Hope Is the Thing With Feathers, or At Least Fairy Wings

I started reading Sarina Bowman’s The Year We Fell Down, about a college freshman with a spinal cord injury , and when this first-person narrator meets her roommate for the first time, she says . . .

“. . . a little specter of hope had alighted on my shoulder. And this feathered, winged thing had been buzzing around for weeks, whispering encouragements in my ear. . . . Now, facing [my roommate] in the flesh for the first time, my little hope fairy did a cartwheel on my shoulder.”

She has a little Hope Fairy. I rolled my eyes. (Yes, I am a bitch.)

But as the story progressed, the Hope Fairy became less twee, showing up nineteen times in the course of the book to help the narrator undercut the anguish of her situation, and I started to pay attention to what Bowen was doing with her.

Corey, the protagonist, was a star in high school hockey, center and captain of her team, daughter of the coach, living a life dedicated to speeding across the ice with a stick. But as the story opens, she’s in a wheelchair, facing the knowledge that she will never get back on the ice. So she externalizes her hope, evicting it from the rest of her feelings because there’s no place for it in her life.

Bowen does a nice job of personalizing the hope avatar. When Hartley, the love interest, finally makes his move and Cory hesitates, the Hope Fairy shows up, “wearing black lace lingerie, and a pout on her face. Don’t panic now, she insisted. This was just getting good.” When that crashes and burns and all hope of a relationship is lost, the Hope Fairy adapts, “fluttering between chapters of my calculus textbook, spouting theorems. She put on a tiny pair of glasses and perched on the lid of my travel coffee mug. Even better she didn’t mention [Hartley’s] name. Not even once.” She shows up in Corey’s water polo game wearing a bikini and on a New Year’s Eve spent alone in a sparkly dress, and when Corey duct-tapes her mouth shut because she really can’t bear to hope any more, the Hope Fairy flies in at the last moment, just as Corey is telling herself that there’s no reason to hopes again, rips off the duct tape, and yells, “Yes, there is!”

Yeah, I became a fan of the Hope Fairy. But I still thought it was a hokey move until I remembered Dr. Garvin from Agnes and the Hitman, the avatar for Agnes’s burning rage. Pot, meet Kettle. Or at least, Dr. Garvin, meet the Hope Fairy. Agnes isn’t the kind of woman to conceptualize a Hope Fairy, she’s in her thirties and enraged, not hopeless, but it’s the same thing: take an emotion you can’t handle and make it the Other so you can argue with it, try to defeat it, tape its mouth shut, and finally accept it.

And that made me look at the damn Wound concept again.

Corey’s story Wound isn’t a metaphor, so I have no objections to it (my dislike of the Wound in the Past That Explains Everything has been made clear in other places). Her injury is real and recent–she fell eight months ago, and her spinal cord is irreparably damaged–so it’s part of the story in the now, and dealing with it is an ongoing problem for her in the now–physical therapy, trying to find people who don’t see her wheelchair first, getting to a second floor dining hall that has no elevator–complicated by the guy across the hall from her who’s on crutches because he got drunk and fell off a climbing wall, sidelining him from his place on the college hockey team. But Hartley is going to recover and skate again; Corey never will. Enter the Hope Fairy.

New Adult stories (protagonists 18 to 29) are not really my reading taste; I like older, bitter, grumbly, wiser characters (write what you know). But I’ve been deliberately reading in this genre, trying to see how much romance novels have changed (not that much actually and much of it for the better) and I was really caught by this one, rereading it several times, trying to figure out not why I thought it was good–that would be the writing–but why I kept going back to it.

And I think it’s the Hope Fairy.

Okay, not the Hope Fairy exactly, but the character of Corey Calahahn who is looking at a future she can’t bear, and so externalizes her hope in a ridiculously frivolous avatar, the embodiment of how ridiculous hope is in her situation. She can’t scream and cry and break things: this is her life from now on. But she can wall off hope and make fun of it, using the mental focus that made her a force on the ice to survive living off the ice. There’s no big move at the end where the Hope Fairy turns to her and says, “You don’t need me any more, Corey, you’re fine now.” Corey’s never going to be fine. But at the end she’s good, safe and loved and happy, and that’s enough.

So I apologize to Sarina Bowen for rolling my eyes when the Hope Fairy showed up. Her character created a ridiculous, cutesy, sparkly, probably unicorn-loving avatar for an emotion that was fraught with fear and doubt that she couldn’t believe in it anymore, and used that to deal with the incredible pain that believing in the future was going to bring her. I think that’s brilliant.

