Friday, August 29, 2008

Boy Books

Among a lot of other great topics covered at the recent SCBWI Agent's Day in San Francisco, the subject of boy books came up. Some of the agents who spoke that day reminded attendees of the relatively well-known fact that publishers are always looking for middle grade and YA boy books. The popular wisdom is that there are more than enough books that appeal to girls but not nearly enough volumes out there that consistently grab boys' attention.

As a girl who, like many, loves to read (and write) about male as well as female protagonists, I just wanted to throw the topic out there for discussion.

What are some of your favorite boy books? Whether you're male or female, do you like to read books featuring a protagonist of the opposite sex? What's your theory as to why it is that girls readily read about boys yet boys are more reluctant to read a book with a girl as the main character? Or do you disagree that there's a need for more boy books--do you think the market responds to demand and therefore we already have as many boy books as readers want to buy?

Finally--and most interesting--what would you like to see in boy books? In other words, what's missing from the shelves? More believable adventures? More accurate insights into the teenage boy's perspective? Or something else entirely?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book Review: Foundling by DM Cornish

Think Oliver Twist meets Dungeons and Dragons, right down to the naïve, constantly bullied orphaned boy protagonist and the long (parenthesis – and em-dash – riddled) explanations of terminology and fauna. Mix in a spoonful of steampunk and you’ve basically got the book spot-on.

Please bear with me, as I read this book in two hours while waiting for the paranoia regarding ducks and construction workers faded (the Eastern Shore is riddled with dangers, me hearties!).

Rossamund is a boy with a girl’s name (and a mysterious past, wooooo) and naturally he is teased for it, but it doesn’t matter because he perseveres through the beatings and taunts. For seriously, there’s a beat-down in the first chapter and he’s up and about in the next. Anyway, the adults at Madam Opera’s house for ‘foundling’ (orphan) children like him, so when Sebastispole, a lamplighter (a sort of soldier who’s in charge of lighting lamps along the Half-Continent’s version of a super-highway) turns up and offers Rossamund a job in the happy brigade, they send Rossamund off with a pat on the head and all sorts of goodies to help him fight against the ‘nickers’ and ‘bogles.’ (Big monsters and little monsters.)

If you can muscle your way past the knee-jerk reaction, though, Foundling turns out to be a charming read. There’s nothing new in the story here – like I said, it’s very reminiscent of Oliver Twist and other orphaned boy stories. Cornish’s talent lies in worldbuilding, and the appendix in the back is at least a quarter of the book itself. That includes the glossary. Cornish has also provided drawings of various characters, and I’ll admit I’m a sucker for author drawings.

Rossamund eventually falls in step with a woman named Europe, who can shoot lightening from her body thanks to a series of mysterious surgeries. She’s also loaded.

A bunch of crazy stuff happens. They fight monsters. Rossamund is shanghaied aboard a pirate vessel. There is blood and gore and adventure and throughout it all Rossamund stays almost unbelievably naïve and trusting in everyone he meets.

If you’re going to read Foundling, read it for the world Cornish has built, and not for Rossamund’s story. The Half Continent is enchanting, if dangerous, and the amount of care and passion poured into its construction is inspiring. But be aware that Rossamund ultimately takes a back seat to the creatures and people he encounters. Foundling, in all, is a solid three and a half out of five. I’ll probably read it again.

DM Cornish also has written the second book to The Monster-Blood Tattoo series, titled Lamplighter, which is available right now.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Parent Figure in YA Fiction

I find it a little unbelievable when I read YA books in which the parents are perfect paragons of human wisdom. Not to say some parents in real life aren’t wise and filled with unfailing loving kindness—er, at least part of the time. It’s just that books featuring parents who screw up, occasionally or all the time, seem more realistic. Besides, having inept parents makes life more challenging for the characters.

A lot of it has to do with plain old good plotting sense. Fiction is more exciting and more satisfying when the main character has to solve the central problem by him- or herself. Another good reason for stories featuring bumbling, absent, or downright irresponsible parents is that in real life, teens often have a sense of facing problems to which their elders are oblivious. Parents are forever worrying about whether their kids have on clean socks while the kids are facing life-and-death situations, or at least what feel like life-and-death situations.

What’s your take? Do you prefer fictional parents who set a good example for teen readers—and who provide a backdrop of security and order? Or would you rather see your characters work out all their own problems without the net of parental grace to catch them if they fall?