By Annabeth Leong
Lately, I’ve mostly been reading in Danish. We seem to take some of these posts as recommendation lists, but I’m guessing there aren’t many fellow Danish students checking this blog out.
I do think it might be interesting for you to hear about one of the most striking differences I’ve noticed between the YA I’m used to reading in English and the Danish language YA I’ve read so far.
Er Du Okay, Marie? and immediately downloaded its sequel, Er Du Okay, Fie? (The titles mean Are You Okay, Marie? and Are You Okay, Fie?). I’m not sure if I’m good enough at Danish to judge how well written something is in that language, but I do know whether a story is compelling. Er Du Okay, Marie? kept me up at night with dictionary in hand, powering through the book despite difficulties of translation, all because I had to know what would happen next.
That’s full marks for the story. I learned a ton of Danish working my way through the book, and I loved every minute of it.
Anyway, Eibe’s series is about adolescents with various sorts of difficulties. Marie’s book is billed as being about bullying, but I’d say it’s better described as a book about the bewildering experiences a teenage girl has when she suddenly becomes hot and highly sexually desirable.
I think part of what grabbed me so much about this book is how unflinching it is, and at least some of that, I think, comes down to Danish culture. While English-language YA tends to be very squeamish about detailed sexual description, this book didn’t pull back from any of that. And it was a much stronger story for that. I’ve never before read a portrayal of the teenage sexual experience that I could identify with so much, largely because it feels like writing about that at all in detail in English is forbidden.
Also unlike many heroines I’ve encountered in English language books, Marie is forthrightly lustful. She feels a lot of conflict about whether she really wants to make out with particular boys at parties, but she often gets caught up in the thrill of exploration and physical lustful urges. I so rarely see that in female characters, especially when the lust kind of exists on its own rather than for a particular “special” boy.
She also has a sort of passivity, a sense of going with the flow that I really identify with, too. It’s always been difficult for me to figure out what I actually want, and my default is to say yes to things. That’s Marie, too.
And being this way gets her called a whore and a slut at school, which also happened to me when I was a teenager, and is, I suppose, where the bullying element comes in.
A final difference between what I’m used to when reading in English and what I found in this book was that the ending was much less neat, though it did tie up the main character arc. Throughout the story, there’s a boy that it seems is the “right one” for Marie, and he is a part of the ending. The story, however, is about her, not about a romance, so the note it ends on is a note of Marie figuring out more about how she wants to conduct herself, solidifying her friendships, and telling that boy that, while she’s interested in him, things are too confusing right now for her to jump into anything. That felt like such a realistic ending, and I loved it, but I am so conditioned to expect a romantic ending that I was a bit shocked.
Anyway, I’m only in the beginning of the sequel about Fie, and I’m impressed all over again. This book is an unflinching portrayal of self-harm that seems like it will be just as daring and profound as the first book.
So I’m excited to read this series (there’s a third book out soon, and perhaps more in the future), but I’m also left wondering why I feel like so much is missing from portrayals of teenage experience in my native language.