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-six 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 Christine Lynn Herman
Born in New York City but raised in Japan and Hong Kong, Christine Lynn Herman subscribes to the firm philosophy that home is where her books are. She returned to the United States for college, where she traded out a subtropical climate for harsh, snowy winters and an Honors English degree at the University of Rochester. She now resides in Brooklyn, where she works in publishing by day and writes novels by night. Her debut YA novel, The Devouring Gray, will release from Disney-Hyperion in Spring 2019, with a sequel to come the following year.
I was born frightened – not for myself, but for the people around me. As a baby, I cried whenever my parents left the room; as a child, I clung to my younger siblings constantly, terrified that if I turned my back, something would happen to them. That I would blink and they would disappear.
By the time I was eight, fear was my oldest friend, my second skin. It was the star of my night terrors, the motivation behind everything I did, everything I was. It was unbearable, and yet I could not imagine my life without it. I could not fathom a day where I didn’t check the locks on every door and window in the house three or four times, or a night where I didn’t wake up at 2 AM and check on my whole family, just to make sure they were still breathing.
I could not fathom that, perhaps, there was another word for what I felt besides fear. That there was anything I could do to make it stop.
My refuge was books, especially fantasy books – ones where girls and boys went on quests and saw magical creatures, where they discovered that they were special and important.
They were always effortlessly brave in those books. Fighting monsters and rescuing people in peril, saving kingdoms and worlds like it was no big deal. Any obstacle they faced was destroyed. Any fear they felt was vanquished by internal strength, and that was the real magic of those stories: not that they could cast a spell or fly, but that they had the courage to go on an adventure at all.
Deep down, I wanted an adventure of my own. But I’d resigned myself to only living through stories. I knew I’d never make it in the real world – I could barely leave my house. Sometimes, I couldn’t even leave my bed.
Then I read The Two Princesses Of Bamarre for the first time. I met Addie.
And for the first time, the stories that were so important to me and the terror that had defined my childhood collided.
Addie was a princess, a sister, smart and caring, and yet her world was defined by fear, too. A disease called the Gray Death could take away the people she loved at a moment’s notice. A bevy of monsters plagued her kingdom; gryphons and dragons, specters and ogres. But her biggest demons came from her own mind.
Here, finally, was a character who suffered like I suffered. Who wanted to hide in her room and work on her embroidery instead of swing a sword, who was desperate to keep her existence small and safe. Who clung to the people she loved most because she couldn’t bear to lose them.
And she was miserable. Just as miserable as I was.
Through Addie, I saw for the first time how much of the world had become inaccessible to me. And I saw, too, that just like her, there was only one thing that I loved more than I feared everything – my family. So it hit me like a gut punch when Addie’s beloved sister, Meryl, fell ill with the Gray Death. When she ventured out on her own quest because it was the only way to save her. Every step she took on her quest, I took alongside her. I wanted her to succeed so badly – because I wanted proof that I could get better. Because if Addie could do it, I could do it, too.
But here’s the thing about The Two Princesses Of Bamarre: it doesn’t have a happy ending. Instead, it introduces the reader to consequences. Meryl’s illness is not magically cured. Addie’s newfound bravery helps her to a certain point, but it doesn’t fix everything. The first time I finished it, I felt betrayed beyond measure. I sobbed. I hurled the book at the wall.
Then I picked the book up off the floor, and I read the last few chapters again. And I understood.
Addie and Meryl’s ending is bittersweet because life is bittersweet. Because illnesses cannot always be cured. Because the point of Addie’s character arc wasn’t that if she put herself out in the world, everything would be okay – it was that both her and Meryl had to learn to make the best of the choices they’d been given. Even when they weren’t fair.
If she could learn how to handle life, even when it was unfair, and frightening, and cruel, then I could learn that, too.
It’s been sixteen years since I first met Addie, and I carry her story with me every day. I have words for my fear now, words like anxiety and depression, and I talk about them instead of keeping them inside – with medical professionals and friends alike. I have learned that I cannot control the world; that I will drive myself to dark places if I try. That I am stronger and braver than I thought I was.
And when I have faced down my own tough choices, when I have felt the impossible cruelty of existence bearing down on me, I think of Addie and Meryl, accepting the hands that life has dealt them.
And I take the next step on my adventure, finally focused on enjoying my journey instead of worrying about a happy ending.
Title The Devouring Gray
Author Christine Lynn Herman
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Contemporary Fantasy
Publication Date Spring 2019 by Disney-Hyperion
Find It On Goodreads
After the death of her older sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to the hometown her mother fled thirty years ago. Violet may be new to Four Paths, New York, but she soon learns her family isn’t. They’re one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.
As a descendant of a founding family, Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations. Their special abilities guard the town from the Gray, a lifeless dimension that lures unsuspecting prey to the brutal monster trapped inside. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret and banish him from Four Paths once he graduates high school. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.
When Violet accidentally wanders into the Gray and unleashes the monster, Justin believes helping her is his last chance to prove he belongs in Four Paths. They must band together with the other descendants of the town’s founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities in order to defeat the monster…before the Gray devours them all.