Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Converting Kate: The Sympathetic ‘Villain’

In Converting Kate, YA author Beckie Weinheimer pits teenaged Kate against her mother in a battle for the soul. Kate rebels against her mother’s fanatical, cult-like church to discover mainstream religion, literature and boys.

The challenge: How to relate this conflict without depicting Kate’s mom as cold and heartless?

The complicating factor: The novel is told in first person, from Kate’s point of view, so the entire story is filtered through her perspective.

The solution: Right off the bat, Weinheimer portrays the concern Kate’s mother has for her.

In the very first chapter, we get a hint of Kate’s conflict, both with the church (I wish I could just wash my mind, scrub it clean, of all the rules, all the scriptures, and start over.) and with her mother (… my personal interrogator, with hands on her hips, eyes zooming into me like telescopic lenses, won’t be leaving me alone until I give her an answer.)

But we also hear directly from her mother, via dialogue that reveals a caring nature beneath the woman’s severe demeanor:
  • When Kate says she plans to ride her bike to school: “It’s seven miles and still dark out. Why aren’t you taking the bus?” Mom whispers.

  • When Kate explains that she wants to get to school early to sign up for cross country: “Cross country? Why, that’s wonderful. But I haven’t made your lunch yet.”

  • When Kate tells her she’s already packed her own lunch: “I hope it’s got something healthy in it. And please tell me you’re changing out of those running shorts and into one of your school skirts when you get there.”

  • And when Kate says she won’t be coming straight home from school because cross country starts that afternoon: “Well, don’t be too late,” her voice pleads, suddenly soft and kind. “Remember the dinner at church? I was thinking you could come with me.”

Hardly the words of a cold-hearted monster. Even the dialogue tags -- “whispers” and “pleads” -- elicit sympathy.

Yes, Kate's mom's comments regarding changing into a skirt and going to the church dinner can be viewed as nagging, and they are in fact perceived and related that way by Kate. But the reader can sense in the dialogue itself a quiet concern that tempers this portrayal.

It’s all too easy to create a one-dimensional villain, and that would seem particularly tempting when the antagonist is a religious fanatic. Weinheimer avoids this trap by introducing Kate’s mother in a maternal light within the first three pages of the novel. We know immediately that her mother cares for her, and thus we know part of Kate’s struggle will be to come to terms with their relationship and begin to heal the rift between them.


Danette Haworth said...

Good analysis, Linda! Another book to add to my list.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Hi Linda!
Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I'm returning the social call.

Katia said...

Linda, very interesting analysis. So much must be conveyed in the first few pages of a novel. Not easy to do, even harder to do well.

LindaBudz said...

Danette, thanks! I definitely recommend it.

Alkelda, Hi, and welcome! I enjoy your blog!

Katia ... hah! That is coming from a PB author? I don't know how you folks do it ... you truly amaze me!

Anonymous said...

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving and got a good night’s rest because . . .

You've been tagged to join in on 5 Random Things!

See my blog for details!

Kimberly Lynn

LindaBudz said...

Thanks, Kimberly Lynn! I'll post on that tomorrow!

FYI, I tried to leave a comment on your blog but it wouldn't let me. I have issues with commenting sometimes, so it's probably something with my computer or my browser.

Anonymous said...

Linda, I'm looking forward to reading it!

One good thing about me getting tagged, I was finally forced to teach myself how to do a link within the body of my posts. Couldn't get it to work for the fifth tagged person though. I’m so computer-Neanderthal!

Kimberly Lynn