Friday, July 26, 2013

The Never-Ending Sagas.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been truly and wholeheartedly invested in a book series of any kind, let alone a YA one. There are books I’ve really enjoyed that were part of a series but I seldom felt the need to continue with the other parts of the trilogy/quadrilogy/series/saga (can we seriously start limiting what we allow to be called a saga? Twilight was not a saga. Hush Hush was not a saga. To quote Cleolinda Jones, give me Vikings or go home!) To give an example, I really enjoyed Beth Revis’s “Across the Universe” but had no burning urge to read the second book upon its release.

This is partially due to my own preference for stand-alone novels. I like my stories to be self-contained. If it must continue into another novel then I’d rather that the story is able to stand on its own on some level. No cheap cliff-hangers, for example. You have to earn that privilege, authors!

The waiting periods between books are also part of the reason I have no drive to stick with a series. On average, although times differ wildly, one can wait up to a year to see what happens next in the universe they love. Sometimes I just don’t care as much by the time release date rolls in. Then again, indie and self-publishing has sped up the process dramatically lately and I still don’t really care. This probably has more to do with my complete lack of interest in most of the mainstream series on offer from indie writers.

One element of series in YA that I’ve really become sick of is their seemingly endless length. Stand-alone reads turn into trilogies, and then there are multiple add-ons, prequels, midquels, spin-offs and further unnecessary additions that just leave me exhausted. Several notable examples come to mind. “Hush Hush” started out as a stand-alone novel that became a duology when Becca Fitzpatrick’s agent organised the deal, then it became a trilogy, then a quadrilogy. Not a saga, never a saga. Cassandra Clare’s original trilogy for “The Mortal Instruments” is now a 6 part series with several short stories, a prequel trilogy and about three spin-off trilogies, the last time I counted, taking the definition of “flogging a dead horse” to a whole new level. I’ve previously discussed the add-on novellas and short stories phenomenon which has risen in popularity with the increased number of e-reader users. Sometimes the story just doesn’t end.

So why is this? The simplest answer is usually the right one, and in this instance I think it’s business related. It’s a safer investment for a publisher to hedge their bets with something that’s already proven itself to be successful than to take risks. You can build hype and a fan-base with an ongoing saga that doesn’t quite work with a stand-alone. Of course, there are exceptions. John Green comes to mind but he comes with the sort of die-hard fanbase and mainstream critical reception that most authors can only dream of. A series gives an author the opportunity to truly expand their universe and the characters within, but like my stated issues with the phenomenon of add-on novellas, I wonder if continuing to stretch out a series long after the author’s original intentions is a good idea from a storytelling point of view.

How much is it possible to stretch a basic story idea? “Hush Hush” was already light on plot before it became a quadrilogy, and it’s pretty obvious to the keen eyed reader that the author is working with very little plot and the same level of world building. You can only spread a basic idea so thin before it snaps if you don’t have the basic foundations of characterisation and world building in place. It’s one thing if you’re working with middle Earth or Westeros but “Hush Hush” was hardly on that level.

Romance is usually best suited to a secondary role in a story, or at least one supported by an interesting cast, well developed world or side plots to keep the reader intrigued. When the romance is your central focus over the course of four or five books, several more than originally intended, you really have no choice but to hastily assemble side-plots and the like to sustain the series. As a result, the progression of the story feels far less natural and as a reader, I just don’t care.

I completely understand the concept of an author becoming very attached to their work and not wanting to let go of that world. It’s one of the reasons the add-on novellas has become as popular as it has, outside of business related ones, of course. However, objectively speaking, do the author’s desires always equal the reality of the story? I can name more than a few authors whose inability to let go of their world ended up ruining what were previously strong series (I’m looking at you, Laurell K. Hamilton). Sometimes, it’s good just to have an ending. Resolution can often be far more satisfying than a never-ending journey. It may not be as financially satisfying for publishers, but as a reader, I know what I would prefer.   

