Her Story: Ladies In Literature with K. E. Ormsbee

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 K. E. Ormsbee

K. E. Ormsbee currently lives in Lexington, KY. She lived in lots of equally fascinating cities before then, from Austin to Birmingham to London to Seville. She grew up with a spaceship in her basement and went on many pretend (?) expeditions to the moon. In days gone by, she taught English as a Foreign Language, interned with a film society, and did a lot of irresponsible road tripping. Nowadays, she teaches piano and writes stories. The Water and the Wild is her first novel.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramTumblrGoodreads

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done — then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” – The Secret Garden

My mom still likes to bring up the story of a summer day back in ’95, when a five-year-old Kathryn came running into the house sobbing. I’d been playing outside, so my mom assumed I’d gotten into a scrape. After inspecting me for damages and finding nothing amiss, she was understandably confused about what the heck was wrong with her child. She spent a long time cajoling me into coherency, but at last she got an explanation. In a horrified whisper, I told her, “There are ANTS outside”.

The family jokes about it now, but that incident was the norm of my childhood. I was an extremely anxious child. I had night terrors as a toddler, which transitioned into ongoing insomnia. I battled an obsessive-compulsive disorder that dictated I turn a doorknob five times in a row lest a hoard of demons possess my body. My overactive imagination kept me in a constant state of worry about the wellbeing of my loved ones. I was afraid of just about everything, from diving boards to roller coasters to family friends’ dogs. I spent all my free time inside, because I reasoned life was far less scary indoors.

Turns out, the indoors aren’t always safer. Sure, there might be poisonous snakes outside, but inside there are books. Little did I know that picking up Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden was a move far more dangerous than diving into the deep end of the neighborhood pool.

When I first met Mary Lennox, I was a fretful girl of eight who had yet to encounter a less-than-perfect heroine. Sure, some of my chapter books featured girls with “problems,” but they were always cute and forgivable ones, like a nervous habit of giggling or being overly curious. You know, standard job interview flaws: “I guess my biggest failing is working too hard. Oh, and my annoying organization skills.” The heroines I’d met up until Mary had their crap together. They didn’t obsessively think about their own breathing. They didn’t have trouble sleeping. They certainly weren’t afraid of ants.

Then Mary Lennox waltzed into my life. And Mary was messed up.

Mary is bad-tempered. She’s selfish and spoiled and rude. She hates playing with other children, which earns her the nickname “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary.”

She’s sickly and ugly — a fact the adults freely discuss in front of her. In fact, she’s so wholly unpleasant that, after a cholera epidemic ravages the Lennox household, the survivors completely forget about Mary and leave her for dead. In short, Mary isn’t the kind of girl you want for a friend.

And yet, I loved her.

I loved Mary because she was real. She lost her temper. She yelled. She sassed the adults. She snarked to her peers. I didn’t identify with those behaviors — I was quiet and generally well behaved — but I did identify with a girl who had non-cute problems. I understood a girl who felt different from the kids around her. I totally got why Mary preferred her own company and didn’t mind spending hours alone. I knew Mary. I empathized with her, not despite but because of how unlikeable she was. And because I trusted her as a protagonist, I joined her on a dangerous journey I would’ve never had the courage to embark upon on my own.

Hand-in-hand with Mary, I met chatty Martha, animal-whisperer Dickon, and temperamental Colin. Together, we ventured into an outside world that posed its fair share of dangers but was also inviting and alive and beautiful in a way I’d never before experienced nature.

Mary’s story empowered me. For the first time, I’d met a heroine who, like me, had real, messy problems. Only unlike me, Mary didn’t stay inside, where everything was safe. She explored new places and met new people, and she didn’t die as a result. In fact, all that dangerous living made Mary a healthier, happier person…who still had problems.

I never lost my love for The Secret Garden. I spent late nights listening to the Broadway musical, and I adored the Maggie Smith film. Mary’s story taught me self-acceptance. It taught me courage. It did not, however, magically cure me of all my deep-set anxieties. Many more years passed before I dove into a pool. I’m still not the biggest fan of snakes. I will always deal with obsessive thinking and compulsions.

But I conquered a lot of my fears, too. When I was ten, I began a secret garden of my own — just a little corner of my backyard where I tended to strawberries and rose bushes. Surprisingly enough, I grew much less anxious as a young adult. I made phenomenal friends who’ve prevented me from turning into a recluse. I even beat my fear of ants.

Mary Lennox isn’t singlehandedly responsible for turning me into a more courageous, secure, and community-minded woman. But I know she played a part. So in the slightly modified words of Maurice Chevalier, I say: thank heaven for unlikeable girls.

Title The Water and the Wild
Author K.E. Ormsbee
Pages 448 Pages
Genre Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure
Publisher Chronicle Books
To Be Published April 14th, 2015
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

For as long as Lottie Fiske can remember, the only people who seem to care about her have been her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter-writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things and people are arriving on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless.

And then a door opens in the apple tree.

Follow Lottie down through the apple roots to another world — a world of magic both treacherous and beautiful — in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

3 responses to “Her Story: Ladies In Literature with K. E. Ormsbee”

  1. Alexa S. says:

    Ah, Mary Lennox! She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever read about; The Secret Garden will always have a special place in my heart <3
    Alexa S. recently posted…The Picky Pledge || Quarterly Check-in #2My Profile

  2. Maraia says:

    I may be biased, because I just read and loved K. E. Ormsbee’s book, but this is my FAVORITE post in the series so far. It’s both honest, inspiring, and a good reminder of how much power a good book can have. Here’s to all the unlikeable girls!

  3. Holly J says:

    I’ve heard so much about this book but I’ve yet to read it. But this wonderful and lovely post makes me really want to! I love unlikable heroines, because I find them so relatable and it’s easier to connect with the less-than-perfect characters, the ones who are messy and make mistakes and who are rootable even with all their flaws. Because PEOPLE are flawed, and characters who are feel more real. 🙂
    Holly J recently posted…Read-A-Thon Accepted: Make Me Read ItMy Profile

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