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Adults are Boring: What I Learned From YA

For the past few years of my life, save for a couple exceptions, I’ve tried to stay away from YA fiction. That is, until I started to write it, and became drawn to the stories that were pulling so many of my friends in. So I’ve been looking for it a lot lately. Last night, I came across a little gem called Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. It seemed innocent enough. A story about two teenagers who fall in love in the eighties. And it didn’t have vampires in it. So I went for it. And I read it in one sitting like I expected to. Image

What I didn’t expect was the impact that it had on me. This book is the farthest thing from mindless. Though the two title characters are sixteen, there’s something about their relationship and their experiences that just seems so raw and true. I found myself identifying with them. I had felt what they felt before; I understood.

I laughed. The book was funny. I found myself caught in a current of erratic heartbeats and chest swells as I roared through that book like a transport truck late for a delivery. I ate it. Chewed it, swallowed it, and then realized I had eaten too quickly, because when I finished the book, I was left with the same feeling you get after wolfing down a great donair way too fast. I wanted more.

And as I closed my e-reader (so not the same as closing a real book, but I’ll take what I can get), and let it digest, I became aware of something that I had been running from without even knowing I was doing it. I had been avoiding the teen section at the bookstores because cynical old me thought I was too old for YA (That’s Young Adult Literature, for all you noobs out there). Yeah, and I was probably seventeen when I made that decision, which makes the things seem so much more ridiculous. I thought that YA was somehow romanticizing the life of young people in some stupid cliche fashion that was going to give the wrong ideas to people my age. I thought that writing “teenager” and “love” in the same sentence was dumb and unrealistic. I thought that YA books were trying to turn the adventures of their younger characters into something that could rival the life of an adult, and I thought that was kind of silly. Why? Because I had been told that teenagers and children weren’t capable of the stuff of grown ups by people who were living adult lives since I was probably old enough to string a sentence together.

So I read adult fiction, and by that, I don’t mean erotica. I haven’t so much as touched a copy of Fifty Shades, nor will I ever. I just mean books the the general fiction section. I stocked up on heavy novels with deep political or social meaning as though somehow, books about adults for adults made the adventures, feelings and experiences of the characters much more real.

And then I picked up Eleanor and Park, and I finished it, and finally realized what I had been missing. I’m sorry, lovers and writers of (some) adult work, but your plots are too lofty; your diction tries too hard, and it looks to me that you’re all just little kids wearing big people suits, trying to make yourselves look grown up. All your doing is making yourself look boring. After reading the likes of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, I’ve discovered some things, and remembered other things I had loved during the days of Ramona and Beezus and Nancy Drew. First: adults– and by that, I mean the societal definition of adults–are overrated. I really do think we’re all secretly sixteen-year-olds with skin that wrinkles a little more each year. I think that as people get wrinklier, they feel as though they have to act like they’re wrinkly and they forget what it’s like to be a teenager. I find too many people dismiss the thoughts and feelings of young people as being too melodramatic, or implausible as if age and wisdom was somehow the only thing to legitimize one’s ideas and emotions.

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Why is it that our boys and girls put away their comic books and their Lego and the tapes of their favourite pop bands when they hit adulthood? Honestly, I love Lego. Comic books are cool, and I’d be the first one to rock out to the Backstreet Boys on my way home from work. It’s because we’re told that at a certain age, things become childish and somewhere down the line, childish has become a bad thing.

And I think that’s wrong.

I fell for it. So have many of you, probably. And the sad thing is, because we’ve all fallen for it, we criticize teens and young people for feeling and doing as if we’re trying to drag them down with us. But all that’s doing is closing us youngsters off, telling us that we’re being dumb and that we shouldn’t be able to express ourselves. And so we don’t. We keep their mouths shut and our ideas locked away a little tighter each day and slowly as our skin hardens, we become adult.

I just read a novel that focused on teenagers–just like my own work does. One, it should be noted, that I wouldn’t have bothered to pick up before I started my novel. That was because it looked annoying and was meant for teenagers who hadn’t hit the same level of maturity I had in my less than twenty years (Oh, the pretentiousness is killing me). And in it, I have found some of the truest passages about being human that I think exist on the face of the earth. It gives me hope that the message I’m writing will be taken seriously and not tossed aside because my main character is barely out of high school. I wanted to make my Gracie real, and raw and human in ways that I didn’t know YA could do, and now that I know it can, I’m even more excited for what this book has the potential to do.

