I recently read three books that are entirely unrelated in subject and yet I find myself thinking of them all together. In writing, as with other art forms, authors have the opportunity to normalize behaviors that are rare, unusual, or underground. While we often think of this in a negative way, normalizing certain topics in books- especially mass marketed books- is a good way to help certain actions become more mainstream in word and in deed.
Julie Anne Long is practically an auto-buy for me. I read all of the Pennyroyal Green series and wept over the The Legend of Lyon Redmond. When she put out (ha!) a contemporary in May, I was pretty excited. I did not get around to reading Hot in Hellcat Canyon until late summer. There were some parts that made me laugh out loud and I enjoyed the writing style immensely. I felt like the characterization of the heroine, Britt, was a little thin. Overall, I would have given the book 4 stars because I could see myself reading it again. However, I docked it a whole star and would not give it more than 3 stars because the characters had sex without any discussion of birth control. In my mind, a contemporary romance wherein the couple does not have a discussion of birth control or infection status, after previously having been established as having a sexual past, is simply not realistic. I believe that contemporary novels are aspirational and inspirational, mirroring modern behavior and weaving in things that need to become taken for granted realities- like safe sex.
Following that novel, I read A Life Everlasting and reviewed in for RevGalBlogPals.org. Similar to the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this book is about medical research and what happens to donated organs and cells. It is an extremely moving narrative about why donating bodies and/or organs for medical research makes a significant difference in many lives. The courage it took for Sarah Gray to research where her son’s organs went and write this book was a huge step in normalizing biological donation for science and medical research.
[Slightly spoiler-y] Close on the heels of that review, I finished Me Before You. This is definitely one of those “I’ll just read a little more… oh, look, it’s 2 am” books. The way that this book wrestles with what it means to have control over yourself and to realize that you cannot control the bodies or choices of others is deeply affecting. Reading this so closely to A Life Everlasting, however, I couldn’t help but wish that there had been even a brief conversation about donating organs or the whole body to research. Given the circumstances in which the initial injuries had occurred, a conversation about the usefulness of an internal examination compared with the knowledge the skill impairment would have been useful. Truthfully, that could have been just two or three sentences in the book, even mentioned in the character’s will and wishes. The fact that those who remained respected those wishes would have been the second sentence. And, ta-da, normalization of donation toward research.
Normalization of things like condoms, STI testing, organ donation, or donation for medical research does not have to happen through big “political” statements. As they can appear organically in conversations, paperwork, and as basic plot information, they become things that people understand are real and possible within their own lives. People did not talk about women having breast cancer until Betty Ford actually talked about hers. Edith Bunker talking to Gloria about reporting her sexual assault helped shed a light on how many women had felt, and still feel, in the wake of such an experience. Reading is an escape, just like the applied enjoyment of other art forms, but in imitating life, it can still lead us toward our best way of being.