Sometimes, when I’m between books–i.e., I have too many projects and don’t trust myself to not be sucked into a new story to the exclusion of all else–I re-read snippets of my favorite series.
One of the things I love about long series is how they grow with the reader. It’s not just that Percy or Harry, or Alanna, or any of the others grow up. It’s that their voices, and their authors’ tone grows up, too.
Consider the Percy Jackson books. At the beginning of the series, Percy is twelve. He’s dyslexic, has ADHD, and has been kicked out of six schools in six years. His voice is delinquent, defensive, even slightly sad–and immediately gripping.
The Lightning Thief, chapter one
Look, I didn’t want to be a half blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever like your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.
If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.
But if you recognize yourself in these pages–if you feel something stirring inside–stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Come the fifth book, The Last Olympian, Percy is sixteen. His dyslexia and ADHD, while still occasionally mentioned, are no longer key parts of his character. And while he still has a Percy-voice, he’s grown up: not only does Percy worry about his relationship with Annabeth, his sense of mortality is (realistically) greater than in the previous novels (with the possible exception of book four, The Battle of the Labyrinth).
The Last Olympian, chapter one
The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.
Up until then, I was having a great afternoon. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be driving because I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another week, but my mom and my stepdad, Paul, took my friend Rachel and me to this private stretch of bead on the South Shore, and Paul let us borrow his Prius for a short spin.
Now, I know you’re thinking, Wow, that was really irresponsible of him, blah, blah, blah, but Paul knows me pretty well. He’s seen me slice up demons and leap out of exploding school buildings, so he probably figured taking a car a few hundred yards wasn’t exactly the most dangerous thing I’d ever done.
Hear the difference? They’re clearly still the same character, but there’s a distance between the two, a distance that’s less about age-related details (driving a car) than word choice and focal points. Would twelve year old Percy be as cool about Paul? Would he use “technically” in a sentence? Most importantly, though, is the sense of comfort in sixteen year old Percy’s voice: sure, he’s talking about the end of the world, but he’s not defensive, not hiding behind a tough persona. This Percy, for the most part, is strong, confident, and in charge.
Behind Percy’s voice is Riordan’s–also strong and immediately recognizable–with a tone that’s more YA than middle grade. It’s less “wow, this is cool, and I get to save the world while looking totally awesome,” less peppy and pun-filled. There are still moments of lightness (a satyr wearing a “Got Hooves” shirt in book four, a hellhound gnawing on a giant pink plastic yak and a hundred-eyed monster getting bloodshot in book five), but they’re fewer, and used to good effect to not just illustrate character traits (as in the earlier books) but to break up tension (and thereby highlight key scenes and interactions).
While these may seem like the natural outgrowth of writing a series–and to some extent, they are–they’re actually not that common. Not all series grow with their readers (Harry Potter is probably the most famous to do so): the Michael Buckley Sisters Grimm series attempts to, but fails; the Nancy Drew books remain the same, story after story; even Dianna Wynne Jones’ Castle in the Air, a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, doesn’t quite capture necessary changes in tone and voice.
Oftentimes, that’s okay. Some authors want to stay within a certain genre or age-range, because that’s what speaks to them. But it’s still impressive–incredibly so–when a character demonstrates such clear growth over the course of a series. (The Protector of the Small (Kel) books by Tamora Pierce are another great example, as are J.K. Rowling’s HP books.)
Have you read any age-spanning series lately? Did you like them? Hate them? Why?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
In the era of the iPad, Amazon’s Kindle appears clunky and drab. The thumb tap keyboard is passe, the gray screen drab, and the lack of touchscreen so 2006. Yet, in some ways, the Kindle one-ups the iPad–lacking interactivity, the Kindle forces users to focus only on the text, provides a quick and easy way (via the OED and Wikipedia) to check a word meaning or make sense of a reference, offers a text to speech function, and has a battery life of around a week with wi-fi turned off. But while the Kindle will remain useful to adults–particularly adults uncomfortable with technology and touch screens–it’s likely the iPad will go where no e-reader has gone before and completely corner the kids’ market.
