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April 23, 2017

Agency in Young Adult Fiction

There's a natural tension in young adult fiction: the main characters are the same age as the readers (teenagers), and yet in order to have a story, the characters need enough agency, enough freedom from adult supervision to have an adventure.  This creates a handful of tropes that can work really well, or can trigger my eye rolling.

1. The parents are dead.  This worked well in The Reader, which was a recent review here on the site, because her father's murder deeply affected her and sent her on a vengeance spree.  Also she was trying to rescue her guardian and therefore working towards regaining some supervision.  But often enough, killing the parents is a way to shuffle them off so we never have to think about them again.  Sometimes the loss of parents happens well before the story starts and doesn't even seem to affect the kid at all.  I've learned that orphans in the English countryside have whacky, lighthearted fun! 

2. The parents are criminally negligent.  This crops up a lot in contemporary YA, where the parents are too wound up in their own things to remember they have wild teenagers or to notice that those teenagers talk to demons.  You also see parents who travel for long periods of time for work and leave their kids home unsupervised in an empty house.  I've learned that this is a recipe for your kid getting their group of friends together in your living room to have a séance and do battle with a poltergeist.

3. Related to 2: when the adults know that the kids are about to face grave danger and instead of stepping in, say, "No!  It has to be you!"  I will forever hold up the sixth and seventh Harry Potter books as an example of this.  Even though Harry did not graduate magic high school and has no idea what he's doing or how to do any of the magic involved, even though he has the whole Order of the Phoenix (which is full of some of the best, most experienced witches and wizards, all of whom will drop what they're doing to help him in any way possible) at his disposal, no, no, he's the chosen one and it has to be him.  Let that child go muck around and be in danger, and drag his friends into it to boot.  Not only is it child endangerment, but it's a bit of a logical stretch that a kid will be able to defeat the dark lord for you.

I make fun of these, but I completely understand why they happen.  Another recent review here on the blog was The Rhithmatist, and in it the adults did a good job sheltering the kids and keeping them away from the danger.  This resulted in the stakes being really low as the main character's conflicts revolved around failing to make friends and bickering with the friends he had and not liking one of the new professors, instead of the conflicts revolving around kids being kidnapped and possibly murdered by terrifying chalk monsters.  The big danger was not front and center for the main character so it wasn't front and center for the reader.  Before I put my finger on what was happening, I thought the book was skewing younger, leaning towards being a middle grade book.  The adults behaved appropriately in that one and so the main character had less agency.

It wouldn't be much of a story if the parents do all the adventuring and the kid is their sidekick.  Although, that's sort of what happens in The Girl from Everywhere and not only did it work great, but that was an awesome book.

So now I want a book where the kid is the chosen one, but the kid's mom says "Nope," and does everything they can to keep their baby safe.  It'd be from the mom's point of view, making it not a young adult book, and then...I don't know who would read this but me.

April 20, 2017

Modern Monsters, Episode 3: The Spider Woman





The Twenty Percent True Podcast

Season 1: Modern Monsters

Episode 3:The Spider Woman

April 18, 2017

A Thousand Pieces of You Review

This week's novel is A Thousand Pieces of You, YA sci-fi with travel through alternate universes by Claudia Gray.  This one was recommended by the Writing Excuses Podcast as one of their books of the week.

Marguerite's genious, physicist mother not only proves that alternate universes exist, but creates a prototype device that will allow travel between these universes.  When Paul, one of her grad students, erases all their data, steals the device, kills Marguerite's dad, and escapes to an alternate universe, Marguerite and Theo (the other grad student) set out of an adventure across universes to find him and seek their revenge.

Even though there are a whole lot of physicists in this book and a whole bunch of science going on, nothing leaps out at me as THAT'S NOT HOW THAT WORKS.  Which is awesome.  Great job, Gray!  I think this is because Marguerite has no interest in how or why anything works and when people give her an explanation, she tunes it out.  Since we're seeing this adventure from her perspective, her explanations of "because SCIENCE!" and "it's all very technical" ring true.  I buy she doesn't know what's happening and I buy that something is happening that's technical.  There's no trying to dig into pseudo-science to explain.  And she does get a lot of the culture and the pitfalls in trying to get funding correct, which is something a scientist's kid would know about.

