Flawed Heroines Dealing with Important Social Issues

This month at the Contemporary Romance Café we’re talking about writers we admire–as both readers and writers. There’s such a long list of writers I adore–contemporary writers and those of centuries past. I thought I’d whittle the list down to just two: Joshilyn Jackson and Pearl Cleage.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn JacksonBoth are women’s fiction writers. Their stories often include a romance, but the story is very much about the protagonist and her journey of growth and self-discovery. You know that I’m a huge fan of the flawed heroine. Jackson and Cleage are brilliant at creating such characters. Showing us the muck and mire that they’ve endured–which has contributed to these flaws. They’re also adept at allowing the reader to come along for the ride as the heroine makes her journey forward.

Jackson and Cleage also aren’t afraid to take on important social issues in their stories. They do this by simply making such issues a part of their stories. Allowing readers to understand it from the prospective of the protagonist. Making the consequences of such issues real, without using the story itself as a soapbox.

My favorite book of Jackson’s thus far is Backseat Saints. Her main character, Rose Mae Lolley is certainly no saint. Her past isn’t pretty. As a child she watched her mother take beatings from her father. When her mother escaped and left her behind, her father’s wrath and abuse focused on her.

Rose Mae becomes a magnet for bad-news boyfriends and ends up marrying a man who is beautiful and passionate, but beats her mercilessly. Feeling trapped, she dutifully carries out her role as a wife, simply hoping for more good days than bad. But when she crosses paths with an airport gypsy, the tarot cards foretell that her husband is going to kill her…unless she kills him first.

What Look Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl CleagePearl Cleage’s debut novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day is a story that encompasses a range of emotions. Ava Johnson fled the tiny town of Idlewild, Michigan where she grew up and made a success of her life. She owns a posh salon in Atlanta. But when she learns that she has tested positive for HIV she feels like her world has come to an end. (Book published in 1998.) She closes her shop and plans to move to San Francisco to live out the remainder of her life. But first she stops to visit her widowed sister back in Idlewild.

Once there, she discovers that her sister, Joyce, has become quite the local advocate. She’s created a group called the Sewing Circus to educate young women in the community about the important life-saving lessons–like the importance of practicing safe sex. An effort to which the local preacher and his wife actively object. Joyce has also taken in a young child abandoned by her drug-addicted mother.

Ava is reluctantly pulled into all of the craziness happening in Idlewild. In the meantime, she gets reacquainted with a handsome childhood acquaintance who has a very dark past of his own. But with the baggage they’re both carrying, there is no hope for a future for them. Or is there?

While both stories deal with very dark issues, they also demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit.

Many readers shy away from dark subjects, preferring lighter, happier fare. What about you? Do you strictly read upbeat books as an escape? If not, what are some of your favorite books that delve into darker subject matter?


Flawed Heroines Dealing with Important Social Issues — 5 Comments

  1. I have gone through times when I needed the more light-hearted read. Now I am back into needing the real deal. But whatever an author does, she better not sugar coat solutions. That is a big no-no for me!

    • Hey Julie! I agree. If important issues like this are addressed, it’s important to deal with them in a way that is respectful and realistic in the portrayal of the issue, its consequences, and resolution.

      Of course, with situations like this, the resolution isn’t neat and tidy–as it seldom is in real life. Which makes women’s fiction a perfect platform for these stories.

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