Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Not your mother's YA fiction

So it's true that when, more than 10 years ago, I read my first Harry Potter book (expecting to hate it because everyone loved it; in my late 20s I was a bit of a smartass), and subsequently all the rest of the books in the series, those stories, though a little simple at times and certainly not the most well-written books for teens I've ever read, I found myself a little emotionally involved, I was hardly surprised. I mean, Harry is a very, very likable character, and J.K. Rowling can certainly manipulate emotions with the best of them.

(Speaking of not very well written, please see the above paragraph.)

But still, I didn't think the actual writing was all that great (though I am saying that Rowling possessed the ability to make me cry), even if the stories were compelling and the characters a lot of fun.

This is all to say that this weekend I finished reading "Mockingjay," another book for kids and/or teens (so-called "young adults"), the latest Suzanne Collins novel. Many of her characters are not "a lot of fun." There is very little fun, which is probably appropriate to the story, but I read it more with an increasing feeling of dread than with any kind of real pleasure. I don't need fun to enjoy a book, but let me be clear: I did not enjoy this book. At some point pretty early on, I only wanted to see how she ended it. I read the other two novels in the trilogy and loved them, all the while wondering if they were appropriate for my 12-year old niece. When I finished the third one, the only thought in my head was "Hell no is this appropriate for my niece."

Now, I'm sure other 12 year olds will read the books and be fine, but for me personally, someone well beyond the "young adult" appellation, this book was a nightmare.

It made me think of the Robert Cormier novels I read in junior high (or maybe even late in elementary school), which were psychological and murky and great. In contrast, the Mockingjay novel had so much blood, gore, violence, betrayal and "insanity" (I guess, Collins' lame sort of PTSD) and plotting and scheming untrustworthy adults that I'm pretty sure I would seriously dissuade anyone under the age of 19 from reading it without parental guidance first. (Suzanne Collins will be glad to know I no longer work in bookstores.)

I also was disappointed in the way Katniss's relationships with Peeta and Gale were handled - she built it up to be such a wonderful love story, a tangled up situation that felt very real (and, I guess I shouldn't say, familiar) and then in the final book, it felt like she just wasn't interested in that part anymore. It became just a bunch of words on the page. I didn't need it, except to know what happened at the end.

Now, this might just be me: the Huffington Post has a collection of reviews of the book, all of them good (though most of them use some version of the word "brutal" in their descriptors. So. If you want your kid reading a book that's brutal, hey, go ahead, encourage them to read this book). Still, what do I know? All I have to say is, in the end, I was very disappointed.


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