(Dr. Garvin was a good move, too. I’m just saying.)

I highly recommend The Year We Fell Down.

52 thoughts on “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers, or At Least Fairy Wings

  1. I really enjoy Sarina Bowen’s novels. And had much the same reaction to the Hope Fairy bits of that story when I read it.

  2. This was actually the first novel by Sarina Bowen I read, and I must admit I didn’t even remember the Hope Fairy. But I liked her stories enough to read all of that series and some more. Some of them, however, threw me off / bored me with the very long-winded sex scenes and the never-ending endings (honestly, every time I thought ‘well, that’s the last chapter, fine’, there was another one.)

    That’s why my favorite Bowen story is a short novel called ‘Hot Blonde’ (or something like that, it came with the ebook collection) where the pace is just right.

    1. Yeah, the structure of the ending was weird, starting Hartley’s plot, basically, after the love story was done. I’d have done that differently. But I still enjoyed the book.

  3. Ah, the Ivy Years Books…
    I loved almost all the novels of this particular series (not too keen on the novellas) by Sarina Bowen. I prefer my books with protagonists who have weaknesses and are “human” because of it. Plus friendship features highly. Have you already “Understatement of the Year”?

    I don’t seem to be able to get into her more recent books – might be because they aren’t YA and somehow seem more formulaic to me. Or the protagonists don’t appeal to me so much because they are often larger than life (or so it feels to me). Or is it because the books are very steamy. Sometimes I like steam, but I can do without more easily).

    I don’t seem to notice if they are well written. It’s more important for me to get a connection with the characters. Might also be that the connection is more easily established if the book is well written 😉

    The Ivy Years books though – I really love them 🙂
    P.S. I didn’t remember the Hope fairy at all – I guess I have to do a re-read soon!

    1. I haven’t read Understatement, I read the The Year We Hid Out (or something like that), the one about Scarlett and Bridger, and then I wandered off. I thought it was good, though. I did read the novellas. I think I may just have glommed too much Bowen.

      But I was also trying to explore New Age authors, so I kept switching. And the same things that are appealing–low-stakes problems in college, assumption that everyone is dating, nobody dealing with marriage or a serious future, sex-positive protagonists–can really work against the genre, too. I think one of the things that appeals to me about Corey is that her problem is a real one, not worrying about what people think of her or if she was going to get a date or if the guy she was fake dating would turn out to permanent after all (boy, there are a lot of those). She worries about sex, but not that anybody will think she’s a slut but because she has a a spinal cord injury.

      I hit one author who seemed to be basing her humor on her heroine’s smart, often mean, mouth, and the humor just wasn’t fun because of it. I read the free samples on several of hers, and thought, Nope. Plus she had a real penchant for drunk, stupid old characters as comic relief.

      And then there’s The Year We Fell Down and Red, White, and Royal Blue, both of which were excellent.

      1. I recently read a fake dating book – not usually my thing at all, but this was so great. Boyfriend material, by Alexis Hall. What made it great was that it started as a regular fake-dating trope, but actually was more – about how relationships can be scary, and pretending that you’re just pretending can help. I’d recommend it. Although there is a Wound, it didn’t annoy me, because it seemed fairly valid.

    2. Seconded, I love Ivy Years and have read a few of the adult hockey books and Vermont ones, but they just don’t have the depth of Ivy Years. Some romance books are “two pleasant people get together and there’s just not much plot or drama” (*especially* the Vermont ones) and I just don’t really care or remember the book after it’s done. But Ivy Years had compelling conflicts in them: this book with “can’t ever play hockey again” vs. “temporarily can’t,” and there was “I’m trying to raise my little sister in my dorm room” vs. “my dad’s a child molester,” and “I got falsely accused of bad sexual stuff” vs. “I’m a famous person and people pay attention to who I date,” etc.

      The only really compelling one of her adult books is the one where the guy went to jail for drunk driving and killing the girl’s brother, though there was more to that plot than that.

      I also did not remember the Hope Fairy whatsoever.

  4. Personally, I love a wounded main character, or at least one who isn’t all on top of the world and beautiful and rich and so on and so on. As protagonists, those are way more interesting to read about and their resultant struggles give you so much better a take on what their character really is than the temporary setbacks that afflict the lovely and the comfortably accessorized.

