The Gateway Award is an annual award that goes to the best young adult ault novel of the year, as voted on by teenagers (but nominated by adults). EveThe Gateway Award is an annual award that goes to the best young adult ault novel of the year, as voted on by teenagers (but nominated by adults). Every year, I promise myself that I will read all of them, having something of a vested interest in YA literature. I never do quite get around to it. This year's going to be different, though, and I will review all of the books here, mostly so I remember which ones were good come voting time.
The first book I've selected, mostly because I happened to run across it in Border's the other day, is "November Blues" by Sharon M. Draper, and if it's any indication of what kind of books get picked for this award, this is going to be a somewhat difficult project. "November Blues" was not an enjoyable read, and out of all great YA novels out there, it's amazing to me that this one makes the list.
For one thing, it follows just about every cliche of the genre. Right down to the tiny little ones, like the apparent requirement that all main characters have quirky names. The main character is called November, apparently just for the sake of the groan-inducing pun (it is supposed to be a pun, right?) in the title. November also has a friend named Jericho, who starred in a another novel by the same author, "The Fall of Jericho". I haven't read it, but I have no desire to. Another genre trope shoehorned into the book: November isn't sure she was ever in love with Josh, her boyfriend, who's a nice, funny guy but, according to her, has no real depth. Young adult novels are full of relationships like that- except that the novel starts just after Josh's DEATH in a horrible accident, so the whole thing comes off as a little icky and out of place, and November as a shade insensitive.
This book is blantently a Very Special Episode of something- whether it's the series or the Gateway Award list, I'm not sure, not having read any of the other books in either category. But it's obvious that somebody needed a teen pregnancy book (the premise of the book is, by the way, that November is pregnant by her deceased boyfriend because they just didn't think to use birth control the night he died; November is an idiot). The premise unfolds with absolutely no twists and turns, except in the B-plot about November's much more interesting friends' battle with mean girl Ariana. Josh's parents do threaten to sue for custody, but there's no suspense there- Draper makes it clear that, in her universe, November will be a great mom, and her baby will fix all here problems! Which it does. The book seems, at times, to think teen pregnancy is a pretty great idea. Not convenient, sure, but the actual baby part is cool. When it's not being weird, it's just boring. Incredibly boring. Insanely boring. I've seen this basic premise done better a dozen times!
November does nothing to make it any more interesting, either. There's a recent trend in YA fiction towards female characters who function as nothing more than blank slates onto which the story can be projected. All right, no, scratch that, it's not a recent trend or just in YA fiction. Male characters has always gotten personalities and quirks, female characters get backstory and feelings for male characters. November literally has no personality except for her pregnancy and her relationships with her friends. And I am tired of things like that.
"November Blues" is not a book to which I would give any award. Here's hoping the other candidates are better. ...more
A lot of the reviews I've read of this book from fans of Lamott's are rather harsh, so perhaps it works out in my favor that I'm going into this totalA lot of the reviews I've read of this book from fans of Lamott's are rather harsh, so perhaps it works out in my favor that I'm going into this totally unfarmiliar with her work. As a newcomer, I really enjoyed it, even though it wasn't entirely what I was expecting.
Lamott has a unique, lyrical, absolutely beautiful style of writing that instantly draws the reader in. It's clear that she tries to see joy in everything and everyone (part of one essay is devoted to her- sucessful, I might add- attempt to stop hating George W. Bush) and that too comes across in her writing- nevertheless, she's not above the black humour that makes all of the great memoirists worth reading. So her style wins her lots of points.
As for content, it's a mixed bag. Most of the essays are wonderful, a few go nowhere and seem to have no real point. They're also divided into sections, often for no apparent reason- the only section with any continuous theme is "Samwheel", in which all the essays are about Lamott's son.
