RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Divergent

Why I Write Young Adult Fiction

“Since it is so likely that (children/teens) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” –C.S. Lewis

Beware: Spoilers for Allegiant, The Fault in Our Stars, and possibly Lord of the Flies and the Harry Potter series (but if you haven’t read or at least know the ending to those last two…please come out from under that rock pronto).

Like many others, I was excited to get my hands on Allegiant, the final book in the wildly popular Divergent series. I loved book one, tentatively liked book two, and looked forward to the last installment.

allegiant

All to my utter and complete disappointment.

Allegiant and subsequently its author, Veronica Roth (who, for the rest of this will be known as VRoth) failed readers on so many levels, but more than anything it/she failed a generation of teen readers who are looking for a new brand of hope.

See, when an author writes a book they can’t just willy-nilly send it out into the world. They must keep in mind that their words have the power to shape and affect people. An author, especially someone with a huge readership, has a responsibility to their readers. They must offer hope within the pages of their book or it’s a pointless waste of time for the author and more so, the reader.

Author William Faulkner said in his acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize, “The writer’s duty is to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.”

Does there have to be an “and they lived happily ever after” ending? Absolutely not. Suzanne Collins’s (author of The Hunger Games series) editor put it best when she said that young adult books don’t need a happy ending, but in the end, there must be “a window left open”—a way where we can see that the characters we’ve grown to love can move on from tragedy.

There must be hope.

Teens today are growing up in a far different world than the one I grew up in (and I’m not that old). I’m of the Harry Potter generation. The books of my youth were stories of teens that could rise up and save the world. My generation was the one told that if we go to college and work hard then we’ll get good jobs and we can accomplish anything. I’m the generation just in front of today’s teens—and the teens of today have watched as the bottom dropped out of my generation’s lives. Where going to college hasn’t landed many of my friends a job, instead it has left them drowning in debt. Where many parents are divorced and a significant amount of people I know have watched their family home seized by forecloser.

Teens today have grown up watching this all unravel. For all of the aware part of their lives, our country has been at war. Think about that. They don’t know of an America not at war. Polls show that their vision of success is very different than my teen generation (which is only ten years ago). Today’s teen sees success not as owning a home, graduating college, having a family, or starting a business, instead the number one measure of success in recent polls showed them wanting to be debt free “at some point in life.” That’s it.

Contemporary teens aren’t looking for books about teens saving the world. They only ask for the small hope of saving their small corner of it. So popular books for this generation are ones that in the end show that in the midst of a messed up world, you can find your own peace/hope, even if it’s just between you and one other person.

Fiction has always been meant to combat the reality of life. VRoth failed us here. She didn’t show us what could be possible. Instead she smacked us in the face with what is. And we don’t need that. Because we’ve all dealt with more than enough loss and hardship and heartbreak. We don’t need books that repeat what we live every single day, we need books that show us that in the midst of a heartbreak world, we can find our own little pod of happiness/joy. That just because the world we live in is going to pot, doesn’t mean we have to lose hope.

Whatever her purpose, VRoth showed teens with Allegiant one horrible thing: their life, their struggles, their fight for right…none of it matters in the end. Which leaves teens asking: what’s the point? If nothing I’m working for matters…why try? I know that’s not the message she meant to send, but when an author is careless with their responsibility to readers, this is the kind of thing that can happen.

I’ll admit I spent a good amount of time reading Amazon reviews for Allegiant in order to see if I was the only one left disillusioned. I wasn’t. Sadly, I’m in the majority with the one star reviews.

Most of the five star reviews I read were people who applauded VRoth on her bravery in “giving a realistic ending.” To this I say: there is a whole genre dedicated to realism. If you want stories that make you feel like someone has stabbed your heart on the last page with no chance for recovery, then feel free to read that genre. But for the ninety-five percent of people that read for enjoyment and escapism, sorry, we want some glimmer of a happy ending. If the Divergent series was meant to belong in the realism genre then it was marketed terribly because right now, all we have are broken promises to readers.

