Sequelling All The Way Home

A girl sits at her computer, face serious as she opens a new tab and googles meg cabot. The link to the website loads, and suddenly it is there, the Save the Date for the wedding of Susannah Simon and Dr. Hector “Jesse” de Silva, as well as the announcement about the wedding of HRH Mia Thermopolis to Michael Moscovitz.

When I read a book and grow up with the protagonist, and live her life for a chapter or two hundred, I want a conclusion to that process. Yes, the book itself had some kind of ending, perfect or otherwise, and it will do for a while, but what about after the eighth time you read it? You NEED another story to answer the infinite questions you have about their lives.

That’s where my jumping-up and down reaction to the news of The Royal Wedding-The Princess Diaries XI came from. When I visited Meg Cabot’s website as I sometimes do to check up on any new releases from my favourite author, I was rewarded with the best news ever. Not only was The Royal Wedding coming out this June, the seventh book in the Mediator series-Remembrance is being published in February 2016!

I had no idea how I would wait for it to be released for three long months. I just knew that once it was out, I would have to read it absolutely as soon as possible. The revival year, that’s what I think of 2015 as, the year Meg Cabot did this, Harper Lee released Go Set a Watchman, Jurassic World came out, and a bunch of other long-awaited sequels made their appearance.

Trying to look at a Pinterest board about The Royal Wedding, the sign-up form kept popping up annoyingly, every time I refreshed the page, I had a moment’s peace before that awful red thing popped right back up. I gave in, and got myself an account, something I’ve avoided ever since that became a social media option.

In all my excitement, I went on a fan girl expedition through the Mia Thermopolis blog, the Pinterest board, and made myself overly excited and unable to wait to read the book. As fun as all these franchise-y things were, I really just wanted the book. Once I got it, I couldn’t stop reading.  It gave me a sense of homecoming, immersing myself in Mia’s particular brand of neurotic and lovable recording of her life.

Two girls immersed in a conversation, eagerly discussing the book one just finished borrowing and reading. Slightly embarrassing conversations, they didn’t really want people they didn’t like to overhear. These were spread over years as one book after the other was released. They never discussed To Kill a Mockingbird, it was the domain of another set of her friends, a few years later. They had equally detailed discussions and analyses, but sometimes they had to agree to disagree.

How could a bunch of diary entries get millions of fans from preteens to adults so incredibly excited? If you’ve read even one of the books in the series, you would know why. All the reviews mention the new fans, but everyone knows, it’s the original fans that matter, “Original fans of the series, now adults themselves, will be thrilled with this (The Royal Wedding),” said Booklist. I don’t think anything has ever been truer in a book review.  When Publishers Weekly said, “Readers who first discovered Cabot’s Princess books as teens will enjoy seeing Mia and Michael all grown up, ….. Since this is being billed as the final book in the series, one hopes that Cabot will reconsider and write more of Mia and Michael’s story . . .” all I could think was Yes, please please please. I want more!

That was the thought at the back of my mind as page after page passed by. I wanted to finish the book, but I really didn’t. I dreaded the end, though I knew it would be just what I wanted for Mia. I knew that Jean Louise wouldn’t get such a happy ending. I was reading Go Set a Watchman at the same time, I had to. There was no way I could have read Lee without something to balance my confusion and irritation. Go Set a Watchman is not a funny book, it made me stand on my head (not literally). Mia I knew perfectly and identified with more than I probably should, considering how downright crazy she sometimes is. Jean Louise on the other hand is like some other species, but I love her too.

Reading the little extra things included in the diary, like Mia’s shopping list, or text messages; those are usually the most fun parts of the book. It’s endlessly entertaining to see her try to control everything, fail, but then have everything turn out wonderfully. It also does that thing, the thing that everyone claims people want to know about celebrities, “They’re just like us!” If you’ve seen any entertainment which is about entertainment, be it a TV show or even if you just look at a magazine, half the articles are about emphasising how normal they are, while the other half is about showing how much cooler their lives are.

Go Set a Watchman is the much awaited continuation of the story of Jean Louise Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. It has that uniquely vague title to keep the reader guessing. I assumed it had something to do with Atticus, who is old and carries his famous pocket-watch and wears a wristwatch as well.  I was on the right track, what with my lack of knowledge of biblical text. It is something Jean Louise hears in her church when she returns home and has her world shattered.

The train going by, that chug-chug sound playing as she read; she was transported to her teens again. All the times she read TKMB, it was a struggle to find meaning, a battle with the author to win. She had to understand. In the present, it was so clearly Lee’s writing, but writing not with the voice of a child, but a woman! As the landscape becomes increasingly familiar to Jean Louise, I settled back into my chair and the 20th century world of “the South”.

