Reviews, rants, and tidbits from an overpassionate novelist

I took a look at this book because it’s told in SECOND PERSON OMG. I think this experimentation is a truly great thing in the world of YA lit.

But I regret to say that if it hadn’t been told in SECOND PERSON OMG, I would not have read beyond the cover. I read thirty five pages of it, then skipped to the end. Here’s why.

The prologue involves some kind of accident involving blood, and the main character trying to figure out where things went wrong. There are hints that he’s on a track toward death. Yet, all of the content you get to fill in these spaces does not involve A) Deep, involving emotion, B) extraordinary, interesting circumstances, or even C) eloquent angst. It’s mostly cliched whining about authority and academic boredom.

The love interest is flat and cliched in every way. The friends are flat and cliched in every way. After thirty five pages, the only glimmer of redeeming character depth is a one-sentence panic attack that culminates in a didactic break of POV in its rush to be quickly dismissed.

This is not how teenagers work. Sure, we can all dismiss and hide from guilty feelings. But if it’s THAT easy, it’s boring.

What gets me is how overwhelmingly didactic the story is; kid hangs out with rough crowd, angst a bit, one things leads to another, then blood. We’ve all seen this horror story. We’ve been forced to endure it in Drivers Ed classes, Don’t Drink Seminars, etc.

Who thought that telling it in second person was a good idea?? It reads like a sermon from the bored; every other sentence could begin with “Of course.”

At least for the first thirty-five pages, it’s downright condescending.

Advertisements

I’ll admit it. I read this book for the cover:

Come on. It’s gorgeous. Emotional. Thought-provoking. I wanted to know what it was about.

I’m going to give you an important piece of information up front: It’s a cliffhanger in the worst way. Very little is resolved at the end. It is not a self-contained story.

Buuuut I am looking forward to reading the rest.

Strengths:

The story blurs genres and borders on literary. Are we reading about the supernatural or simply post-traumatic stress disorder? Young adults who have been diagnosed with anxiety/depression/bipolar are common and this book exaggerates and begs the questions the many of them are asking: How crazy is crazy?

The love interest is a fantastic character. A modern Mr. Darcy with plenty of style, flirtation, flaw, and appeal. Reading this as purely a love story is very reductive compared to what it tries to be, with the many other elements it explores – but it’s probably the most effective and appealing way to read it.

The letter at the very beginning is pretty cool. You find out that Mara Dyer isn’t Mara Dyer’s real name, but simply the name she’s chosen to work with while she writes out this story. She’s telling this story for a reason – this appeals to me immensely.

Flaws:

Of course, its failure to be a self-contained story is a flaw.

I don’t think Michelle Hodkin really meant to portray anything like PTSD, and the way the story is set up is somewhat misleading about it. PTSD is a disorder which involves a person who is unable to stop thinking about a traumatic event. Mara finds it pretty darn easy to move on. After the first seventy pages or so, it’s easy to forget that this girl’s best childhood friend and boyfriend just died. I understand the author probably felt pressure to avoid angsting but… a girl in that situation would probably, in fact, angst a bit. She has every license to angst a bit. And she doesn’t. She just moves along, pursues new relationships, and comes off as a bit of a sociopath. I was truly hoping that the novel would climax in her realizing all of the emotion she’s been repressing – no such luck.

The quotations on the back are misleading. This book is not that scary! Mara, whose head we are always within, operates under the assumption that the scary things that happen to her are not real, but hallucinations and delusions. They don’t fail to operate in that way.

Hope this is helpful.

This book gave me a panic attack.

I say this as a testament to its power. The vision of this dystopian novel is both beautiful and horrifying. A few generations from now, technology will exponentially expand possibilities for travel – fly to the moon for a vacation, zip across the country in your upcar – but as that technology developed and humanity became so dependent upon them, corporations became king. The government is their pawn.

As the accumulation of this corruption and the technological advancement, people have something called the FEED, a microchip, implanted into their brains. They can communicate with their friends and co-workers instantaneously, enabling telepathy at all times, and Facebook forever frames their vision. Everyone has constant access to the Internet, so School(TM) is a sham of its former self.

