Jules talks books
Have you ever noticed how people living in TV Land rarely read? (Note that for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about reading books, as opposed to blogs, papers, and other short span media, and that I’m referring to fictive shows only.)
Take Cougartown1 for example: In this week’s episode, Jules (Courtney Cox) openly stated that she’s not really a reader.
And then there’s Glee2, and New Girl and House, Doctor Who and How I Met Your Mother. Again, no one reads.
Does anyone on TV read? Sometimes, fathers read newspapers and mothers read magazines. Very occasionally, someone on Gossip Girl reads a book (though mostly they just talk about writing them, in very unrealistic terms). Castle shows people reading, but generally only Castle’s book. In fact, the only show I can think of that has a few readers, and shows at least one person reading every other episode or so, is Star Trek: The Next Generation3. And it depicts a balance of e-reading and print reading.
If we consider television as a reasonable depiction of society (and I’ll admit, I’m not sure we can), it’s saddening to think that so few people read.
Some People Have Never Read A Book
According to a 2008 article in the BBC Online, some people claim to have never read a book. And,
40% of people admit to lying about having read certain books, according to a study published last year by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. And half read the classics just because we think it makes us look more intelligent.
Would a run of TV episodes showing characters reading encourage more people to read? Could we treat reading as a product, and use books as product placement? Generally speaking, publishers can’t afford to drop enough cashola for a single title to appear on any given show; I don’t expect them to pay out to get folks reading, either. But statistics on high school reading are rather alarming. According to a 2009 report from the National High School Center (PDF):
- The percentage of high school seniors performing at or above the basic level in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) decreased from 80% in 1992 to 73% in 2005 (NCES, 2007).
- Over the same period, the percentage of high school seniors performing at or above the proficient level decreased from 40% to 35% (NCES, 2007).
- About 70% of high school students need some form of remediation; the most common problem is that students cannot comprehend the words they read—not that they cannot read them (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004).
Reading product placement certainly isn’t a quick fix–it won’t remedy the dearth of teachers, the overpacked classrooms, or bridge the economic divide. But a study in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility suggests there is a strong correlation “between a child’s academic achievement and the number of books his or her parents own. It’s even more important than whether the parents went to college or hold white-collar jobs.”
Can Product Placement Effect Positive Change?
There’s evidence that product placement can effect change. A study in the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers found,
…that depictions of smoking in movies are more psychologically powerful than cigarette advertisements and have a greater impact on children’s attitudes and behaviours regarding smoking. The research looked at 51 studies and found that media exposure to tobacco use increases the odds of youth taking up smoking almost threefold.
On television and in film, reading is so often relegated to the nerd and geek classes. It’s the province of the kids who don’t have, or can’t get, friends. If smoking–which is widely known to cause cancer, among other deleterious effects–gets a positive spin in the youth market from product placement (as do soft drinks and other junk foods), why shouldn’t reading?
SAG Members Already Support Reading
Is this whole idea founded on my own naievete and wishful thinking? Perhaps. Would it be difficult to get the television and film industry to start putting books in actors’ hands? Probably. But some actors are already actively promoting literacy–Storyline Online, an initiative of the Screen Actors’ Guild Foundation, children can watch SAG members read some of their favorite books aloud. As of this writing, the front page selections include: The Rainbow Fish, with Ernest Borgnine; Harry The Dirty Dog, with Betty White; To Be A Drum, with James Earl Jones; and Romeo & Drooliet, with Haylie Duff.
StoryLine Online, an initiative of the Screen Actors Guild, provides bedtime stories on demand to children around the world, 24/7
BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools), another SAG initiative, encourages reading by getting actors into schools. According to their website, BookPALS is,
one of the fastest growing literacy programs in the country. Our volunteer actors read aloud to children at public elementary schools, museums, hospitals, fairs, online and on the phone helping to introduce them to the wonderful world of reading and literacy.
If we pause to reflect a moment, it’s not surprising actors are interested in reading and books. After all, the film industry is inextricably linked to reading. Consider–of the top 10 films of 2010-2011, five were based on books; six if you count Iron Man 2.
- Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
- Alice in Wonderland
- The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
- Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
- The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
In short: TV land people, please–pick up a book and get reading.
Can you think of any other shows with dedicated readers? How do you feel about reading as product placement?
1I know, it’s not rocket science. But the characters are mostly sweet, and they almost always have happy endings.
2Although I know it’s probably overkill, I try to watch teen shows and dramas because they’re an excellent way to keep up with the zeitgeist and channel age appropriate dialogue. That said, I do find myself paying more and more attention to my knitting of late…
3Yes, I am a nerd. I know a lot about Star Trek–probably far more than any one person not associated with the show should. But much of it is in the interests of research for my current project. That, and I like the first two series. (I’m iffy on the latter ones.)
This post was first published in March 2010, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. As I wind up the first draft of a new project–I’m in that mad, almost love-drunk rush that comes with knowing the end is nigh–I keep drifting back to these three questions:
1. Can I wrap this up without leaving a tangled mess of loose ends?
2. Have I revealed enough for the end to work, or is it just a poorly fashioned deus ex machina?
3. Am I forcing my leads into roles they don’t want?
And these three, in turn keep bringing me back to the ultimate two: Will my book be satisfying? And is it engaging?
ETA: the original Catching Fire image was having issues, so I’ve replaced it with these German covers instead. I like this much better, anyway.
* * *
See my follow-up, “What Makes a Book Satisfying?” here.
Reading is quite the investment. Not just in terms of monetary cost, but in terms of time spent reading the story, digesting the story, and, if it’s a very good book (or if you’re a deep reader), thinking about the story afterward. Some books are clearly worth the investment (Pride & Prejudice anyone? Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle? L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time?), while others are a win-some-lose-some deal. And then there are the books we give our hearts to freely, only to have the world’s most unsatisfying ending snatch them away.
So what makes a book satisfying? It’s hard to pin down, partially because it’s easier to work out what’s unsatisfying.
This month, I’ve read four books, two of which (Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire and Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey) had supremely unsatisfying endings. The latter hurt my heart/brain/squeeglesquawk so much that it kept me up the better part of last night.
Picking over the bones of these stories, and a few others I’ve found unsatisfying over the past year or two, I’ve found that the majority of unsatisfying books are those that don’t wrap up properly. At the end of the book, it’s hard to say exactly what it’s about, why we loved/hated it because we don’t really know it. For me, these books are like a song I only kinda-sorta know–the chorus gets stuck in my head, but I can’t recall the singer/band, or resolve the melody without depending on an annoying Hey Jude like fade.
Although it may seem unfair to count Catching Fire as a book I found unsatisfying because it’s part of a series, I think a series book with a frustrating wrap-up is actually worse than a stand-alone book with a frustrating end. Series are all about trust. Trust that–
- the story is going somewhere
- the story is not just a dream, and will not end “and then I woke up”
- the author will reveal key facts as we need to know them, instead of hoarding the answers for a Columbo-esque reveal at the end
- the characters won’t be forced into a happily-ever-after/crappily-ever-after
- the storyline will resolve
Even with series books, there should be a resolution, because while a series has one long arc, the books have smaller arcs that feed into one another. In the first book of The Hunger Games, the main goal is for Katniss and Peeta to survive. Whether or not they achieve their goal doesn’t matter (well, it does, but we’re talking technical stuff here), as long as the issue is decided one way or another, and we have a clear answer–and a resolution of the smaller arc. And the cliffhanger ending? In the best series books, the cliffhanger opens a new arc, but doesn’t journey along too far, for three reasons:
the reader should be able to pick up the second book without re-reading the first one
a new reader should be able to pick up the second book and make sense of the story
if the new arc continues too far, the lack of resolution becomes frustrating rather than a reason to read the next book
Reasons a book may be unsatisfying after that very last page turn:
- Storyline doesn’t resolve
- Romantic entanglements don’t resolve
- Subplot(s) are forgotten about/don’t resolve (notice the trend, yet?)
