Tithe 3: YA Parenting Tips

After a run-in with magic and a literal faerie knight, Kaye’s life returns to the mundane. For the most part, anyway. The majority of this chapter gives us a snapshot of what Kaye’s life looks like now that she’s in New Jersey. There’s only a few hints of otherworldly fae in this chapter at all. The first comes at the beginning of the chapter, when Kaye dreams of the old faerie friends that visited her as a child. It’s a weird and eerie scene, and I’m still not sure what some of the images in it are supposed to represent. But, it’s a dream, and doesn’t have to make sense.

The only other instance of magic is when Kaye receives a note from her old friends, delivered via acorn. The note informs her that one of her fae friends is “gone” and that “everything is danger”.

One thing I realized I liked about this book as that Kaye never really stopped believing in her so-called imaginary friends, Spike, Lutie, and Gristle. When she comes back to New Jersey, she still looks for them and wants them to come see her. Janet has accused Kaye of making up stories about them, saying they weren’t real, but Kaye never says they were fictional. This saves us a lot of time: she doesn’t need to be convinced they are real so that she can start the adventure. There’s no point in denying them, since the reader already knows that this is a fantasy story that will involve faeries at some point.

Throughout the day, Kaye contemplates the note, but mostly ends up daydreaming about Roiben. This is something I would normally give a female protagonist crap for, but I was a sixteen-year-old girl once, doing the same kind of thing. Coming home giddy after finding common ground with a boy and quickly developing crushes were just part of my repertoire of tricks. But I think Kaye is balanced out better than other lovestruck teenage girls in YA novels. Her romance with Roiben is the B-plot of the book, and there’s enough pushing her – finding out what happened to her friend Gristle, for instance – that her story’s interesting, and not all about the boy. So I’ll allow some daydreaming on her part.

And though Kaye acts like a teenager, so does her mother. This is a trend I’ve noticed in YA novels: the majority of the time, the protagonist’s parents are totally incompetent, out of the picture or distant, if they even bother appearing in the story at all.

I paused while writing this to take a look at the YA and middle-grade novels sitting on my bookshelves and think about the protagonists’ parents in each one. In several of them, the parents are dead or mysteriously absent throughout. In fact, the only novel I could find (though I’m sure there are others) which heavily featured parents was The Book Thief, where Liesel’s strong bond with Hans is one of the book’s main themes.

Kaye’s father is absent, but Kaye’s mom doesn’t really fit any of the aforementioned categories. She loves her daughter and stays in her life, but she’s also selfish and immature. She’s been drunk or drinking in all her appearances so far, and still dreams of the day she “makes it” as a musician. She even looks down on old friends who have gone “respectable” by starting a business of their own and leaving music. In some ways, she’s more childish than her teenage daughter. That said, I do like her relationship with Kaye. She obviously cares for her daughter, even if she doesn’t understand just how to take care of her.

I only noticed this trend after a friend (who is also a mom and a YA author) asked just why so many parents are so bad at taking care of the protagonists. That is, if they haven’t died horribly before story begins. The best answer I could come up with is that parents who are really paying attention to their kids lives are not going to let them go off to magical danger zones so they can save the world.

Dead parents are a catalyst for adventure, neglectful parents allow the adventure to happen, and dedicated parents are obstacles.

So if you discover that your child is part of some world-saving prophecy, just leave ’em alone. They’ll be fine.

Tithe 2: Tall, Dark, and Brooding

I really expected that the magic of re-reading Tithe for the first time in years would be gone as soon as Kaye stumbled across her love interest, Roiben. I opened the book, armed with my incredible ability to nit-pick everything, and came away more or less satisfied with the second chapter.

No, let’s be honest, I got totally sucked in again.

It didn’t really start that way, though. Kaye flees the carousel and her own embarrassment, and starts on her way home. She’s more upset about how she made the broken carousel horse stand up on its own than about Kenny groping her, which makes sense, I guess, but in her situation, that’s not the thing I’d be hyper-focusing on. When she does think about Kenny, she’s more worried about what Janet will think, and what Kenny will tell people.

But the opening of the chapter is rendered less frustrating to me thanks to the lovely descriptions of Kaye’s walk home. I can vividly picture the wet woods at night, walking through the rain in the dark, cold and scared. I’m really envious of Holly Black’s descriptive abilities. She can make the scene come to life and paint a picture with her words, without making it drag on.

