In the past few weeks I have been entranced by two theatre performances.
I re-lived a teenage pleasure when I saw the musical ‘Grease’ – and I had my grown-up heart pulled to pieces when I watched the ballet ‘Giselle’.
The love stories in both these shows follow a recurring theme found in literature:
Boy meets girl … boy and girl fall in love despite being very different … boy and girl are driven apart* … boy and girl are reunited.
*The thing that drives them apart is an age-old leitmotif, too. I don’t like to diss the boys … but I’m sad to say that the reason these couples split is because the boy lets the girl down really badly. (But more about that later.)
If you haven’t seen ‘Grease’ it goes like this. Danny (a confident, bad-boy greaser who is leader of his high school gang) and Sandy (a quiet, sweet girl-next door) meet in the school holidays and fall in love.
When they meet again, Danny’s desire to impress his mates gets the better of him. He denies knowing Sandy, and puts his ‘cool’ reputation ahead of his real feelings. Sandy is heartbroken.
But Sandy loves Danny, and finally makes a brave move. Dressed like a million dollars, she gives him an ultimatum: ‘You’d better shape up, ‘Cos I need a man – And my heart is set on you.’ … Sandy stands up for herself, knowing that she deserves to be treated with respect. ‘I’d better shape up,’ agrees Danny. It is only then that the two get back together.
The story of ‘Giselle’ has a more gothic twist. Giselle (who is poor) and Count Albrecht (who is very rich) are deeply in love. But Albrecht’s family have forced him into a relationship with a woman from his own social class, so he meets with Giselle in secret.
At his engagement party, Albrecht has the chance to declare his love for Giselle in public, but he chickens out and stands by his fiancée.
Just like Sandy, Giselle is desperately hurt. But Giselle is so overwhelmed by her misery that she dies of a broken heart.
She becomes a ghost, and her fellow phantoms urge her to kill Albrecht, but she forgives him instead. But, unlike Sandy, she doesn’t take Albrecht back. Giselle chooses to finds peace in death. Because there’s no getting round the sad truth that Albrecht didn’t have the guts to say ‘I love you’ when it mattered, and Giselle wanted better than that.
So: two strong girls, who knew when they were being treated badly, and who weren’t prepared to stand for it. I think this is a really important message to send out to girls of all ages (and to boys, too, of course). We all deserve to be treated with consideration and kindness.
Actually, can I make that “Three strong girls”?
When I planned this blog post, I realised that Beth Hardy’s love story in Fierce Resistance is very similar to those in ‘Grease’ and ‘Giselle’.
In the face of some poor treatment from a boy, Beth demonstrates the same resilience as the two girls I’ve written about here. Hopefully this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but I’m very proud I gave Beth the last word on her relationship with resistance cell member Ricky … When Beth’s 7-year-old brother Peter asks her, ‘Who was that on the phone?’ Beth replies, ‘Someone who’s less of a man than you are.’
It was very tempting to make the ending of the first love story I wrote a happy one. But as the romance unfolded, I felt that Beth’s integrity and self-respect were more important than that. And it fitted with the theme of ‘Resistance’. The idea of not tolerating unjust behaviour of any sort.
As a writer of books for young people, it’s very important to me that I give my characters the ability to stand their ground, and not allow themselves to be treated unfairly by anyone. All three of my heroic girls: Beth Hardy, Jac Stryder-Jones and Laurel Smith, have only loyal and decent friends.
And they are prepared to hold their heads high, and walk away from anyone who doesn’t treat them right.
To find out more about how three very different brave girls stand up for themselves and what they believe in, why not hop over to the Books page, and read the blurbs, for a mini-taste of their courage in the face of danger?