch spec-tic writing gal like me, recently interviewed me about When We Wake for her regular feature on SF Signal.

I really love interviewers who take the time to read the book and think through some meaty questions – it’s a lot of time and effort, and it’s always appreciated! Helen is one of the good ones.

Helen: In writing When We Wake, how important did you feel it was to get the scientific basis of the story right in terms of the cryonics and environmental change, as opposed to the emotional reality of Tegan’s story—and were there trade-offs between the two?

Karen: I did quite a lot of research on the environmental change, much of which I used, and also a fair amount of cryonics research – much of which I discarded. I wanted the landscape to feel real, and that meant projecting a realistic future in terms of climate change (if anything, I was too kind in terms of negative effects on the country!) But the cryonics is the more fictional aspect of my science fiction. To be honest, I was far more concerned with something that would read as really awesome, rather than as scientifically likely. I know this will turn some people off the book, and I won’t blame them! That’s just the trade-off I made.

When We Wake: Reviews

When We Wake has been getting some awfully nice reviews. Particularly, it is getting nice reviews from sci-fi venues, which pleases me very much, since this is my first sci-fi story.

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, calling it: “a fast-moving and carefully built science-fiction story… accessible, thoughtful and compelling”.

Publisher’s Weekly says that I managed a: “very persuasive future world… The diversity of the cast is authentic and natural”

Liz Bourke at Tor.com says that When We Wake is: “an excellent YA novel. It’s also really excellent science fiction. … Healey really nails voice.”

Sarah Frost at Strange Horizons says the book is: “exciting and powerful. … [Tegan] is both a believable teenager and an admirable person.”

So that’s all pretty excellent, huzzah!

When We Wake: My Big Idea

Internets, y’all know John Scalzi’s Big Idea feature at the Whatever, right? This is the feature where authors will tell you the Big Idea behind their latest release, also known as The Place Not To Go When You Are Poor And Have Instituted A Book-Buying Ban, Yes, On Everything, Even That Really Cool One, Oh Wait, Maybe Just One Or Two Or Five.

It’s a great feature. Directly responsible for me spending a lot of money on very good books.

Anyway, the point is, I wrote my Big Idea for When We Wake, talking about (naturally) Sleeping Beauties, and why I wanted an action hero with verve to be my leading lady. Go! Read!

WAKE UP: The When We Wake Blog Tour

Time to talk about me!

No, wait, time to talk about MY NEW BOOK.

Internets, When We Wake has been released in North America. I was lucky enough to do a blog tour on five awesome young adult fiction blogs to coincide with this release.

BUT. I didn’t really want to do a blog tour when people ask me questions and then I answer, because I already had lots of that kind of interview lined up. Even though I could happily talk about my process and inspirations forever (which reminds me, I owe you a Sleeping Beauty essay on Captain America) I didn’t want to go around repeating myself.

SO. My awesome publicist was like, why don’t they interview When We Wake CHARACTERS? And I said, yes! Faye, you are brilliant! They can interview characters on topics relevant to the book!

So that’s what we did. Massive thanks to Faye and Little, Brown for organising everything, and even more massive thanks to the bloggers, who really put the extra effort in to come up with compelling, relevant, interesting questions! I am super happy with the WAKE UP tour, which you can read by clicking on the links below.

If you are in the US, you can also enter giveaways for the book!

The WAKE UP tour:

Bethari talks about media and communications at Novel Novice.

Abdi talks about immigration at The Book Smugglers.

Dr Marie Carmen talks about science and medicine at 365 Days of Reading.

Tegan talks about music at Forever Young Adult.

Joph talks about the environment at The Readadventurer.

LOOK AT THIS TRAILER. LOOK AT IT SO HARD.

Internets! Oh my gosh, it’s been FOREVER.

Or nearly two weeks, much the same thing in internet time.

