Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Helene Dunbar

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty-four authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Helene Dunbar

Helene Dunbar is the author of These Gentle Wounds (Flux, 2014) and What Remains (Flux, 2015). Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers’ tears.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

Some background: As a pre-teen, you’d rarely find me without a book in my hand. But when I hit my teen years, there was no such thing as “YA”, not really. My city library’s rules stated that I wasn’t allowed to take out adult books or even linger in the “adult” section (thankfully, this rule is no longer in existence) and I had no interest in reading “children’s books” which pretty much went up to what we’d know as middle grade now. And so, aside from school assignments, I stopped reading. I mean, I was an English/theatre major in college so I READ. I just didn’t do it for fun.

In a sense, I lost the best friend I’d had all through childhood. The one who got me through the death of my mother and grandfather, the friend who filled my lonely moments as an only child. Books were my escape, my safe haven, the receptacle of my fantasies. I felt their loss acutely.

Fast forward. Somewhere deep in adulthood, I wandered into my corner drugstore and found the first two Harry Potter books in the clearance bin. I’d never read them. I was bored. The books were LONG (a good thing). There were just what I needed. I bought them and devoured them and the other HP books as I found them or they released.

And then I read them again. Then I kind of stopped, unsure of what to read next. I still hadn’t fallen in love with a vast number of adult novels – despite the fact that I was now of age and no one was going to kick me out of the adult section at the library. So I reread the science fiction and fantasy books of my childhood, the plays that got me through college, and I waited for direction.

That direction came at a time in my life when I needed it most. I was living abroad and at a crossroads in my life. Emotionally I NEEDED to become a reader again. To this day, I don’t remember where I first heard about Melissa Marr’s Ink Exchange or why I felt so compelled to read it. But read it I did. And then I read it again. And a third time.

While at some level, I’d realized that literature had grown and developed during my non-reading years, I had no idea to what extent. Here was a book with a rape survivor at its heart, unapologetically bisexual characters, the kind of darkness and complexity of spirit and thought I’d only ever come across in my early teen reading binges of speculative fiction. Like life, nothing in the book is white or black. Every character exists in the murky shadows between. The same shadows that I felt enveloping me.

When I heard about Jen’s wonderful homage to Ladies in Literature, I jumped into the mix without really thinking about the content of this post. I knew that other writers would be championing their love of Austen and Bronte, Rowling and Alcott. And I’m still pretty sure that some eyebrows will be raised by my writing about Leslie in Ink Exchange.

To be honest, I actually rarely identify with female MCs and on my first read it wasn’t Leslie who captured my attention. I’m unabashedly #TeamNiall, a fan of the reluctant newly minted King of the Dark Court of Faery who fights minute-by-minute against the scars he wears both internally and externally and equally against those he loves who are, in some cases, the cause of those scars.

But now, having the perspective of time and in a vastly different place in life, I can see how Leslie’s strength inspired me. Like all of Marr’s characters, she’s deeply flawed. She makes rash and sometimes self-destructive choices. But as she and Niall often repeat to each other “I survived.” And despite having gone through horrible abuse at the hands of her brother, and despite being used as an emotional feeding ground for the Dark Court, Leslie pulls herself out, fighting against not only the horrors of the Court, but, more strikingly, against the person she might become should she give into her love for those in that Court.

It’s ironic that, like the Dark Court, I too fed on Leslie’s strength. She was the friend and role model I needed and I found her just when that need was the greatest. This book restored my faith in myself at a time it desperately needed restoring. Beyond that, it showed me what was possible from YA and books in general in this new reality. It reminded me of the strength inside myself and all that I’d survived. It gave me back my life as a reader and I’ll always be grateful.

Title What Remains
Author Helene Dunbar
Pages 288 Pages
Genre Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBTQ
Publisher Flux
To Be Published May 8th, 2015
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

In less than a second…

…two of the things Cal Ryan cares most about – a promising baseball career and Lizzie, one of his best friends – are gone forever.

In the hours that follow…

…Cal’s damaged heart is replaced. But his life will never be the same.

Everyone expects him to pick up the pieces and move on.

But Lizzie is gone, and all that remains for Cal is an overwhelming sense that her death was his fault. And a voice in his head that just…won’t…stop.

Cal thought he and his friends could overcome any obstacle. But grief might be the one exception.

And that might take a lifetime to accept…

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