Sounds okay so far, right? Well, the FEED also replaces basic body functions, so it’s impossible to disable once it’s been implanted. Carriers of the Feed are doomed to forever be barraged with ADVERTISEMENTS for anything they look at and happen to like – from a pair of pants to a news article – as the Feed tries to catch onto their habits and tastes and know how to market to them.

Constant advertisements full of flattery, cliche language, and impossible promise in conjunction with abounding instant gratification turns people into a society of UNEDUCATED BRATS, who take boundless luxury for granted and are unable to deal with sickness, death, and the realities of the universe.

This book was difficult for me to read, and THAT FACT is the most terrifying of all. I didn’t want to deal with it, the way the characters don’t want to deal with any reality beyond the cocoon of their boundlessly giving Feed.

It was fascinating to read alongside The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, not to mention Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Five stars for horror, vision, and accuracy.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian fiction. It put me in a short fit of depression, and it was at this time that I found myself reaching for Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.

I read it last year for my adolescent literature class and I enjoyed it then, but the genius of it struck me fully upon a second reading. It is a utopian novel – a novel that guides the reader thematically by presenting an ideal in a beautiful form. In this case, the beautiful form might even be attainable.

This is the passage I read when I pitch it to my friends:

Zeke’s already jamming by the time we get to the highway bookstore. He’s put his stage in the European history section, and every now and then he’ll throw names like Hadrian and Copernicus into his mojo rap…. I move through the crowd with ease, sharing nods and smiling hellos. I love this scene, this floating reality. I am a solo flier looking out over the land of Boyfriends and Firlfriends. I am three notes in the middle of a song. (SO MUCH LOVE)

Joni grabs me and Tony, pulling us into Self-Help. There are a few monkish types already there, some of them trying to ignore the music and learn the THirteen Ways to Be an Effective Person. I know Joni’s brought us here because sometimes you just have to dance like a madman in the Self-Help section of your local bookstore.
The main character, Paul, has a gorgeous and insightful outlook on life, embellished and upheld by the always-followed passions of the other characters in his utopia of a hometown, and yet he is as susceptible as anyone to the difficult moral checks and balances of keeping a level head in the dramatic realm of high school.

This book, I know, is not quite a product of my generation – David Levithan is surely considerably older than I am – and yet this aligns so well with the covert vision of my kindred spirits in my age. I wouldn’t feel right offering it anything but praise.

READ IT NOW. 🙂

Reading Atlas Shrugged.

Tis an arduous and intimidating journey of 1167 pages, more if you want surrounding criticism. I’m plugging away at it presently, and you know what? I have a love-hate relationship with it. Here’s why.

My LOVE for it is comprised of its respect for the reader – a respect easily misjudged as disrespect in its mind-directing, even hypnotizing narrative techniques. Ayn Rand expects her reader to be intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated to his or her own life, and this is evident in the way she tells the story. John Rogers said in a blog once, “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” I think, had Ayn Rand heard this criticism, she would have been delighted to have been understood so well. Atlas Shrugged is a strange fusion of utopian and dystopian narrative and the oversimplification that comprises this strangeness is obviously fantastical.

On this level, it’s a fantasy novel. Ayn Rand always claimed to write for herself – She is her own reader and that is why her reader receives the respect of great expectations. Of course, her writing would be her fantasy.

She was far too intelligent to have been deluded into believing that the realm she envisioned was realistic; its purpose was a fantastical forum through which she could explain very realistic (in the reality-relevant sense of the word, not in the feasible sense, necessarily) ideas and ethical postulations.

Reading such a novel at fourteen and failing to distinguish the fantastical and the realistic elements would most certainly be dangerous.

So with John Rogers’ words I completely agree – yet not with his tone.

My HATE for it is comprised of its AWFUL HORRIBLE TERRIBAD DREADFUL ~LENGTH~. And yes, I know Ms. Rand would have rolled her eyes at me for my saying so.

