May. 13th, 2010

manifesta: (3 Weeks for Dreamwidth)
A quick recap: I'm giving away 2 books for three-weeks-for-dw [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw (aka 3W4D). 2 winning participants will get to choose from a selection of books that I'll be analyzing over the course of the 3 weeks. Chosen books will range from romance to fantasy to YA. Here is the introductory post and giveaway rules, and all giveaway-related posts will be filed under the book giveaway and three weeks for dreamwidth tags.

When I originally decided to do this giveaway-analysis combo, this was the book I was thinking of: Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer

Genre: Historical young adult
Release: September 2002
This wasn't the original cover, but it seems to be the only one availiable in paperback.

Jacky is a plucky London orphan girl who pretends to be a boy and enlists at a young age on a British military ship. She does so because she realizes that it's easier to live as a boy than it is as a girl, especially as an orphan.

One of the things that both baffled and irritated me for a long time was Jacky's longing to be a lady. It just didn't make sense--she's on a ship! Climbing the rigging! Firing cannons! And lest she lack in heterosexual sexual experiences, she even gets to snog cute boy(s)!  Really, who would settle for being a lady and give all that up? 

Jacky defies stereotypes. She's loud, brash, and blatantly flirtatious to the point of making ambiguous moral decisions, but she's also whiny, dramatic, and occasionally very irrational. She's got tons of flaws but a whole hell of a lot of charm. She can keep her head in a life or death crisis but burst into hysterical tears at the thought of far less severe corporal punishment. To wit: She doesn't make any kind of sense.

The book I would have preferred, the book I had expected, was a blatantly pro-female book that had an Alanna the Lioness-esque character who loathed any mention of restrictive forms of femininity and preferred men's roles. Being feminine was fine and all, but to prefer it? After experiencing the agency of living as a boy?

It's not a neat and tidy book. It's messy. Jacky's messy. She doesn't fit inside a box. She wants what any girl wants when she's lived a life of destitution but isn't too old to remember the time when she was a lady. Unlike the Alanna archetype, she hadn't chosen to take on men's roles--her survival had depended on it. She hadn't had the chance to experience what life could be like as a woman beyond her life as a girl on the streets. There's a world of difference there, hinging on choice and privilege. I may want her to want to continue kicking ass as a pretend-boy, but she's experienced the military's jagged edges, and while she's no stranger to rough living, she prefers comfort. When juxtaposed with the inelegant lifestyle of a ship's boy, a profession chosen out of necessity rather than desire, the luxurious life of a lady might begin to look good to me, too.

Her relationship with _______ further reaffirmed her desires for more traditional gender roles. He's conservative in his wishes for what he wants her to be--a lady--but tolerant of her wily ways. She wants to be a lady as much if not more so than he wants her to, and their mutual desires create a feedback loop. Despite this, Jacky really is quite the mischevious creature, and becoming a lady does not come to her as easily as being a boy.

(This isn't to say that the plot is about her becoming a lady. It's not, but it does influence some of her choices.)

Is Bloody Jack feminist? I'd say so. Jacky's simply not the traditional feminist heroine.

As an aside, the first two books of the series are not my favorite. Jacky's character become much more developed and nuanced in the later books, and her perception of her own sexuality and gender become clearer. If a giveaway winner has read the first one but not some of the later books, I'd cheerfully be willing to substitute this one for another in the series (given that it's availiable in mass market paperback or ebook).

Want to win Bloody Jack? Hand around until Friday, May 14th when I open a post for comments!


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