- The characters are pulled out of the paper bag rather than finding their own way out (deus ex machina)
- In fantasy/science fiction, the world is never fully realized
- There’s a forced happily-ever-after/crappily-ever-after
Happily–or Crappily–Ever After
While I’m not against happily ever afters, books where the story wraps up too neatly and everyone gets kisses and cake are unsatisfying because they’re oh-so-sweet and unrealistic. One way to tell if a story’s happily ever after is too neat? Try imagining the characters’ lives after that last page turn. Can you see them continuing on, getting involved in new stories? Or are you stuck at the riding off into the sunset point?
But where neat, happy wrap ups are somewhat unsatisfying, forced unhappy wrap ups cross into pitch-the-book-across-the-room territory. This isn’t to say all stories need happy endings–they don’t. Some stories, like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, or, in YA, Wendy Mass’ A Mango-Shaped Space are better for their sad, tear-jerker endings. (To be fair, Mass’ book did make me cry in a couple of spots, but it does have a generally happy end.) Sometimes, though–particularly in fantasy and science fiction–an author’s need to make a point or echo their world’s bleakness results in a forced, overwrought crappily ever after. In these stories, the author piles on difficulties and throws obstacle into the characters’ paths in the last few chapters without giving them the chance to overcome. Sometimes, a technicality–one mentioned only in passing–prevents the happy ending; other times, a subplot comes to back to bite the reader, wrenching the happily-ever-after away for no real gain.
So what makes a book satisfying? I’m still working that out–but I’ll have a post about it on Tuesday.
What have you read lately? Was any of it unsatisfying? Why?
Carolyn Hennesy’s Pandora series is like Kim Possible–in Ancient Greece. It’s fun. It’s a little flirty. It’s original. It’s kind of educational. It’s also not exactly accurate…
Mythology is one of my passions. In high school, I devoured everything that could possibly have had “gods” splashed across the cover. And I still love it, though I’m especially partial to The Greek Stuff: I read both Bulfinch’s and Edith Hamilton to Mir when he was a baby baby (as opposed to the Giant Mess Monster who will always be my baby kind), interspersed with some Arabian Nights (and Sinbad in particular).
Enter the Pandora series. Generally, the myth-based books I read are modern–Percy Jackson discovers he’s a demigod today, Oliver (The Seven Keys of Balabad) searches for the lost treasure today. (Check out this list over at Read In A Single Sitting for a few great-looking picks.) But Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena–her friends call her Pandy–is not a modern girl. She speaks like a modern girl. She worries like a modern girl. But she’s an Ancient Greek. Here’s the gist:
Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena (“Pandy” for short) lives in Ancient Greece, surrounded by gods, goddesses, heroes, mythical monsters and magical beasts. But, she is your typical, average, run-of-the-mill tween. She has crushes on boys, trouble at school, best friends, fierce enemies, a mother who doesn’t understand and a brother who makes her crazy.
Typical and average, right?
It takes a big school project, the discovery of a box with a terrible secret and the adventure of a lifetime to make her realize just how special, unique and “pan-tastic” she really is!
See the KP similarities?
There are lots of little things we could nitpick about the Pandy series: in the books, she’s Prometheus’ daughter rather than his sister-in-law. She’s unleashed the evils from a box rather than a jar. She has a cell phone magical conch communication device. But here’s the thing: I don’t care because I’m too busy loving these books.
I am a stickler for many things. Apostrophes. Good chocolate. The BBC version of Pride & Prejduice. I’ve cringed at bad myth- and fairy tale retellings, and been irked by anachronisms in other historical-based fiction. But most of the retellings and anachronisms I’ve disliked are the result of poor research–time hasn’t been spent on the details or the backstory, and the world has been sloppily built, like the proverbial castle over sand.
Pandy, on the other hand, is a pretty modern teen in a relatively contemporary world–except for, y’know, the non-contemporary bits. Rather than going all out with the modern setting, Hennesy has picked the modernisms that serve her story (in terms of plot and humor), then balanced them with details about the ancient world. A few examples (minor spoilers):
- animal sacrifices still exist, and are upsetting to one of Pandy’s friends
- women are generally accepted as equals in Pandy’s corner of the world, but she runs into prejudice on her travels
- famous names (like Tiresias) used for unrelated characters are acknowledged to be fictional creations/inspirations in the glossary at the back of each book
- the gods’ personalities, while adapted a little, aptly catch the gist
- the girls’ actions (Pandy’s friends go adventuring with her) have consequences
- and, finally, there are limits to magical help, and magical items, with one small exception. (And that particular magical skill is earned in a somewhat gross way, so I do kind of feel like the girls paid for it).