As Kaye makes her way home, she comes across a beautiful wounded man. She realizes that he is a faerie, but not like the faeries that were her childhood friends. The ones she had seen as a child were small and mischievous and playful, what most people would think of when they hear the word “faery”. Roiben, who Kaye finds here, is tall and handsome, more a warrior elf than a fun-loving sprite. The modern idea of fae is more like what we see in Disney movies: beautiful winged women granting wishes and turning you into a princess or a real boy. Tinkerbell may actually be closer to a traditional fae, with her jealousy nearly leading to the death of Wendy.

But for the most part, that Disney idea was what I grew up with. Charming creatures that would help you with your housework and friendly elves that made toys and shoes. A character like Roiben, in my book, was an entirely different species, like an elf from Lord of the RingsTithe was my first real introduction to the more traditional look at faeries, seeing their dark and dangerous side that went hand-in-hand with their beauty.

Roiben, by the way, was exactly what my fourteen-year-old self was looking for. Tall, handsome, dark and mysterious. He was in pain, he was broken, and I found that irresistible. Five years later, I found my own beautiful angsty man and knew that I could fix him, that I could be the light to his darkness.

If there are any teenage girls out there reading this now: I do not recommend attempting this. You cannot fix him, you will only get hurt in the process. Love your tall, dark, and brooding man in fiction, and leave him there.

Before I finish up this post, there is just one thing I need to point out.

She let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.

It’s not a bad line, and I can’t think of a better way to describe that sudden un-tightening of your chest after your see relief from a tense situation. But this line is used so much in fiction that it’s almost become another character. I know I’m guilty of using it way too much.

To be totally honest, this is probably something I would have never noticed, if not for one of my favorite tweets ever.

Someday I want to write a YA novel where the main character lets out a breath she knew damn well that she was holding.

P.S.: I’m on Twitter, like all the cool kids: https://twitter.com/nortonwriter14

Tithe 4: Enchantment? Enchantment!

The fourth chapter of Tithe remains mostly in the mundane world, but here we get a second look at Janet’s older brother, Corny. The reader was introduced to him at the end of the first chapter, where he’s downright threatening.

Then he would drive around, cruise past all the local rutting joints, imagining he had a semi-automatic rifle in the car and counting how many he could have gotten. ‘Pow,’ he’d say, softly, to rolled-up windows as a brown-haired boy with broad shoulders and a backwards baseball cap ran up to the giggling girls behind the window of a red truck. ‘Pow. Pow.’

This reads very differently for me in 2018 than it did in 2004, years after Columbine but before Virginia Tech. Because in my life then, shootings happened, but they happened somewhere else. They weren’t at my school, and they weren’t at my doorstep.

But now it seems like we can’t turn on the news without hearing another story about gun violence, to the point where it’s almost become white noise. I was more innocent the first time I opened Tithe, and Corny’s introduction just seemed creepy to me. But now he’d be the “lone wolf”, the potential threat. I don’t find that to be true to his character at all, which makes his opening sequence all the more off-putting. Though it makes me wonder: if not for Kaye’s arrival, would he have eventually gone through with it? That idea alone is far scarier to me than any of the magical dangers Kaye faces.

Kaye doesn’t know about Corny’s inner life, though, and stops by his trailer to see him while Janet’s at school. Fourteen-year-old me immediately warmed up to him after he and Kaye discuss comics, especially because Corny references shonen-ai, gay romance manga. This is also how Kaye discovers that Corny is gay.

This is a trope I’ve seen a couple times, where a character is outed as gay because they have gay porn. And, because I saw this in fiction, I used to think that this was the main way people came out. I’d seen it done in Tithe, obviously, and the film Saved!, so I was curious if this trope had been used elsewhere. However, a poorly worded Google search left me with some…interesting results, and I decided not to delve in further.

Corny does have a spectacularly nerdy coming out story, though.

It’s no big deal. One night at dinner I said, ‘Mom, you know the forbidden love that Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too.’ It was easier for her to understand that way.

I want to point out here that until 2009, this was the only thing I knew about Star Trek.