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Importance of Boycotting – On Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card and Bigotry.

You may have heard that Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel “Ender’s Game” has been made into a movie, directed by Gavin Hood and starring Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis and Harrison Ford. You may also have heard that the author is a massive bigot who supports the National Organisation of Marriage, frequently donates money to anti-LGBTQ organisations and rallies against equal marriage whenever he has the chance. Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate, the distributors of the film, have been doing everything in their power to downplay the PR nightmare that is Card, who recently claimed that he should be shown more tolerance by supporters of equal marriage (that noise you hear is my irony alarm spontaneously exploding). Producer Robert Orci said that Card’s views were irrelevant and separate from the film, while Card has mysteriously been missing from convention panels and other forms of promotion. Lionsgate are now including an LGBT fundraiser screening of thefilm

I’ve heard a few defences from people I admire of why they plan on seeing the movie despite Card’s abhorrent homophobia, and I respect their opinions. I understand wanting to support the very talented cast and crew of the film who are entirely separate from the creator’s views. There are unfortunately too few films made these days that allow truly interesting roles for young female actors, much less ones that aren’t weighed down by cheap romantic subplots. I don’t blame Steinfeld, Breslin, Davis or the rest of the cast for signing onto the project, especially the Oscar nominated Stienfeld and Davis. They both deserve careers worthy of their talent. And yes, I understand fans of the book being eager to see something they love translated to the big screen. We’ve all been there. I will honestly not begrudge anyone who chooses to pay money to see Ender’s Game in the theatre.

However, I can’t do it. I just can’t give that man my money.

Orson Scott Card isn’t just a screaming bag of bigoted hot air. He’s also a homophobe who puts his money where his mouth is. He happily sat on the board of directors of NOM as well as giving large sums of money to pro-Proposition 8 groups that lobbied against gay marriage in the state of California. He is a man who takes the money he makes from his writing and puts it into causes I not only fundamentally disagree with but find to be damaging towards society in general.

DOMA may have been struck down by the Supreme Court and gay marriage may have passed its 3rd reading in the House of Lords, meaning it’s that much closer to becoming legal in England in Wales, but the fight for true LGBTQ equality is nowhere near over. The gay marriage bill in England and Wales is extremely discriminatory towards transgender individuals. Married transgender people will need permission from their spouses before they can have their gender recognised. 20% of homeless youth in USA are LGBT, even though they’re only 10% of the population. There are 30 states in USA where constitutional bans on gay marriage stand. The rate of LGBT representation in public office remains extremely low across the board. YA author Malinda Lo’s research showed that less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters. I say all this because when Lionsgate say Card’s views on homosexuality are irrelevant, I say bullshit. We do not live in a vacuum. Card’s words are not said entirely separate for any other issue in the world. Indeed, he doesn’t want them to be seen as such unless he feels he’s being personally attacked. Card’s homophobia and anti-LGBT crusade are not separate from his work. In 2008, YASLA awarded Card with the Margaret A. Edwards Award, given to an author whose lifetime has been spent “helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.” Think about that for a second. His views on LGBT individuals are seen as irrelevant to his audience and yet he is rewarded for the other messages he sends to his audience.

Homophobia is also very present in his work. Remember his Hamlet fan-fiction (a practice he resents when applied to his own work) which existed solely to paint Hamlet’s father as a gay molester? It’s a little touch to play Death of the Author when said author is determined to continue the homophobic tango.

This isn’t just about me saying “I won’t support a man whose views I disagree with”, this is about refusing to fund said views. I can’t give my money to a man who will inevitably give it to something I completely oppose. We live in a capitalist world where money talks and I can’t allow myself to fund something that destroys lives, including the lives of many people I love.