What have I been up to? Teacher training! Story of this year, Internets. If ever you find yourself thinking, “That Karen creature, what is she up to, why does she not post as regularly as she did of old?”, you may then think, “Ah, teacher training,” and nod wisely to yourself at your perspicuity. One should take advantage of every opportunity to nod wisely at oneself.

I also did some other stuff! Internets stuff!

1: Here is an interview I did with delightful Australian SF blog Spec on Spec Fic. A sample:

2. How did you go about creating the Australia, and Melbourne, of the future for your book? What kinds of research did you have to do?

Living in Melbourne for five years was good research! It’s such a multi-cultural place, something I tried really hard to get across – that excellent blend of style, culture and voice. I wanted to get across the way the lanes and broad roads feel, that combination of wide spaces and squished, secretive alleys. I did a lot of research on the likely effects of climate change on Melbourne and Australia, none of it particularly cheerful. And, as always, since I know nothing about trees, I spent some time on horticulture sites. Trees are hard!

Trees are so hard, Internets.

2: I went to Oamaru and launched When We Wake from the familiar comforts of the Oamaru Library, a place that has been a wonder and a sanctuary to me since I was nine years old.

When We Wake Launch in Oamaru Library
When We Wake Launch in Oamaru Library

IT WAS AWESOME.

Fabulous turn out, great eats (thank you, Allen and Unwin! The cheese was magnificent!) and even the tech behaved! I did a sped up and truncated presentation of the Sleeping Beauty essays I’ve been doing for you, Internets, and it was very well received.

3: The trailer for When We Wake was released.

Oh, Internets.

Oh, Internets, I can’t even tell you how much I love this trailer. Everyone loves this trailer. ALL BLACK TAMATI ELLISON LOVES THIS TRAILER, TRUE STORY*.

Those who have read the book may have noticed that Tegan has an American accent in the trailer. Also, hair. But I cannot even bring myself to be mildly perturbed by these details, because I LOVE THIS TRAILER SO MUCH I WANT TO BAKE IT IN A PIE.

* He was at my mother’s school for an assembly and she played the trailer to the assembled students and afterwards he came and told her how much he liked it.

So, omg, and also, MUM. WHAT? OKAY.

Tell your friends

Internets! Some housekeeping/update notes for you.

While I settled into my first week of teacher training, When We Wake came out in Australia and New Zealand!

When We Wake Australasian cover

In all good bookshops and on all good bookshelves now.

People have been very kindly tweeting me (@kehealey) about how the book is making them cry. EXCELLENT. Please continue. Your tears give me strength.

My website needed revamping for this momentous occasion. The excellent Melanie Reese adapted an Elegant Themes design for KarenHealey.com, so now everything looks very clean and futuristic, which is just right for this book! I threw up some bonus content – you can find it at the When We Wake page.

In OTHER exciting news, When We Wake has garnered some great reviews from trade publications, including something I have coveted for a while now, which is a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus Reviews.

Some extracts:

STARRED REVIEW:“Accessible, thoughtful and compelling — science fiction done right.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[A] taut drama set in an unnervingly realistic future world. Tegan is a compelling and believable narrator, and her story is full of moral complexities that are as suspenseful and dramatic as they are topical and relevant.” – Bookseller + Publisher

“[A] very persuasive future world … smartly extrapolated from contemporary society. The story’s injustices unfold in a way that’s stark and unvarnished.” – Publishers Weekly

Thank you, reviewers, you make me very happy. I know that’s not your goal, nor should it be your purpose, but I find it an excellent byproduct.

I wrote a guest post for Behind A Million And One Pages on the cryonics of When We Wake and my most unscientific thought processes as I worked on the idea. My brand new copy of Briar Rose has arrived, so I can crack on to my next Sleeping Beauty essay, hopefully this weekend. Oh, Sunday, how you are rapidly filling up your to-do list already.

