Monday, September 27, 2010

Thinking Outside the Plot

I recently read this essay and it got me thinking that YA novels are too often criticized for their quality. The author is a fan of the genre and writes fondly of being fully absorbed in books for hours on end as a child and teenager. She also writes that in her view, one of the main draws of YA books that they tend to be more plot-driven than language-driven, which allows her to speed through books like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy just to find out what happens next.

The author wrote: “Of course, one of the reasons you can read this fast is that the language doesn’t always delight your synapses or persuade you to kick off your shoes and stay awhile. When I’m reading Collins’ writing, I’m not savoring a sentence like I do when I’m reading Michael Chabon. The plainspoken pulse of The Hunger Games doesn’t beg a reread like the poetry of The God of Small Things, or set you still like a scene of Cormac McCarthy’s. But I’m not reading Mockingjay [the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy] for those reasons. I’m reading to find out whether the Capitol mutations bred deliberately to hunt Katniss are going to tear her to pieces before she manages to kill President Snow.”

I thought the popularity of YA books with adults, particularly for crossover books like the Hunger Games, shows that the complexity of the writing is satisfying to some mature palates. It's true, Collins' writing in the series is spare compared to a Michael Chabon or a Cormac McCarthy. But it's very precise and has a beautiful rhythm. In my view, the language also reflects some of the numbness that Katniss Everdeen feels. Living with the threat of imminent death or starvation in an authoritarian regime doesn't exactly inspire flowing, flowery descriptions.

Why shouldn't someone be reading Mockingjay for the writing? Why shouldn't someone savor the language of Looking for Alaska? Or the philosophy and cultural observations behind The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks? Just like Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy, these authors all offer something that writers and readers can learn from.

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