Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mary is Like an Onion -- Why do I like the hot-tempered "angsty" type

Someone asks me, who's your favorite Avatar: The Last Airbender character? I will say Zuko. In fact, my cat's nickname is Zoozoo for that reason. Someone asks me who is my favorite character from the Percy Jackson books. I'll say unblinkingly, Nico di Angelo. Or hey, Mary I just saw on your Goodreads you caught-up with the Raven Cycle, who do you like the most there? Ronan Lynch. No, just kidding, it's Adam. Although, Ronan is just a close second. Just like Frank Zheng is a close second in Percy Jackson universe. And Iroh in Avatar (or Varrick if you include Legend of Korra).

Zuko, Nico, and Adam have a lot in common as characters. People would be quick to label them angsty teenagers and dismiss them unfairly as simply that. Sure, angst is a popular thing to write in books aimed at young adults and often it can be written badly. I find with Zuko, Nico, and Adam, though, that is well-written, thoughtful, and relateable which is why I latch onto them so much. And I want to hug them even when they're being jerks.

There is just something that pulls me in about their stories. All three have complicated histories with their families. Zuko's father is an imperialistic Fire Lord Ozai who scarred and banished him and he has a sociopathic sister, Azula. Adam's father is manipulative and physically abusive. Nico's father is Hades and while he can summon famous ghosts at a whim, he cannot see the ghosts of two people he wants to see the most -- his mother and sister.

But another aspect is all three of them feel like "others". Zuko is a traitor and has to work hard to get the Gaang to trust him. Nico is a demigod of death and the other demigods sense that off him and distance themselves from him. Adam is often pointed out as seeming otherworldly since the events in Book 2 and he is also the poor scholarship kid at a prestigious school where children of senators go. True, all teenagers feel like outsiders so it is usually good to have one character who fits into that.

I think the reason why I like them the most is because of their journey. All three undertake a journey on a path filled with brambles and raised roots. They have to crawl out of ditches, take a tumble down steep hillsides, get scratched by branches. And mostly, they have to do it alone as they learn the lessons they are to learn.

Simba had to go through a literal bramble bush

Zuko is literally scarred by his dad and sent on a quest that Ozai probably said in jest just to get his loser son out of his sight. He has Iroh with him for part of it, but Zuko takes his kind uncle's presence for granted. He is humbled and becomes a better person for it.

After Percy accidentally is responsible for Nico's sister's death, Nico goes on a journey we never see into the underworld. When he comes back, he's a different person. Before, he was an eager, hyper little geek. Now, he's the Ghost King -- kind of dark, a little hot-tempered, awkward, and a little harsh. He feels like an outsider and understands all too well people don't want to be surrounded by a reminder of death that he is. Additionally, as he told Percy in the books, he went through the underworld all by himself with help from no one. But when it comes down to it, once Nico puts his grudges aside, he is a very useful ally and there is part of him that is still gentle and sweet like he was when are first introduced to him.

Lastly, we have Adam Parrish who has an epic argument with Gansey, the King of our Team about privilege. Gansey is the son of a senator while Adam grew up poor and worked his ass off to get out of his home situation, get and keep a scholarship to a prestigious academy, and to support himself. Adam is proud. He doesn't want Gansey's charity (Adam only accepted a gift of a new tie from Gansey because Adam already had a tie so it wasn't charity). Adam feels alone and feels different but he is learning that he's not either of those things.

I think why their journeys speak so much to me is because growing up, I always felt I did things on my own. I always felt like I was alone and never got any help along the way. Some people in my life have observed that I'm successful, which I am modest about. I don't feel successful. Maybe it is because, like Zuko, I am always rushing and think I haven't reached that notch in my own personal timetable (then get frustrated and everything blows up in my face) and I'm behind.

But okay, maybe I have accomplished a lot as I look back on my 33 years of existence but it wasn't easy. It involved a lot of low crawling (sometimes literally!) in the mud, lots of falling down and getting back up, and yes, I did most of it on my own.

As you wish, life, as you wish

 I wanted help sometimes, but I also didn't want to burden my loved ones too. And also, like Adam, sometimes, I just was too proud. And like Zuko, I know had a couple Uncle Irohs floating around as teachers and family members that I didn't come to appreciate until later.

A friend of mine said recently that I was always a person who just made it work. Sure, on the outside, I'm a funny joker type. But on the inside, there are parts of me who is Zuko yelling how everything blows up in my face. There is part of me that is Nico sitting in the crow's nest of the Argo to not bother everyone else with my ewie gooey death aura. And there is part of me like Adam that is just too proud to ask for help. However, like them, I make it work. I find a way to keep myself afloat because I have to.

Thanks, life.

I think that is why I think it is unfair to write off these characters as just Angsty teenagers and also why I like them so much. They are manifestations of ourselves at our worst. And when they emerge from the storm different and better people, it is victory for our own inner selves as we too try to navigate the tricky parts of life.

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