And, finally, I saw the first cut of the When We Wake US book trailer today. It is stunning; creepy and beautiful and made me want to sit down and read the book again. After writing and revising and reading and rereading my books umpteen times, this is not a reaction I usually have. I think we can safely say the trailer is effective. I will let you know where to find it as soon as I can!

Sleeping Beauties: Let’s Talk About The Future

Internets! It is time for the January Sleeping Beauties essay!

In the first essay, I discussed the European origins of the fairy tale. In the second essay I made some inflammatory statements about the Grimm brothers and told the sad story of Tchaikovsky yearning for critical approval.In the third, I talked about the Disneyfication of the story with the very pretty movie.

And now, Internets, it’s time to get political, with Sheri S. Tepper’s award-winning novel, Beauty

I quite like a didactic book, a book that tells me to think about things, a book that makes a clear argument for a proposition. I am also pretty obviously happy to include didactic elements in my own work. I mean, the messages in my books are not particularly subtle: The narratives that you are exposed to shape your life, so think about them! Don’t slut-shame people! Please don’t kill yourself!

Sheri S. Tepper is a writer of didactic books, and how. Her messages are also not super subtle: Patriarchy is really bad for everyone, but especially women. If humans keep treating this planet like our personal rubbish dump the species will regret it. And so on!

Tepper’s characterisation doesn’t usually appeal to me, but her ideas and world building certainly do. She’ll come up with a what if, and explore it. What would a gender separatist society look like and how would it function? (The Gate To Women’s Country) What if humans were missing a racial memory, and that caused our frequent bouts of cruelty and sadism? (The Margarets). Interesting questions! Interesting worlds!

Often kind of weirdly formulated arguments.

Because while Tepper is doing all these interesting things, I cannot help having questions about so many of the things that are just assumed to be true as she explores her worlds and makes her points. Such as, what’s with the genetically transmitted personality traits? Where are the queer people? Are you honestly equating people who create porn and cut down trees to actual rapists and murderers? Are you serious about this gender essentialism? For reals? Like… really?

beauty-sheri-s-tepper-paperback-cover-art

In Beauty, Tepper’s what-ifs go like this: what if the original Sleeping Beauty were born in 14th century England, the daughter to a duke? What if she had an illegitimate half-sister, born the same day, who looked so like her that the two girls regularly swapped clothes and played tricks? What if the curse of the fairy Carabosse was that the Duke’s daughter would prick her finger and sleep on the day she turned sixteen?

And what if it wasn’t Beauty who fulfilled the curse, but her sister Beloved?

While everyone else sleeps in the enchanted castle, Beauty is left to go her own way. She is promptly accidentally kidnapped to the late 21st century by a time travelling film crew, who have come back to film the 14th century; the death of magic.

The 21st is depicted as a horrible place, ruled by the notion of Fidipur (feed the poor), where the billions of people in the world are equally housed in horrific 100 square foot apartment hives and are dispensed tasteless food made from sea algae.

tiny apartment

The apartments presumably don’t look much like this adorable converted attic apartment, which is actually even smaller.

In this Fidipur future, all the forests are gone, all mammals except for humans are gone, all things of beauty and art are gone. People caught trying to get more are sent down the chutes to die. Beauty manages to go back far enough to hit the 20th century, where she can already see signs of Fidipur beginning and learns from other time travellers that after Fidipur, there is nothing – eventually, by about 2114, humanity ends in everyone going down the tubes, because they cannot cope with the grim horror of their lives. So many try to go down that the machines clog and break and the bodies rot.

This is only the beginning of a complicated and involving plot, which includes angels, the Devil, fairies, magical realist adventures in a created world, a trip to Hell, and the revelation that Beauty is personally responsible for a lot of fairy tale figures – she is not only herself, but the mother of Cinderella, the grandmother of Snow White, and the great-great grandmother of the Frog Prince.