Once Janet arrives home, she and Kaye go to a diner to meet some friends. There Kaye is peppered with questions about her mom being in a band, and one character asks if her mother sleeps with her boyfriends. I’m curious is if this was meant to be foreshadowing for Valiant, the second novel in the Tithe universe, in which the protagonist runs away after discovering her mom is doing just that.

Janet’s boyfriend, Kenny, leaves to use the bathroom and Kaye follows. Here it’s revealed that Kaye has done something to him, and that he can’t stop thinking about her. Kaye doesn’t know what she’s done, if anything, and soon Kenny starts kissing her. It gets sexual very quickly, and Kaye can’t decide if she wants to push him away or keep going. I’d forgotten all about this scene, and most of the Kenny subplot. Which is to say it took me by surprise, and was really uncomfortable to read through.

I’m not sure if it gets better or worse when Roiben comes into the diner, shortly after Janet catches Kenny and Kaye together. Kaye’s conversation with Roiben is one of the most important scenes in the book, as it sets up a major plot point not just for the end of Tithe, but its sequel, Ironside.

Kaye learns that Roiben did kill her faerie friend Gristle, because he was ordered to do so by his mistress. She doesn’t find out exactly why his mistress would order him to do that, but does wind up with a far more important piece of information: Roiben’s full name. She doesn’t know why faeries don’t like to give out their true names, only that it would piss him off. That is, until she tells him, “Kiss my ass, Rath Roiben Rye.”

After which he proceeds to throw her on the floor of the diner and literally kiss her ass.

It’s a little funny, and a little scary, and Kaye’s friends don’t know what’s going on. All they saw was Kaye kissing Kenny, then her getting thrown around by a stranger. Janet and her friend Fatima take the rather startled Kaye outside. Janet is furious at Kaye, and has every right to be. It’s such a change from her trying to protect Kaye at the beginning of the book. Granted, she just saw her best friend making out with her boyfriend. Most people wouldn’t react calmly and rationally to that. If I had been in Janet’s shoes, at age 16, I know I’d be calling her a slut and probably a lot more.

The thing that bothers me is that I’d probably react the same, even now. I’d like to think that once the initial shock is over, I’d be able to handle it with some nuance.

But I also know I wouldn’t take, “sorry, I accidentally enchanted your boyfriend” as an excuse.

Tithe Prologue + Chap. 1: Me At 14

The newest book in the line-up is Tithe by Holly Black, and I’m approaching it with a little trepidation. Because I really liked Tithe, and I hope by the end of this read-through, I can continue liking it.

This is an important book for me, and that may partially be because the main character and I share the same name: Kaye. Even now, I get a small thrill from seeing my name printed in a book. But more than that, I consider Tithe my introduction to YA fiction. There’s magic, violence, romance, with an edgy teen girl taking the lead. This was my window into urban fantasy, and epigraphs, two things that I came to love. Tithe was easily one of the most influential books when it came to my own fiction writing in adolescence and young adulthood.

After I bought Tithe, I was so excited to get into it that I actually read the prologue. Before this, I’d always thought that a prologue was like an introduction to a book, written by some distinguished author about how great the book is. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a prologue is actually part of the story, and I read prologues from there on out. So you could say Holly Black introduced me to prologues as well.

The book opens with our protagonist, Kaye Fierch, a sixteen-year-old who travels with her mother’s band. At the end of a show, one of the band members attempts to stab Kaye’s mom. Kaye stops him, and she and her mother decide to go to New Jersey, where our story kicks off.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get as sucked into the prologue as I did when I first read this. The intrigue isn’t there, and the near-stabbing was written very matter-of-factly, so it’s not terribly thrilling the second time around. I was worried that the first chapter – and the rest of the book – would be disappointing.

I was wrong on that count. At least, regarding the first chapter. It opens with Kaye and her friend Janet on a beach in New Jersey, and there’s some decent foreshadowing here. It’s mentioned how the city always smells like iron, and she always had the stinging taste of metal in her throat. The real meaning of this becomes apparent later in the book, when Kaye discovers her Otherworldly roots.