Also, even within realism, hope is usually the end game.fault

Take the book The Fault in Our Stars which falls in the realism genre, the teens in the story who fall in love both have terminal cancer. In the end of the book (I said there were spoilers…) Augustus dies. Why weren’t readers rioting over that? Because a promise wasn’t broken—when they picked up the book they knew they were going to read a story about dying teens so a teen dying at the end of the book was something they were braced for, if not expecting.

Even still, The Fault in Our Stars ends with hope. Hazel realizes that although Augustus has died, her love for him doesn’t have to. Death doesn’t have to change the definition of relationships. My grandfather, who is deceased, is still my grandfather because I’m living and can claim him as such. The last line of the book is in present tense whereas the rest of the book was in past tense. Meaning life goes on. This is a hopeful message.

VRoth killed her main character which is just hard to do well, especially in young adult fiction. Unless the author brings the character back after death (like Harry Potter), a theme/point is better demonstrated through killing a beloved secondary character like Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars or Piggy in Lord of the Flies (how’s that for old school). Otherwise, just save it for realism or adult fiction. Period.

All of this spurs me on to write the young adult stories that keep running around in my head—the ones full of turmoil and struggles and hurt, but all of which are covered in and end with “an open window” one that blatantly leads my readers to hope.

Jess

Advertisements

Why Dystopia Fiction?

It wouldn’t be going out on a ledge to make the claim that the dystopian storyline is really big right now. Trends like this in fiction come and go quickly—but I don’t see dystopias leaving us any time soon.

Just like the Twilight series started the spark of the seemingly never-ending vampire/paranormal trend, the latest dystopians (in my humble opinion) are just the beginning. Movie magic helps keep fictional trends alive much longer than books normally enjoy. With two more Hunger Games movies, and the Divergent series just beginning to cast actors, there will be more, not less, people reading and looking for new dystopia fiction in the future.

Dystopia fictions are characterized by featuring a future society that is messed up and controlling. The story is usually filled with pain and hardship. Dystopia fiction shows us the worst of humanity.

Why on earth would anyone want to read about that?

Because these stories serve as warnings, moreover, they remind us about real life.

Rosemary Stimola, the agent who represents Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games said, “I don’t think the readership is tired or these types of stories. This is population of young people who don’t remember a time when the country was not at war. It makes perfect sense that their literature would allow them a way to exercise their thoughts about the nature of good and evil, and that it might reflect violence and great loss.” –quoted in “YA Comes of Age,” Publisher’s Weekly, 09/30/11

Sure, dystopian fiction is dark, and many shy away from it because of this fact, but I believe dystopian stories have the ability to shine the brightest and impact readers the most. Because when everything shakes down, the reason we’re attracted to these stories isn’t to read the bad, but to see the hope that they offer.

The main theme in every single one of these stories is that one person, or a small group of people, must take a stand against all that is wrong and evil in the fictional society. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, good rises to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds and wins.

We learn the impact that one life—one person—can have.

Maybe, just maybe, it makes us wonder if little old us can make a difference in our own world. We realize that our actions matter in the big scheme of things. And dare to hope that if push came to shove, we’d have the courage to rise against the worst sort of evil, no matter the cost.

Image courtesy of prozac1 –   http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

_____________________________________

If I find a YA book or romance book that is to die for, I’ll share the details. My author friends even stop by!

The Perfect Way to Kill a Character – why authors do it

Warning: This post includes spoilers for Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, and Hunger Games. Read at your own story-spoiling risks.

You’re reading a book. It’s three in the morning, you should be sleeping, but you just can’t stop turning the page. The characters have come to live for you. You’re invested in your story.

Then it happens…

That horrible author kills one of your favorite characters. Oh the humanity of it! You want to toss the book across the room. In fact, if the author was right there, you’d give them a piece of your mine. Tell them what that should have written. Ask them why.

Well, because we’re mean, heartless people who like to torture our readers.

Um, that’s absolutely a lie.

Authors kill characters because they have to. Believe me; it pains us more than it pains you. We created that character. We know them in a way that’s never shown on the page. But sometimes a death has to occur. There comes a point when a stubborn main character needs to lose someone important to them in order to cause change, or we the readers need to grasp how dangerous the world the main character exists in truly is.