Perhaps best of all, though, is that even when riffing on an existing myth, Hennesy is original. In Book 2, Pandora Gets Vain, the girls meet Calchas (the seer who told Agammemnon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, and who predicted the ten-year length of the Trojan War). The entire episode is well-sketched and, more importantly, unpredictable.
The big picture? The series is a fun romp through the ancient world (so far, the girls have traveled to Egypt and Libya). The books are easy to read, use the “smart girl with big words” trope to humorous effect. And even if they’re not accurate–in so far as “accurate” is ever possible–retellings of Greek myths, they’re a great springboard to the real thing.
An interesting aside: technically, the Pandy books are CelebooksTM, as Hennesy is an actress, and currently a regular on General Hospital. This is my first brush with CelebooksTM–and it was a pleasant surprise.
Have you read the Pandy series? Or Goddess Girls, another tween mythology series?Read More
Will Grayson, Will Grayson gets so many things right it’s almost painful to read.
There are so many things to love about this book. Written by YA power duo David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines), it’s ridiculous and absurd and somehow wonderful, like a Benny Hill/Monty Python/It’s a Wonderful Life mashup suffering from ‘roid rage. It is almost everything I wish I could be when I grow up.
And, no, that’s not me being writerly and metaphorical (well, it is, but not in the crazy sense). It’s just the truth.
One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.
Based on the blurb, Will Grayson, Will Grayson should be just another high school coming of age book. And in some ways, it is–it’s about belonging, place, owning yourself, owning your emotions, and so on and so forth. It’s also about voice.
Told in alternating–and patented?–Will View, the book switches between two incredibly different voices.
chapter one (Will Grayson 1)
When I was little, my dad used to tell me, “Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” This seemed like a reasonably astute observation to me when I was eight, but it turns out to be incorrect on a few levels. To begin with, you cannot possibly pick your friends, or else I never would have ended up with Tiny Cooper.
Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large. Tiny has been my best friend since fifth grade, except for all last semester, when he was busy discovering the sheer scope of his own gayness, and I was busy having an actual honest-to-God Group of Friends for the first time in my life, who ended up Never Talking to Me Again due to two slight transgressions…
chapter two (Will Grayson 2)
i am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.
those seem to be the two choices. everything else is just killing time.
right now, i’m walking through the kitchen to get to the back door.
mom: have some breakfast.
i do not eat breakfast. i never eat breakfast. i haven’t eaten breakfast since i was able to walk out the back door without eating breakfast first.
mom: where are you going?
school, mom. you should try it some time.
mom: don’t let your hair fall in your face like that – i can’t see your eyes.
but you see, mom, that’s the whole fucking point.
i feel bad for her – i do. a damn shame, really, that i had to have a mother. it can’t be easy having me for a son. nothing can prepare someone for that kind of disappointment.
These voices are the reason I kept reading the book. Yes, Tiny Cooper is funny. Yes, the plotline–and the ending–is Benny Hill/Monty Python/It’s a Wonderful Life ridiculous. But these things–great as they are–aren’t enough to carry a book on their own. And they’re certainly not enough to forge an emotional connection with.
I’ve read books with depressing narrators before. My own work-in-progress features a screwed-up kid with issues. But aside from Justina Chen’s North of Beautiful, where I had a bittersweet sort of reaction, I’ve never read anything quite so viscerally depressed in YA. (For middle grade, check out Ann Dee Ellis’ This is What I Did.)
Although Will Grayson2 may be the more obviously depressed guy, Will Grayson1 has issues, too. And we know they’re coming–after all, his Group of Friends are Never Talking to Him Again, and, we soon learn, he never cries. He’s distant, confused, funny, and unable to process his emotions, a perfect counterpoint to Will Grayson2 who processes so much he could beat Deep Blue in the Special Get In Touch With Your Feelin’s Edition of Monopoly.