Why does this matter so much to Card? In a world where so much misery exists, why would we want to deny a moment of happiness, security and equality to others? Why would we want to make an already vulnerable group of people feel even more scared and alone? We’re all fighting to be less alone in this world. We talk about how It Gets Better, but we should be working equally as hard to make sure It’s Better Now. For me, one hugely important step towards showing LGBTQ teenagers that we support them is to take a stand against the bullies, because while Scott would like to warn you all about the evil homosexual agenda taking over our society, the truth is he’s on top in these cases, because he’s a rich straight cis white guy with a massive public platform. However, he’s also on the wrong side of history. We can make sure of that.

Boycotts are one effective method for making your voice heard, but please also consider taking that money you may have spent on a cinema ticket and donating it to a worthy cause.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

“The Bling Ring” and a Defence of My Generation.

“The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World”
Author: Nancy-Jo Sales.
Pages: 288.

Publisher: It Books.
Summary (taken from Goodreads): Meet the Bling Ring: six club-hopping LA teenagers accused of stealing more than $3 million in clothing and jewelry from the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and other young members of the Hollywood elite-allegedly the most audacious burglary gang in recent history.
Driven by celebrity worship, vanity, and the desire to look and dress like the rich and famous, the Bling Ring made headlines in 2009 for using readily available sources-like Google maps, Facebook and TMZ, to track the comings and goings of their targets. Seven teens were arrested for the crimes, and instantly became tabloid fodder. The world asked-how did the American obsession with celebrity get so out of hand? And why did a band of ostensibly privileged LA teens take such a risk?
Vanity Fair reporter Nancy Jo Sales found the answer: they did it because they could. And because it was just that easy. 
Author of the acclaimed Vanity Fair story on the Bling Ring "The Suspect Wore Louboutins," Sales gained unprecedented access to the Hollywood thieves, and in the process uncovered a dark world of teenage arrogance, greed, obsession, and delusion. Now, for the first time in a full book length work, Sales details the Bling Ring crimes up close and in depth, and reveals the key players' stories in a shocking look at the seedy world of the real young Hollywood.

I hate the trashy tabloid culture that has seemingly become unavoidable in the age of Twitter, TMZ and the cataclysmic hell-hole known as E! News. It’s hard to argue that our society isn’t at least a little celebrity obsessed when CNN and BBC News cut away from the situation in Syria to cover Whitney Houston’s death. Better writers than I have tackled the topic of celebrity, privilege and entitlement, as have some of our top film-makers. Sofia Coppola, no stranger to the weirdness of Hollywood, has taken on another strange but true tale of teenage isolation and the alienating nature of celebrity, this time based on Nancy Jo Sales’s Vanity Fair piece on a group of spoiled celebrity obsessed teenagers who burglarised the homes of numerous Hollywood stars. I can’t comment on the film itself since it hasn’t been released in the UK yet, but fortunately for us, Sales has expanded her piece into a full length book, packed full of pseudo-intellectualism, cheap generalisation, painfully bad attempts at pop-culture references and yet another concern trolling attack on the supposed inherent selfishness of my generation.

I get that this is a non-fiction book aimed at a more general audience and not a YA novel but reading this book reminded me of many a YA author’s attempts at capturing the zeitgeist of the 21st century teenage generation and failing miserably. To give those authors credit, at least they didn’t use shallow research with the thinnest of connections to the subject in hand in order to prove their point.

From a simple writer’s point of view, “The Bling Ring” is far more of a slog to read than a book of this length should be. It doesn’t help that Sales did not procure an interview with the supposed ring-leader of the group, Rachel Lee. Without her words or even that of her lawyer, the story feels inevitably incomplete. Sales has to reach to make the most unnecessary of connections in order to create supposed context to deconstruct the burglar ring. While I see the obvious links between a gang of celebrity obsessed teenagers in Hollywood stealing from those they idolised and the damaging potential of the reality TV culture, Sales’s continued inclusion of sociological and psychological studies, peppered with a few anecdotes, fall flat for the most part. Glimmers of insight shine through but only for the briefest moments. It’s hard not to read this book and sense all the padding. Where the Vanity Fair article was sharp and concise, this feels baggy and tiresome. The most entertaining parts centre on Alexis Neiers and her family, who were starring in an E! reality show during the arrest and trial, but Sales brings nothing new to these moments that weren’t in her article. Honestly, you’ll find a far more visceral and unique deconstruction of these teens and the celebrity culture in that TV show, the abhorrent train-wreck “Pretty Wild” than you will here. If you can’t suffer the show itself, and I don’t blame you, check out the clips from “The Soup”.