When I was seven, thirteen years ago, my second grade class created Studentreasures manuscripts. Studentreasures is a print-on-demand publisher that publishes the books of elementary school students, often, from my understanding, for no charge. As I completed mine, my teacher recognized what would later be identified as a prodigious level of ability in my writing, and simply told my mom to be sure to invite her to my first book signing. When my mom told me, it finally clicked in my brain that the names on book covers are actual people, that actual people could create something so magically transportive. I wanted to harness that power.

When I was eight, my published book came back and I was inspired to set the goal of getting published “the big way” while I was still a kid – that is, before my twentieth birthday.

When I was nine I began having dreams that were too perfectly unforgettable to leave behind without plotting the missing pieces.

When I was ten I was published in the Southern Sampler for the first time.

When I was eleven my novel began to take shape.

When I was twelve I tested my story by roping all of my friends into it.

When I was thirteen I perfected the plot of an eight-book series.

When I was fourteen I began writing a satisfactory first draft.

When I was fifteen I finished and began editing. I was scammed into submitting to a publisher through a personal connection full of bad advice. Applying to the SC Governor’s School for the Arts motivated me to read enough latin american magical realism and canon works to discover the true nature and powers of description – a journey I look back on as nothing less than a renaissance. My book began to connect me to people, including a great aunt and uncle whom I’d had little connection with in the past. When they discovered my novel they took it upon themselves to mentor me through my efforts.

At sixteen I had saved up enough money to attend the Southeastern Writers Conference, where I found guidance from the poet laureate of my state and author Emily Sue Harvey, and I left with the SWA Juvenile Writing Award and the M. L. Brown Award for YA lit.

At seventeen I attended the South Carolina Writers Workshop for the first time, where I met the literary agent who had represented my favorite childhood authors, including Jean Craighead George and Gail Carson Levine. She remembered me a year later when I queried her. My efforts in the publishing industry embellished my college applications and earned me a scholarship to the University of South Carolina. I worked on a magazine internship and received multiple awards for my poetry.

At eighteen I had crafted a query letter that earned me serious consideration and critiques from some of the best literary agencies in the field, including Andrea Brown, Fineprint Lit, Curtis Brown, and Literary Foundry + Media.

At nineteen I rewrote my manuscript for the fifth time at the request of one of these agents. I was enlisted to help draft adventures for the upcoming Boy Scouts of America emblems Plug & Axel. I earned a critique that has sold in auctions for over two thousand dollars.

In my journeys I have met C. E. Murphy, Nicholas Sparks, Steve Berry, Patricia Smith, Marjory Wentworth, Michael Connelly, and countless other authors of less renown who should be far more renown than they presently are.

I have no accomplishment that can possibly yardstick the hours, the sacrifices, the hope, and the passion that have gone into half a dozen rewrites and hundreds of revisions. But I have gained more respect for myself and shown the world more of my soul than I ever could have done had I taken another path.

I take vicious pride in knowing I did everything I could do.

On my twentieth birthday, the top of my Mount Everest was sliced off before I could reach it. It broke my heart.

And I know that the opus speaks for the life, not the life for the opus – no one will want to read this story to so little gratification. It’s the door that gets farther away the faster you sprint toward it, it’s the video game you lose on the last level. Except a little less hopeless.

What now? Well… that’s top secret writer information. 🙂

I missed the Southeastern Writers Conference this year. Money and time restraints would not allow it. Nonetheless, I feel the need to shoutout to the many people with whom I have spent wonderful trips to St. Simon’s Island.

These include but are not limited to:

Emily Sue and Lee Harvey (and family!)
Tim and Sheila Hudson
Amy Munnell
Lee Clevenger
Charlotte Babb
Katharine Sands
Marjory Wentworth
Chuck Sambuchino
Cappy Hall Rearick
Holly McClure
Jeanie Pantelakis
Louis Gruber
Wild Bill
Zhanna P. Rader
Cheryl Norman
Brian Jay Corrigan (and family!)
Grace Looper
Judith Barban
Jimmy Carl Harris
Mollie Glick
Ricki Schultz
Gail Karwoski

Thank you all so much for your guidance, support, and friendships through these last few years. I doubt you know how much of a blessing you have been.

Tag Cloud