I’m not going to talk about this book critically, save for a few quick sentences on how it is very well written and crafted, and how it reads as very authentic. I’ve read the whole Brothers Sinister series from Courtney Milan, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Hold Me is of course very different in setting (not being a historical romance and all), and while the themes in Milan’s books are the same, having it in a modern setting was a revelation to me.
In her author notes, she says that this is the book of the heart for her as an author, and I’m glad that she wrote it. I’m not going to talk about how good it is, because in a nutshell, it is very good. Instead, I wanted to talk about how it made me feel, and what it made me realise.
Growing up, reading the fiction I did, watching the shows that I’ve watched, I’ve never realised just how much of a supposed good female’s role in the world I had internalised.
A lot of stories about ugly ducklings were about beautifying the lead character, and the day is won when they finally have the affections of their male love interest. That a woman has no standing in the world except through the eyes of a male. I had internalised that, a lot of my writing when I was younger reflected that. Hell, even a lot of the fiction all of us grew up with (Cinderella stories etc) reflect that.
I never really thought about it until I read Hold Me, where the lead character Maria is unapologetically her own person, and is already fabulous, all for herself, and not for anyone else.
And on the other side of the coin is the perception of pretty women as dumb, a prejudice which is presented quite clearly via the character Jay, the male lead in Hold Me. That’s another message I had internalised, and had even consciously (and pointed out before as a positive to other people, which I now realise is absolutely not) started dressing down and looking as plain and as dowdy as possible, just so I could be taken seriously in a techy role when I first starting my working life.
And if I hadn’t dressed down, would I had been taken as seriously? Today, I wonder if it was my own internal prejudice, or whether it was well justified. The horrid truth is that I probably would not have been, not as first impressions go at least, given some of the conversation I’ve overheard over the years. If a girl is hot and very well presented, I’ve heard men talk about how bangable she would be, and nothing on how capable she is in her actual role.
Even today, I still get interrupted when speaking. I still get mansplained to. I warn people about Cryptolocker five minutes into infection, and get laughed off because what do I know; it’s just some random thing I read on the net and worried my ignorant head about… until bricks are shat when it starts locking the network down half an hour later. I don’t get paid attention to unless I start getting aggressive, which in itself does nothing for the image of women professionally. I still get treated as if I don’t know much, until I prove that I do. Thankfully, I don’t struggle with some of that nowadays, but only because I worked my ass off to be heard.
And even the “nice guys” always need a female in distress to save. Sometimes I even pander to playing that role to get what I want in life.
And I’ve been wilfully blind to the faults of myself and those around me in perpetuating the deference and thumbing down of my own gender. I’ve justified it to myself that it is a given, and it has to be done in order to survive in this world.
Reading Hold Me has articulated a lot of those issues to me. It has given things a name, a comparison by which I can identify things that are wrong in my own world. And it has made me realise that even though the world thumbs my gender down, I do not have to help it along.
I can be unabashedly female. I can be unabashedly myself. Because I am smart and I am competent, I am female, and I should not be afraid to be all those things all at once.
So thank you, Courtney Milan, for writing the book of your heart.