When “The Social Network”, the movie based on the creation of Facebook, came out, many critics claimed it was the defining film of my generation, something I took offence to. After all, why should my generation be defined by Ivy League privilege and cut-throat selfishness? My best friend decided to fight back and wrote a piece on why the film that really defined our generation was “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World” (I can’t find this article anymore sadly, but I’ll keep digging. Edgar Wright retweeted it and everything!). I like that film a lot, as I do with “The Social Network”, but once again, it’s about a selfish white guy (the comics expand the issues way better). With Sales’s “The Bling Ring”, we have another dose of vapid narcissism and privilege that is seen as the poison that has permeated our generation. How does Sales justify her opinions on this supposed state of the teenage and young adult nation? She quotes hip-hop and talks about the Kardashians, and yes, those moments are just as cringe-worthy as you think they are. The burglars watched “The Hills” and desired expensive clothes, therefore our generation has gone to pot. Little girls dress as princesses and this is a sign they’re going to turn into Paris Hilton. A highly publicised group of young people commit some crimes and all of a sudden the Bonnie and Clyde comparisons come out!

All of this pearl clutching over the sorry state of those darn kids reeks of pushing the blame around. Why don’t we talk about the ingrained privilege of our business and economic culture that expects university graduates drowning in rising debts to intern for free to gain “experience” instead of earning a decent day’s wage, a culture that breeds nepotism since only the lucky few at the top can afford to sustain this lifestyle? Why doesn’t Sales discuss the bleeding of social security in America during an economic crisis, or how baby boomers have destroyed the political system to the point where overcoming apathy becomes more and more difficult every day? How about, amidst all the tutting over celebrity culture, something that’s been around for longer than most of us have been alive, we mention the unavoidable misogyny that dictates famous women must all look a certain way (usually white, skinny, busty and willing to dress expensively) while balancing the impossible tightrope of being sexualised and virginal? Let’s not forget that said double standards have led to the continued shaming of women in the public eye for daring to make their own decisions, and even blaming them for the awful things that have happened to them (Rihanna, anyone?) And all those reality TV shows that push the wealth fetish we’re supposedly all in love with? Who commissioned those shows and who’s making money off them? I doubt the CEO of E! is 16 years old.

Our generation’s going to be left with an overheated planet with a worldwide economic black-hole sitting on top of an American government where less than 20% of congress is female, student debt sits at an all-time high and CNN has a genuine debate over whether the word “cracker”is worse than the N word (breaking news: if you can’t even say the word then that’s the worse one). So the next time you see someone generalising this generation as selfish, the me-me-me crowd lacking in empathy and dripping in narcissism, the way Nancy Jo Sales does, take some time to think about the mess we’ve been left by the shimmering Samaritans known as the baby boomers, because frankly, we’ve earned the right to complain.

Back to “The Bling Ring”.

It’s fine if you want a Heat Magazine style expose of a very specific sliver of celebrity culture gone bad, although you’d be better just reading the Vanity Fair article. It’s not a badly researched book, it’s just grasping at all the wrong straws in an attempt to create something more worthy than it actually is. It’s most decidedly not about our generation. Hope you die before you get old? Not quite, but I hope we get a big enough shovel to clean up the mess. Then we’ll tweet it for all to see.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Hater’s Response.

