Friday, July 22, 2011

Birthdays in books

Perhaps it's because it's my birthday tomorrow (have I mentioned that already?!) but I've been noticing the strange and almost sinister way in which birthdays have been portrayed in some of the books I've been reading lately. As you will see in a minute, birthdays in these books are never great - traumatic experiences, life changes, the deaths of loved ones, the possible death of yourself, or the transformation into a near-zombie. Why do these things happen on birthdays? Is it the writer's way of juxtaposing something that should be happy and worthy of celebration and turning into something dramatic or terrible?

I'm not complaining or criticising, I just find it curious more than anything else. I have, in fact, loved every one of the following books:

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott - When I first had the idea for this post, Shadows on the Moon is the first book I thought of. Poor Suzume. On her 14th birthday, she witnesses the murder of her cousin and her father right in front of her eyes. On any day that would be a terrible and traumatic experience. It never leaves her and she plans on an elaborate scheme for revenge in this beautifully told retelling of Cinderella.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa - Things aren't great for Meghan Chase either, in Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series. Meghan Chase is getting by just fine until, on her 16th birthday, she discovers she is in fact part fairy and that her little brother has been kidnapped and replaced by a changeling. In order to get him back, Meghan and her best friend journey into a dangerous fairy world in order to rescue him.

Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon - Here's another one on the main character's 16th birthday. She's out driving and inexplicably, she's drawn to a different road and discovers her parents' abandoned car on the edge of a wood. Despite it being a large forest, she knows just where to go in order to find the bodies of her mom and dad. That's really awful.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - For Beatrice Prior, her 16th birthday means choosing between her family and everything she's ever known, and choosing something more dangerous and daring. I absolutely adore this dystopian novel with the different factions and I love Tris and Four and all the great characters we meet, the action and the adventure of it all. But it's a lot of pressure for one birthday, isn't it? :)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver - Whereas in Delirium, Lauren Oliver places the future 18th birthday of our main character, Lena, as the defining birthday in which she grow up, and choose a future for herself. In other fab dystopic novel in which love is seen as an illness, Lena must choose which path to choose for her upcoming birthday - that of safety and without the threat of pain or heartbreak - or to turn away from taking the 'cure' and embracing love. Would you take the cure?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling - But it isn't all doom and gloom, at least not originally for Harry Potter, as on his 11th birthday, he finds out that there is more in his future than a room under-the-stairs of his horrid aunt and uncle's house and even though it does get really life-threatening a lot of times, at least he's able to find a place where he belongs and family and friends who care and support him.

And that's it from me. I'd love to hear of the books in which birthdays play a pivotal role that have stuck in your minds?


  1. Hm, how peculiar. Your blog is coming up as "dangerous", according to WOT.

    Anywho, great pickup. I can remember the same thing happened with UGLIES, and many, generally many other dystopian YAs. Also, YOU WISH takes on huge focus on birthdays.

    Happy Birthday in advance, in case I forget to pop over tomorrow.

  2. Aww Harry's 11th birthday was the best of his life - finding out he got a place in Hogwarts, but I see what you mean about the others. I've not read any of the others yet apart from Delirium.

    I'm celebrating a bookish birthday on my blog today too - but not quite the same as yours :-)

  3. What a great idea for a post! I think maybe the reason writers do this is that when you're a child or young person your age really is a huge part of who you are and who you're expected to be. As a teenager, every birthday is a momentous event, something that pushes you forward to decisions which will change your future. So in fiction we try to anchor the character's experiences to a birthday to make them seem more real.

  4. Cass - Oh no, is it? :( I don't have anything dangerous or suspect on my blog or linked to anything so I'm really not sure why that's been happening!

    As I was writing this post, I did notice that there were more dystopian books I could have highlighted, but I wasn't sure if that was just because I've been reading a lot of dystopic YA lately! Also, thanks :)

    TSB - Harry's birthday IS pretty special for him, but I only tacked on HP at the end of this post to lighten some of the doomy-gloominess of the other books :)

    Also, you have me intrigued about birthdays on your blog. I shall have a look in a minute :)

    Zoe - What an interesting comment, thank you Zoe! I guess it probably has been too long ago since my teen birthdays for me to remember clearly the feelings I had when I turned 13 or 14 or 16. Thinking about it, it nearly crushed my world when nobody remembered my 13th birthday. It does seem so pivotal and life-changing anyway, even without anything furthered added to it. I can definitely see your point! :)

  5. I've never really noticed that before, but you're so right!!

    In Robin McKinley's 'Pegasus', important people get bound to a pegasus on their 12th birthday which is pretty cool. And does the matching ceremony in 'Matched' take place on a birthday, possibly? I can't really remember.

    And Happy Birthday for tomorrow!

  6. Happy Birthday Michelle!!! I have yet to read all of those books except HP. You're right, bad birthdays are becoming a bit of a thing in YA nowadays.

  7. I've never thought about this before! It's true, birthdays seem to be such momentous, life-changing occasions in fiction. Maybe because birthdays symbolise the beginning of life? Hmm, strange.

    Happy birthday by the way! Have a great day :).

  8. brilliant post! I had never even thought about the connection before with birthdays and plots!
    Happy Birthday!! :D

  9. Happy birthday! Interesting list of books...I'm trying to think of any more to add, but I can't think of any right now.

  10. Brilliant post, a really interesting read.

  11. Sophie - I think quite a few dystopian books place importance on birthdays like Matched, I just couldn't think of any more when I was writing this post (at the last minute, as you can see from all my typos!) and Pegasus! I have it I just haven't read it as yet. I knew there was another book I'd recieved lately that dealt with birthdays and a huge event.

    Cliona - Thank you :) I know I did start the post with bad things happening on birthdays, which is why I wanted to end with a happyish birthday like in Harry Potter...

    Liz - Thank you very much! :) The beginning of life? Gosh, that sounds so dramatic!

    Raimy - I thought it was an interesting connection! And thank you :)

    Julianne - I'm sure there's a bunch more but I can't recall many more either. THanks :)

    Jenni - Thanks :)


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