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BLARGH: “My First SWOON” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Friday, June 5, 2009

“My First SWOON” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Big wet sloppies to Terra McVoy for swooning. Have I mentioned that Terra is a hot shot in the Georgia book world and I am sucking up for an invite to the Decatur Book Festival? (She is; I am.) Have I also mentioned that this whole “First SWOON” thing is a contest—that if you comment back with the story of your own first swoon, you’re automatically entered to win a signed copy of SWOON (which at 421 pages makes an adequate door stop)? Have I duly noted as well that if people want to hear the unsavory story of my own first swoon, you’ll have to drag it out of me (figuratively, in your comments)?

Onward, then, to our next swooner—which is bound to get tons of response since her demonic debut just hit shelves this week!

The first I knew of Sarah Rees Brennan, she was on top of me. More precisely, the advertisement for her novel The Demon’s Lexicon was above the ad for my novel SWOON on the inside cover of the Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Summer 2009 catalogue. I was instantly intrigued, as I’d long been a fan of The Devil’s Dictionary, that sassy little classic by Ambrose Bierce. As Sarah proves in the following true confession, she’s a sassy little classic herself—I highly recommend you to check out her book ASAP. Thank you, Sarah, for swooning…

My first swoon happened, as is traditional, after my first kiss.

I have to admit, a few other things happened in between.

It all started with my mother, who was born in Liverpool around the right time for her friends to date the Beatles and for her to travel around Europe by smiling at total strangers and asking for lifts. She escaped being sold into slavery, nobody has ever been sure how, married my father and moved to Ireland. Which was a quiet, traditional country where divorce was still not legal.
My mother the flower child promptly started burning underwear in bins on the street. There is a picture of me, aged four, perched on such a bin.

I was wearing a bobble hat. I look like I’m having fun.

Fast forward a few years on, and I am the most hardcore feminist nine-year-old in all the world. I had a bowl haircut, glasses and an expression of near-permanent fury.

Conversations between me and the opposite sex tended to go a bit like this.
“Sarah, could you move?”
“Typical. Just typical. Since the dawn of time men have been oppressing women by treating them as objects to be put out of the way when convenient. Well, let me tell you, you don’t own me. I’m not one of your many toys.”
“Only I kind of have to get home, and you’re leaning against my bike and reading Pride and Prejudice.”
“Well, do you know how many times Mr Darcy told Elizabeth to get off his bike? Never, that’s how many! Think about that. And stop oppressing me!”

My father and my two little brothers also got this treatment. At the time my baby brother Saul was exactly one year old, and I used to trot home from school, pick him up out of his crib and say fondly: “Whoosa good boy den? Whoosa sweetums. Okay, stop crying. Jeez, quit oppressing me.”

It was worse at school, since the boys there were first very puzzled and then extremely amused by me. Sometimes they would come oppress me all through our lunch hour just so I’d get annoyed and deliver one of my impressive speeches about the rights of women. I think everyone quite enjoyed themselves.

One day things went too far.

One day someone suggested Kiss Chase.

At first I was relatively unmoved. It was, of course, a shocking game, and it was infringing the rights of women everywhere. I made that very clear. I climbed on top of the bike rack, which was sort of my special spot, and delivered a speech on the subject.

It would never have occurred to me that things would go any further.

There was this boy in my class. He was tall, blond and had a strange sense of humor. I don’t wish to name names, but let’s just call him Ciaran Oppressor Keogh.

He had a sudden brilliant flash of inspiration.

“Sarah,” he said, advancing on me like a panther. A panther in Nike shoes.

I said: “I am not finished the chapter quit oppr – mff? Mfff!”

Ladies and gentlemen, my first kiss.

Unfortunately for Ciaran Harasser of Womankind Keogh, I was capable of going from zero to feminist fury in a matter of seconds.

I am about to tell you something awful about myself. I hardly know how to put this.

Reader, I bit him.

I bit him kind of hard. Teachers at the scene used harsh words to describe it, such as "overreaction," "disproportionate response" and "frenzied bloodlust."

Ciaran and I were both dragged to the principal’s office, where our mothers showed up and immediately began a catfight.
“My child was assaulted!” said Mum.
“Your child was assaulted?” protested Ms. Keogh. “My child sustained grievous bodily harm! My child is bleeding!”
“My Sarah is a delicate flower,” claimed Mum.
“Only two,” said Ciaran.

I began to think more kindly of him.

It had indeed been only two stitches. What were two stitches to make such a fuss about, in the grand scheme of things?

“This isn’t the only time this has happened, though,” said the principal.

This was simply outrageous. It was definitely the only time I had ever been kissed on the playground and caused a boy to need an insignificant two stitches. Why they allowed principals to tell such lies I did not know.
“There was that incident where Sarah was dropping books down at boys,” said the principal. “From a height.”
“I didn’t hurt them!” I said, shocked. “And the boys were fine too.”
“Sarah just seems to be very volatile around the opposite sex,” said the principal. “Very strong-minded. Which is a good thing in many ways, of course. Though obviously not for Ciaran. I simply wonder if this is the right environment for her. I was thinking – I fancied I might make the suggestion – I think Sarah might be right at home in convent school.”