There are days when there is nothing funnier in the world to me than being labelled a ‘hater’ for my writings on YA. It’s the defence instinctively used when you see what you deem to be an attack on something you like. Of course that person’s just a hater, why else would they criticise something that so many people love?

Let’s be honest, the word ‘hater’ itself is pretty ridiculous, and it’s thrown around so often on the internet that it’s lost all meaning. You can be declared a hater for almost any offence, from disliking a book to criticising politics to disagreeing with some Tumblr comment. This is hardly anything new. Critics have been slammed by artists, fans and even fellow critics for what is seen as unnecessarily harsh comments. Look at some of the responses the late great Roger Ebert got for his reviews (Vincent Gallo’s tantrum comes to mind).

However, while these kinds of dismissals can be entertaining, there are also times where they just aggravate me. To be honest, it can be pretty infuriating to see your thoughts be dismissed as that of a blindly jealous hater who clearly just covets the amazing talent of the author whose work you slammed. It’s not just that such attitudes belittle the time, effort and thought that go into my own reviews, but that they seem to be of the opinion that criticism of any form is done out of jealousy or spite. We’ve all witnessed far too many online kerfuffles where bloggers have been told by authors and other reviewers what the appropriate way to critique a book is. To diverge from this path is being mean (as James Dashner declared a 16 year old reviewer to be. He later apologised but seriously, authors, can we not do this in the future?)
But never fear, I am here to tackle every possible thing that’ll be thrown in your face as a reviewer, be it from authors, bloggers, tweeters or those oddballs in every internet comments section.

You’re just jealous.

I do get jealous sometimes, it’s true. I’m jealous of Bryan Fuller for creating Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. I’m jealous of Audra McDonald for her voice and five Tony Awards. I’m jealous of every food critic in the country for getting paid to eat food in amazing restaurants out of my price range. I most certainly am not jealous of Becca Fitzpatrick for writing Hush Hush, or E.L. James for writing Twilight fan-fiction, nor am I jealous of their successes and large bank balances. Seriously, I’m not. I’m more likely to be jealous of an author whose work I enjoyed. Why would I be envious of things I disliked or got angry over? Because they’re successful? Lots of things I don’t like and have never reviewed are successful. Honestly, I’m not sure how to respond properly to the ‘jealous’ badge, because I know I’m not, as do most sensible people.

You’re just a failed writer!

Okay, I sort of am. I’ve written before about my difficulties with writing fiction now after spending so long trying to hone my craft as a wannabe author, but I’ve come to terms with that. I may write again in the future, I may not. I’ll keep writing reviews because I love fiction and analysis. I don’t do it out of some overblown soap opera style vendetta against the written word rooted in my own securities. Who’s got the time for that? Besides, technically, reviewing is writing, and I haven’t failed at that yet.

Why don’t you write a book yourself then?

See above for that one but the assumption that only those who have written a book can criticise fiction is pretty silly. If we’re going doing this route of logic then what kind of writer is allowed to critique? Does their book have to be good and if so, by what standards? Which critics are allowed to say it’s good enough for them to be able to tell other people their work is good enough? It’s getting all Inception in here! Roger Ebert made movies that weren’t particularly good, although his unofficial sequel to Valley of the Dolls is a camp cult classic, but that doesn’t render his decades of eloquent and thoughtful analysis of film null and void. We’d be depriving the world of a lot of amazing voices if we imposed crap like this.

You’re an embarrassment to feminism!

This may be my favourite thing anybody has ever said about me. It’s so hilariously over-the-top that I can’t even be that offended by it. If your only defence to my criticism of a work being anti-feminist or problematic in regards to its portrayal of women is “No, YOU’RE the anti-feminist meanie” then you really aren’t arguing your case well. I’m not a perfect feminist and I don’t think such a thing exists. Feminism isn’t this big unchanging blob. It’s ever evolving and requires as much listening as it does talking. The experiences I have as a (white bi cis able-bodied working class but university educated) woman will not be the same as, say, a woman of colour or a disabled woman. If I screw up, I want to be called out on it but there’s a difference between calling out and good old fashioned mudslinging.