I got thinking today about all of the things I was afraid to say and do in my stories because I didn’t think anyone would buy it. But today, I’m a little braver, so I’ll tell you three of them.

First, and most importantly, I think, young people can be in love. And I don’t mean all of that stupid lusty stuff adults keep dismissing it for. I mean the kind of deep, true love that people say only happens when you’re old enough to afford a mortgage. The kind that envelopes you and takes every fiber of your being to support. The kind that keeps you up at night, the kind that rejoices when the one you’ve picked gets excited about caterpillars on the sidewalk. The kind that makes you notice really weird– but awesome– things about a person, like how they’ve got nice kneecaps or how they’ve got three giant freckles in the corner of their left eye socket or how they can’t dance at all but somehow watching them do it makes your heart flutter. It’s love in its most purest form, and it is beautiful and fulfilling and because too many people dismiss it for lust (there is a difference people, I promise, but that’s not the point), many of us young folk are scared to express it, because we’re going to be called juvenile and not taken seriously. But you know what? There is no such thing as a proper age to fall in love, and so there is no need to dismiss a book for portraying it before adulthood.

Second: young people are funny. And I don’t mean in the stupid insulting fat jokes kind of funny– of course, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never cracked one, but we all have, and that isn’t the point either– but I mean the intelligent sort that can only come from someone who sees the world differently. There’s something about coming into adulthood that sucks all the fun out of humour, and suddenly jokes need to be horribly crass or to have secret critiques of society in them to be funny. I’m not saying that satire isn’t humourous, I’m just saying I haven’t laughed at a comedian over twenty five, like, ever, and it’s not because I’m not educated either. I have, however, laughed out loud at Junie B. Jones. Like, recently.

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Thirdly: young people are smart, and creative and they worry about things, just like adults do. Real, tangible, important things. We worry about the environment and we worry about staying healthy and growing up and having a family and doing something meaningful, and yet our worries are often dismissed as silly. Our schemes for fixing things are said to be impractical and we’re forced at eighteen to choose something plausible to do with the rest of our lives. I wonder what would happen if we were all given the time to let our teenage brains stay on the same track for awhile, wait a little longer to come to fruition.  We have the capacity to change the world, and many of us are doing it right now, but I think there’s a lot of potential that’s being snuffed out because we’re all being told that we have to grow up. Maybe the way young people see the world is just what we need to fix it.

Go on out tonight, if you’re bored, and hit the youth section at a library or bookstore. I’d recommend John Green or Rainbow Rowell or hell, even Judy Blume if you’re feeling a classic.

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Ever wonder why some of the best books identified in our world right now deal with the lives of mere children?

Go on. Put down your political commentaries and your fact-books. I’m not saying they aren’t good; I’m a fan of a lot of it. But pull off the adult hat for a minute. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.

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Road Maps and Novel-Writing: Keep Me Away from Indigo.

I went to write in a coffee shop today because being home meant distractions. I started to work on my book while sitting on my parent’s loveseat, but plot thread and character development were replaced every minute with imhungrymyfacehurtswhydoesmyfacestillhurtthedentistsaiditwouldonlytakeaweektohealmaybeishould

takesometylenolohtonightsepisodeofdrphillooksinterestingmaybeishouldtapethatohshitishouldprobablycheck

andseeifmylandloardpulledmyrentdoihaveunderwearfortomorroworshouldidolaundrybeforeigohomewhydidyou

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Replace a few of these with endless YouTube video mini-marathons and I lost a good two hours of writing time being home. At that point, I took a stand. I refused to lose to the curiosity of my twenty-first century teenaged brain, and so I packed up my things, left my laptop at home and headed to my local Starbucks to grab a latte, scribble out a dozen pages of draft one and praise my decision to put my Master’s degree on hold lest I join the ranks of overqualified baristas who serve people like me and wonder why they aren’t working at a job they’re qualified for.

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Sorry, Starbucks folk. Our job market is awful, but you do make a mean chai tea.