But Beauty’s real mission is to make sure that the future she saw never takes places – or that if it does, humanity will survive afterwards. Eventually giving up on her ability to defeat the “gobble-god” of greed and ugliness, Beauty instead manages to create in Westfaire castle a kind of Ark of beauty and art. This place is designed to exist outside time until Fidipur’s time has gone, and the human race can be revived. With, I guess, a feudal political system, because reasons.


I always imagine Westfaire looking like Neuschwanstein

The big problem I have with Beauty (well, one of two – a brief follow-up on that tomorrow) is that I think the Fidipur scenario is both too good and too bad to be true.

It’s too good to be true, because the Fidipur future Beauty describes involves everyone getting the same tiny living space and the same bland food substitutes and having to live by the same austerity rules. This assumes that people in power will decide to actually feed the poor and to allocate resources equally. That doesn’t gel with what I’ve seen of human nature. I don’t accept that all the people with enough power to enforce these rules would be satisfied with their own stark little cell and tasteless pap. I just don’t think most relatively rich and powerful people would be overly concerned with feeding the poor. They sure aren’t now.

(And yet, in an environment where this kind of equal austerity is practiced and brutally enforced, the people in charge (who we never hear anything about) do not take measures designed to reduce overpopulation and free up resources, other than killing people who break the rules. They just maintain the austere status quo. I don’t get it.)

This future is also too bad to be true, because I don’t think the mass suicide of the enormous population and the complete destruction of any kind of beauty is a viable projection. Beauty’s idea of the worst possible future is one where everyone has a place to sleep and enough to eat. It’s a grim, squashed-down kind of existence, but people are, right now, surviving in much worse conditions. They shouldn’t have to for a second, but they are. And while suicide and depression are indeed rife among people actually living in grindingly horrible circumstances, they are not universal.

When We Wake is, like Beauty, a Sleeping Beauty story that pays a lot of attention to what the future might bring. In the future of When We Wake, there are dwindling resources. There is overpopulation and due to rising sea levels, less living space than ever before.

Funafuti atoll by mrlins @flickr

Funafuti atoll of Tuvalu, by marlins @flickr. Sorry about writing that you disappeared, Tuvalu.

These limited resources result, not in equality, but in an even greater disparity between the powerful and the powerless, those with all the advantages and those with very few.

Some reviewers are calling When We Wake a dystopia. I don’t think it is, but bear in mind I’m the same person who wrote about people getting torn in half and someone eating someone else’s brains in Guardian of the Dead, and was then legit surprised when people told me it was a horror novel. When We Wake is just how I think humans might act, extrapolated forward.

I think they will be both better and worse than Beauty tells us. In my 22nd century, art and beauty and music don’t disappear. People can still be wise and honest and brave. But they can also be selfish and cruel.

In When We Wake, one of the questions Tegan has to face is why she’s been brought back to life, at incredible expense, to be another mouth to feed in a world with billions of them. Who is being hurt by her revival? Who stands to profit? Why does she get to live again when thousands of refugees are treated as automatic criminals and kept in huge camps? What are the implications of her revival – what happens if it can be repeated, with the very many relatively wealthy people who have been cryogenically preserved in the century since her own death?

And does she, like Beauty, want to change the future?

The answers to the first questions are yet to be seen!

The answer to the last one is yes.

When We Wake cover final


When We Wake will be available from Little, Brown and Allen and Unwin in March/February 2013. Pre-order through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

Teen Movie Times: Easy A

Internets, Teen Movie Times (which, for those of you joining us now, is an ebook edition collecting my Teen Movie Times essays, plus bonus content!) has sold eighteen copies! Thank you very much; that is certainly handy.

Teen Movie Times cover

Here, then, is the promised essay on Easy A, one of two essays written especially for the book. The other, on The Craft, is an ebook exclusive, so if you’d like to have a peek at that, hit up the good people at Smashwords! At 1.99 USD, it’s cheap!

