Laura Sook Duncombe’s previous Literary Ladies Cage Fight columns for The Butter can be found here.
Welcome back, mortals. It is I, Artemis, goddess of the hunt and co-host of the LLCF. Each time we meet, we take two heroines of literature and celebrate their unique attributes…by making them fight! When women are celebrated, everyone’s a winner.
Hey gal-pals! Aphrodite here, goddess of love and beauty and co-host with my fabulous sister Artemis!! Rules are the same as always: five rounds worth one point each. At the end of five rounds, whoever has the most points wins!
Right now our American readers are in the midst of a scorching summer. In an effort to alleviate the tedium of sweat-soaked commutes and other grown-up summer woes, this match features two YA protagonists who are getting a lot of press this summer—Margo Roth Spiegelman from John Green’s Paper Towns and Sidney Stanford from Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. Hopefully these teens will remind readers of those endless, possibility-laden summers of their youth, hanging out by the pool by day and cruising around with friends by night. (Shoutout to reader Victoria Sook for requesting this matchup!)
Did anyone really have summers like that? Mine were pretty boring tbh. But I <3 living through my fav YA ladies, whose summers and lives are way cooler than mine!! And I am a HUGE Sarah Dessen superfan and have been since I was an actual teenager, so I am totally psyched that she’s on LLCF this time!
Well then you have to cover Margo, to avoid tainting the results with your crazed fangirl enthusiasm. We must remain impartial! But enough chatter. Let’s get this fight underway!
Round One: Harry Potter House
Man oh man, Margo is ROUGH. Author John Green has said several times that he wrote her to destroy the myth of the manic pixie dream girl, but since the book is narrated by a dude who lusts after Margo, it’s hard not to see her as he does (which is total MPDG). She’s super popular and pretty and everyone in school worships her, but she just doesn’t fit in, man! She’s SPECIAL. She’s the only one who sees the fakeness of high school, so she runs away to escape her pretty, pretty pain. Margo is self-absorbed and manipulative—she knows the effect she has on people, and she uses that to get what she wants. She thinks she’s way deeper than she actually is and I’m not super sure what Quentin (Q) sees in her. Moody and scheming, Margo’s a Slytherin.
Sidney is not having a great year. Her charismatic older brother is in jail for paralyzing a kid while driving drunk and her parents are in major denial about it. She’s transferred to a big public school to save her family some money and she feels isolated: an invisible girl. Her strategy to escape all this is to watch reality TV, drive around aimlessly, and spend as much time away from home as possible. She’s tough to place, but ultimately her smarts place her in Ravenclaw.
Winner: Margo. It’s pretty tough to beat a Slytherin in this round, and early-book Sidney is not up to the task.
Round Two: Sidekick
Margo is all alone, man! She vandalizes her best friend Lacey’s car because Lacey didn’t tell her that her boyfriend was cheating on her with another friend. (Lacey didn’t know about the cheating, but Margo thinks she did.) Despite being popular, she doesn’t really have anyone too close to her because she doesn’t let anyone in. Still, Lacey apparently forgives Margo for the vandalizing of her car, because she does join in the search when Margo goes missing. She’s not much of sidekick, but then again Margo’s not much of a friend.
Sidney’s sidekick is Layla, her new friend at her new school. Layla is loyal to the core and loves French fries with a single-minded devotion I have to respect. She immediately takes Sidney under her wing and looks out for her, no questions asked. Layla is the first person Sidney opens up to about her feelings regarding her brother’s incarceration. One of the most memorable scenes in the book involves Layla sleeping right next to Sidney’s door during a sleepover to keep the creepy babysitter from coming into the room at night. Her powerful friendship changes Sidney’s life. Plus, her dad owns a pizza shop! This book will make you seriously hungry for pizza.
Winner: Sidney, hands down. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like Layla. We should all be inspired to be a good friend like Layla.
