If I had a dollar for every time I unhealthily projected my entire identity onto a fictional character, so much that talking about them has basically become a way to expose my deepest, darkest secrets without anyone Knowing, I would probably have enough money to pay for the psychiatric help I obviously need.
I’m just gonna go ahead and post this (in all its abhorrently personal and unspeakably revealing glory) before I grow wise enough to decide against it in 3….2….
RICHARD PAPEN from The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I am not too proud to admit that the things I’ve grown to loath about Richard Papen were everything I’ve always abhorred about myself: his naïveness, his aimlessness, the way he trusted too easily and could not see into the cracks of the world, the way his imagination quickly fashions people into something they seldom are, the innocuous lies, always ready on his lips, the deep pang of loneliness and dejection he’s always suffered and which often prompted him to change everything, even the fabric of himself—adorning, embroidering, essentially reinventing the less glamorous aspects of hismself—just to fit in, god, that torch of delusion he unknowingly carries…The realization didn’t dawn until later, when I was writing my review, and the reminder still tastes a little like self-flagellation.
NONA from Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
I would never dare claim to be as fascinating a person as Nona but her character, so involute and multifaceted, spoke to me on a deep spirituel level: Nona is the girl who always wears her heart on her sleeve, like a bright banner to attract the world’s snipers, the girl who holds onto her closed ones with a desperate, almost fear-laced quality and to whom friendships are more sacred than any faith. But she’s also the girl who often surrenders to the deeper pull of darkness, her bloodlust unslaked, letting the rage inside her loose in a spasm of violence, the girl who could never tamp down the beehive thrum of hate and rage and despair. That dichotomy in her character…a little too familiar.
KATHERINE from The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
Now, I am definitely not a math prodigy like the MC so no relating to her on that part which is unfortunate (mostly for my parents). A little fun fact: I graduated high school with a major in math and a minor in physics and biology which, understandably, baffles people when they learn that I am currently majoring in Languages and English Literature in college. It bewilders them even more when I tell them I was good at it but never happy doing it. I mean come on. Who wants to talk numbers when you can have in-depth, completely unironic discussions with your professor about how all Shakespeare’s works are gay? I did relate to her, however, on this: being an immigrant and learning that ethnicity, race—these things don’t matter until they do, but mostly, how her passion for math mirrored my passion for literature, that want, hard and spare, and how it took hold of her, driving out the fears, the ones people tried to give her, tried to put into her heart with dark looks and patronizing smiles…I understood it all too well.
ISABELLE from Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
So this books is a bold, subversive and startingly original retelling of Cinderella that recasts her evil stepsister, sabelle, as a hero in her own right and thus, illuminates a known story from a new evolving, multifaceted and frankly, much more RELATABLE perspective. For someone who’s the whole package (bitter, ugly AND petty), this book was a huge deal for me. I finally got to see myself reflected on the page. This is why representation matters!!!!
CIRCE from Circe by Madelline Miller
Isn’t it just fascinating that the stories of myth’s most reviled women are oftentimes the ones that strike the deepest chord within you? Unlike Circe, I am not a goddess cinched to human shape, but the way she thrived in captivity made me all too aware of a deep-seated need to fuck off to an enchanted island that is only seen every ten years and is unreachable by men and live with ancient queens of myth and be so much a part of each other that they become like a second soul inside my skin.
ZAYNEB from Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali
This was one the most personal reviews that I’ve ever written, and it took me a couple of days to muster enough temerity to post it. Zayneb is a Hijabi Muslim and the condescension and malevolence that she was continuously made to endure in this book struck me, but it didn’t surprise me. Like a reaction you’re used to but that hasn’t lost any of its sting. I don’t think I could have contemplated such cruelty, were my mind not full of the sight of my own past experiences, had the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand not woken an old emotion, one I had never had much use for: Fear. The kind that clams down on you like a vise. The kind that seeps into the marrow of your bone and becomes as much a part of you as your molecules. It was very hard reading this book. Sometimes, I faltered, halted, and just to put down the book and…breathe.