I bet you live a sad lonely little life.

Eh, it’s not too shabby. There are a lot of things I’d change about it but overall, I’m pretty happy and working to live the best life I can (I’m aware of how Oprah-esque that sounded and apologise profusely). Any issues I have with my life are entirely independent of my work as a blogger, although my personal issues with certain things do shine through now and then. Being negative about something doesn’t mean I’m miserable. I just have no tolerance for bullshit.

You’re over-educated/you’re stupid!

I put these two together because they’re essentially the same criticism – you’re either not smart enough to share your opinion on a book or you’re too smart. Being called stupid is a tough one for me. It’s an insult that’s always hurt more than being called ugly. I’m extremely lucky to be university educated and I hope to return to higher education in the future. I understand that these paths are not available to everyone. My degree doesn’t make me better than a blogger who left school at 16, nor does it make me some elitist snob who is somehow above the work I review. I can’t deny that studying English literature has helped me immensely as a writer, but it’s not required.

Stop trying to destroy careers!

Oh come on. I don’t think Dan Brown has received a single positive review in a literary publication and I seriously doubt it’s affected his life. He’s still selling books by the truckload. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a laughing stock but E.L. James still made $95m in a year. Believe me, I would love to have the maniacal level of power that some people think I have but I would put it to far better use than writing 1 star reviews on Goodreads. Check out my bad reviews and tell me exactly how many careers I’ve ruined. Why is criticism seen as a bullying tool? Yes, there are reviews that cross the line but they’re nowhere near as prevalent as many believe them to be. I don’t do what I do out of spite or because I have delusions of dictator style grandeur.

You just hate popular things.

I like lots of different things that vary across the spectrum of popularity. My favourite band currently have the song of theSummer, my favourite movie won several Oscars, my favourite TV show is a cultclassic that was cancelled after 2 seasons and my favourite YA novel won the Printz Award. It’s true that I’ve been very critical of a lot of the most popular stuff in YA but most of it just left me more indifferent than angry. Sometimes defending your opinion in the face of a differing majority can be tough but your thoughts aren’t worth less because they go against the grain. Pop culture has been criticised for decades and the hipster argument’s been thrown around just as much. If we all liked the same things we’d be bored stiff.

Why are you so critical? It’s just books for teens.

I firmly believe that YA deserves the same level of analysis that’s been given to film, TV, adult literature and even video games. The culture we absorb shapes us, even more so when we’re younger. Surely we should take a deeper look at the media we create for teenagers and see what messages we’re sending out, be it intentionally or otherwise?

Aren’t you a little old to be reviewing YA?

Aren’t the critics at the New York Times a little old to be reviewing picture books for toddlers? Art doesn’t have an age limit. Great literature is timeless. There are people much older than me reviewing YA and they are just as entitled to their opinions of the category as I am. Same for actual teenagers reviewing YA (I do think we should put more focus on the actual audience for these books). Sometimes there are things in books you don’t really pick up on until you’re a bit older and somewhat wiser. 

You’re a crazy bitch!

Yawn, I have no time for sexism and ableism. Next please.

Who the hell do you think you are?

Well, my birth certificate says Kayleigh. I’m 23, I live in Scotland, I review books and write about YA and publishing, and sometimes I cook while dancing around my kitchen to the Beastie Boys. If it helps you get through the day to think of me as a hater, by all means go wild. I love doing what I do, even when it sometimes exhausts and infuriates me, and if you’re going to keep writing books then I’m going to keep reviewing them. That’s how this all works.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

*dips toes into NA*

*sloooooowly eases in*

*a giant tentacle wraps itself around calf and drags under*

Disclaimer: I know the author, Leah, through our conversations on Twitter. She offered me an ARC of her book to read, with the caveat that I may or may not even get around to writing the review. Make of that what you will.

