Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Art of a Covert Message

In the last 24 hours I have read two books which wanted to portray important messages:

Necessary Lies was written to raise awareness of the Eugenics Programme which was used in 1960s America to prevent 'undesirable' people having children, for example those with low IQs or epilepsy. Sterilisation was forced onto teenage girls, often without telling them. It was a barbaric practice. This story was so emotive because Jane, a newly-recruited social worker became so attached to one of her clients and Chamberlain is such a talented writer that the reader became just as attached along with her!

Only Ever Yours is a YA novel with a very very strong undertone of social commentary. In a world where girls are created and raised to believe that their looks are the most important and that their value is based on how boys view them, everything leads up to their 17th birthday when they are picked to be child-bearing companions, sex-giving concubines or undesirable chastities. The girls live in a world dominated by body-shaming, social media and beauty products.

Reading these in quick succession highlighted something pretty important to me. Although they both deal with emotive and important subjects, I loved one and...didn't love the other. The reason for that is obvious to me, one portrays their message with grace and is shrouded in a great story, the other seems so synthetically engineered to shove the message into your face as much as possible. Chamberlain even writes in her afterword that she could have picked much more shocking or harrowing cases on which to base her story, but she decided it would be more poignant to choose a run-of-the-mill case. I think she was right. I couldn't see past the message in Only Ever Yours, so I couldn't enjoy the story. It seemed to make the story repetitive to ensure that the message 'hit-home' and the ending seemed to have no purpose or addition to the storyline except to be hard-hitting. The compassion and honesty with which Chamberlain wrote Necessary Lies was infinitely better and I think it something worth bearing in mind when trying to portray messages in stories! A try-hard social commentary is prone to making people (or at least me) so averse to the message you're giving that it works against itself!

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