    I’ve been re-reading an old favorite — Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, which is essentially a YA romance. The narrator is a fussy old 20-something magic wielder with mainly bureaucratic challenges, caught in a mixture of complicated, interesting, paranormal-ish, sci-fiesque interlocking challenges. His hope fairy ends up being his disembodied dead mentor, stuck at first with haunting the narrator’s house and then his car, and commenting on things every time something goes radically wrong. And it’s a nice approach to a lengthy first-person story. It breaks up the sense of being stuck yourself, inside the consciousness of someone who’s strongly the way THEY are, but not necessarily the way you are comfortable being made to think like.

    1. All Diana Wynne Jones books are great.

      I personally really love Fire and Hemlock for the twisty-turny love story. And I think I’ve read it a number of times now. Always something new to find in it.

      I recommend an old book by NZ author, Margaret Mahy, called The Changeover. I love that, too, for a twisty YA romance. Both books have magic, of course.

      1. The Changeover is one of the defining books of my life. I still clearly remember the first time I read it and hiding it under my desk in chemistry so I could keep reading, and it was the cornerstone of my honours thesis. And I still find more in it every time I re-read it.

        1. Mine too, I blame it for dating a snarky damaged blond on a motorbike in my late teens 🙂

  5. I think I have to read this book. Very soon. I’m not much for fairies, but I’d love to have a Hope-marshmallow dragon fluttering around me singing off key. I’m gonna go dream about that while playing with mosaics and glue.

  6. I was swishing around this week trying to find the perfect re-read, and I settled on Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters. I realized that one reason I like to re-read her is that her heroines are young during the time I was young, give or take 20 years. So I get a lot about them, and I understand their worlds and the pace of their lives, telephones vs. iPhones, etc.
    This one was about the young women who went home to carry on her grandfather’s jewelry business, and it’s full of descriptions of jewelry, which I love, so that’s a fun part of this book. Semi-tortured love interest, family secrets, etc. It was just what I needed.

    1. Dr. Garvin was awesome. And I loved when she realized that Dr. Garvin was not only her, but just as crazy as she was.

    2. Years ago, I read in a biography of George Sand that she kept a diary in which she wrote letters to a (fictional) Dr. Piffoël, and I always think of that when I read Agnes’s Dr. Garvin letters. Dr. Piffoël seems to have served a similar purpose, although if I’m remembering correctly–it was a long time ago, so I might not be–Sand also sometimes wrote letters back to herself from Dr. P. in which he dispensed advice in reply to her letters. But either way, Dr. Garvin appears to be part of a fine long literary tradition.

  7. I liked that book too, can’t remember when I read it; couple of years ago? Anyway, good one.

    Currently reading Peace Talks (Jim Butcher), not very far into it yet but hoping for Mouse, Mister and friends.

  8. My first thought, and good grief I am such a Canadian, is “What, they don’t have sled hockey there?” and then I wondered if she didn’t have much arm movement.

    1. It’s been a while since I read this book (loved it, btw), but as I recall, her spinal cord injury is pretty recent – I think 6 – 8 months? – so she’s still healing/figuring out more basic stuff, besides starting college, so sled hockey would be in her future.

      1. Yeah, eight months, still adapting. It’s done really well in the book.
        But the sleds come in toward the end as part of the plot.

    2. She does in fact get on a hockey sled at some point. And then cries for what she lost and loves the sled at the same time. There is a wonderful bit about seeing all the tiny coreys skating in her mind. But we don’t see her on a sled team.

      1. That’s a great scene.
        One of the things I love about that book is how they build that relationship, how much they learn to understand each other and take care of each other. It’s such a good relationship arc, and that sled scene is so perfect for it.
        The other hockey-as-love moment I remember is when he comes back from the rink and hugs her, and she can smell the ice on his jacket and freezes, and he realizes why. It’s that little stuff that just nails the big stuff in a relationship.


    Listened to Reluctant widow by Georgette Heyer, I’ve only read it once I think. the “hero” was so overbearing, any self respecting Jennifer Crusie heroine would have taken him out with a frying pan. I don’t need a lot of sentiment, but when the “hero” doesn’t even get angry when someone shoots his brother and then bashes the heroine on the head with a paperweight…While continuing to assure (lie!) to the poor heroine that she is making a fuss over nothing. I haven’t been this angry at a supposed hero since Mr Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. I love Pride and Prejudice, but it gladdened my heart that in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film Elizabeth actually attacks him for the insult to her family

      1. You’re right about Reluctant Widow, though. And while the heroine is swinging the frying pan around, maybe she could take out that daft companion of hers that kept bleating that the hero knows best. This is one of the Heyers that I re-read least often.