So here’s a quick overview–truly, I can’t do this book justice, so if you want more, go read it–of the good side of Will Grayson, Will Grayson:
- Authenticity–these characters are mean. Not I hate you forever and wish a cyclops would eat your spleen mean, but the sort of mean teenagers are to each other. They cry, they shout, they insult–and they get over it, with nary a saccharine sachet in sight.
- (Dis)honesty–When we think of honesty, unsurprisingly, we think of truth. But in YA–in fiction–truth is flexible. Neither Will Grayson is honest with himself–they’re not full-on unreliable narrators, but there is a clear sense that they’re both lying to themselves, handled in a very realistic (but subtle) way.
- Humor–it’s easy to say, “here’s a lesson I learned from this book: be funny!” It’s hard to be funny. But one thing Will Grayson, Will Grayson does make clear is this: don’t go for the obvious line. Levithan
( @loversdiction ) and @therealJohnGreen could have made obvious gay jokes or fat jokes or depressed jokes. They didn’t. Instead, they went for something just shy of insane, and it worked. If you replaced the “world’s largest person who is really really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large” line above with something more obvious and Simpsonesque, the book would’ve face-planted almost immediately.
- Language–the authors don’t shy away from bad language, but they don’t showcase it either. It’s believable, and sometimes dirty, but it’s fitting. (I’m told Sherman Alexie does an excellent job of this, too, but I haven’t read him yet.)
- Secondary characters–If voice is the greatest strength of this book, secondary characters are,well, the second greatest. The novel is full of characters we recognize–cool kids, deliberately uncool kids &c–and Tiny Cooper. And although they’re recognizable, the supporting cast doesn’t play to type. Instead, they’re realistically sketched. Not explored–that’s not the point of the book, and would slice the Will Graysons self-deceptions to ribbons–but well-sketched.
- These kids have parents–this may be a small point, but I love reading YA that acknowledges parents exist. I’ve covered some of the reasons for absentee parents in YA in the past, but I much prefer having the existence of the Really Tall People Who Make The Money* acknowledged in the books I read. Why? Because for most of us (myself included) parents are a reality: we grew up with them there. Even if characters don’t interact with them much, they’re important, because (again, for most of us) they help shape who we are. And besides, a book without even the slightest acknowledgement of the Really Tall People is like a contemporary novel set that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of cell phones or the internet: unrealistic**.
Of course, not all books are sweetness and light. Much as I love this novel, I had questions and worries, several of which I’m still trying to get my head around. So I’ll be back later with a follow up post, Will Grayson, Will Grayson: The Confusing Side.
Wondering where the names came from? Here are Levithan and Green, via an interview with Amazon.
We decided that I (David) would choose our character’s first name, and John would choose his last name. I liked the name Will because of its different, sometimes contradictory, meanings. As a noun, it can be so strong – where there’s a will, there’s a way, and whatnot. But as a verb, it’s split. Sometimes it’s just as definite (It will be done!), but that definiteness is underscored by an uncertainty – you say it will be done, but it hadn’t been done yet, has it? And put it at the start of a question (“Will you still love me tomorrow?”) and it becomes the entrance for all kinds of vulnerability. That seemed right for the characters.
I liked Grayson because whenever I would hear that name, it always sounded to me like “grace in,” which always struck me as a richly ambiguous phrase – is “grace in” the beginning of a clause or the end of it? Are we being asked to find grace in something, or to let grace in? Those questions seemed like interesting ones for the guy I wanted to write about.
*No, I am not really tall. My parents are not really tall. But when I think kid-view, I imagine things from 20 month old, 3′ Mir’s perspective–and that makes me Really Tall.
**I know, cell phones are not a reality for all contemporary novels. There are books set in places where they don’t exist, but these aren’t the majority. Technology is a fact of life; books set in era/place with digital know-how can’t afford to gloss over it without good reason.