NIKOLAI LANTSOV from King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
There’s something so startlingly recognizable about Nikolai’s inner battles. I was still turning it over in my head when my best friend—with whom I buddy-read this book—called it “a lowkey metaphor for depression.” And it was exactly what was needed to shine a light on the jumble of thoughts whirring inside my mind and make it gleam. I, then, realized that the only difference is that Nikolai’s darkness took the shape of a demon. It coalesced, black of skin, fire-eyed and huge. And what teeth it had, what a howl. And, Nikolai, too, could only make war with it. War with the impossible. War with the monstrous thing seething within him. Nothing less than war. Every single day. Chapter 30, in particular, held my heart paralyzed within my chest. We read as Nikolai engages in a conversation with the demon that’s taken hold inside him, and there was this moment when he knew, with stark clarity, that the vicious words the monster hurled at him did not come from it but from his own innermost self, guilt-poisoned, anxiety-ridden, and fear-ravaged—the fear that had been with him ever since he had words to put around it: that he would never be enough, that the country he loved so dearly would never love him back, that he was nothing more than a leftover piece of something broken. It was so immensely arresting to read that chapter and witness as his thoughts curved and rose, gradually widening, until Nikolai is emboldened by the luculent realization that “ he would never, ever turn his back on a wounded man—even if that man was him.” That line still rattles in my head. I know I would never abandon a friend when they’re hurting, sometimes I have to remind myself to show the same kindness to myself.
FELICITY MONTAGUE from The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats & Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
This book gave so much validation to my aro-ace heart and dragged to the fore so many important discussions about the community’s experiences. Lady’s Guide challenges the notion that romantic love is the end goal of all forms of love, highlighting the fact that other forms of love can be just as fulfilling. Platonic love and romantic love are not ranks, tiers, or levels. They are not above or below each other. Romance is not a promotion and being content with friendship is not a demotion. Romance is not “more than” a purely platonic relationship. Platonic love and romantic love are concepts that exist on equal terms, side by side. Sometimes, they happen to coincide. Other times, they don’t intersect at all. It’s important to understand that neither is inherently more or less valuable than the other and it’s solely up to each and every individual.
ROJA from Blanca Y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
I wanted to hold these characters’ hands. Each of one of them is embroiled in a struggle for acceptance in a world that fears and distrusts them for who they are. Anyone who has ever been excluded can understand what they felt—anyone who’s ever felt heavy and trudging and trapped down here on the surface of the world while everything is slicing at you from the harshest angles. But Page’s character and arc resonated with me the most. As someone who identifies as queer, I related so much to this: to hardening yourself by choosing to lock out everyone else—the ugliest stripe of self-preservation, born out of disappointment and weariness, to layering cynicism and distrust upon your life and thinking it futile to try to alter the pattern when fear had carved so deep a path. It’s a lesson I’m still turning over in my head, trying to learn the shape of it.
ALED LAST from Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
Everything about this book was resonant. And it’s not just the memes and the music references and the general sensation of nostalgia and loss and isolation, but just the feeling of closeness, like a warm and soft presence tracing on your back. Like someone reaching through time and space to grasp your fingers. Like you and the characters are ascending bodies to meet up a few miles above earth to chill.
But Aled. Aled’s character struck a deep chord within me: the way he felt self-conscious about the different ways he expressed himself and his tendency to oversimplify the effect his existence has on every single thing he interacts with, his struggles with anxiety and extreme depression and the concept of accepting his friends’ help vs. Feeling like he’s blackmailing them into being nice or feeling sorry for him, the way he grew up measuring his strength by how much pain he could endure and the fathomless violence it took for him to be this soft and gentle. The experience was genuinely cathartic.
AND THAT IS IT! Writing this post was, and I’m not being hyperbolic, better than any therapy session I’ve ever had. Would definitely recommend!