So apparently the big thing this year is NA. Indie-turned-traditional NA. I'm having flashbacks to people talking about 50 Shades for teens, and I'm trying to keep my mind open.

Thankfully, "Unteachable" is one of the books that would revive my hopes if I had any hopes to revive.

Maise is a girl from a broken home - her mother is a drug addict and a drug dealer, and her father abandoned them both before she even had a solid memory of him. The summer before seniour year starts, she has a fling with a cute guy she met at a carnival, who turns out to be her new teacher.

Evan is a guy with a past, but he can't resist Maise, and the two start having a steamy relationship. Soon after, things start to unravel.

Okay, so maybe I don't sell the plot, but it's a very engaging story. Some of the more seasoned NA readers out there have probably discerned a familiar pattern. If you like it, you'd have made up your mind to read this book already. My job is done.

For those of you who need more convincing, here are the things that made this book work for me.

1. The protagonist

Maise is a straightforward, no-nonsense chick, who screws up, makes things better, screws up again, but isn't put off by the possibility of failure. If she gets stuck in a situation, she will find a way around it, and nothing will stop her. Like most people, she learns through trial and error, and it's refreshing to see how quickly she picks things up.

But you know what else is refreshing? She's someone who owes her sexuality, and once she gets over her initial fear of emotional intimacy, she embraces that as well:

I owed every part of me, the nudity, the just-had-sex-hair, every mistake I'd ever made, and wrapped myself in it. p.56

2. Siobhan

Seriously - Siobhan is a badass lady. I seriously want to be her. (And if not, I would like her story. Stat.)

3. Movies!

Maise wants to make movies, but the book goes beyond just telling us that. The text is filled with references to movies, to filming and narrative techniques, the characters talk animatedly about this, and it actually plays a huge part of the plot - Evan teaches film and Maise needs his unit to get to the kind of school she wants. Maise and her friend Wesley bond over movies, etc. etc. etc.

What I mean is, this book clearly knows its shit, and isn't afraid to show it. I admit it, I love me a story that has its characters be total geeks over something.

4. The writing

If I had a physical copy of this book, half the thing would be in highlights. And as I believe in showing, rather than telling, here are some tasty quotes for you.

If Wesley had been here, he would have filmed the moment, captured it. Raising the camera was his first impulse; mine was to feel, to let the world crash against my skin. p.83

I ran my hand over his downy belly and up to the place above his heart. I listened to it beating through my skin. "Because I want all of you," I said. "Every part."

He whispered back, "It's yours." p.113

I can't be your manic pixie dream girl. I can't be the girl who teaches you to open your heart and embrace life and all that bullshit, because I'm trying to figure out how to do that myself. p. 120

I rest my point.

There are things I don't like about this book, of course there aren't. I feel like our antagonist needed more fleshing out (I like to care about antagonists just as much as I do for the protagonist) and there's a stake at the end of the book that could have been introduced earlier.

However, those things can be overlooked. My biggest beef with this was the fact that, for all the things that happen in this book, the dramatic tension is very low. Sure, we worry about whether Evan and Maise will get together (and before you ask, yes, the student/teacher thing is addressed, although I'm not to the extent I would have liked), but everything else...

How do I put this?

Stuff happens. Lots of stuff happens, some of it very scary in theory. But I never worried about the characters because their fear never came through to me. I knew that Maise would find a solution - that's the kind of person she is, and she was rarely in the grips of such strong emotion that I genuinely feared for her.

The only sense of danger came from her interactions with others - Evan, Wesley, her mother - because those were situations where she had no way of knowing the outcome, no way of controlling the situation, and you know what? If the book had been just about that, it would have been strong enough to stand on its own. But it had one too many subplots which didn't add much to Maise's character, and that's why I feel disappointed.

Still, this is a very strong book, and a nice little intro for me to the NA genre. Here's to hoping more books are like this one.