I know, I know, the Kindle isn’t the only e-reader out there. But B&N’s nook, Sony’s e-reader, and Spring Design’s Alex offer roughly the same set of features as the Kindle, give or take minor changes (the nook’s virtual keyboard, for instance). None of them offer the interactivity of an iPad, and none feature a color screen for text or illustration. And so far, Amazon offers the most access to kids’ e-books, with a quick search returning in excess of 27, 000 results.
iPad vs. Kindle
Should the iPad be allowed to corner the kids’ market? There are pros and cons, and in most cases, I’m all for e-books within reason. But in the case of kid lit–picture books, early readers, even middle grade novels, the iPad may be overkill.
Kid lit isn’t immune to the tech boom–Leap Frog, Fisher Price, and others have been marketing read-to-me versions of books for years. Almost all the toddlers I know have their own educational, brightly-styled laptops. Why? Because in kid-land, bright is a good thing–unless we’re talking e-readers.
The iPad, despite its app-books and pretty pictures, is a computer. It’s main function is consumerist, not educational–which is okay if you’re over, say, the age of 13/14/15/25 (and, as MacWorld points out, will not replace a Kindle in terms of comfort, anyway). Of course, this hasn’t stopped publishers from releasing kid-targeted book-apps and marketing to the under 5 set. The Kindle, in contrast, is all about the book–it’s a reading device with a little extra functionality, to make reading easier. But Kindle kids’ books have, for the most part, slipped through the cracks–despite the Kindle probably being the better device for reading to your kids.
Types of Kids’ Books on the Kindle
So far, Amazon’s offerings include pretty much every kind of kids’ book available. Classics such as Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Stevenson’s Treasure Island show up on the first page, alongside Twilight (Stephanie Meyer) and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Well-known picture books, such as The Potty Book (Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Dorothy Stott), Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (Annie Kubler), and even H.A. Rey’s Curious George series are also available, despite the e-reader’s matte gray screen.
Wondering just what illustrations look like on the Kindle? Check back tomorrow to see the cover from Billy Goats Gruff.
Reading to Your Child on a Kindle
Can you read to a child on the Kindle? Yes–if you’re reading a primarily text book. Picture books show illustrations on one page, then text separately, if the publisher even includes pictures in the e-version. If I had a gazillion dollars, I’d buy an iPad. And a monkey, because I’ve always wanted a monkey. And a fur coat, but not a real fur coat, that’s cruel. But if I had to choose between the iPad and the Kindle as a reading device for my child–and solely a reading device–I’d pick the Kindle (or the nook, B&N, if you’d like to give me one). Why? The Kindle may be far from perfect, but it’s the more bookish reader. The lack of bells and whistles makes it easier for small, easily distracted minions to focus, the page buttons are easy to use, and it’s lightweight, much like an oversize board book.
Yet where the iPad is distracting in its detail, the Kindle is almost completely lacking in sensory details–the feel of pages against fingertips, the clean, ink scent of a book–reading on a Kindle is an almost sterile experience. For teens and adults, this can be a good thing, as it helps take a reader deeper inside a book. But for a child still learning about books and reading, and developing their senses, such a lack is a terrible thing.
Reading with your little one is a large part of fostering a love of reading. Curling up together in a comfy chair, reading before bedtime, peeking beneath flaps and scratching and sniffing small plastic dots together are all part of the bonding experience. If we strip away the social aspect–the bonding aspect–of reading together, it’s possible kids simply won’t learn to love books, and that video games and television will become the order of the day.
Will my kidlet ever have an e-reader? Probably–as he grows older and the technology becomes cheaper, an e-reader like Amazon’s DX could be useful for textbooks (and prevent the textbook stoop I suffered from as school-loving nerdlet) and school reading assignments. Right now, though, neither a Kindle nor an iPad are on the books–because Mir’s too busy reading real ones.