I love Easy A. It’s not perfect. It’s very far from perfect. But it hits so many of my sweet spots that it instantly became one of my favourite teen movies ever.

easy a poster

What Happens?

Olive Penderghast is a nobody, but a fairly cheerful one, who loves 80s teen movies, classic literature, and being witty. She has one real friend, an awesome family, and a crush on the school mascot. One Friday, to get out of a camping trip with friend Rhiannon’s weird hippie parents, she claims she has a date. She does! With a musical birthday card, while she makes shampoo mohawks in the shower.

shower mohawk

She’s very busy

But when asked to account for her date, a slip of the tongue leads Rhiannon to believe that Olive lost her virginity to the imaginary “George”, and Olive decides to take the misunderstanding and run with it for a little while.

It would be a relatively harmful lie, except that she’s overheard by Marianne, prissy and intolerant leader of the school’s Christian group. The rumour spreads at the speed of cellphone, and Olive is suddenly a somebody. A supposedly trampy somebody that everyone notices!

olive is a wit

Olive kind of enjoys having some attention, but while discussing The Scarlet Letter in English, one of Marianne’s horrifying cohorts declares that Hester Prynne brought the various horrors with which she was afflicted upon herself, since she was such a skank.

And then she turns to Olive:

Nina: Maybe youshould embroider a red A on your wardrobe, you abominable tramp.
Olive: Maybe you should get a wardrobe, you abominable twat.

Olive gets sent to the principal’s office, where he sentences her to clean-up detention, and tells her that if she uses a word like that again in his school he will expel her. This reaction to a fairly low-grade insult makes more sense when you learn that the movie script was originally rated R because of all the swearing and was edited down to a PG-13. The scene is much more comprehensible if you imagine that Olive did not say “twat”.

(What happens to Nina, if anything, we never discover, but for the record, anyone insulting someone else in those terms in my classrooms will not do so with impunity.)

Further confronted with how information travels around the school (“I heard you got suspended for calling Nina Howell a dick and punching her in the tit!”) Olive tries to confess to Rhiannon that she didn’t have sex. But Rhiannon refuses to believe it: “Yeah, right. Your secret is safe with me, ya little sexy monkey.”

Olive, properly ashamed of what she said, cleans with a will, and reconnects with old friend Brandon, who is also doing detention detail – for him, it’s because he got punched in the face for being gay (though closeted), and in the ensuing discussion, called the homophobic principal a fascist.

Olive confesses that she made up the sex, and Brandon decides that if she’s willing to lie about sex, she might be willing to beard up and lie about having sex with him. Olive refuses, then sympathises with his very real torment, and agrees. But she’s not doing any of this half-assed just telling people! They stage a (brilliant, ridiculous) raunchy performance at a massive party. Brandon gets admiration and respect!

Olive gets scorn and amused contempt. And a gift card from a grateful Brandon, who is no longer the target of every homophobic bully in school.

And lo, how things escalate.

Rhiannon, who formerly celebrated Olive’s apparent promiscuity, becomes nasty and holier-than-thou about Olive being a “dirty skank”, joining Marianne’s throng of Christian Olive-haters. In retaliation, Olive acquires a new wardrobe of awesome corsets and stitches a red letter A to every one.

Emma Stone as "Olive Penderghast" in Screen Gems' EASY A.

Bring it.

It seems as if every miserable male virgin in the school, tormented for his lack of manly sexual athleticism (how the double standards roll), wants Olive to lie for him the same way she did for Brandon. And because she is kind-hearted, she agrees – though giftcards had better be a-coming. (The way in which the value of those giftcards decreases is one of the movie’s most pointed commentaries on how female sexual expression is societally [and grossly] devalued through frequent use. It’s very funny, and very uncomfortable.)

And the guidance counsellor, Mrs Griffith, who is married to Olive’s favourite English teacher, reveals that she’s been having an affair with an (of age) student. When the student, Micah, is diagnosed with chlamydia, he tells his raging parents that he contracted it from Olive Penderghast.

