You will notice that I didn’t do this post last week. I was too ashamed. Although I had still been reading, I hadn’t finished ANY books.
In my defense, it was the end of the grading period, so I was frantically working on another worthy activity.
This week, I decided to do a little binge reading of Young Adult fiction. The results did contain one pleasant surprise.
There are books that have great stories, but the writing is just. . .meh. These are books that I rush through, and sometimes even skim because honestly I know that I won’t miss much by reading quickly. In fact, some books I find are written so poorly that I will actually enjoy the experience more if I skim it rather than slow down and read.
Then there are books that are written beautifully, but the story doesn’t capture me. If I’m being honest, though, I can only really think of a few books that fall into this category for me. Maybe it’s difficult for a great crafter of language to think of a bad story. I don’t know, but this is pretty rare.
The books I remember, the books I will keep recommending, the books I might even keep on a special shelf behind my desk so that they won’t disappear without my blessing, have both of these qualities: a great story and skillful writing.
Book One: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
This book had potential, but I felt like there was too much going on, too many subplots and conflicts. This is somewhat evident when you see how thick the book is. The main character was likeable, and the emotional conflicts were well-created. The book’s main conflict concerns the main character’s attempts to deal with some grave news about her father.
I felt, however, that many of the scenes could have been tighter, and that more could have been done with less. There were places where the dialogue dragged and scenes that repeated the same emotional turmoil previously described. I liked all the characters, and I did care about what happened to them; but I wanted it to pick up the pace.
Book Two: For Keeps by Natasha Friend
I picked up this book on a whim at the public library this weekend. I’ve been looking for some realistic young adult fiction lately, both just to read and to recommend to kids. There is a glut of paranormal/angels/vampires/werewolves books right now, and there is also a pretty healthy dose of fantasy. Honestly, I’m really tired of the paranormal angle, although some kids still like it. And I do love a well-written fantasy novel, but I find that fantasy is a genre best suited to more confident readers.
When I’m looking for a good book to draw in a reluctant reader, I often start with realistic fiction; so I’m always on the lookout for those.
I read the first 50 pages or so the night I brought it home. It had some good moments; it really did. It started well, but I still found that I ended up skimming the entire last half.
The good: I did love the relationship between the main character and her mother, and the later relationship between the main character and her father. The parent/child relationships really are the center of this book, despite the cover.
What I found distracting was the romance. Usually I’m a sucker for this, but in this book I had a really hard time liking the guy. He wasn’t well-developed, understandable as this wasn’t the central conflict; and there were moments where I found him immature and insensitive. But I could just be getting old; and I was always super picky about guys anyway.
That being said, I would still recommend this one to students, simply for the well-drawn and evocative parent/child relationships.
Book Three: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
Audrey handed me this book as I was staring at book spines in our school library. You can see a book trailer about it here.
I loved this one. It was just sweet. But don’t be fooled by the title and the cover. The romance is only one aspect of this book; the plot is more complex than that. Hadley and Oliver meet on the plane to London. Hadley is flying to London to attend her father’s wedding to a woman she has never met and has no interest in meeting. Oliver is flying to London for reasons as yet to be revealed.
Many scenes in the novel are told through flashback, as Hadley thinks back on her relationship with her dad throughout her childhood and as she wonders what it will be like to see him again in what she perceives as his new life without her.
While the sweetly improbable or improbably sweet fledgling relationship between Hadley and Oliver frames the novel, the real conflict concerns Hadley and her father as they try to negotiate the emotional ramifications of divorce and remarriage. There are no easy answers here, and I appreciated Jennifer Smith’s sensitive but realistic drawing of Hadley’s struggle.
The Takeaway for the Week
It’s really difficult to establish layers of emotional conflict in a young adult novel. The novel runs the risk of either a) becoming too long or b) sacrificing the depth of one conflict for the sake of the other. A writer who can create these layers effectively within the constraints of a young adult novel is a writer I will definitely keep reading.
This week is spring break! In between gardening projects and family outings, I will be reading
The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody (the second book in the Obernewtyn series)
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (yes, still listening to this one on audio book—getting closer every day)
“It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It’s a great way to keep track of what you’re reading and see what others are reading!