Margo doesn’t love anyone as much as she loves herself. However, the book’s narrator, Q, looooves Margo. He loves her so much that he follows clues and steals a van to skip graduation to find/rescue her. It turns out that Margo doesn’t want or need to be rescued, but Q is going to try anyway. Despite the fact that he’s obsessed with someone he only superficially knows, I really liked him. He’s got a great group of bro friends that make him seem likable and nice. The epic road trip at the end of the book almost makes up for the whole rest of it—that’s how much fun Q and his friends have together. He does learn a lot, at least, and grows up during the book. So he’s got that going for him.
Sidney’s love interest comes in the form of Mac Chatham, Layla’s older brother. He is soft-spoken and sweet, a former fat kid turned runner/health nut. He’s not particularly memorable and rightfully takes second fiddle to Layla and Sidney’s friendship story. But, he does take Sidney on his pizza delivery runs, where they play a game of guessing who will answer the door based on the orders. And he gives her the saint medal from which the book derives its name. He clearly cares about her and wants to protect her and I have nothing bad to say about him at all. He’s just not as awesome as Layla.
Winner: Sidney. They actually know each other, which is a pretty solid requirement for a relationship.
Round Four: Tragic Flaw
This should be easy, right? Because MPDGs are inherently flawed. But Margo’s not really a MPDG, she’s just an angsty teen whose shyness is mistaken for aloofness. Come to think of it, MPDGs seem like more of a male problem to me…men see a woman and think her only desire is to help him get over his issues and become a better person, when really she just likes wearing cute sundresses and happens to be a good listener. I play the ukulele for ME, man! Anyway, Margo’s flaw, I would say, is not having the courage to reach out and talk to someone. Like, Lacey probably feels like high school is fake too? Because everyone does. And she could have made some real friends instead of just admirers if only she’d just talked to someone. So put on your big-girl pants and make some friends, Margo. You deserve it!
Sidney’s flaw is definitely staying invisible for far too long. I get she’s trying to make things easier on her parents, but she deserves love and attention too. She’s not an accessory to Peyton’s story, she’s the star of her own story as well. When Ames (one of Peyton’s friends) is being really creepy towards her, she needed to tell her parents RIGHT AWAY instead of just dealing with the bad vibes. Her story with him nearly ends in a tragedy because she stays silent about it. Ladies: if someone gives you bad goosebumps, don’t ignore that feeling! Tell someone! Protect yourselves!!
Winner: Margo, if only because her flaws are not what everyone thinks they are.
Round Five: Happy Ending
Well, she and Q don’t end up together, thank goodness! Once the road trip ends and they find Margo, she scolds them all for tracking her down. Turns out she didn’t want to be found after all! And she doesn’t need rescuing! Q is forced to admit he was more in love with the idea of saving her than he was with Actual Margo. They have a deep conversation about love and life and vow to keep in touch. Margo heads off to New York, presumably to make art about how nobody understands her and make friends with Lena Dunham. It’s not happy, really, but it makes sense.
Sidney’s life isn’t rose-colored at the end of the book, either, but it’s a bit more feel-good than Margo’s ending. She finally stands up to her mom, and her mom is able to see what kind of girl Sidney really is (a good one, it turns out). Awful Ames is kicked out of her life for good. Most importantly, she finally makes a journey she’s been meaning to make for a very long time. We don’t know how that journey goes as the book ends, but we know she made it, and that’s enough.
Winner: Sidney! While Margo’s is realistic, Sidney’s is realistic AND happy-ish, and what more could you ask for in a YA novel?
Our winner this week is Sidney!! But both gals put up a good showing. Thanks for joining us here at LLCF. Keep sending in those matchup requests—we love to get them! Stay cool out there, both literally and metaphorically. See you next time, gal-pals. <3
Laura Sook Duncombe lives in Alexandria, Virgina with her husband and a mutt named Indiana Bones, Jr. Musical theater, pirates, and Sherlock Holmes are a few of her favorite things. Her work can be found on the Toast, the Hairpin, Jezebel, and at her blog.