Monday, August 27, 2012

Why I am now a huge fan of John Green

(after reading Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars)

1. His characters are smart. They use a big vocabulary and
2. They talk about big ideas. His books are centered on Big Questions like The Meaning of Life and Death
3. His teenage characters, in the midst of talking about these Big Questions, are still real-life teenagers enough that they just might throw in a your-mama joke. (Or the maturity equivalent). They feel real, and his timing is spot-on. In other words,
4. He's funny.
5. Unlike most YA fiction, in which parents are either dead or criminally negligent or criminally clueless, the main characters in both books having Loving Parents. Whom they like. The parents are just capable of giving the protagonists space to have their own stories.
6. This Author's Note in The Fault in Our Stars:

"...This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species."


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson makes me want to be a better YA writer. When my mentor first pointed me toward YA, a genre I didn't read much of growing up, I thought, If I could write anything near as powerful as Speak...that would be something.

I have just finished Wintergirls, which prompts this comment now. She's written poetry. We spend the book inside the mind of 18 year-old Lia,  who is severely anorexic. It's not the mind you'd necessarily want to spend time in: as with Melinda in Speak, Lia is suffering so badly but cannot--will not--reach out. You want to shake her and hug her at the same time as she takes step after step toward her own destruction. But what kept me itching to pick it up again--other than a desire to see her saved--is the beautiful poetic language. YA prose with room for poetic leaps of the imagination! Metaphors you get to look at with blurred eyes, speaking more in feeling than in concrete terms. Hurrah!

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write this book. The days spent looking up the caloric content of foods so that they can be planted in the right place. The hours spent on tumblr sites, all those voices of real wintergirls. Diving into that, then emerging to make dinner and drive to soccer practice and do whatever else....Our subjects pick us, I think, as much as we pick them. Characters knock on our doors, and before we've realized it, we've allowed them to be our companions for years. Not everyone is easy to live with.

Here is one more stroke of brilliance in this book. Lia loves, more (simply) than anyone, her little stepsister Emma. At one point her stepmother comes home and Lia is chasing Emma around with the vacuum, pretending it's a dragon. That love and playfulness is what lets you know, in half a sentence, how lovely this girl is on the inside, how worth fighting for.