In the second half of the thirteenth chapter of Games Wizards Play, Nita helps Penn, and Dairine discovers the true cause of Mehrnaz’s fear and anxiety. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For emotional abuse.
OH, WOW, A LOT HAPPENED HERE, LET’S DISCUSS.
So, Carl proposes a theory here about why the Powers That Be stuck Nita with someone so disagreeable:
“You may be having an effect on your mentee that isn’t obvious to you. The difficulty, of course, is that since we’re not omniscient either, we may sometimes do our jobs and think we’ve failed… and still have done massive good to someone that we may never be aware of.”
This isn’t a bad theory by any means, but I wonder about the implications of this for Nita. Throughout this book, Nita has been subjected to… well, awfulness. Penn has been truly hideous toward her. And we’re now 80% into this book and he hasn’t apologized to her. Hell, he doesn’t even seem like he’s aware that he’s a disaster of a person yet! So… is this all worth it? If Penn changes and stops being an asshole, that is a good thing. If Nita has positively changed the world and slowed entropy, that’s good, too. But there’s been a cost to this. We haven’t seen Nita this consistently stressed and upset since A Wizard’s Dilemma. Granted, that was A CONSIDERABLY MORE UPSETTING SITUATION. But I can’t ignore that Nita has been deal a shitty hand, and I feel weird about the Powers using her to achieve this end. What about her own personal entropy? Does that matter?
And look, I appreciate that she recognizes that Penn needed to be shoved fully into this world and this experience. She saw how much Penn freaked out at the reality of the semifinals, and she acted. IMMEDIATELY. I respect that, and I have hope that her actions have helped Penn get past his anxiety. But by the end of Games Wizards Play, I want Nita to have some closure, too. I don’t want her to have suffered for someone else.
So, a bit of repetition here, since I said this at the end of the video: While this chapter gives us a single antagonist to boo and hiss at, Duane still makes sure to make it clear that Mehrnaz’s family system is to blame, too. It’s really not just a single person, though Afsoun’s terrifying introduction absolutely puts Mehrnaz’s behavior into a proper context. Here, we meet someone in the Farrahi/Mazandarani family who is utterly one of the most shameless, stuck-up, and cruel people IN THIS ENTIRE SERIES. Which is new, isn’t it? Most of the antagonistic forces aren’t, like… mean? If that makes any sense at all. These kids fight against evil and decay, not individual people, you know?
Yet in Afsoun, we get a glimpse of a rare treatment of wizardry that falls much more in line with the traditional depiction of wizards in fantasy novels. RIGHT??? I often recommend these books by explaining that they’re more science fiction than fantasy, so it was a WILD experience to read someone like Afsoun in this book. Lineage doesn’t really matter in the ways that you see in fantasy narratives, but for this family, it clearly does.
So it’s very easy to see why Mehrnaz has so much anxiety around success, especially in this context. Success doesn’t bring happiness to her; instead, success engenders criticism. It makes her more visible within the family, and that visibility isn’t a great thing! And one dynamic I appreciated during the scene where Mehrnaz told Dairine the truth is that she made it clear that Dairine simply could not see things from her perspective. That doesn’t make Dairine an awful person; all of us struggle with empathy in one way or another. It’s natural for humans to view the world through their own lens. Hell, that’s part of our instinct, right? It’s how we protect ourselves and categorize the world.
Mehrnaz’s experience here is one that I deeply, deeply understood, so I know I’m biased in that regard, but I honestly can’t say I’ve seen this specific familial relationship unfold in a book before. From the few stories I’ve shared, you can probably glean how the context was different for me, but THIS IS IS DEEPLY RELATABLE. Look, success for me did not bring joy until I left home. If I won a speech contest, it meant I counted down the minutes until I had to tell my mother. My joy would last seconds before that realization crept into me. When I joined a new extracurricular group, when I qualified for varsity in Cross Country or Track, when an essay of mine was selected for a competition… all of these meant that I would wait for the inevitable downfall, the inevitable moment in which my success would be turned against me.
I’ll be a bit more explicit about this because I think it’s important to show that abuse is more than just the obvious. (And bravo to Duane for DIRECTLY calling that out in the text! I WAS SO HAPPY TO READ THAT LINE.) I was, by all intents and purposes, a perfect student. I believe my GPA by the end of high school was 4.37. I got a single B in my WHOLE high school career. And yet, this was never enough. If I missed a question on an exam or spelled something wrong, I was treated as a joke and a failure. Now, all by itself, that would have been a miserable thing to experience. But I watched as my twin brother and younger sister were rewarded for getting middle-of-the-road grades. It was demoralizing, to say the least. And while my abuse was physical in many ways, it was the emotional shit that hurt me the most. I’m sure you can imagine the complex that grew out of this, too. If I didn’t get perfect grades and overachieve, I feared retaliation. If I did get perfect grades and win competitions, I feared retaliation.
I couldn’t win. And that’s the sense I got from Mehrnaz and this book: Mehrnaz is in a situation that she cannot win at all, and she’s finally explained to Dairine why that is.
MY HEART IS BROKEN, Y’ALL. I just want the best for her!
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