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When You Relate to a Character You Don’t Like

Things I CanWe all occasionally read books with main characters that we just don’t connect with. Right? Maybe it’s that they’re really judgmental or they’ve done incomprehensible things that we would never do. But…what about those times we don’t particularly like the main character, but meanwhile we’re internally cringing because that person is just like me?

I vowed to get caught up on Miranda Kinneally’s work in my 2014 End of Year Book Survey. It’s something Estelle’s been asking me to do (and that I also really want to do). I picked up Things I Can’t Forget, the third book in the Hundred Oaks series, to begin where I left off after reading Catching Jordan and Stealing Parker. Kate is a good girl; she’s obedient, respectful, goes to church regularly (and enjoys it), and the majority of things are very black and white for her. They’re either right or they’re wrong.

When a situation arises with her best friend, Emily, Kate’s world is turned upside down. She believes she’s committed a great sin and doesn’t know how to reconcile what she’s done. Emily has made a 180 degree turn and doesn’t share the same beliefs as Kate anymore, causing them to drift miles apart because they can’t agree.

But then Kate meets Matt, a co-counselor at the summer camp where she’s working. And Matt is wonderful — he’s a Christian and very kind, nice, respectable. As they begin dating, all of these barriers and walls Kate had up about what was right and wrong and her shoulds and should-nots for dating fly out the window. There’s so much she wants to do and experience with Matt, but the guilt is such a burden. Where does she draw the line with her relationship? Where do they stop? Should she just back away entirely?

And is she a hypocrite because of the things she’s told Emily not to do? Suddenly her black and white is overtaken by a lot of gray area.

Phew. Writing that all out kind of feels like I’ve shared a little piece of senior year in high school me. I began dating Dustyn during my Sophomore year. I’d kissed guys and had major crushes, but I didn’t have a relationship that escalated quite as quickly as mine did with him. I was just beginning to grasp Christianity and trying to balance this new relationship. I won’t get into the explicit details of our relationship, but I went through a huge ordeal with my best friend about boundaries. She warned me that things were moving too fast. I felt judged and criticized.

I felt the need to step back from her, from Dustyn, from everything. I didn’t know how to figure out what was acceptable. Like Matt, Dustyn shared my same beliefs, but we were so caught up in each other that it became really hard to know where to draw the line.

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Dustyn + Me, circa 2012

Confession: as we packed up our house and moved this past summer, I ran across a handwritten letter I wrote to Dustyn during calculus class one day my senior year. (Oh, the days of physical love notes.) I wrote about my fears and how quickly we were becoming attached to each other. How I didn’t want to have any regrets. How I thought we were moving too fast. It was so incredibly embarrassing to read all these years later and I so, so much wanted to toss it into the trash. But I kept it. And I’m well aware that one day, Everett, my daughter, might stumble across it.

But you see — Kate was a character who had a lot of life lessons to learn. She needed to see that sometimes things aren’t as black and white as we want them to be. She had to learn about physical relationships, her friendships, accepting gay people, and understanding her faith better. Kate started in a place where there were a bunch of rules and yeses and nos. She grew to understand that sometimes things don’t fit inside the boxes we create for them, and at the root of it, everything comes back to love. Maybe, just maybe, someone is doing something we’re not okay with and wouldn’t personally do (until we are exactly there in that same position ourselves), but each person is responsible for his or her own actions and it’s not up to us to change them. It’s not up to us to make them see things our way.

It’s up to us to be their friend, their listening ear.

So even if my daughter finds my embarrassing, cheesy love note, my hope is that she’ll see that I struggled. My sincere hope is that she’ll have someone to talk to about all of these things, and that maybe she’ll find comfort in discussing them with me. At the root of it all, I want to continue to grow and mold and shape my beliefs. I think that’s a big part of what life’s about: challenging what we know, fleshing it all out, and not remaining stagnant.

While it was really difficult to come face-to-face with teenage Magan while reading Things I Can’t Forget, it made me realize just how far I’ve come. And maybe I sucked a little bit back then — was too quick to judge, blurred the lines when it came to me overstepping boundaries, and had difficulty accepting things I really didn’t know much about — but hopefully I’ll continue to mature and be proud of where I’m headed.

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Which books have you read that felt like they were telling your story?

January 31, 2015 - 8:36 pm

It's a Wrap | January @ Rather Be Reading - […] Have and To Discard When You Relate to a Character You Dislike What If I Could | […]

January 23, 2015 - 3:28 pm

Alexa S. - I love this post so dang much, M! Thank you, first and foremost, for being willing to be so open and honest with all of us. And second, I can totally relate to what you’re saying! While book characters are never an exact reflection of who I am, I often find traits – likable and unlikable – in them that mirror my own. If I were to choose one character I feel like I could see myself in, it would be Allyson of Just One Day.

January 23, 2015 - 2:27 am

Gaby @ Bookish Broads - I love, love, love this post. I love when I find a book I can relate to on a personal level, both in a current “I’m still going through this” way and in “this happened to me/I could’ve used this book ages ago” way. And, the truth is, sometimes, when I read YA romance books, and also posts like this, I wish I had some sort of high school romance so I could have a love letter for a child to one day awkwardly find in a drawer – it just seems so precious and terrible and hilarious all at the same time. And who doesn’t love moments like that? I hope E has that moment and one day comes to cherish it. Thanks for sharing, Magan!

PS: Love that picture, love those bangs.

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