Monday, March 21, 2011

Playing Teen Book Bingo

I am currently in the process of applying for a summer job. I've applied at the school board (because I want to be a teacher), the library (because I maybe want to be a librarian as well), and, now, my local book chain, Chapters (because, well, I love to read). In doing so, I had to look through all the job postings, and I found one I just loved: Children/Teen Book Sales. Oh mon dieu! It's a dream come true.

If there's anything I know in this world, it's teen books. I've either read it myself, have a friend who's read it, read a review of it, or at least heard of it from one source or another. I've read most of the major books, hit most of the major authors. Just this last week I finished up The Hunger Games trilogy, another square on the YA bingo board:

Made by yours truly. With a (huge) slant towards YA romance, and a few classics thrown in.

In addition to The Hunger Games, I also got another chip this week by reading a ton of Elizabeth Scott books:

It scored me a double bingo on my self-made bored! And, of course, it gave me a lot to think about...or, rather, critique.

Elizabeth Scott is a considered something of a YA romance god. Not like a Jesus/Christian God who created the genre and influences all books within it, but more like a Greek or Hindu God, where she is one of many who all the readers and writers look up to. This week was something of a conversion class for me, an initiation into a new church.

I'm sorry to say this to all you worshippers, all you believers, all you fans. But I am not her disciple, and I don't think I will ever be. She is a good writer, who crafts slightly above-average stories. All the power to her. But she's not Sarah Dessen. She's not Deb Caletti. She's not even freaking Simone Elkeles. She's good. But she's certainly not great, in the God-like sense of the word.

It really comes down to a quality vs. quantity issue. Either a writer can choose to go for quantity, like in The Hunger Games, where there's so much going on, such a complicated setting, so many strong supporting characters, and many plot threads all charging forward at once. Or, they can take a more qualitative approach, like Sarah Dessen, focusing on a few specific characters and a handful of plot lines, and slowly building to a strong and satisfying ending. Both approaches can work. Both approaches can make great books. If they're done the right way.

Elizabeth Scott is obviously going for quality. Her world's aren't overly complicated, her mythology non-exsistent, her plot few and far between. But she doesn't do it with awe-inspiring skill. She aims for quality, but it simply isn't there. Her main characters are too bland, her supporting players too under developed and cliched. Her settings are mundane and forgettable. Most of all, her plot lines are just too bare.

My english teacher is a very excitable person. When someone gets an answer she particularly likes she yells out "bing!". If no one is digging deep enough, she tells them to go for the meat, the good stuff. Sarah Dessen is a bing. Elizabeth Scott needs to go for the meat. Her stories, while perfectly pleasant, lack a substance, a real heart. They are stable skeletons, well plotted and thoughtfully executed, but they lack the meat that would really make them a good meal.

Something, Maybe really attempts two story lines, and only really pulls one off. The successful story is the romance between the main character, Hannah, and the goofy guy Finn. It is easy, enjoyable, sweet, and predictable. The other story, with Hannah's father, is flashy and obvious and never particularly interesting. It's a semi-original idea, but it's pulled off with little finesse or believability.

Bloom is better. It too attempts only a couple plot arches, once again pairing the predictable romance with the abandonment issues. The romance is slightly more engaging, and the character's seem to have some type of chemistry, this time being allowed to develop beyond basic cliches. The parental storyline is also superior. This time I actually felt connected to the character, felt something beyond basic empathy. The story was realistic, charming, and, once again, pleasant.

Perfect You is the best of the three, developing three whole story lines. There is, of course, the prerequisite romance, which is often frustrating and rarely rewarding, because it centres on a male character I never much came to care for, and unfolds in a less than ideal way. Then, there is, once again, a parent story, about the father who quits his job to sell vitamins. The characters involved are rather flat, but are all together fine. The stand out storyline is the decaying friendship between Kate and her best friend Anna. Their relationship was painfully realistic, and actually brought me close to tears at many points.

Out of three books and seven plot lines, only one really got me. That's not God-like quality. Elizabeth Scott is not a saint; she lives among us mere mortals, and that's more than alright. Her books are pleasant, enjoyable, fine, but nothing more. I would be less disappointed, expect my sights had been set so high.

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