It also sent me back to a more innocent time, when I was fourteen and reading Tithe for the first time. At one point, Janet tells Kaye, “your hair’s fucked up.” I was a fairly voracious reader, but that was the first time I had ever read “fuck” in one of my books. I was so startled (and a bit giggly) that I had to show it to my mom, who scoffed. I think she had a couple second thoughts about me reading this.

It brought me back to just being fourteen, how much I loved to run when the wind was blowing hard, and getting so wound up and “high on life” just by a lively environment around me. I was the kid who danced in the rain during wild thunderstorms, who would have stuck my head out of car windows to feel the wind if my mom had let me. I loved to go fast, to feel wild and alive.

She was giddy with night air, burning like the white-hot moon. Everything smelled wet and feral like it did before a thunderstorm, and she wanted to run, swift and eager, beyond the edge of what she could see.

That, and Kaye and Janet aren’t really on the same page. They’re still friends, but Janet doesn’t really “get” Kaye. While Janet is worried about Kaye meeting boys, Kaye wants to swim naked in the ocean and look for incubi. They have completely different priorities, and the only reason they’re friends now is out of habit.

My best friend in high school didn’t really “get” me, either. We loved each other, but we would get wound up over things that the other wouldn’t care about in the slightest. The last time I saw her in person was years ago, and we realized that the only thing we had in common anymore was the past. So many people I grew up with were friends out of habit, and comfort. In college, I was stunned when I realized that my friends were my friends because they liked me, not just because we’d gone to school together for ten years.

Kaye and Janet leave the beach to meet Janet’s friends at an abandoned carousel on the boardwalk. This is a setting that I love. The carousel house is broken and disarrayed, a place that used to be bright and joyful now a place for teenagers to break into and drink. As Kaye explores it further, she discovers a beautiful carousel horse that had been left behind because its legs were shattered. It’s a place full of grit and hopelessness, but there’s a hidden beauty in it. It’s a good summary for the whole story: the blue-collar backdrop, the dangerous but enchanting realm of the faeries.

While exploring, Kaye thinks about her imaginary faerie friends she had when she was a kid, before moving to Philadlpheia with her mom.

But they never came when she was in Philadelphia. And now she was sixteen and felt like she had no imagination left.

That second sentence is…haunting. I’ve talked a bit about imagination and growing up in my read through of The Magician’s Nephew, but mainly in the context of keeping it alive once we’re no longer children. Here is something different: the loss of just that. Like the day you pick up your toys and find that the magic was gone, and the stories you told with them were meaningless. When you come to see that your toys were just plastic, there’s no secret world in your wardrobe or monsters under your bed. That you look at the world around you, and understand that there are no secrets left to uncover.

It’s something that I’ve been worrying about for a long time: if everything I write is just parroted from a better author, if I have no original ideas. If everything has been done before, what’s left for me to create? How do I repeat the same ideas and make them mine?

That feeling doesn’t go away when you mature. It only grows, and reminds you that you’re running out of time.

…That got grim.

As I mentioned, the carousel is where Kaye meets Janet’s friends, who have gathered to drink and smoke. I was a pretty straitlaced kid, and I grew up to be a pretty straitlaced adult. I used to think that Janet and her friends were just bad kids for drinking and smoking. And while I can’t say I approve of sixteen-year-olds drinking bourbon, there are so much worse things they could be doing. No, it’s not good, but it’s still better than doing harder drugs or crimes other than drinking underage. Even if it’s not a good trait to have, it’s normal for some teenagers to drink and smoke underage. Since I’ve gotten older, I have a new definition of “bad”, and underage drinking doesn’t even crack the top 10 of “worst things you can do”.

Kaye wanders away from Janet’s friends, and without knowing it, performs magic by making a broken carousel horse stand on its own. She is caught by Janet’s boyfriend, Kenny. He takes a chance to cop a feel, causing Kaye’s shirt to rip when she stumbles, shocked.

Janet spots this, and she immediately goes after Kenny. She doesn’t accuse Kaye of trying to steal her boyfriend, but rushes in to defend her friend against someone that she loves, someone she’s devoted to.

I didn’t think about this much when I first read Tithe. Because, obviously, my friends would be at my side in that unlikely scenario. But I’ve learned a lot more about the world since then. I’ve learned about victim blaming and women who tear other women down. I’ve had my own #MeToo story. Janet was never my favorite character, but she did exactly the right thing here.