Yesterday, I talked about Shannon Hale’s apparent attempt to make a mainstream success of a novel staring a character who was not “white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young . . . and not too old“—you know, what we all expect a protagonist to be here in these United States. We discussed the basics of the plot and posed this question:
Does Dangerous succeed at making us identify with Maisie Danger Brown, its home-schooled, geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan female protagonist?
Sure. Of course it does. Humans are humans, whatever, no problem. Maisie is fine and we, excepting Klansmen, like her as much as we would a white male two-armed protagonist.
But what’s interesting is how much the novel hedges its bets on our openmindedness—it seems to be a little lacking in confidence that the audience will accept her.
Consider the team of five teenaged superheros: We have a redheaded, overly tall, Louisiana girl. We have a nerdy black boy. We have a Korean girl who only eats slushies. We have Maisie. And we have the sexy WASP guy straight off The CW.
On their way back from their first going-out-to-save-people, Maisie says,
With relief I fell into my position in Wilder’s web. . . . It was like he was the nucleus, and without him the four of us were spare electrons, bouncing around without purpose. (91)
This white guy Wilder is the nucleus and they have no purpose without him. Of course, we’re only 91 pages in and it’s too soon to be sure we’ve found the novel’s hidden core.
Wilder’s alien superpower-bestowing token makes him the Thinker, and the other tokens—including Maisie’s—drive their bearers to be with him and so, no matter how far away Maisie may be, her colonial master (if you will) is still “reeling [her] in” (175).
In the end though, as we discovered yesterday, Maisie must throw off his shackles and become the novel’s true hero. Yay!
Only to discover that this was only possible because Wilder was selflessly willing to die in order to make her that hero. Huh.
Of course, she does save the world. Yay!
But saving the world wears her out, and Wilder has to fly up and save her. Hmm.
But he saved her using a jetpack based on her own designs! (Yay?)
While we can make the argument that this give and take proves we all need each other, the novel’s most important and visibly heroic character is being saved by the novel’s most visibly white-normal character. Which seems to contradict the novel’s public position.
As she was falling to Earth (before he saves her), Maisie thinks through her time with Wilder—the kisses they shared, “when [she]‘d lost him, and when [she] almost had him again” (380).
And thus she learns that “Falling in love and falling to your death feel about the same” (380).
I’m not sure what to make of that line, frankly. Does this mean that love and death are equally bad? equally good? equally value-neutral? equally significant in some way that does not imply good or bad? I don’t know.
What I do know is that after life returns to (a near facsimile of) normal, Maisie enters public school for the first time since kindergarten where she receives her ultimate reward: Wilder is in her Chemistry class. They go to a movie and they kiss.
Saving humanity from an alien invasion, Dangerous seems to say, is so impressive it makes even a one-armed, half-Paraguayan worthy of a WASP boy’s love.
I know, I know, I know. I’m playing lit-professor games and Ignoring Authorial Intentions, but ultimately, I found Dangerous disappointing. It only sorta did what it set out to do. I’m not complaining about the kiss at the end—I certainly don’t mind a little romance in my fiction (clarification: I rather crave a little romance in my fiction)—but for a girlpower diversityfest to end in Non-Normal Qualifies for White Boy!!!!! seems to undo everything I thought Hale was attempting. And that makes me sad.
====Shannon Hales :: Dangerous====
Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (intro)
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Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (post)
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A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous
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