The Dark Side of Love Bonds
By Leila Roy on March 26, 2015
The sun is rising. The myth is not in the telling, but the constant retelling. This is my story. I want to tell it, not once, not just to myself, but over and over again.
―Infandous, Elana K. Arnold
I am finally, finally ready to sit down and read Lolita, and the credit belongs entirely to Elana K. Arnold's Infandous. Like Bone Gap, this is a book so fantastically excellent that I fear it may reduce me to a gushing disaster, that I'll have to resort to just throwing copies at peoples' heads rather than using actual words to describe my love for it. Bone Gap, though, will be an easier sell―Infandous is an uncomfortable, often queasy read, which will make it somewhat less accessible.
It's the summer before senior year, and Sephora Golding has a secret. It's a dark secret, one that she wants to be free of while also wanting to bury it so deep that it will never see the light of day. Using fairy tales―the profoundly dark, non-Disney-fied ones―Greek tragedy, Greek mythology, and, yes, Lolita, Seph slowly spins her story out, slowly works herself up to facing her own personal wolf.
It's about mothers and daughters, about how girls become women. It's about how intensely we can love; about the complexity of those love bonds; about loving a parent with your whole heart while also being ready to become your own person; about wanting to be comforted by a person while also wanting to protect her. It deals with economic class and gender roles―so, yes, along with the fairy tales, it's safe to say that Infandous hit ALL of my buttons―and Arnold's choices in choosing the fairy tales and myths to highlight are bull's-eyes, all, but in a way that feels organic, not forced. Her visual imagery is lovely (On Apollo and Daphne: Legs cleaved together into something impenetrable, made more nature than woman. There's safety in that.) as are her other sensory descriptions (There's a smell, a sharpness, a rot-life-ocean tang that tells me I am home.), and in this passage, Seph's thoughts about art bring so many of those elements together:
The sculptures are beautiful even though the subject matter is terrible. That book Lolita is like that too. And I wonder about that―about taking pleasure from these women's pain. Of course they're not real―they're mythological―they're pretend, but whatever. It's only because real women were raped and real men raped that any of this makes a connection for people. All around me people look and point and discuss, faces neutral or lit up in delight. Their pain, our pleasure. I wonder―does that make us complicit? Guilty by association?
Seph's discomfort with enjoying art that explores hard, painful topics―art that makes beauty out of tragedy, out of loss, out of pain―that she questions about the morality of that, while also clearly exhibiting a sense of connection with the art, while also gaining some amount of comfort from it...that's just one example of how PACKED this book is, how rich and thoughtful and yes, profound. Her thoughts about art, too, can be extrapolated out to questions about separating the art from the artist, about how (or if) we can appreciate art made by artists whose beliefs or opinions or actions are antithetical to our own―all of this will strongly resonate with those readers who're still working through their own thoughts and feelings and questions about the ongoing conversations about gender and sexism and diversity and privilege and power in the YA world.
It's a story that so easily could have been about revenge or the continuation of pain, but ultimately it's about strength, healing, love, and empathy. Two completely different, absolutely stellar 2015 titles in a row! I want to go for three―any recommendations?
Gr 10 Up—Sixteen-year-old Sephora Golding is the daughter of the incomparable former model Rebecca Golding. Seph lives a less-than-admirable life on the shadier side of Venice Beach, California. Her artwork keeps her grounded, but her meager lifestyle can't compare to the lap of luxury that she could have living with her mother's family across the country. Even with all of the negative aspects, the truly special connection that she has with her mother, one that stretches far beyond the typical mother-daughter relationship, keeps her tied to the place and the life that she has always known. Interspersed with Seph's coming-of-age narrative are snippets of a fantastical fairy tale about a mermaid and a wolf that bear a striking resemblance to the teen's own family drama. The strength of this story lies in the legitimate connections made between modern times and classic myths/fairy tales. Arnold's fresh and exciting plot twist is unexpected, elevated by the lyrical writing style. The story is full of mature content, including language and thinly veiled sexual references. A well-written and evenly paced dramatic tale about finding peace in ones own situation.—Chad Lane, Easton Elementary, Wye Mills, MD
The summer before senior year gives Sephora Golding time to surf, work on her found-object works of art and reflect on the turn her life has taken. Seph shares a low-rent apartment in Venice Beach, California, with her stunningly gorgeous mother, Rebecca, who Seph used to imagine was a mermaid. Left by Seph's father and shunned by Rebecca's family, the two have always been unusually close. Last year, Seph had a brief fling with an older man; now Rebecca's having a summertime romance with a younger one. Seph relates her summer tale of self-discovery in a matter-of-fact, occasionally foulmouthed teen voice. She intersperses her account with hard-hitting yet sumptuous versions of fairy tales and myths, from "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Rape of Lucretia" to "Demeter and Persephone." From her vantage as narrator and storyteller, she points out that "[t]hings don't really turn out the way they do in fairy tales. I'm telling you that right up front, so you're not disappointed later." She calls one of her sculptures Infandous, meaning "something that's too terrible to be spoken aloud." Hers is a world of raw physicality, underscoring the contrasts between beauty and ugliness, wealth and poverty, light and shadows that play out as secrets unfold. A coming-of-age story consciously reminiscent of Lolita, this multifaceted portrayal of family bonds surprises with its nuanced and sometimes-searing emotional gravity. (Fiction. 14 & up)