Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend is a magical adventure with a girl as the main character. I want to love it, but Jupiter North gets in the way.
Jupiter North is an adult man who appreciates a good name. He “nicknamed” himself (his word) “the Great and Honorable Captain Sir Jupiter Amantius North, Esquire.” Yet, when the main character, Morrigan Crow, says she doesn’t want a nickname, he ignores her and calls her Mog. (Notice her nickname is the shortest a person can have, while his is ten words and twenty syllables.)
Morrigan says, plainly, “I don’t want a nickname.” She says, “It sounds like something an animal vomits up and leaves on your doorstep.” When he calls her Mog, she repeatedly corrects him that it’s Morrigan. He ignores her over and over and over. Though he introduces her to others as Morrigan, he never calls her by her name again. He disregards her voice.
I told myself the usual things:
I’m too uptight, taking it too seriously. Loosen up!
It’s just a bit of fun. Relax!
The guy did rescue her from death and take her to a cool hotel. An unwanted, ugly nickname (her words) isn’t a big deal, right?
Everybody else really likes and respects this guy. He’s a good guy.
Most women reading those excuses will recognize them as the sorts of things people, usually men, have said about far more adult situations.
Morrigan repeatedly tells Jupiter her name is Morrigan. She never once indicates she likes the nickname (which could be problematic as well). Jupiter’s behavior is never called out. My sense is the author considers this a quirky trait that is part of Jupiter’s charm. But it is never charming to consistently ignore a girl’s words. To ignore her voice, her feelings.
Nevermoor was written by a woman, agented by a woman, edited by four women, was enthusiastically recommended to me by a woman bookseller...so as I read, thinking of all these experienced, smart, feminist women, I wondered, "Am I crazy? Am I seeing something that’s not there?" I think this is indicative only of how ingrained these dismissals are that we don't even notice them, partly because we tell ourselves we have bigger issues to worry about. But this is a reality I know to be true: Repeatedly ignoring a girl's request to call her by her name is NOT okay, and it's a symptom of much larger problems like those shared on #MeToo.
This message that Morrigan’s consent is not needed is one middle school girls will internalize as they read the book, and it's heart-breaking that something that could truly be an empowering, fun adventure for girls has several serious overt and subtle messages of how a popular/powerful man can treat a girl—with disrespect and without care for her feelings.
I hope future editions will correct this problem. Morrigan can give him permission to call her Mog, or Jupiter can say, “Morrigan it is,” and never call her Mog again. It’s a simple fix that can have a huge impact on how girls perceive their places in the world and their relationships with others, particularly men: that they and all girls have the right to be heard when they speak. Because they do.