Reading and the reading experience has changed–yes?

I bought a YA novel for my older (13-ish) female angel tree recipient. The cover art and the blurb led me to believe that just maybe it was like the novels that have stayed with me all these years (The Egypt Game, Harriet The Spy, The Mozart Season, The Outsiders, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, all those Paul Zindel books that put the puns into my writing, etc.), but it’s NEWLY OUT, so I figured it wasn’t uncool. She listed her hobbies as reading, playing games, and flirting. *Snort* Now you see why I picked her off the tree.

Um, so, the book. I decided that I could browse it a bit without bending the pages (I can do that, really) before I gave it away. Ended up reading it through as research, trying to BOTH give it a chance AND figure out why it was “worthy” while most of my YAs are overlooked by the Powers. My conclusions will probably not surprise anyone, but I’m typing them anyway because I can (my hand is better! She said not to type much, so I’m being conservative, but I need to answer all the e-mail!)

First . . . I’ll put the title and author of the novel behind an LJ-cut later, so if you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

Coming away from the book, what I couldn’t quit thinking about:

The ending. I cordially hated the ending. Yes, the author telegraphed from page one that the heroine did not want the journey offered to her, although most people would kill for the opportunity, and the author telegraphed that it would not be easy to cope with the jealousy and competitiveness inherent in the sort of oppportunity the heroine was given (other teens in the same pursuit trying to sabotage her, giving everything else up for the pursuit–think ballet and that sort of thing–and so on.) HOWEVER, it still was not believable to me that someone who was destined for the Olympic team and/or the competition circuit (where she would win all the time) and who had a totally supportive family and a best friend who came around to being supportive would “give it all up for a normal life.” Nope, I did not buy this bill of goods, as hard as the author tried to sell it.

Food. Never ONCE did this heroine or anyone around her eat a regular meal, at least not that I can remember. Okay, maybe my books are full of people having meals and arguing or discussing things over a hot dog, and maybe that reflects something neurotic about me. But still! I do not remember one scent memory or taste memory. Even when they ate frozen maple syrup, I did not “taste” it as a reader. Perhaps this is perfectly OK. The editor(s) obviously didn’t care. But if I thought at the end of the book, “She must be anosmic,” there’s SOMETHING missing for adults reading this book. (Which is prolly the entire prob, actually. I’m too old to enjoy it properly.)

Lots and lots of references to “that old group Queen” and “that old song ‘House of the Rising Sun'” and so forth . . . confession: I enjoyed that bit, but I can’t believe the editors let it slide, because usually in a YA you are supposed to have them listening to hippity-hoppity or whatever’s current and never the music of the author’s life. I get dinged by crit partners when I even mention “The Wind Cries Mary,” and they tell me I should talk about the rapper Jungle-Chantee instead. I hate rap and think that it sounds like one tribe calling for war on another tribe–remember my Choctaw blood and how the Choctaw and other Native tribes used to prepare for war with a war dance and all sorts of rhythmic chants? And I remember with fondness the days when rock/pop music was about peace/love and never told me to kill people–so I always end up getting dinged or saying “a current ballad.” My teens are not allowed to fixate on Peter Noone, no matter how hot he still is (take a look sometime–I am not making that up.)

[Justin Bieber is nothing but Donny Osmond recycled. He even has the same hair! Go look at your old Donny posters! Even Donny said so, on “Good Morning USA” that my mom watches. But whatever.]

SO ANYWAY . . . do gymnastics people use older songs for their routines because they can’t do the balance beam to rap? Possibly. This could be a parallel situation. [Ha! Wordplay with parallel bars!] Just couldn’t resist mentioning that the author got away with it and I NEVER DO.

I also didn’t come away with a feeling that I wanted to do the activity that the book focuses on. Again, probably my creaky advanced age. But when I used to read a ballet book or a book about a gymnast or violinist or whatever, as a teen, I would always end up wishing I could be talented at whatever-it-was. This pursuit (the one the heroine gets scouted for and gets a scholarship to do with the pros, out of the blue) didn’t appeal to me at all, as described. Should it have? Or was the author doing a sort of “don’t be jealous of these kids” thing? I mean . . . I don’t know, but at LEAST I should have felt that some of the people in it belonged there. With this, I didn’t.

Now y’all will all jeer at me, but . . . there was not ONE quotable sentence that I found. No clever turns of phrase. I never laughed out loud. No writing that made me say, “This is a writer.” Just plain, serviceable stuff that was flat (to me). I guess this is the all-around-desired No-Style Style. I couldn’t bear it, y’all.

Also, the villains (not really bad guys, but just the usual mean girls and mean, strict coach with a heart of gold) were very expected. Nothing made them other than a vague stereotype to me. No “save the cat” episodes and only one time where the coach said encouraging things. I want a crazy Boo Radley coach or some quirk to the bad guys . . . it’s just me, I’m sure. Know what I mean, Vern? If you have a bad guy, I don’t want you to make him like every other bad guy. I need him to have some charming, endearing quirk so that I don’t feel he’s just set up to be a villain . . . so that I feel he has a life outside being mean to his students or whatnot. I dunno. Even her best friend seemed like she was phoning it in. Coulda just been me.

I’m not gonna tell you the title of the book after all. It will sell on its own merits, or not. But I did see what they are buying, and I saw that I can’t write like that. I suppose someone could edit my stuff so that it WAS flat like that, but then I wouldn’t be proud to put my name on it. As one of my profs in grad school (in a creative writing “The Novel as Narrative Dream” class) said, “I could write one of those, but I wouldn’t be proud of it, so that defeats the purpose of putting all that passion and craft into my work.” Maybe that’s a snotty thing to say . . . but some of us get to be snotty sometimes, don’t we? Bueller? Bueller?

ANYway, so my Angel Tree 13-ish female size 14 jeans got a newly published (just out on Dec. 7 or thereabouts) novel with immaculate dust cover that doesn’t even have fingerprints from my reading it, in addition to a pea coat, jeans, T-shirts, a hoodie from the Happy Bunny line that has the bunny saying “Not Listening,” a set of Scrabble Flash tiles, some jacks (yes! Plastic jacks and superball that glows in the dark), the four-pack of fruit-flavored LipSmackers (for flirting–I don’t want to contribute to the COMPLETE delinquency of a minor with SmashBox lip gloss or something), packs of those stretchy bracelets that are shaped rubber bands (what IS the appeal of those things?), mittens, a couple of little stuffed animals, and a couple of packs of Snoopy playing cards. If she doesn’t want the novel . . . maybe she can trade it in somewhere.

I was disappointed, but I could be wrong. I liked the cover art and hoped that it would be one of “those” books. Who knows? Maybe, for her, it will be!
~ ~ ~
Oh, and hubby got his layoff notice Friday. They’ll work through the end of January, and then if there isn’t bridge funding (which everyone is frantically trying to get), the project will end and they’ll be laid off. This has led to complete depression and dejection on his part, and panic and freakouts on Mama’s part, but I feel nothing but “oh well.” I sincerely feel that this job (and the ones before it that were just like it) has made him dull and bored and not very happy, and perhaps this is the only way to get him out of the rut. Whatever he finds next will definitely not pay as well, but I told him he’s not a paycheck to me. He is not defined by this job, and he is capable of many different things that perhaps would serve to fulfill his destiny better. If they get funding, cool, but if not, he gets out of the rut.

I said so. This did not console him in the least. Why do companies pull this 3@!!#$% right before Christmas? They are definitely wicked. May their stockings be stuffed with lumps of coal!

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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