In college I read Euripides’ play, Medea. It’s the story of a girl. She falls for a man, Jason, who marries her. She follows him, in love, leaving a trail of blood behind her. Medea has kids with Jason, then she is shoved aside as Jason decides to marry another girl for a crown, leaving Medea and their two children exiled. Medea is betrayed. She decides to get revenge for her and her children, and Medea is fierce. She’s found her courage and she’s found her determination. She wants Jason to pay. She wants him to feel an ounce of the betrayal she feels–and for all the claims that she’s just an emotional woman, Medea puts aside her love and erupts with vengeance, killing Jason’s new bride and her father. Then, deciding it is better she kill them than someone who doesn’t love them, Medea slays her own children, which becomes the ultimate revenge against Jason, their father.
She’s a “monster” Jason says.
The class discussion of Euripides’ play erupted when I claimed that I loved Medea, not just the play–I loved her. I like that she carries fire in her hands and isn’t afraid to destroy those around her. Of course, I’m not one who is okay with people killing other people, and I certainly would never celebrate someone who kills their own children as revenge against their spouse in real life. But as a work of fiction and for what she stood for to me in those lines, bold and unforgiving, I loved the character of Medea.
The only encounters I really had to feminism at this point, were pastors telling me it was dirty and sinful and gross and that was pretty much what I believed at that point, but even then, I remember commenting during that class discussion, of all the plays I’ve read up to that point, I’ve never seen a female character like this. I know I’m not supposed to like Medea. I know I’m supposed to be repulsed. But there was something in her I couldn’t quite explain or make anyone understand.
And I wanted to be her so bad and I became her any chance I got–any acting scene I could do as Medea, I would. I always hoped I’d come across a casting call for a production of Medea so I could have a chance to be her for a full production. I wanted (and still do!) a chance to own that character. For once in my life, I wanted to be the woman who didn’t give a shit about everyone else before myself–to constantly have to be thinking of every dude’s sad story and how it justified the pain and betrayal I carried deep inside. I wanted the pain on the outside and I wanted everyone to feel its fire.
I was alone in this, apparently. Even my closest friends turned to me in disgust upon my announcement that I was in love with Medea. “She kills her own children. How can you like a woman who is a mother who kills her children?”
painting: Medea (about to murder her children) by Eugène Delacroix. Licensed under Public Domain
Now, again, I don’t like people who kill children. Not. At. All. It’s difficult to explain how you can love a character who does something you hate. I still don’t know how to explain it. Luckily, there are people out there with words that are better than my own, so when I came across Seven Ways of Thinking About Medea by Sarah McCarry (via The Book Smugglers), I knew I found someone who understood Medea in the way that I loved her.
My third book is, like the first two, and like all the books I love best, about love and sex and death and growing up. It is also about Medea: Medea, as she might be now, kind of punk and wicked witchy, kissing girls, still slitting throats. Medea, a girl who doesn’t apologize, not even once she’s learned her lessons the hard way, not even once she’s had to learn them again. Looking death in the face, looking for vengeance, cutting her own bloody path. What girl’s gotten to do that since? We’ll cry for Hamlet (from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth), despite his swath of collateral damage, but Medea’s everybody’s worst nightmare: a girl without fear or remorse, a girl with power, a girl whose fury is big enough to swallow the world. Medea (sailing serpent wings) her own kind of warrior, her own kind of witch (she can quench the hot blast of unwearying fire / halt rivers dead when they’re roaring down in spate / control the stars and the Moon’s own sacred orbits). Medea, who knows exactly what she is: My very spells have torn the throats of serpents. — Sarah McCarry, Seven Ways of Thinking About Medea
Later, I would tweet something, which was probably about Dirty Wings and I don’t even remember what it was, but Sarah McCarry was tagged in it and she responded to me that I would love the final installment of her young adult series because it was full of astronomy. That final book of the Metamorphoses series, About A Girl, would turn out to be my favorite of the trilogy.
Medea. Astronomy. Mythology. Music. Magical realism. Girls kissing girls. Girls who are monsters. Girls going on quests. Girls falling in love with Medea.
How could this book possibly exist? I preordered it. It was the first book I had ever preordered. I had to have it and I was partly ashamed that I asked for it to be autographed because I’m not usually one who feels the need to have an autograph, but before I even read this book I knew my heart was in there somewhere. The heart that got buried during that time I was that goth chic who was part hippie, aspiring astronomer, lover of words, lover of theater, lover of girls. The girl who felt too damn much. But so much of it was buried because I had to get through and because I never trusted myself. But I wanted the quest. I wanted to break out of that “good girl” persona so desperately that it practically leaked out of my pores, but there would be time for that later, just get through this here, get through this right now and then leave it all fucking behind.
Tally is who I wish I would have been had I trusted myself.
Tally. She is destined to be an astronomer, to study the mysteries of how the universe began when she goes on a quest to find out if a legendary musician is her father. During the quest, Tally finds the world around her is so much more magical than she realized–but this isn’t necessarily a “scientist learns science is just numbers, unemotional and wrong,” type of story. It’s the story about a girl who learns to approach the questions of the universe from multiple stand points. Most of all, it’s the story about a girl who finds herself in a world of magic looking for answers, but having the strength to return back to the world she knew–not unchanged, of course–but still allowed to love science while simultaneously falling in love with mythical monsters.
Tally runs away from home in search of answers, but also to run away from the emotional confusion she is feeling about, among many things, a boy she loves. And while running from one love, Tally runs right into another. Tally meets Medea and falls hard and begins to forget everything else. But one love doesn’t cancel out the other– sometimes you love two people at the same time. And this is, indeed, at its core, a love story.
I love Tally. And I love her family just as much. Each character feels so real, honest, alive, yet magical in their love. And it’s that love–that stability, those phone calls home–that anchor Tally when she is in danger of losing herself to loss and to darkness. Yes, this is a love story, but as the first book in the Metamorphoses series points out, “…not the kind of love you think. You’ll see…” (p. 2, Sarah McCarry, All Our Pretty Songs).
This final book in the series (About a Girl), like the other two books (All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings) is a standalone, and is beautiful all on its own. In relation to the other two books, though, we see that time isn’t linear. The second book takes place before the first book. The third book takes place after the first book. (But read them in order! Your heart will thank you!) Stories repeat themselves, each book loosely based on mythology from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Stories repeat themselves, and yet each girl in each of the books owns her story all on her own. The stories are timeless, and time itself feels like it is fluid, bouncing around from one generation to a previous generation, to a later generation, all of them connected to ancient mythology, all of them flowing–time moving, not forward, but all around and everywhere.
In About A Girl, myths become reality. The Stars guide you home. But in the end, we do have power in our destiny. We meet monsters. Make love to monsters. Fall in love. Fall under spells. Walk the dark paths into and beyond the ocean, venture into the past and find our way back into the present–and what makes all the difference between becoming lost in it all and drowning, and from finding the strength to walk on water, and to swim when you can’t walk on water, and to flail your way through when you can’t swim–is that love and stability that you know awaits somewhere in this world full of scientific wonder and magic.
This book is for those of us who are lovers to monsters. Those of us who want to be part monster. Those of us gazing up. Those of us who carry equations in our heads, yet see magic all around us. Those of us who look up into the night sky and see the wonders of the universe and know that the stars will guide us home.
If you haven’t figured it out, yet, yes, I (a million times yes!) recommend you read Sarah McCarry’s About A Girl.
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