This month’s edition of StoryNotes focuses on Lemon Lavender Is Not Fine, specifically the theme of the novel. If you haven’t read it yet, but it’s on your TBR list, STOP NOW! Instead, bookmark this post to come back to it later. Or, you can follow my updates through my Amazon Author Page.
For those of you who have read the book, let’s dig into some theme-y goodness.
DARE TO THEME
First, a little background on what theme is. The theme of a novel is the underlying message the author wants to get across. In its most simple form, you can drill it down to one line. For Lemon Lavender, the theme was summed up in the tagline featured on the book cover: Sometimes the biggest bully is the one in the mirror. That’s it…simple, right?!
When I first started Lemon Lavender, I knew it was going to be about a girl who was struggling to overcome a name she hated, as well as the effects it had on her life. Names are so much of who we are, and if you can’t identify with your own, it can influence what you believe about yourself. This is why entertainers use stage names and why some people choose to legally change their names to something that fits them better. Lemon doesn’t have either option, so she chooses to hide in plain sight.
As the plot evolved and I added in the Chelsea and Madeline characters, the story started to focus on bullying. From a writing perspective, this was a way to give Lemon a challenge she had to overcome, as well as exacerbate her need to stay invisible. In real life, things like this happen all the time. We ignore what we need to change about ourselves until something forces us to confront it. It’s very uncomfortable and not at all fair, but it is necessary to grow as a person.
“The message they wanted to send echoes in my head. You are worthless. Your feelings are worthless.
You are nothing except a funny story we can tell.”
The more Lemon’s story morphed into her overcoming her enemies, it also became about facing herself and figuring out who she wanted to be. This is where I’ve received some criticism from reviewers (and my mom), because Lemon doesn’t ever get revenge on Madeline and Chelsea. The ending doesn’t wrap up in a neat package where she humiliates her tormentors to the point that they’ll never bother her again. I get it—that would be a satisfying ending! As a reader, you take on the feelings and journey of the protagonist, so revenge feels awesome. And as people, we’re hard-wired to want bad people to be punished. Believe me, I thought about it as I was writing.
The bigger picture filtered in. In real life, it’s rare to shut down a bully completely. And if you actually do, it will impact your exterior life, but all those insecurities are still running rampant on the inside. When I considered this, the theme of Lemon’s story turned. Suddenly, it became less about bullying, and more about finding a strong identity.
During the penultimate chapter, when Lemon and Madeline have their showdown, Lemon has this realization:
“People will always have judgments to make, and I don’t doubt she has the power to bully me old-school style. I also don’t have much faith that her followers will quit either—if it comes down to pleasing her, they’ll continue to hang on her every word. With a sigh, it dawns on me that maybe taking down LW was a waste of time, because it’s me who needs to change. It’s me who has to stand tall instead of shrinking into the shadows. I can’t stop it, but I can be bigger than it.”
In this moment, Lemon sees that she won’t ever be able to control what other people think or say about her, but she can accept herself for who she is. When she does that, what Madeline and Chelsea (or anyone else) believes no longer matters. Instead of reaching for revenge, she goes for the larger, life-altering choice—finding peace with herself (and her name).
Choosing this theme over a “mean girls get schooled” story was a choice that probably alienated some readers. I had a few reviewers say they didn’t know how they felt about the book overall. I understand…this ending didn’t provide the easy reward. As a writer, I do want to offer a satisfying finish, and it’s something I’m going to remember as I plot other novels, but with Lemon, I couldn’t end her story with a short-term Band-aid to her problems. I felt like she deserved a more thorough life change that allowed her to stop beating herself up and take on any challenges that come up in the future.
To the angry readers, I hear you…and I hope this clarifies where I was going with the theme of the novel and why I chose to end it the way I did!
Next month, StoryNotes will focus on Ash & Olive, and the challenges of interpreting a classic novel into a modern retelling. If you haven’t read it, you can pick up the e-book here. If you’re in Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for FREE. Also, the paperback is coming soon!