    1. Yeah, I really don’t like that one, either.
      Go read The Talisman Ring. That has a great overbearing hero who finds his sense of humor in time. (I will admit that he was hard pressed by idiots and immature fiancees in the beginning.)

        1. I like the romance in The Toll Gate. And The Unknown Ajax too. With Talisman Ring and The Quiet Gentleman, those are Heyers that I tend to group in my mind – there’s a bit of a mystery adventure involved.

  10. Finally read a new book, A Week at the Shore written by Barbara Delinsky. First person POV, middle sister. Took me awhile to get into it, once in the plot moved along. Read into the wee hours.

    Looking for something else. Maybe reread Agnes. Or Don’t Look Down. New books are a hard sell right now.

    1. Whoops, meant for good book Thursday. Didn’t click on the link.

      I did like Dr. Garvin in Agnes. Might like the fairy.

  11. My hope fairy was kicked to death sometime in my 30s. Now I have a fairy that says “yup, it sucks, it will never get better, I have no idea what you should do, let’s go have ice cream.” Which is much of why I’m overweight. It could be worse. My fairy could really like alcohol. Like many drinks a day. Numbing, but alcoholism has never sounded fun. My poor little hopeless fairy. Maybe she just needs a friend!

      1. I managed to leave the house — voluntarily and alone! — yesterday. (Had to jumpstart the car; 2 months is too long to sit.) So I rewarded myself with ice cream. Of course.

  12. The ivy years are my favorite of Sarina Bowen’s. She has another one where two boys escape from a cult in the southwest that I love as well.

    And she has a series with Tanya Eby that has good slapstick romcom value. The second and third are more fun to me than the first.

  13. Rereading Margaret Frazer’s Sister Frevisse books; currently THE CLERK’S TALE. I wish they were all available on kindle, but a few still aren’t.

    Also rereading Aaron Elkins Skeleton Detective, currently GOOD BLOOD. It’s been so long since I read it first that I still don’t remember whodunnit, or any details about what bones Gideon will end up studying.

  14. Just realized that I have two new-to-me Crusies, Charlie All Night and What the Lady Wants. I bought the Crusie Bundle some time ago and (gasp!) forgot about the last two in the book.
    All set.

      1. Me too too! One of my favorite books. And I’ve got a signed copy from Jenny from a Cherry Forum competition. Makes me smile every time I think about it.

    1. I laughed throughout What the Lady Wants. It’s a definite Re-Read, too. There is a lot of Mae in Agnes, and you also have the precursors or at maybe not too distant cousins to the “goombas” who look after Mae / Agnes in their dysfunctional but loveable ways. Such fun. Enjoy!

  15. I started reading Sarina Bowen with that book too. The Ivy years were really enjoyable. I have read her other series too. I agree that the quality varies but I still read them. My other favourites are Hard hitter and her books with Elle Kennedy, Him and Us. I really like Good Boy a spin off from him and Us too. Blake Riley is a great character.
    On the other hand, the ending of her latest book, Sure Shot, absolutely infuriated me. You don’t produce a magic baby in the epilogue when the whole plot of the book is that the hero cannot have a baby. That is just so wrong and I thought she was actually handling that plot well up to then.

  16. I bought a $2 audiobook of Martha Well’s, City of Bones, which I can’t really recommend, but was determined to finish. I discovered it improved a lot when I accidentally bumped up the narration speed to 1.2. Usually I respect the reader’s performance choices, but this made all the difference.

    1. Just repeating here what I said yesterday. Bowen’s The Accidentals is a wonderful stand alone about a high school girl getting to know her dad when her mom dies.

  17. One of the ghostwriting companies I work for builds their romances around the idea that every character must have a “misbelief” that they have to let go of in order to find love at the end. And there has to be a moment of trauma that instigates this misbelief.

    It is, to say the least, not my preferred method of character development.

    Since that’s the framework I get paid to work within, I’ve retconned it into a “vestigial tail belief,” i.e., a belief that served them well and helped them survive/succeed at an earlier part in their life, but now that their circumstances have changed it’s no longer helpful. It’s the closest I can get to working with a Metaphorical Wound.

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