October 22, 2010 1 Comment
Earlier this week, my sister Rose asked me for recommendations for teen love stories, of the caliber of Romeo & Juliet, that she could offer to her high school students. Here is part of her request:
The problem with selecting books outside the canon is that one must validate and defend the literary quality of the book.
Many of the modern problem novels written for teens are so plot driven that the literary art, the craft of writing, is secondary. The market thrives on sensationalism and poetic language suffers a bit.
I agree and not just in novels for teens! I loved the writing in Flaherty’s Crossing by Kaylin McFarren but alas, it’s not a teen book and Read My Lips by Teri Brown is a great teen read, but not a love story. I forwarded this request from my sister to my fellow writers for their recommendations because my teen reads were Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.
But Rose’s request came as I was looking at my own writing on the same day I paged through a novel that didn’t appeal to me on any level, not story or style. I’m not a sensationalist storyteller or a poet, and my sassy domestic dramas will never be compared to R&J, which means I need to put extra attention on the craft; word choice, word placement, metaphors, action verbs, etc.
The best way for me to layer in the sensory details and evoke mood in my WIP is to read good examples. There are many books on my keeper shelf for this but since I’m working on the initial chapters, I wanted to come to a book fresh as a new reader, opening the first pages. This the place of discovery.
Fortunately there’s a book that’s been sitting on my shelf, taunting me. I read the excerpts posted on line and immediately bought the book, then forced myself not to read it, until now. It was my reward, a treat, waiting for me when I met my goal of drafting through to Act II of my WIP.
Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor is awesome. I want to shut out the world and read it cover-to-cover without a bathroom break. I’m not letting myself do that and it’s the most compelling reading I’ve ever done.
I know Trish is an award winning author and I want to observe and learn as a writer while also in the discovery stage as a reader. Usually I plow right through a good book then sit back and marvel at how it was all done. Those excerpts I read last month were still vibrant in my head and I tried to jump forward to where they ended and just read. But they were so good that I started at the beginning and slowed down to taste and touch those words on the page. That’s when I realized the value of reading this book in this manner.
There’s no fear I’ll mirror Trish’s style or ever have my stories compared to hers. That’s why Esperanza is the perfect book for me to use for this process of learning how to layer the clues with a fine paintbrush of description, emotion, and mystery. What I learn will enhance every dash of sass in the pages I have yet to write.
However, if you know a beautifully written teen story that is appropriate to recommend to girls attending a private Catholic high school, please post them in the comments or send me an email. And Thanks!
I’m going to return to “the hungry ghosts” in Esperanza.