At first the words didn’t even sink in. What the woman was saying was clearly absurd. Convent school? I wasn’t even Catholic!

Then I looked at all of the serious adult faces around me.

My head went all swimmy. My knees went out from under me.

And that was my first swoon.

Convent school wasn’t actually so bad, even though the kilts were not fetching. I’m still a feminist, and I still think biting wasn’t such a bad idea, though now I’m older and wiser I admit making the poor boy get stitches was going a bit far.

And when I was sixteen and at a party, a tall blond boy with rather an interesting scar on his upper lip walked back into my life.

But that’s another swoon.
Sarah Rees Brennan is the author of The Demon’s Lexicon. Visit her at


Blogger Anica said...

Love it. Congrats on the book release, Sarah!

June 5, 2009 at 6:07 AM  
Blogger Anica said...

P.S. C'mon, Nina, tell us your swoon!

June 5, 2009 at 6:08 AM  
Blogger Ben Keenan said...

Ha! SRB, you rascal!

June 5, 2009 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Saundra Mitchell said...

... YOU TEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

June 5, 2009 at 8:54 AM  
OpenID sweet_fallacy said...

I second Saundra Mitchell's comment... Anyway, a bite after a kiss isn't so bad. I once kneed a boy on the groin for putting his hand on my shoulder. It was an instinctive reaction! I didn't mean to! He was totally putting his hand on me in far too familiar a fashion!

June 5, 2009 at 9:10 AM  
OpenID flashfeather said...

Swooning! Not that I am entirely going to redirect this comment to the book I just finished, but it is going to look like it. My favorite part of The Demon's Lexicon is Nick's character! I bet far too many of us rather detached introverts could match the school-counselor reports our parents received about not playing well with others to Sarah's renditions of Nick's thoughts. It's frustrating to have to use words when other children attempt playful things, like removing sketchbooks or writing notebooks from our person! Biting or knee-groining is a much more direct way to achieve results! (Clearly, I will never have a very strong career in management.)

Unlink Sarah, my first swoon and my first kiss aren't that related for the simple reason that one was relatively normal (I was 17 and it was very romantic; there was a dark night on a boulder out in the sea, a beautiful boy, some camp-gasoline, and the New Hampshire police), and the other was probably fairly unusual and the original cause of the school counselor-reports.

My first kiss (delivered with intent, to an unrelated party of the opposite gender) happened sometime when I was 5, because I really enjoyed chasing a cute, young, platinum-blond boy named Peter around while threatening to kiss him. I was a terribly fast runner. I also had no idea what kissing meant, except that it make him terrified of contracting the venereal disease known as "cooties", so he would run squealing as long as I did make good on my threat whenever I caught him. This was was all hysterically fun until a recess when a teacher heard the screaming and intervened to send me to the principle's office and help Peter climb down off the bike rack.

Alas, my family moved a lot when I was kid, so I haven't encountered any emotionally traumatized blond young men since, but there are probably several boys out there who really should have thought of biting as a first line of defense. What do we teach kids in school these days!

June 5, 2009 at 3:31 PM  
OpenID sarahnargle said...

I was exactly the same at nine, though ear twisting was my weapon of choice, the school steps were my domain, and I remained feared throughout middle school (despite my actually begging my parents to put me into the All Girls Private School, which I am very glad they didn't). By then my weapon was the cane I carried for a bad knee, and I employed it in defending the weak, enacting revenge, and in attempts to break certain repeat offenders of their prejudiced comments. I was never caught, and no teacher would believe that "Sweet, quiet Sarah" was the secret villain feared by the troublemakers of the class. When I returned (after a two year break in the realm of independent study and junior college) for the final year of high school, I did notice a flicker of fear in the eyes of certain boys upon realizing who I was; but at the same time I received more than my fair share of applause at graduation from those I had protected with my Cane of Justice.

I'm not quite sure which swoon was my first, but I do remember an early one. Being a nerd of incredible proportions, and a child who didn't mind being the only girl in attendance, especially as it defied the expectations of all the men who were constantly trying to oppress me in suburban Berkeley, it happened at Dungeons and Dragons Camp. It was the result of my character doing something so incredibly awesome in an Epic Battle that I, as a usually quiet eight-year-old who didn't talk much unless things had suddenly gotten very interesting indeed, wouldn't shut up about it, until the strain of it got to be a bit too much and a fainting couch had to be employed. But in a very strong, feminist way, I assure you.

My swoons of a romantic persuasion usually occur on the stage when I play Helenas who are strong rather than subservient, yet still find time to run into the arms of their Demetriuses. My first Demetrius gave me cause to swoon on many occasions, but that is a much different story.

And in a situation like that, biting was definitely the only sensible course of action. Especially if there was no cane to hand.

June 6, 2009 at 12:51 AM  
OpenID stephanieburgis said...

But what happened when Ciaran walked back into your life???????

June 6, 2009 at 5:14 AM  
OpenID ren_not_lauren said...

I second what stephanieburgis said...what happened when Ciaran came back?!?!????!!??

June 6, 2009 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger kailtyn said...

third it! i wanna know. pretty please tell us!
and the lip bitting. not going to lie that was funny.


June 30, 2009 at 10:11 AM  

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