I got some pretty important work done before I realized that I needed to do some research, not necessarily for accuracy, as most of what I’m writing is indeed fiction, but to give me an idea of the sort of thing I was getting myself into, and how to write it. Most of the subject was unimportant; probably something I could look up online later, but as a kid who still can’t comprehend things unless she’s underlining them on paper, I did, in fact, need a road map. Why I needed the map isn’t really worth telling (at least right now), but I should note that I was in the perfect position to get one. See, in Canada–and I’m not sure about anywhere else, so don’t murder me for thinking we’re unique–our main bookstore chain, Indigo, and its sister stores usually come with a Starbucks on the inside. Of course, I was sitting twenty feet away to the gates of this chic and modern Heaven-on-Earth. If Indigo didn’t have a road map for the area I was looking for, then I don’t know who would.

So I wandered from the Starbucks into the main store and was immediately caught by the adorable Kate Spade collection of journals that looked like old library books. No, I didn’t buy one. But I contemplated it. Oh yes, for five minutes, actually. (Ten points for self-control, what what).

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Not for long.
Can someone freeze my credit cards, too?

No worries, my steel will didn’t hold up too long. I bought literary magazines. I bought the newest book from an author I’m going to see at the end of the month (Joseph Boyden; I first read Three Day Road, a story of two Cree friends who go off to fight in WWI, and fell in love). I bought a neat little question and answer book to fuel thought and make my evenings a little more fun. I bought a collection of C.S. Lewis essays (I love that man, impeccable genius, both as a fantasy author and Christian apologetic), and then, and only then did I reach the travel section to collect my map. They had it, just like I knew they would, but as I did the walk of shame to the cash register, I did not feel triumph, but sympathy for my debit card.

My addiction to literature– and cute things and shopping in general– is getting out of hand. I suppose it could be worse, but sending me into an Indigo is like sending a recovered drug-addict into a crack house to pick up a jacket for a friend who left it there.

If you were wondering the map did come in handy.

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Sorry, little guy.

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GeekyRed Reviews: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I’ve got this rule about books that I’m quite sure I share with many literature lovers: if there is a screen adaptation I MUST, no IFS ANDS OR BUTS, read the story before I watch it. Why? Because, nine times out of ten ALL THE TIME, the book itself is much better than the movie.

Relax, film buffs. I’m not saying that movie adaptations are bad. In fact, some of them I find quite enjoyable. The thing is, you can’t critique a film and a movie in the same category. Why? Because trying to fit 350 pages into two hours (as the days of the 90-minute epic come to an end) is just impossible. Things that went so well in the novel just won’t work with the plot the producers are trying to squeeze into their scripts. Most of these come out very nicely; there are quite a few book-films that I would go see more than once, however, as a self-proclaimed bibliophile (I promise, that word isn’t dirty, look it up) I will always and forever love the books more. Unless it’s The Notebook. I’m sorry, Nicholas Sparks, that novel just didn’t do it for me.

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Now why on God’s green earth did I start a book review with that little spiel? I must confess– and I feel positively wretched for admitting this to the entire internet– that I was introduced to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because I watched the movie first.

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I know! I know! I can’t believe I said it! But, you’ll have to cut me some slack, I did watch the movie in class, and because it was required, I’m not going to think of this as a complete breaking of my rules. Besides, I enjoyed the film so much, I went out that week and bought myself a copy of the novel. Except, because university is a parasite whose favourite meal seems to be free time, then I had to leave it on my shelf until about two weeks ago when I finally got to pick it up again.

And my oh my, what a fantastic read. For those of you who haven’t heard of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, stop reading this post, and do yourself a favour by going to get it right this second. In about 380 pages, Larsson brought adrenaline raging through my veins like those bullet trains in Japan. He made me so uncomfortable at points that I wanted to put the book down but couldn’t– you sneaky bastard, talk about a page turner– and by the time I made it to the end, he had me screaming like a pre-teen after an episode of Pretty Little Liars, or whatever kids are watching these days (even though I’m nineteen, you catch my drift). Oh yes, it’s one of those books.