J.K. Rowling is masterful at this. Many of the most beloved side characters in the Harry Potter trilogy perish. Why? Because we needed proof that Voldemort really was dangerous. We (the readers) had to believe that if the Death Eaters won, that the world would be left in a terrible situation and there would be a lot of suffering. Characters we loved had to die so we could see that the danger was very real and know the stakes that Harry and the D.A. were up against. Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggory, Dumbeldore, Lupin, Snape, Hedwig, Dobby, Mad-Eye, and Tonks had to die. More than that, Rowling handled all their deaths with respect. We felt each one and mourned them. In the end, we understood.

Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, also handles killing her characters well. At the end of Divergent Tris loses both her parents and has to kill her friend, Will. This had to happen for us to believe that Tris was in grave danger carrying out her mission. Even more, these deaths had to happen to prepare her to be willing to sacrifice herself to save Four. We wouldn’t have believed the power of the mind control if all these deaths hadn’t happened.

Twilight is an excellent example of a story that failed because it needed death. Meyer’s did her story a disservice when she decided she was too attached to her characters to put them in any real danger. The fourth book of the Twilight series is nothing short of jumping the shark for this very reason. The Vulturi become a laughable group of enemies. Sure they kill humans, but…um…isn’t that pretty normal for a vampire? I mean, that doesn’t make them scary. You can repeat one hundred and five times in a story how powerful an enemy is, but when the enemy appears and they can’t do anything to hurt the good guys, well, you’ve just lost the story. Not to mention wasted 400 pages worth of my time. The only way the story could have been redeemed at that point would have been for a Cullen to die. But Meyer’s couldn’t do it. She loved her characters more than her story, and it showed.

On the other hand, sometimes authors can overdo their point when it comes to using death to show how dangerous the story world is. The Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of this. Sure, in book one, Rue had to die. There was no other way. We mourned her. It caused a change for the reader and for Katniss. But by the time we get to book three, Collins’s use of death was gratuitous at best. Kill Finnick? Why? We already knew the terror of The Capitol. It served no point to kill him and it wasn’t done in a manner that respected the impact of that character. Collins allowed her theme to railroad her characters, which is unforgiveable. My friend Amanda Stevens had an awesome post about The Hunger Games that I highly recommend.

Sidenote…yes…I cried when Dobby died.

A Moment in Nerdvana

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”   -Four, from Divergent

Yesterday I got to meet Veronica Roth at a book signing. She’s the New York Times bestselling author of the Divergent series. Like me, Veronica grew up in the Chicago suburbs and still lives in the area. I follow her blog like it’s my job.

                     okay, so the photo is bad, but Veronica is the one on the far right.

Have I mentioned that she’s only twenty-four?

Veronica stayed and answered questions in front of a crowd of hundreds. Allowing everyone time to visit with her as she personalized all our books and gave us each a copy of an alternative beginning to Insurgent (the Divergent series).

Even crazier than how cool Veronica is, was listening in on the conversation of teens in the audience. There were teenage readers crying when they met Veronica. One teen behind me in line kept telling her friend how the Divergent series has changed her life. And I just kept thinking THIS is why I want to write YA. Not to try to become a NY Times bestseller, but to touch lives like that.

Books — words — have power.

More than just the authors out there need to take heed. The words we speak. The conversations we engage in. Those grumbling statuses on Facebook. All have power, one way or the other.

Many who shook their heads at Twilight and Hunger Games will probably lump Divergent with them. I mean, let’s face it, the books have kids killing kids. Adults being mean. War. Suicide.

But know what? The teen in line behind me was right. These books do have the power to change lives for the good. I’m going to share some quotes from Divergent here as examples of the amazing truth tucked in the pages of ficiton:

  •  “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”
  •  “A brave man acknowledges the strength of others.”
  • “There is power in self-sacrifice.”
  • “Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.”
  • “Human reason can excuse any evil; that is why it’s so important that we don’t rely on it.”
  • “It isn’t right to wish pain on other people just because they hurt me first.”
  • “I never thought I would need bravery in the small moments of my life. I do.”
  • “It’s not about being fearless, it’s about acting in spite of fear”

Does one of these quotes really strike you? Have you ever read a fiction book that challenged your way of thinking or helped form your beliefs? Can you share a quote that as stuck with you? Why do you think a made-up story can effect us this way?