When I saw the link to the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman, all those conflicted feelings from when I read TKMB came back, but the prospect of an adult Scout Jean Louise Finch was amazing. I read the chapter immediately, and died a little inside when the casual mention of Jem’s death pops out of nowhere. It seemed almost like a plot device to explain why Hank and Atticus are so close, it hurt. As I read the book, it felt less like a blow to my solar plexus, and more of a why’d-she-do-it kind of irritation.

The book is constantly returning to the past, bursting with the exploits of Scout and Co.  While she has grown-up, there is still that girl who challenges her world, but loves it (old Maycomb) running throughout the narrative. Her struggle for a large part of the book is deciding whether or not marrying Hank will allow her to be happy. It is at the same time a story of the changed and unchanged Maycomb, as Jean Louise reacts to the things that upset, confuse, anger or please her.

It seems like the usual returning to home, how everything has changed! narrative, until Jean Louise visits the courthouse and has her entire faith in her father (and Hank) totally destroyed. That’s where the book started to be unbelievably confusing for me. Each page left me with an unsettled feeling, like I was with Jean Louise, trying to comfort her after she feels this utter horror. Her entire world is formed around Atticus’ views and when their views diverged, it broke her.

I was puzzled, why was Atticus doing this? He wasn’t nearly as great as a lot of people who’ve read the book seem to think. We were sitting in Lit class, the five of us and our teacher. She asks us, you know that part where Atticus drives Calpurnia in the car? Yes, we do. Well, why does Cal have to sit in the back? We were stumped for a second, and then, we knew, Atticus, for all his equality-of-man-before-law speak, was just as inherently racist as the rest of his town. That was when Jem became a better symbol for justice than his father for me. Yes, he was a bit of a bully, and he had some of his own blind spots, but he was a child.

Jean Louise tells us of Jem’s life in snippets, right up until he dropped dead because of his weak heart at 28. He was popular, on the football team in high school, he was going to join his father’s business, and then, just like that, he was gone. I still cannot reconcile myself to this. I cannot forgive Lee for Calpurnia turning away from Scout. Jean Louise feeling rejection, that I felt with her; it made me just as upset.  It is not easy to forgive people who don’t exist in your world, even if the protagonist does. You don’t have to see their faces and feel their contrition.

How do you forgive a fictional character, how do you the forgive the author who created too much heartache? Can you just throw a glass tumbler full of scotch into the fireplace and be done with it? Not having tried this method, I have no personal feedback about its cathartic properties, but it doesn’t seem to have worked for the (many) television characters I’ve seen doing it, so I suppose it’s safe to say don’t try this at home, it’ll just exasperate whoever has to clean it up.

Forgiving the authors is harder than you might think. It is their book, but it is also mine! I choose to appreciate Roland Barthes at this moment, the author’s identity is really insignificant, and whatever the interpretation prescribed by them, it is not how I choose to read it. You have the ending you want, the explanations you want, the perfect scapegoat all lined up, and then they go and do that. How dare they?

In another literature class, a friend was talking about Lee’s new book. She introduced the topic for the benefit of everyone else, she paused. Then she said something that made things click in my mind, you could almost see the flash bulb going off above my head in the dark AV Room where we sat. Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman before To Kill A Mockingbird, my eyes widened in the stereotypical surprise reaction, but I was feigning nothing. Genuinely shocked though I was, that revelation made it easier for me to forgive Lee for some of the pain and confusion she caused me.

The inconsistencies in the novels, and such huge ones, they disappeared. It didn’t matter anymore, the constant over-analyses I endured courtesy of the OCD part of my mind suddenly ceased. I had been wondering (almost daily I am ashamed to admit) about the infamous case that Atticus didn’t win in TKMB, how the heck was it that he won it in Go Set a Watchman?  This became far less relevant than it had been just a minute before. It was time to move on, to get on with my life. I had to do what Scout did, grow up.

I felt the joy in Mia’s life, but I also felt the loss of myself and re-centering that Jean Louise does. The book ended, and I felt more irritated and confused than anything else, the perfect tribute to how I felt years ago when I first read Lee’s TKMB.

Those evenings with you

There were many hours we spent together,
Looking for answers and trying to remember.

You remember that time we spent,
Planning to stay in a tiny tent,
In that cold boat,
On the waves of that huge reservoir-y moat.
Hoping we would make it to the island,
Or to the small patch of sand,
As our arms were aching
And my body was shaking.

There was that other time,
You walked ahead and I was trying to climb,
The oxygen was scarce
And I was sure it was a farce,
Because I just couldn’t be dying,
That bloody night in the Himalayas.