From my past experiences of reading books and watching movies, I know that I tend to intensely identify with one or two of the characters. Sometimes I think about how they would behave in my life situations and how I would in theirs. I don’t think this habit is all that uncommon, but if you want to read up more on it, see exhibits A and B.
This post, in contrast to the thousands of reviews on Kristen Cashore’s Bitterblue novel, explores the connection I developed while reading this book a few years ago and my recent re-reading to explore why it affected me so strongly. Rather than focus on the plot, I’m focusing more on the points of personal connection as a bit of a psychological exercise.
Slight Spoilers Ahead!
When I first read Bitterblue, I strongly identified with the titular character. It’s hard to describe exactly why, except that I sensed a kindred spirit in her. That is, Cashore connected to me in a way that felt very real at the time. Another Internet denizen once described Bitterblue as a “beautifully written punch to the gut” and I whole-heartedly agree.
I connected to her feelings like she was “waking up” from the bad dream of her dysfunctional childhood, the complexities of working with traumatized loved ones to try to understand the abuse, manipulation, and brainwashing, and the sense that I can never hide from the darkness, only accept that it happened and take responsibility for self-healing. Not only that, I’ve had to learn to accept that my loved ones must confront their inner demons themselves; I can’t do that for them.
I also recognized in Bitterblue that I am also the sort of person who lies in order to “keep the peace” between myself and others. I dislike confrontation and people being angry at me (but as I’ve learned over the years, it happens, and oftentimes it’s helpful to have someone call out a personality flaw). I don’t like my habit of white lies and I do understand that it can be detected by those who know how to spot them. Undoubtably, I believe this trait of mine is interconnected with my upbringing (around other liars) as well as my ability to tell and write stories. I am trying to decrease this unhealthy behavior — Bitterblue’s story explores the complexity and layered nature of lies and how twisted it can become if not kept in check.
However, I did notice that Bitterblue appears to have relatively sound mental health, despite all of her trauma. She believes she is capable of being loved and has many sources of support and healthy relationships. This allows her to both explore and accept romantic intentions. Cashore may have written Bitterblue like this on purpose, perhaps with her audience of young women in mind. Bitterblue may not model all healthy behaviors (see above), but I think she does behave as a good role model for young people in this respect. But I know I’m not objective about this book in the slightest because I struggle with creating and maintaining relationships (platonic and romantic) of my own. I expect that some other readers might disagree.
Most importantly, my recent read-through highlights the fact that I am very affected by and drawn to stories of troubled or endangered children. When I first read it, it strongly brought back some dark, messy feelings I had buried away, locked up with memories I still don’t fully understand. I was more prepared for it this time.
Some of my most memorable books when I was growing up were the hero’s journey-type stories where someone tries to right the wrongs and bring justice to the children, though sometimes it was women as well—Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce, Mattimeo by Brian Jacques, Fall of Angels by L.E. Modesitt Jr. Given my life experiences, I think I still have a lot of guilt about what I could and couldn’t do as a child to help and protect other children. I think in some ways I’m drawn to these books by a sense of wish fulfillment, if that makes any sense.
What characters and books have strongly connected to you?
Image Credit: Goodreads