ETA, 5:03 pm:My critique partner and friend Amitha also has a short review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson–it was our group pick last month; authors’ Twitter IDs.Read More
Reading Beautiful Creatures is like spending an afternoon strolling through a lemon grove, digging up a cemetery, and hanging around a Southern gothic mansion. It’s vibrant and thoughtful storytelling, with real depth of character, the sort of YA novel I wish I’d read as a teen.
Ethan is haunted by dreams of a girl he’s never met, a girl who’s falling, whom he can’t save; Lena is a girl who’s falling, a girl with a choice, a secret, and the power to end a family curse. So when Lena moves to sleepy, southern Gatlin county, sparks fly–literally.
Written in (mostly) simple, unaffected prose, Beautiful Creatures is a fast read–Ethan’s voice is immediately captivating, his observations wry. Characters are sketched with a careful hand; the atmosphere and tension are tangible.
Gothic novels are full of ghosts–real, imagined, and emotional. And Beautiful Creatures is full of not just ghosts, but tropes–the forbidding father figure, the narrow-minded townspeople, even the sidelined librarian and helper who is more than she seems (Chiron in Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero is another great example of this one). These, surprisingly, are one of the novel’s great strengths–rather than sticking to the easy, Garcia and Stohl move beyond it, building their world seven or eight degrees away from our own.
But much as I love this book, Beautiful Creatures is not perfect. At almost 600 pages, it drags in places, and Ethan’s voice isn’t consistently Teen Guy.Even in the presence of a hot girl, Ethan is thoughtful, considering; when he finds out the hot girl is Lena’s cousin, he worries more about the guys watching him rather than Lena and the oddness surrounding her family.
She walked right up to me, sucking on her lollipop. “Which one of you lucky boys is Ethan Wate?” Link shoved me forward.
“Ethan!” She flung her arms around my neck. Her hands felt surprisingly cold, like she’d been holding a bag of ice. I shivered and backed away.
“Do I know you?”
“Not a bit. I’m Ridley, Lena’s cousin. But don’t I wish you’d met me first–”
At the mention of Lena, the guys shot me some weird looks, and reluctantly drifted off toward their cars. In the wake of my talk with Earl, we had come to a mutual understanding about Lena, the only kind guys ever come to. Meaning, I hadn’t brought it up, and they hadn’t brought it up, and between us, we somehow all agreed to go on like this indefinitely. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Which wasn’t going to be much longer, especially if Lena’s odd relatives started showing up in town.
Perhaps more frustrating is the book’s long, slow lead up to Ethan’s discovering Lena’s power: So much about Lena is immediately obvious, but Ethan, despite being the smart kid of ridiculously smart parents, doesn’t see any of it. Sure, there are hints here and there, as if he’s being deliberately obtuse, but the hints never get beyond a half-hearted writerly excuse for “Yes, he’s smart, but he’s dense when it comes to her, really, he is, because the whole story will fall apart if he learns her secret truth too early, because we need to establish their relationship credentials.” And while this is certainly some understandable, if irritating, hand-waving, it’s all the more annoying because it’s completely unnecessary.
You see, Beautiful Creatures has two female leads–Lena, and Ethan’s dead mother, Lila. For all Ethan’s time worrying about Lena, reassuring her she won’t be claimed by the dark, he’s haunted by the shadow of his mother’s death. And not just minor haunting–every other page haunting. Ethan sees Lila in the library, on his way to school, in the parking lot. Despite her absence–or perhaps because of it, she’s as real as any secondary character in the book, even Ethan’s surrogate mother and resident voodoo expert, Amma. And the first 150-200 pages of the book are dedicated to Lila more than they are Lena; the Boy-Girl Relationship Building is more about recognition and awkwardness than forging an emotional connection (though this does change in the second half of the novel).
As the end approaches, there’s certainly some obviousness of plot, though not all the threads (and there are many) are easy to grasp. And Lena and Ethan’s dynamic becomes so Lena focused that I didn’t immediately notice the brief shift to her point of view. But for all its faults, Garcia and Stohl have written a gorgeous novel, and I am glad I read it.
