Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What is Dystopia?

Recently my friends at Figment Fiction posted an interesting Tweet. They asked people to share their own definitions of dystopia. Before long, the definitions were becoming hard to reconcile so they asked an even better question: Which novel do you think best exemplifies the dystopian genre?

I was a little surprised at how much disagreement there is out there on this topic. Some of novels were suggested that I thought were clearly sci-fi. A small discussion broke out about what anti-eutopia is. That one really baked my noodle. I went back to the novel that best exemplifies the genre.

For me dystopia is a lot of things. It can be anything from a totalitarian society and individual teenager who's struggling against a really bad environment. The stories I'm thinking of have a three book recipe. In the first book the scene is set and the problem emerges. In the second book the regime crumbles and the resistance gets going. In the third book the regime falls and the hero wins the day.

What is a dystopia to you? Answer below (don't forget your email) and you could win the latest by Harlan Coben, Shelter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Are Book Reviews Never Mediocre?

Have you ever read a review that said the book was "OK?" I haven't. Ever.

This is a bigger problem than most people think, as I see it. If reviewers are either really positive or really negative it makes it hard to figure out whether you will like the book or not. This leads us to a logical question: why read the review in the first place? One sided reviews also make you question the objectivity of the reviewer. Its reasonable to think that most of the books are not at one extreme or the other but somewhere in the middle. I also think this is a problem for authors who need unbiased criticism to get better at their craft.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, I think some of the reviewers are friendly with the authors and don’t want to hurt their friend's feelings with a negative review. Second, some reviewers let their love of YA show in their reviews. They want to promote the genre, not give an objective review.

One reviewer I think does a great job with objectivity and the right tone is The Book Muncher. Her reviews are always thoughtful and suggest improvements to books without preaching.

Is there a reviewer you like? If so, tell us about it in the comments below and you could win! This week I'm giving away "Sketchy Behavior" by Erynn Mangum.

The Best Book I Read This Month – You Can Win It

Going Underground” is a new book by Susan Vaught. It is one of the best books I’ve read in some time because its pacing creates real tension and it sends an excellent, timely message about our culture and legal process. I also have a few observations that might improve it.

“Going Underground” is a story told in a series flashbacks. Writers who choose this format have to keep a close eye on how they reveal the story and be sure that it intensifies the message or reaction in the reader. It’s harder than it sounds. Vaught does it really well.

“Going Underground” also sends an excellent message for all of us to hear. In the story a young man is convicted of distributing child pornography when he and his young girlfriend text message pictures of themselves to each other. This is more real than many may think. It has happened in many states. For those of us who grew up before texting pictures was the norm, this is a little like being arrested for playing, “I’ll show you mine if…”

The dialogue of this book was a bit of a let down. Many of the characters use the same words, making them difficult to tell apart. And the main character sounds more like a 20-something year old woman than a 17-year old straight boy. His best friend doesn’t dress very well and, at one point, the main character wonders why his friend won’t accept his offer to go through his closet and pick something out. If the main character was gay, this would be more believable.

If you would like to win a copy of “Going Underground” tell me what you think of the application of child pornography laws to underage kids who send pictures of themselves to people. Why do you think this was an issue for some areas? What does it say about our culture? Don't forget to tell me your email.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Is Starting Over in a New Town Still Believable?

Moving to a new town and starting over has been a theme in thousands of books. A recent (and excellent) YA example is Sarah Dessen’s new book, “What Happened to Goodbye” In it a girl moves every six months due to her father’s job. In every town she takes on a new identity. It all catches up with her in the end because someone stumbles upon her multiple Facebook accounts.

The climax of this book made me wonder: In the social networking age, can authors still use starting over as a believable narrative structure?

I think it’s still possible, but it is a lot harder. Almost anyone can Google you. And, take a good luck at your Facebook friends. You’re probably only about five degrees of separation from anyone. Authors have to get creative to get around this.

What do you think authors can do? Have you read any books that do this well? Tell me in the comments below (don’t forget to leave your email) and you could win “After Obsession” by Carrie Jones & Steven Wedel. It’s a great twist on the paranormal themes that abound.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What Makes a Great Title?

Great titles are largely subjective. One person's great title is another person's pile of hot, steaming letters. Here are a few of my favorites and why I like them. Put yours in the comments below and you can win a copy of Shut Out by Kody Keplinger!

One of my favorite titles of all time is Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I love titles that sound a little familiar but different enough that they are intriguing. I also like that it connects to a symbol that's used throughout the book. And, it's clever. The name pokes fun (mocks) the brutal and controlling government that the protagonist challenges.

Another one is Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler. You can't beat that alliteration! And, it tells you exactly what you're going to get in the book. If you're interested in those things, this book is for you.

So, what are your favorites? This is a great week to play because I'm giving away two copies of Kody's book to two different people. "Shut Out" is also a great title. It has a great, halting, sound and a connection to sports, which are important in this book.

So, what do you think? Remember to leave me your email address!

More Symbolism, Please

Symbolism is one of my favorite literary techniques. It can be as simple as the color of a cowboy's hat in a western or as complicated as Edgar Allen Poe's use of sounds.

And I wish there were more of it in YA.

The dystopian authors use symbolism a lot. It's not surprising. The characters in these books are often trying to stick it to the man. They need a symbol to unite and motivate them. This symbol may also remind them, when the going gets tough, why they're rebelling.

Other YA books don't have this kind of structural need for symbols. But some authors still do great work with it. Notably, the book I reviewed last week on my blog (How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr) uses lots of really interesting symbols.

I believe that YA should embrace symbolism. I think symbolism adds depth to a novel by giving the reader something to tease out of the story. Symbols encourage readers to analyze. This makes their experience with the writing more vibrant and real. Also, it would make it harder for people to criticize our genre if we used more of the traditional tools employed by adult fiction writers. It would be nice to hear less from those yo-yos.

What do you think? Do you think YA is using enough symbols? Too many? What are your favorite symbols? Write your answer in the box below and you could win a copy of Unforgettable by Loretta Ellsworth. She uses a very interesting symbol. Her main character is unable to forget anything. Is that why the girl he met is so unforgettable?