Olive, aghast at the thought of the marriage breakup, tells Mrs Griffith that she’ll confirm Micah’s lie. And Mrs Griffith lets her.

Unfortunately, Micah is Marianne’s boyfriend, and she steps up her harassment campaign to the point of picketing the school, demanding Olive’s expulsion. And a guy that Olive thinks is inviting her for a date hands her a giftcard… then gropes her. Olive explains that she doesn’t actually do anything, she just says she does – and he tries again. “I paid you!” he yells at her when she shoves him off and oh my god, it’s awful. So awful.

Fortunately! Adorable mascot Woodchuck Todd, upon whom Olive has the big crush, offers to drive her home. He doesn’t believe the rumours, and he remembers that she was once a nice little girl who lied about kissing a scared little boy to protect his reputation. He asks her out, and she demurs, for the moment. Because she has to set the story straight!

So Olive approaches the people for whom she lied, wanting them to help her out.

She lied for them; will they not tell the truth for her? No! Because they are being gross dickbags. Brandon, upon whom Olive thinks she could rely, has run off with a big hulking black guy, leaving behind a note for his parents reading, “I’m gay, bitches!” and is therefore unreachable. And Mrs Griffith has decided it would be better to play a game called “Who would you believe?” rather than come clean.

Olive goes straight to Mr Griffith.

Olive: “Your wife has chlamydia! And she’s been sleeping with a student and she gave it to him and she’s trying to blame it on me.”
Mr Griffith: “…what?”
Olive: [backing away] “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

And then Olive runs home, the place where she is always safe and accepted.

Best family ever

Best family

Her mother, who is awesome, gives her a pep talk and actively claims a past identity as a slut: “I slept with a whole bunch of people – a slew, a heap, a peck!” (And, which I note with approval, while she didn’t enjoy people saying awful things about her, and credits incredibly low self-esteem as the reason for “getting around”, she doesn’t evince any regret for the actual promiscuity.)

Olive: Stop! Stop! Can you not see that I’m a mess?
Mom: No, you’re not, Olive. You’re wonderful.

With this encouragement, Olive decides that rather than relying on others to clear her name, she will tell her own truth.

To kick things off, with the assistance of Woodchuck Todd, she performs an awesome musical number before the basketball game – just like an 80s teen movie! – wearing her most skin-baring outfit, emblazoned with red ribbons and black lace.

And no scarlet letter A.

“Tune in to FreeOlive.com!” she yells, and heads home to tell her story.

Which is what she’s been doing, all through this movie.

At the very end, Todd turns up to to stand on a ride-on lawnmower and play “Don’t Forget About Me” through his ipod speakers, like an updated 80s movie hero, and it’s all very cute.

The Message: A genre-savvy heroine is a joy forever

Oh my god. Olive Penderghast. I am in love with her.

olive penderghast I love you

Olive Pendergast is literate, in exactly the way I like best. She’s familiar with classical literature (The Scarlet Letter), teen literature (“Judy Blume should have prepared me for that”) and pop culture (John Hughes movies). She’s intellectually curious, and she relates her lived experience to the created experiences she’s watched or read about. She’s intelligent (shown, not told!), linguistically sharp, and confident in her assessment of cultural works.

She’s also a fake redhead happy to spend a weekend at home painting her nails and singing in the shower.

I was basically that girl at seventeen. I’m pretty much that girl now; only with more experience and independence, always a plus.

The thing is, as Olive points out, cultural products really do reflect and affect our lives. Sometimes mean gossip really does take over and you become the talk of the school and it’s total lies. Man, the crap I used to gullibly believe about my fellow students. No one was giving their boyfriend blowjobs in the bushes by the senior common room, 14 year old Karen! That would have been beyond stupid, and also you attended an all girls’ school.

