• Realistic, relatable characters. For me, this require a sort of depth that turns underdeveloped characters on a page to a those that feel more like real people who just happened to find their way into an exciting story of some sort. Where I can imagine running into them in the park or in a restaurant and where I can anticipate their actions.
• This feeling of knowing the characters like they are old friends means that, in some ways, the author can’t get away with just anything. He or she has to make me believe that each plot point fits with things these characters would “really” do or ways they would “really” act. I know my little brother wouldn’t be caught dead wearing ballet shoes and performing on stage (unless it’s the result of some crazy dare) just as well as I know that Hermione would never abandon Harry just because she got sick of risking her life or something silly like that. Once you give me realistic characters, you’ve only won half the battle.
• That being said, I want my characters overcoming real obstacles. They don’t have to be things I’ve been up against. I’ve been incredibly blessed with parents who are not abusive, friends who are relatively emotionally stable, and in a whole slew of other wonderful ways in while many of my most beloved YA characters haven’t been nearly so lucky. But I love that YA authors take on controversial issues, because it gave (okay, gives) me and other kids stories that we can either relate to or learn from, or both. Stories that we know are happening but we don’t know how to talk about. So we read about them, and hopefully become that much more comfortable with discussing them.
• Real dialogue. See “real characters” point above. Don’t you dare try to get away with:
“Oh dear,” Maria sighed. “It has begun to rain. I suppose we shall have to play indoors now.”Really? Was Maria quite that proper? I doubt it. If you’re going to write a YA novel, dig deep people. Get in touch with how you conversed as a kid. That being said, probably none of this either:
“Yo ma,” I said, pushing off my sweet new kicks. “Imma chill with Pat later, aight?”Really. No need to urbandictionary every last line, I promise. We’ll give you a little leeway because we know you’re not actually seventeen anymore.
And many more. But if you can cover those, that's a great start.
On Tuesday, Andrew Smith's new YA novel Stick came out, and I was lucky enough to be given a copy. Never fear, Andrew, you've survived the above checklist.
Stark "Stick" McClellan, the thirteen-year-old narrator of this bold novel, tells his coming of age tale boldly with all the confidence and charm that he constantly feels he is lacking in his physical demeanor. Covering standard issues of puberty from body issues to sex and more "controversial" YA topics like child abuse, rape, and homosexuality, Andrew Smith shies away from nothing. I found myself identifying with Stick much more than I expected for a kid with whom (on the surface at least) I have very little in common, and I found the plot not only thrilling but also surprisingly believable given its dramatic content. Check and check--way to go, Stick!
My only irritation with this novel was something that I imagine many might consider to be its biggest strength. Stick was born with one ear (he learns at the end of the novel that he has a condition called anotia), rendering him ever-so-slightly hard of hearing. To reflect this, the author formats the text differently, especially surrounding dialogue
so that at times rather than appearing normally,
the text appears this way on the page.
I certainly see the reasoning for this within the novel.
It reminds the reader constantly of Stick's condition,
so that like him, we are unable to forget that he is different.
It also occasionally allows us
to see the way Stick compartmentalizes his many,
sometimes conflicting thoughts.
Most obviously, though, the format attempts to mimik the way Stick would hear, which is where my frustration comes in. First, this format of text is obviously somewhat distracting to read (although with such a redeeming plot and developed characters, this certainly didn't ruin the book for me). My problem is that, just as I have done above, the author does not delete any words; instead, he simply adds spaces. While I see the problem with deleting words, as it would add immense confusion to the reader, I found it really distracting; I felt like because the words were all completely maintained, this was not a true representation of how Stick would hear. What I might have preferred was if the text had been made smaller to reflect the sort of ins and outs of sounds that I imagine Stick would hear. Nonetheless, I should say that I appreciated the author's intent to reflecting Stick's unique sense of sound. I highly recommend those of any age to pick up this novel for a unique read. Although in the past, Andrew Smith has written mostly fantasy, I hope to see more of this variety from him in the future.
I was also given this adorable book by Taye Diggs, Chocolate Me, a precious story about a young boy struggling to feel comfortable with himself among his peers.
With big, cute, and colorful illustrations and a simple but meaningful plot, I thoroughly enjoyed flipping through this picture book.