Larsson manages to mix a riveting murder mystery into a political-slash-financial drama into an insane commentary on modern maltreatment and abuse of Swedish women– did I mention the book has been translated into dozens of languages and has been sold worldwide?!– and through this intricate plot web, spins readers along, keeping them willingly caught until they’re forced to set the book down at the very end. I mean, I knew how the thing was going to end and I STILL broke a sweat in the climb to the climax. I fell in love with Lisbeth Salander– the most badass character I have ever read, like, ever— and Mikael Blomkvist, two protagonists who were written so well I felt I had gotten to know them as friends by the end of it, which is weird and totally made me feel like I’d checked out of reality for awhile, but if that’s what I book is supposed to do– and I wholeheartedly believe it is–then four for you, Stieg Larsson.

Of course, because I had seen the movie first, I found the ending of the book to be rather long. Without ruining too much, I felt that the climax I had seen should have been how the book ended, but there were still eighty or more pages to go before I hit the true ending. Not that those pages ruined my experience at all; but I would send out the warning to anyone who is taking the path that I did (curse you, Strategies class!). The other thing to be wary of is the immense amount of violence that appears in the book. There were moments included that I felt that anyone, regardless of gender, would cringe upon reading. In fact, the original, Swedish title for the book directly translates to Men Who Hate Women, if that’s any hint toward what is coming. That being said, the book is a commentary on a pretty uncomfortable topic; I don’t think that it should deter anyone from checking the book out (unless they can’t handle that stuff, of course), especially because it’s something that I think people need to talk about, but that’s a topic for another time.

I’m trying to keep these posts shorter than normal, just because I can go on forever, especially about a book like this. All in all, I’d give it five stars, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys mystery, action, suspense, a blockbuster film in a novel… (really, guys, I’m just gushing now). The plot is just so clever; I really need people to scream about this book with, and even though it isn’t brand new or anything, it’s new to me, so if anyone out there is feeling what I’m feeling right now leave me comments. I need to relate.

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Somebody help.

Check out this synopsis from Goodreads:

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there’s always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson’s novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don’t want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

 

Go. Go get it. Right now. Just do it. You’re doing yourself a huge favour.

 

Also, if you like book reviews, leave me a comment with encouragement and suggestions. It gives me something to do in my spare time, and since I love sharing stories, this seems like a really fun thing to do.

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“Well, I’m Back”: How to Cope With Real Life After Finishing a Great Book

Lately, I’ve been putting my novel on hold for two reasons:

One: I’ve got a different  writing project coming up this week that will take up a whole lot of time and give me more experience in the long run, which is totally awesome,

and Two: I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings.

I’ve been saying that last sentence for the past month now, and at ten after eleven this evening my eyes passed over the final sentence of Return of the King. I think those who have taken on the task of diving into these babies understand me when I say, much like Samwise Gamgee’s feelings of sorrow after parting with Frodo, I too feel empty. A little bit lost, even. (I’d have warned you about spoilers but at this point if you haven’t at least seen one of the movies, you’ve been living under a fairly large rock. Everybody likes Lord of the Rings; you need help.)

It never takes me this long to get through three novels, especially if I pace myself, but work and post university summer fun got in the way. Instead of doing chapter sprints I was going to movies and bonfires and other things that dorky kids like me find themselves getting into. And so the book just kept getting pushed deeper and deeper into the endless pit known as my handbag, and I shuffled through it, a couple pages at a time. (I’d have said purse, but I didn’t want uppity, proper people wondering why I shove books in the same spot I keep my pennies.)

At one point, getting through the trilogy was taking so long that didn’t think I’d ever see the end. BUT, today I had a few hours of free time, so I fired through the last two hundred pages of that sucker and I did it. I’m done.

Except, I don’t really know what to make of myself right now. I’ve been spending too much time in Middle-Earth and now that I’m back home in my plain old bedroom, a place that noticeably lacks hobbits, elves, or orcs of any sort, I’m feeling a little bit hazy. They really need to start slapping warning labels on the spines: Do not drive while in the process of absorbing Tolkien’s brainchild; you will hit things. It’s like I’m walking through dreamland; I hate it.It’s as if, with the closing of every book, the back cover whispers to you, “Morning, Sunshine. Welcome home; enjoy trying to get over this one, dollface, muahahahahahahaha.”

It’s safe to say I’m having trouble moving on.

But, as most of us with literature addictions know, the only way to cure a lit-hangover is to never stop reading in the first place. Good thing the stack of books I’ve got ready to go is taller than my desk.

On to the next adventure.