Paranormal romance, despite its popularity, carries a certain stigma, within and without YA circles. So give Beautiful Creatures, in all its lovely, gooey gothic glory, to PR detractors–it might help them see beyond the Twilight craze. Just like it did for me.
Have you read Beautiful Creatures? What did you think? Or is it on your TBR shelf?
Quick note: today is International Women’s Day! Check out my list of YA novels with strong female leads for a great book to celebrate.
image credit: 185Queens, via Flickr.Read More
Beautiful Creatures is a marvelous, challenging book, completely outside my regular taste–and I love it.
Generally speaking, I don’t read romance. I’m not against the idea of it, but I prefer stories where love isn’t the driving force solely for love’s sake. But every now and then, a book hits me–really hits me–and I find myself questioning everything.
Beautiful Creatures is one of those books.
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.
Actually, it’s more than a feel. Here are just some of the ways Beautiful Creatures strikes gothic chords:
- Exploring entrapment – Lena isn’t a woman trapped in a domestic setting (a la Jane or Cathy) but she is trapped between her power and the curse. And in this world, the curse setting is almost domestic.
- Forbidding mansion and gloomy villain. I can’t reveal more without significant spoilerage, but you’ll see what I mean if you grab the book (which you should!).
- The madwoman in the attic trope – Lena definitely isn’t Bertha, but there are clear elements of Bertha (Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre) in the story.
- Questioning social structures – this may be a reach, but the exploration of the town of Gatlin and the theme of belonging vs. other fit the bill to me. It also has a bit of a Frankenstein vibe, which I love. (If you haven’t read Shelley’s Frankenstein, grab it from Project Gutenberg now!)
Right now, Beautiful Creatures is fresh in my mind–I finished it this morning, in public, and did the staring at something trick Ethan mentions in later chapters to keep myself from blubbering like an idiot in a room full of old ladies drinking coffee, eating doughnuts, and gossiping louder than crows. (It may sound bad, but it’s actually a really fun place to read, with lots of setting and character swirling around.) But here are my briefest, most important thoughts about the book, mostly from a craft perspective; a proper review will follow next Tuesday, when I’ve had time to process.
- Beautiful Creatures is a duet, something I rarely see done well (Warriors series, I’m looking at you).
- The missing people–Ethan’s mom is dead, Lena’s parents are dead–hang over the text, giving poignancy to the story without crossing into the melodramatic.
- The dialogue of the South is readable, understandable. I can’t testify to how people in the South actually speak, as I’ve only met one person, and not been farther from the Northeast than California, Utah, Arizona, and Florida. But there are distinct speech patterns in this book, with unique voices, that make sense and are easy to hear. Most attempts at regional dialect (including my own) fall flat. These do not.
- Geekiness. Before I knew @MargaretStohl wrote video games, I’d spotted the Zelda reference, and giggled. That sort of call back always draws me in.
- Trope tipping – having read a fair few classics and yet more fairy tales, I’m pretty attuned to tropes. And while Beautiful Creatures does have quite a few, and I did half-predict the ending, the tropes weren’t bland stereotypes, but rather explorations. Nothing, truly, is as it seems in this book, and that’s a good chunk of what makes it beautiful.
- Research – again, I can’t speak to knowledge of the South, but there are parts of this book that reek of research. Not in an onion breath way, but rather in a well-rounded, knowledgeable way that gives the story more depth.
- Prose. There are many things to love about this book, but I wouldn’t have continued reading if the prose hadn’t grabbed me.
- Book-love. It’s clear throughout this book that the characters and the authors value books, and that makes me happy. (Read @KamiGarcia’s list of favorite classic science fiction & fantasy novels – we have pretty much all the YA & kidlit books in common! (I’m not really a fan of The Giver.))
Next week, a real review, with all the stops, commas, semi-colons, and apostrophes this book deserves. ‘Til then, Happy Friday, Folks!
Have you read Beautiful Creatures? What did you think? Who was your favorite character? Will you read the next book, Beautiful Darkness?
Update: this post was meant to publish at 2pm EST on Friday, but I forgot my WP settings are on 24 hour time, so it pre-pubbed for 2am Friday. I’ve corrected it now to reflect the real time it was supposed to drop.Read More