Thursday, June 30, 2011

bookish notes from an ACTUAL teen reader

The other day I had a conversation (through email, mind you, but no less authentic) with a teen reader (16, to be exact) and since she and I have very similar tastes, I often consult with her about books, trends, hits and misses, and so forth.
But she said something that really surprised me.
She'd just finished a book (Unearthly, in the spirit of full-disclosure), and the book she'd read just before that was Sapphique (the sequel to Incarceron). And what she said was probably just hyperbole, but no less intriguing.
She told me, "I am so done with girl-lead books."
I asked her to clarify, and she said, "From now on, if the girl is the main character, I'm not going to read it. I'm only going to read books where the guy is the narrator or main character."
It was all I could do not to point out that Incarceron & Sapphique's "main character" was a dude, but...
While I'm not going to copy and paste what she said, her reasoning in pretty interesting. She felt like YA girl protagonists hit two ends of the spectrum: uber-bitchy and self-centered (read: Claudia from Sapphique, Katniss, Katsa, etc.) or guy-crazy brainless wonders (read: Unearthly). And while I liked Unearthly slightly more than she did, I see where she's coming from.
It does seem like many girl characters are very...heavy. Heavy on the personality. And for one teenager, that heaviness is kinda hard to stomach. She said that it didn't really echo the complexity of being a young-adult female. She also raised a good point concerning romance.
It's like characters want to have it both ways, was her point. They want a guy they can hang on and kiss and stuff, but don't want them getting too close, because at the end of the day, it's all about the girl and what she wants (forecast reads: Hunger Games rant).

My favorite comment of hers? This is a quote: "It's like modern authors are afraid to let their characters really fall in love, because they think that having a girl care about a guy, and putting his feelings before hers, makes her some trapped 50s housewife. And a guy protecting a girl is some sort of crime, when really, I think it's sweet! It shows that he cares. That's selfless."

I told her that she may not be reading that many books in the future, as most YA authors seem to be women, and their main characters seem to be girls. But I just thought that was an interesting thing for a 16-year-old girl to say. Just an hour ago she emailed me with a "petition" in which her entire reading group vowed to take a 6-month hiatus from girl-narrated books... her book group has 87 young people, ranging from 14-23.
While part of me thinks that this decision is a little on the drastic side, the other part thinks that it's really cool that she and her friends decided to do something about their dissatisfaction. They're not abandoning the genre. They're not giving up reading. They're trying to make decisions that will better fit their needs. And really, I'm impressed that "normal American girls" are conscientious of things that I also happen to notice. There are a great many characters who are either limp noodles or she-wolves.
Where's the happy medium?
And my hot-shot-"I read ___ books a year!"-self attempts to answer that question by actually listing the "happy medium of girls" books**: Nevermore, The Looking Glass Wars series, The Books of Bayern, for the most part, the Wondrous Strange series, Wildwood Dancing, Chaos Walking (sans the last book), Percy Jackson series, eventually Divergent, Shiver, and lawd-o-mercy the classic authors do it best - The Chronicles of Prydain... but that's only a handful. And truly, when I think about it, most of the time when I compliment books in reviews, it's in regards to the creativity of the storyworld, or the action/excitement, or the pacing, or whatever. Usually it isn't in the characters, because I realize that my friend has a point. There's so much forcefulness in the average YA girl's personality. Forcefulness, snark, it starts off as fun, upbeat, but just turns into mean bitchiness. As my friend said, "Like Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew, only without Petruchio to spank her."
Hmm...not sure about the spanking part, but she has a point.

But what do you all think? Does she have a point, or is it bring on more snarky/googley-eyed gals?
And what about the resolution?

I will say that I absolutely LOVE having conversations with teen readers because as much as I (22yearold) enjoy YA, it's really written for them. So it's cool to get their perspective and see what exactly they think of certain things.
& when you've got reader-cousins, it's like free consulting work! :D

**and because of the subjectivity involved, my opinion-based-list may be different from others'.
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