My children’s writers book discussion group met yesterday. We discussed the first book in a really popular YA series. I’m not going to name it because, well…I wasn’t impressed, and I wouldn’t want the author to get her feelings hurt if she were to stumble onto my blog and see what I have to say about it (though really, how likely is she to stumble onto my blog? And given the popularity of this book, why would she care what I think??? But still…I really hate to trash somebody else’s book.). We (the members of this discussion group) all write for children (or YAs) and we all read lots and lots of children’s and YA novels, but only two members of the group had read this book before. Popular as it is, several of us thought we should at least read it to see what all the fuss is about.
The series encompasses two genres that I don’t read, so I knew going in that it wasn’t likely to be my kind of thing. But even if a book isn’t my kind of thing, I can usually see why it might strike a chord with other people. I couldn’t in this case.
First of all, the quality of the writing was um…not very good. I don’t claim to be such a wonderful writer myself, but I like to think there’s a little more going on in my books than was going on in this one. There just wasn’t much of a plot the first three quarters of the book. I also like to think my books are not filled with as many adjectives and clichés as this one. There’s one adjective in particular that’s really overused…I was complaining about this to my family and my kids took up the challenge of opening up the book to a random page to see if that one adjective appeared. It appeared about once every three times they did it. And again, even when the quality of the writing isn’t wonderful, I can still often see why a book might be popular. (In fact, I have enjoyed a number books that I know are not beautifully written, but there’s something else about them that I can appreciate – the author is a good storyteller or a good world builder, for example.) Not in this case.
What I most disliked about this book is the message it sends to young girls. I like books with strong female characters. It’s 2008…I thought MOST girls liked books with strong female characters. Let’s just say the young lady in this book is not particularly strong.
I will say this about it: the book DID get better about three quarters of the way into it. Things finally started happening; the main character took action. And I was curious enough about the series to wonder how it ended. Not curious enough to actually read the rest of the books myself, but curious enough to ask somebody who’s read them all to tell me how the series ends. (The answer was pretty much what I would have expected.)
I will also say this about it: we meet at a coffee shop and one of our members brought her 13-year-old daughter with her. This daughter is a living, breathing “strong female character” in her own right. And she refused to touch this particular book a month ago. But she picked it up about five minutes before our meeting started…and she couldn’t put it down! She was totally hooked. So, there you go! Clearly the author IS doing something right…I sure wish I could put my finger on what exactly that is.
I don’t think anyone in our group loved it, but a couple of them could articulate what it is about that book that appeals to young girls. Maybe if I actually had daughters myself…or had been a “girly girl” at one time, I would’ve gotten it. But I just don’t. Oh well. It’s a good thing there are lots of different books out there for lots of different people.
My other book group (the “adult” book group) meets later on this week (most children’s writers I know feel a little funny making that distinction between “adult books” and “children’s books” or between “adult writers” and “children’s writers”….no, most of us are not reading or writing porn on the side). We’re discussing Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, which I loved (thereby proving I do have a bit of sap running through my veins) and, because that one was such a quick read, we’re also reading and discussing Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which I still have to read). The best thing about being in a book group (or two), besides the people, I mean, is the fact that it gets me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise pick up on my own. Even though I didn’t much care for Popular Teen Book, I am glad I read it. And even though I wouldn’t have chosen to read See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan on my own, I can see that it’s beautifully written.