The universes she travels too are also really interesting.  They vary tremendously from a world with advanced technology where she lives in London with her aunt, to a world with technology behind ours where she is a Romanov princess in St Petersburg.  It's a wild ride through different environments.  But then she goes to a world eerily similar to her own, and that's creepy in its own right.  Everything was vivid and interesting.

It quickly got into the ethics of interdenominational travel.  When you travel, your consiousness inhabits your body in that universe.  That means you can't jump into a universe where you don't exist.  It also means you're taking over the body of a version of yourself and hijacking their life.  You have to fool their family and friends to impersonate them, and doing something out of character could ruin their life.  So how ethical is that?

Then there's the question of how similar all the different versions of you are.  If you love a grad student in one universe, do you love him in every universe?  If a grad student is evil in one universe are their counterparts in every universe evil or do they all just have that capacity deep inside?  It's an interesting look at how situation and chance can affect personality, and this gets at it from several different directions.

It was a lot of fun, but that said I did guess the twist in chapter 2.

***

Next week: Sunshine, cinnamon rolls and vampires by Robin McKinley.

April 13, 2017

Modern Monsters, Episode 2: Demons





The Twenty Percent True Podcast

Season 1: Modern Monsters

Episode 2: Demons

April 11, 2017

The Reader Review

This week's novel is The Reader by Traci Chee.  This one was on NPR's list of best books of 2016.

In a world where reading is magic, the world's only book is a closely guarded secret.  The books ends up in Sefia's possession after her father is murdered by a mysterious organization.  Sefia's on the run with trackers and assassins on her tail.  She's determined to find her kidnapped aunt, avenge her father, and find the book's secrets,teaching herself to read and use magic as she goes.  She finds help from a mute boy who was forced into gladiatorial battles, and a famous crew of pirates.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and it does not stand alone.  The story of finding Sefia's aunt and discovering who the mysterious organization is and what they want are resolved, but the later is clear well before the end of the book.  The book ends with the rest of the story arcs (probably) about a third complete: the story of the pirate crew's famous trip to the Western edge of the world, their current endeavor to find the Tomb of Kings, the boy coming to terms with what he's done and who he is, Sefia's quest to stop the mysterious organization and end the war that is coming.  Since these all only get about a third of the way through, it feels like this book is a lot of set up and like the story doesn't get started until towards the end.  I'd recommend waiting for all three books to come out and then reading them together, because it will probably feel less slow if it's packaged differently--as one long story instead of three shorter stories.

That said, I like all the characters and I appreciate how much time they got to spend forming their relationships.  I liked the ships and the sailing and the fantastical high seas adventures.  It felt real and kept an edge of excitement even though it's a travel story (and we know how I tend to get bored with travel stories because I am a plebeian).  But the world building of cultures with extensive trade and complicated politics who have not invented writing rings a bit false.  The world is too advanced for no one to be keeping ledgers.

***

Next Week: A Thousand Pieces of You, YA dimension jumping sci-fi by Claudia Gray

April 9, 2017

Camp NaNo Letter to Home

This week I hit a scene that sets up the stakes and the main character's motivations.  It turned out to be a delicate balance to have his motivations seem justified and his actions not seem like he's making a really stupid decision because he's a stupid guy.  The whole novel falls apart if this initial buy in falls flat.  There would be little reason to continue if I can't get this part.  So I ended up working it and reworking it over the course of the week, and I've got it where I'm pleased with it (for a first draft).  The down side of this is that I'm way behind my word count goal, but I don't feel terribly bad about that.

Today, April 9th: I have                   8,156 words
Next week, April 16th, I will have 19,818 words for a first goal
                                                       26,666 words for a second goal


In other news, the first episode of the The Twenty Percent True podcast went up on Thursday.  The sad news with that is that while it went up here on the blog on time, I underestimated how long it would take to get it approved by iTunes and Stitcher.  It is now up on Stitcher (where I'm having formatting problems that should be fixed shortly), so you can subscribe, rate and review there.  But I'm still waiting on iTunes.  All in all, kind of a deflated opening.

I was also a guest host on my friend, Jim's, podcast NaNoWriPod.  We talked about Camp NaNo and our projects.  Check it out if you have time.

April 6, 2017

Modern Monsters, Episode 1: There's Nothing but Bass in the Lake





The Twenty Percent True Podcast

Season 1: Modern Monsters

Episode 1: There's Nothing but Bass in the Lake



The blog: Twenty Percent True
Twitter: @CaryAndTheHits