I love book reviews. I love how they’re neatly divided into two camps:
- “I loved the way the characters were so well-realised and given the chance to develop; the tension and suspense kept me hooked all the way through to the end, which absolutely delivers on its promise of a thrilling climax that leaves you wanting more.”
- “I was disappointed at the missed opportunities for character development, and the flat characterisation was not helped by the plodding pace of the story, with an ending so lazy it makes the conclusion of How I Met Your Mother seem like a cathartic, satisfying reward for the fans’ faith in and loyalty to the series.”
Such helpful, many informative, wow.
For any of you who are wondering: I’m looking for some YA stuff with which to occupy my time after I’m done with these essays, two of which will hopefully be finished and submitted tonight. Upon finding out that I’ve passed 2 of my papers already, even without these final essays, I am feeling much more relaxed and able to actually focus on what I’m doing without the disorienting miasma of “if I fail this paper I have no plan” terrifying my brain into paralysis, and subsequently feel a bit more optimistic about my future. So I took a look at reviews for The Maze Runner, and … yeah, wow. What’s frustrating is that all we get is telling in most of these reviews, so I actually have no idea where the stark differences in opinion are coming from – is it just a case of X’s nightmare being Y’s dream, or are they looking at and therefore evaluating completely different aspects of the story and there is no crossover whatsoever in their presented opinions?
Take The Hunger Games for example. I love the series, although I do want to go back and re-read it with a more critical eye after these essays are done. But the reason I love it is because I identify with it in a very specific way, a way that I don’t think many other people get – or, at least, I haven’t seen them blog about it, and that’s really all I have to go on when sourcing other people’s opinions. In a sense I think I like the series in a way I’m not “supposed” to, but it doesn’t stop me from liking it my way.
My point is that I can understand why some people hate Peeta and some people love him. I went from camp A to camp B in Catching Fire, and now I’m hovering back over camp A looking for an opportunity to sneak back in while everyone’s asleep and pretend I never left. But it’s also part of the reason why I like him: he’s kind of like how Edward Cullen should have been, and it’s all to do with framing. Edward is framed as the perfect man, whereas Peeta is framed as somebody Katniss idealises (as do a lot of other characters in the series). That’s very different. Again, going back to re-read it I will hopefully get a clearer picture of all that business, but yeah, I get it. Peeta has his sweet side, the gentle, really quite lonely boy with the bread, and he has his asshole jealous stalker side, and I can see how people would overlook or privilege one side of his personality over the other and come to their conclusions about him that way, and then further polarise the matter by only sharing their opinion of that one side of his character with other people. I personally think that the setting of the story and the overarching thematic framing of this being a war where everybody is fucked-up in some way or another makes Peeta a good character for this story, as opposed to a good or bad person – but as far as book reviews go, I can imagine not having a leg to stand on if I tried to get a feel for the series based on such published opinions as the ones for The Maze Runner, and, really, every other YA novel I’ve read reviews for on Goodreads.
I suppose I could get my reviews from someplace other than Goodreads, but is it really so much to ask for even just an example in a review of why Reviewer 1264 didn’t like X or found Y really compelling, instead of just saying that they didn’t like it or found it compelling? This is perhaps the perfect example of where “show don’t tell” is a really good guideline to operate by: book reviews are really unhelpful when they just say “it was good” or “it was bad” – the same with book critique. Give a little analysis please. Don’t just tell us you don’t like chocolate; tell us how it makes the roof of your mouth feel muddy and the way it saps the life out of the sweetness receptors on your tongue, like a Dementor stealing every good experience you’ve ever had and leaving you only with horror and torment.
Maybe not that last bit, for copyright purposes, but that is how chocolate tastes to me. It tastes like babysitting a hyperactive 2-year-old while the season finale of Game of Thrones is on and everybody but you is watching it and you have a cold.
Tell us how you hate the way Peeta threatens Katniss with everything from his own suicide to their mutually-assured murder by Cato if she dares to leave the cave in order to get the medicine that will save his life; tell us how the way he went to Haymitch immediately after hearing about the Quarter Quell and made him promise to do everything he could to keep Katniss alive made your heart melt. By telling us these things, you are showing us what you’re talking about, informing us as to how you formed your own opinions on the matter. That is helpful.
I JUST WANT HELP IN FINDING A GOOD BOOK TO READ IS THAT SO UNREASONABLE
I mean I still have 5 or 6 books from The Book Depository that I haven’t quite gotten around to reading yet, but nowadays I’m more about the library. I’ve got Cinder by Marissa Meyer sitting on my desk awaiting my attention, so I do have at least one thing to keep me going before I dig back into Miss Everdeen’s PTSD-inducing chronicle. Then I’ll probably re-read The Magicians, because I’ve had this huge post about authenticity in writing characters trying to be written for the past few months and that book, along with Beautiful Creatures, has a big part to play in my discussion. And examples will be plentiful, I assure you. Hopefully I remembered to record page numbers for Beautiful Creatures while I was making notes on it, otherwise I may have to hire it out again … ick …
But I think my YA kick is coming to an end, slowly fizzling out as I find there are only so many variations on “highly problematic teen romance with fantasy/sci-fi backdrop” that I can handle. I think finishing the Vampire Academy series is probably going to be as far as I’ll get before needing to move on to different pastures. I do still want to read me some John Green, just so that I don’t feel totally out of touch with my peers, and I hear good things about The Knife of Never Letting Go … I want some variety, basically. I think that Young Adult literature has massive potential to be really significant and a helpful tool for people – not just teenagers, but yes certainly them as well – to evaluate themselves and their place in the world through. Not like finishing school or anything, but just in the sense that it could take teenagers seriously, trust them to handle complex and ambiguous moralities and give them a challenge that they’ll find rewarding for engaging with. And I think that these kinds of YA books do exist, they have to exist. I’m just having a hard time finding them.
Really I just want something to get my hopes back up. Everything I read about The Maze Runner in those reviews makes it seem guaranteed to disappoint me, particularly the use of the The Chick trope. And that’s partly because I actually think it’s really awesome that YA is the one category in literature, other than Romance, where female protagonists are the norm. I would just like something other than romance to drive a significant portion of the plot, unless it’s done in an intelligent, thought-provoking way.
Which is yet another reason to re-read The Hunger Games, and holy crap I need to finish these essays so that I can actually start enjoying my life again. I have decided I’m going to buy a bike, and ride on it. Perhaps fitness shall occur in the process, but either way, fun will be had.
As a parting gift, please take the time to read this inspiring, motivating, passionate speech made by author N.K. Jemisin about the relationship between science-fiction/fantasy and people who are not white, able-bodied, cisgender and heterosexual. I didn’t quite click with The Killing Moon, but I did appreciate what motivated it, and I have nothing but admiration for Jemisin.
Okay. Essays. For serious.