Olive is aware of the genres she inhabits (teen movie, romantic comedy, literary retelling), and thank goodness. We can understand that Cady Heron is too culturally ignorant to know that her life is a teen movie staple, and it’s entirely believable that Cher Horowitz is so self-absorbed that she totally fails to realise she’s living out one of the greatest works in the English language. But we couldn’t forgive the intelligent, perceptive Olive for not being clear-eyed enough to recognise that her experience bears a close relationship to that of Hester Prynne.

Luckily, we don’t have to. Not only does Olive realise that The Scarlet Letter is directly applicable to her situation, she makes explicit reference to it by pinning a scarlet letter A to every piece in her new scandalously sexy wardrobe. Take that, everyone who didn’t read the book! (Which includes me – I have the feeling Hawthorne is only really canonical to American institutions. Any Hawthorne fans reading? Make your case!)

The Scarlet Letter

This cultural literacy doesn’t mean Olive can’t be surprised or hurt or make mistakes in response to just how horrifying the (apparently school sanctioned!) slut-shaming of her becomes, but it does add an excellent meta-awareness to her struggles. And it means she has the sense of humour and spectacle to put together an awesome musical number, “for no apparent reason”, with the very apparent reason of attracting eyeballs to her webcast.

The other thing I love about Olive is her strong moral compass. She makes a lot of mistakes, but the majority of them are out of simple self interest, or a desire to make life better for others, not malice. Her only two truly spiteful actions are calling Nina a twat and telling Mr Griffith about his wife’s infidelity, and in both cases she was more than provoked.

Of course, she is not entirely altruistic. Olive’s initial lie to Rhiannon that she had a date was because she didn’t want the drama of camping with her friend, and the movie does an excellent job of showing how easily lies multiple and oppress the sense of self.

Olive consequently feels complicit in what has been done to her – she has been lying, and partially in pursuit of the notoriety that her fictional sexual exploits has given her. But, perhaps because she underestimates the prurient source of that notoriety, claiming the reputation of a slut ends in others making her miserable. There’s a sense of bafflement in Olive’s distaste at how quickly the situation has got out of hand.

Why should being a slut – or having the reputation of one – result in this emotional disaster? There’s nothing inherently immoral or malicious in being sexually promiscuous, something the movie underlines in the person of Olive’s mother, who has not had youthful promiscuity mar her ability to be an excellent parent and warm, witty woman. Why should it matter how sexually promiscuous Olive is or isn’t? Why should anyone care?

The problem is that even in these ostensibly non-Puritan times, people make it their business to police the sexuality of teenagers – especially that of teenage girls – and it is entirely and inexcusably disgusting. From picketing outside the school (seriously, where was the principal?) to lying nonconsentually about your activities with someone else (you SUCK, Micah) to comments in class, it is all gross, because unless what’s happening is illegal or consensually dubious, it is the sole interest of the parties involved.

Olive, by telling her story, by expressing the meta implication of her story, by making the act of telling her story the narrative structure of her movie, is actively claiming ownership over both the story and her sexuality. This is her final message: what she does with her virginity and her body is nobody’s goddamn business.

Olive cannot alter the minds of others, nor stop what they say about her – but she can stand witness to what she did and what was done to her, and make it clear that whatever they think or say, she knows what is right. That is an excellent thing for a young woman to realise, and a wonderful message to impart to others.

I especially love that the audience, as much as her classmates, don’t get to see what happens next. We have, like them, been invited to this account of her fictitious sex life, but when Olive Penderghast says her actual sexuality is nobody’s business, she means us too. We don’t get to know when and if she ever loses her virginity. We don’t get to make judgements; we don’t get to care. She and her new boyfriend kiss and ride off on the lawnmower, and that’s all she privileges us to know.

Lawnmower riding

Other Things

– This movie is set in California and is, despite this, kinda super white, with the sole notable exception being Olive’s brother, Chip. He is a delightful notable exception but it is… California. So. Yeah.

