In Defense of the Volatile, Unlikable Girl, a guest post by Tanvi Berwah
Koral of Sollonia, the narrator of Monsters Born and Made, is a deeply unlikable sixteen-year-old girl.
Let me elaborate on what that one word–unlikable–encompasses in this particular instance.
Koral of Sollonia is angry and intensely traumatized. Her trauma stems from an intersection of her lived reality: a teen in a dysfunctional family unit, lack of money to live a safe life, existing within a gendered body, neurodivergence and undiagnosed mental illness, and belonging to the lowest end of the lower caste. Being limited by age, poverty, gender and mental health are still phenomena that we are familiar with, but the violence of casteism is probably not as talked about.
The social system that inspired the one in the book is, in reality, even worse than portrayed. It is an illogical system of dividing people by assigning them a “caste” by birth in Hinduism–and Indian people practice it both in the mainland and within the diaspora. There are castes that are upper and lower, and then there are those who are “untouchable” and out-caste, or the reclaimed term Dalit, which means the oppressed. Even in today’s India, the so-called untouchable people are manually made to clean sewers, have almost no rights in practice, and hearing that a Dalit person in rural areas has been killed because they dared something so mundane as to walk before an upper-caste person’s house is very common.
That is the kind of social trauma that people who are “out-caste” live with.
Trauma ages you–makes you jaded, less trustful and you become difficult and annoying. But sometimes, it’s regressive and you become petulant and dysfunctional “for your age.” Sometimes it’s both of these things, in which case, you’re simply incomprehensible and volatile.
And Koral is definitely volatile.
To perhaps dig deeper, it’s not that these types of teen characters are truly unlikable–it’s that looking at them full-on, without flinching, makes us confront our own selves. They are frustrating because we are conditioned to believe that if we were in a similar situation, we would be angry–like we are while reading these situations–but we would immediately do something. We would use our anger and leave. We would make smarter decisions and not endanger ourselves. And a character that is not doing as we want them to is seen as “stupid.”
Our interest in any kind of fictional survivor has become conditional, something that will make us feel good. We would like to see a victim or a survivor who is always capable of displaying a full array of emotions. And if they don’t, if they fixate on the one thing that in their minds has become the center of the world, they are one-dimensional.
But that thinking is a binary that is rarely manifest in real life. Abuse victims and survivors are all kinds. From ones who lash out to ones who feel nothing at all. And the least we can do is give space to all kinds of survivors.
Writing Koral was an unplanned emotional release. I have had a habit of looking away from my own traumas, but of course, our minds have interesting ways of making us face what we run from. It was while revising Monsters Born and Made, when I was forced to slow down and look at every part of the book with care, that I realized what had happened. I had projected my own traumas onto this character. Not exact ones, but somewhere along the lines.
This projection was eye-opening, it helped me come to terms with many things I had locked away. So much so that I was finally able to seek the help I needed and began seeing a therapist. In that way, writing this book was the catharsis that child-me and teen-me had been searching for all our lives. I wouldn’t say my catharsis has ended, but it has definitely begun.
And I hope that this story, of a girl clawing and fighting her way out of the corner she’s pushed in, reaches whoever needs it.
Meet the author
Tanvi Berwah is a South Asian writer who grew up wanting to touch the stars and reach back in time. She graduated from the University of Delhi with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Literature of English, and lives in India. Monsters Born and Made is her debut novel.
About Monsters Born and Made
She grew up battling the monsters that live in the black seas, but it couldn’t prepare her to face the cunning cruelty of the ruling elite.
Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and These Violent Delights, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl’s chance to change it all.
Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.
In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers—the ruling elite, have indentured Koral’s family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others—if they’re lucky—survive.
When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family’s financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can’t afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral’s only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.
But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against competitors—including her ex-boyfriend—who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. As a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose—her life or her sister’s—before the whole island burns.
Publication date: 09/06/2022
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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