Note: Image via Goodreads.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Brief Interludes – On Short Stories, In-Between Sequels, Prequels and Add Ons.

It’s no secret that the rise of the e-reader has revolutionised publishing and the way we consume stories as we know it. For one thing, you can now download fan-fiction and read it on the go (real fan-fiction, none of this P2P rubbish)! The market has diversified, self-publishing and indie houses are storming the castle and now it’s easy enough for practically anyone to get their books out there. With this new freedom comes the difficulty of making your work stand out amidst a saturated market, and the big six publishers are struggling to keep up (is it big six or are we down to five or four now? I can’t remember anymore).

One interesting addition to this new market has been the rise of extra content for readers. Nowadays, it’s pretty commonplace for an author or publisher to offer a deleted scene, extra chapter or completely new story set in the novel’s universe to hungry readers desperate for more. Cassandra Clare has hopped onto this bandwagon, as is her style, and is co-writing a series of short stories with Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees-Brennan centred on one of her most popular characters. Name a YA author workingtoday and the chances are they’ve released novellas, prequels, midquels andlots of special content for their big series

On the one hand, I can understand the benefits of this kind of literary diversification. If you’re an author, you now have a chance to expand their worlds beyond the limits put on them by editors and publishers. It gives them the opportunity to show readers a little more of their world, a little more of supporting characters and the situations readers have always wanted to know more about but weren’t always necessary to the central narrative. There’s also the benefit of creating a hook for potential readers. Paying £7 or the US equivalent for 300+ pages is a risk for many a reader, especially the more cash strapped amongst us. Offering a sneak peak of the novel at a low price or for free is always a good option.

My issue with these kinds of add-ons is rooted in terms of their necessity to the narrative. I personally like my series to be relatively self-contained. If I’m dedicating my time, energy and money to, say, Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, I don’t want to have to invest in all the short stories to fully understand what’s going on. If I go from book two to book three, I don’t think it should be necessary for me to read any midquel to be fully aware of the plot. To me, these kind of add-ons should enhance the reading experience, but not be necessary.

The number of teenagers with e-readers is still relatively low compared to adults. A 2013 Pew Research Centre report put the number ofteenage girls with an e-reader or tablet in USA at 27%, with that numberfalling to 20% for boys. The research also includes further breakdown of the numbers in terms of ethnicity, urbanity and family income, all of which play a huge part in issues like this. Most teenagers are still going to libraries (the ones that are still open) or buying hard copies of books, and these add-ons aren’t always available in such forms. Some authors are having their short stories put into collections for purchase, such as Julie Kagawa, but it remains an option not always open to the key demographic.   

To give an example that I know doesn’t entirely work but makes sense in my head, I direct your attention to the Hannibal Lecter series, something I’ve been a touch obsessed with since I was about 14. I’ve read all the books (including that god-awful prequel which I even own in paperback), seen all the movies and spent the past three months screaming like a child with fangirl joy over the TV show (seriously, watch it, it’s a life ruiner of amazing). If you watch the TV show, which is set before the first book “Red Dragon”, and you have never had any previous exposure to the Lecter mythos, you can still appreciate the show and gain a full understanding of the characters and world within its own narrative. However, if you have some knowledge of the books and movies, the viewing experience is enhanced. You get certain references, some of the characters are more fleshed out, and you don’t for one minute think Hannibal Lecter is an anti-hero (sorry, Tumblr). For me, this is the same conundrum as with the e-book add-on content for YA, but with less cannibalism.

Personally, I see the attraction of this kind of special content but I never find it to be particularly necessary to my enjoyment of a book, and if it is indeed key to said enjoyment then why not include it in the book itself? I’m very much a quality over quantity reader, but there’s definitely a gap in the market for this so go for it, authors!

Are there are prequels, add-ons and special content stories from YA authors that you’d recommend? How do you feel about this trend? Would you like to talk about Hannibal with me? Please comment and share your thoughts!