– Fat shaming a-plenty in the person of Evan, who is always eating junk because, you guys, this is hilarious, fat people are so fat because they eat crap all the time! In the Easy A javascript game you can find on the website, the message from Evan’s character includes an apology for his giftcard being covered in mustard. HAW HAW.

– Let us consider Mrs Griffith. She: 1) Slept with a student 2) Refused to listen to Olive telling her she wasn’t sexually active, instead pushing condoms on her 3) Allowed Olive to lie and say that she had contracted and transmitted an STD in order to protect her job and crumbling marriage and 4) Would not confess even when Olive’s life became terrible and she was facing potential expulsion. Worst guidance counsellor ever or WORST GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR EVER?

– On a POSITIVE NOTE, Olive’s family, best family ever, y/y? Her parents are wise, supportive, funny. They’re willing to let Olive do her thing, but there for her whenever she wants them to be. It’s a non-nuclear family – Olive is her mother’s biological daughter, but unrelated by blood to either her stepfather or her adopted brother. I want Stanley Tucci to be my stepdad, as well as my heroic inspiration as super serum races through my body, my civil servant husband as I learn how to cook French food, and my genial yet evil interviewer at the Hunger Games.

stanley and cher

Also be my stalwart support as my burlesque club is threatened by outstanding mortgage payments

– – –

Did you like this essay? Would you like to read more, on Clueless, Bring It On, Empire Records, The Craft, and more? Then pick up a DRM-free ebook edition of Teen Movie Times for 1.99 USD! It’s good, I promise.

Teen Movie Times: The Ebook!

Hi, Internets! How have you been?

I have been working on a Secret Project!

You see, I am going to train to be an English teacher in Christchurch next year. This is awesome! I also have to pay for it, and live on something while I train, which is less awesome.

The course fees, and some of the living costs are covered by a government student loan (sigh), but it turns out living in a city that is reconstructing after a massive earthquake is pretty damn expensive. My rent is fortunately relatively low, but my food, power, and transport costs promise to be somewhat horrendous. I do have savings, and a credit card, and an eventual advance eventually coming at some point unknown (oh, publishing). I will certainly survive, but circumstances may be a little grim for a while.

Hence, Secret Project!

Internets, remember my Teen Movie Times essays from earlier in the year? I have put them in an ebook!

Teen Movie Times cover

The essays in Teen Movie Times have been revised and updated, with introductions, and the elimination of irritating typos, and all that kind of thing. Also, I have written new content, including a full essay on everyone’s favorite “Wiccan” movie, The Craft! This essay is exclusive to ebook readers.

The Table of Contents:

Foreword
Chapter 1 – Clueless
Chapter 2 – Bring It On
The Five Most Obvious Things The Movies Get Wrong About American Teen Life
Chapter 3 – Saved!
Chapter 4 – But I’m a Cheerleader
The Five Best Teen Movies That Take Place Somewhere Other Than the USA
Chapter 5 – Empire Records
Chapter 6 – The Craft
Chapter 7 – Mean Girls
The Five Best Movies Featuring Amanda Bynes (I Love Her Face)
Chapter 8 – Easy A
Chapter 9 – Romancing the Sro

Internets, you can have this sterling piece of pop culture criticism for the low low price of 1.99 USD, in almost any format your heart could desire, from the excellent people at Smashwords.

I know this is a time when many worthy causes appeal for help, and many people are watching their budgets like horrified hawks. But if you can spare the cash, and you like my writing, I would really appreciate it if you would buy this book. It’s good, I promise.

Signal boosting for the book is also much appreciated!

In preemptive gratitude, Internets, and also as a holiday treat for those who cannot afford the book, but shouldn’t miss out on all the new material either, I will shortly be publishing my other new full essay, on my favorite teen movie of the decade, Easy A.

Enjoy the book, internets! If you have half as much fun reading it as I did working on it, your experience should be value for money.