Tuesday, March 4, 2008

People Who Don't Get YA

Exhibit A: The 2008 Delete Key Awards, courtesy of One Minute Book Reviews

Now I don't exactly want to hate on anybody, but when I read that a book I had just ordered had been considered a finalist for the worst writing in 2007, I was a little concerned. Like any discriminating book lover, I investigated further.

The Delete Key Awards are based on the reviewer's choice for worst line in the book. Which makes total sense, until I read the write-up for Sherman Alexie's The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which just so happened to win the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature). I was expecting maybe something along the lines of clich├ęs, bad grammar, dumbing down, psychobabble, stereotypes, mispunctuation, stilted dialogue, unintentionally comic sex scenes, and overall tastelessness (per the site's guidelines). Instead, I got:


Which, after reading the reviewer's comments, only made me more eager to get my hands on this book.

People, there are stylistic conventions in any genre. They are things you must come to expect, accept, embrace or ignore. And in YA, one of those conventions, along with footnotes, Randomly Capitalized Words, and the much beloved list, is the inclusion of words that don't necessarily exist--especially words that describe humorous situations such as a 747 'landing on a runway of vomit." (Now I really can't wait for this book to come in the mail! What kind of genius comes up with this stuff?)

Now admittedly, this reviewer is not very well versed in the world of YA literature. (In the comments section she admits to never having heard of Lauren Myracle's New York Times Bestselling ttyl, after having made the off-handed comment that sooner or later a book will be written entirely in emoticons.) Nevertheless, seeing things like this makes me a little sad. I'm not entirely convinced the above excerpt is bad writing. Maybe I'm too close to the genre, or maybe I'm quick to defend a book I just paid good money for, but I find the offending excerpt somewhat entertaining.

The reviewer states that this is evidence of how "the language of e-mail – or perhaps Hollywood screenplays – is infecting novels for all ages." Yappers, what do you think? Are the stylistic conventions of YA bringing us farther and farther from the well-established literary Norm, and, is that such a bad thing?

Link via Bookslut.


Vanessa Concannon said...

If literature never evolved to reflect the cultural standards of the day...well, literature never would have evolved, would it? We would be reciting stories we'd heard, and they would lose their value with every unskilled retelling, because like writing, oral storytelling is an art.

Conventions be damned, tell your story the way it must be told.

Ronni said...

My take on it is that some peopel feel that YA=for teenagers which means:

1. It must suck b/c teens have no taste.
2. It must suck b/c teens are stupid and immature.
3. It must suck b/c it's dumbed down for teens.

It's too bad they have those attitudes. They're losing out on a great genre of books.

Trish Doller said...

“ARGGHHHHHHHHSSSSSPPPPPPGGGHHHHHHHAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHAGGGGHH!” is hardly the worst line I've ever read. But I'm taking her opinion for what it's worth (and at this point, it ain't much). I've read the book and I've heard far more positive than negative. If that's all that's "wrong" with Sherman Alexie's book, that says something.

Jordan said...

That's good to hear, Trish. I've heard good things about this book since before it was even published, and I can't wait for it to get here. Good thing Amazon ships books out of Atlanta, their free shipping gets here in like two days!

@Ronni--I know many people feel that way but I don't ever really come into contact with them. When I do, it's somehow always a shock. I'm not far removed from teenagerhood myself. As more of my dealings are with "adults," I learn so much about young people I never knew before...

althrasher said...

I personally loved Alexie's book. I'm really surprised they put that one there, because (I thought) that it was a really good and easy-to-see way to show the MC's frustration and disbelief at (what seems to him to be) a really stupid situation.

Also, I am a HUGE fan of Randomly Capitalized Words. For what my piddly little opinion is worth ;).

I think that at the core, the purpose of language and writing is communication. I think what's really cool about a lot of YA is using non-standard means of communication to get clear points across. I love that I work in a genre that feels so free to any means of communication we can use.

(BTW, Jordan, a lot of the book is told through cartoons. You'll love it) :)

Sophie W. said...

Oh, Randomly Capitalized Words. I do love thee so. I can't wait to write an urban fantasy so I can use Randomly Capitalized Words all the time like some kind of Major Authorial Device or something.

*dreamy sigh*