I think a big part of the reason I liked this book so much is that I see a lot of myself in Lamott. A Christian who sometimes struggles with her faith, is inspired by the Zen and Buddist spiritual leaders, is against the war in Iraq, and is pro-choice? That's me! So identifying with Lamott was no problem for me. It will, however, be a problem for the many conservative Christians who will pick up this book expecting to find something more akin to their own philosophy. Even I was a little confused by the fact that the books advertised itself as "Thoughts on Faith" but didn't seem to contain a large number of thoughts on faith- at least not any more than thoughts on politics, family, friends, or getting older. In the end, though, I thought it was a great book, and am looking forward to reading Lamott's other works, which if other reviewers are to be believed are even better. ...more
Several things are inexplicably popular, at least allegedly, despite the fact that hardly anybody actually likes them. Evidence of this is seen with FSeveral things are inexplicably popular, at least allegedly, despite the fact that hardly anybody actually likes them. Evidence of this is seen with Fruit-Roll-Ups- nobody eats those anymore- and the Republican Party. Another good example is Social Issue Novels, which if awards like the Gateway are to be believed are the absolute most popular class of novel for teenagers. This is not true. Nobody reads social issue novels. Teenagers hate being told what to do with their lives; did you really think they would read entire books you wrote to tell them what to do with their lives? Nevertheless, they continue to hand out awards to these books like it’s going out of style. (It was never in style.) Why? Well, because adults love it when other adults tell teenagers what to do. It provides the whole group with a sense of unity.
I bring this up because, much like “November Blues”, the next Gateway Award book I will be discussing, “Right Behind You”, is a social issue novel. It’s based around the idea of child criminals, which is something the author read about on the internet once and thought sounded like a good idea for a book. Basically, child criminals are like in comic books when they tell you the supervillian was evil when he was a little kid because he ate his parents’ eyeballs while they were sleeping or something, except it’s real life. It’s creepy and horrifying and quite frankly the kind of thing that should only ever have to happen in campy horror films, and I never really needed to know it was real life. The author of “Right Behind You” insists on playing out this plot in the most hideously realistic way possible, to the point that it’s irritating. The protagonist, whose name escapes me because I don’t care, killed a dude once when he was six or whatever, by setting him on fire, and now he’s getting out of juvenile hall and has to pretend to be a normal kid again. “Normal kid” of course involves a lot of drinking and Betty/Veronica love interests.
With a premise like that, it seems unthinkable that this novel could be anything but interesting, and yet it frequently wanders into “complete boredom” territory. How is this accomplished? The author has chosen to go with the “too much information” method, in which he tells us way too much about fascinating details such as Murderer Kid’s biology class. Nobody cares! This is a mistake I have seen many teen lit authors make- they forget that they are, in fact, writing for an audience of teenagers, who are going to take these things as a matter of course, and describe non-plot-relevant-but-important-components-of-modern-teenager-life-I-think things such as bitchy cheerleaders and wild teen parties as if they were strange rituals from an alien planet. Which of course to your basic author they are. They never went to any parties or talked to any cheerleaders. None of us have. Another trap of bad writing the author tends to fall into is skipping over huge passages of time with merely a paragraph stating, more or less, “Then some time passed. Here’s basically what happened to everyone”. Needlessly to say, this comes across as a bit sloppy.
However, what I think is the book’s biggest failure is that it's floundering around trying to address problems that are really much too big for it. The major theme is that of whether the protagonist can ever forgive himself for killing another child when he was young, and whether other people would ever forgive him, whether indeed he should be forgiven. While this is of course a fascinating moral quandary and all that sort of thing, it’s a bit odd in that the author never seems to come to a definite conclusion about any of those questions, and while a lot of things happen in the book, sort of, Protagonist comes out of it all without any character development in any particular direction, and… I’m not sure why. Or how I feel about it, because while it’s always nice to see the old Aesop subverted, I was left wondering why the hell I’d even bothered to read the book anyway. It’s a book with no message that reaches no conclusions about the human spirit or unique teenage issues, and all in all I can’t help feel that “Right Behind You” didn’t do what it was built to do.
You know, when I checked out this book from the library, the librarian asked me who had recommended in to me. She said a lot of people had been talkinYou know, when I checked out this book from the library, the librarian asked me who had recommended in to me. She said a lot of people had been talking about it lately. Truth be told, I had just grabbed it, more or less at random, on my way to class, mainly because it had a cool-looking cover. But hey, if people were talking about it, that was a good thing, right? At the very least, it meant the book had to be worth talking about.
Now that I've read it, I'm wondering if my librarian wasn't confused. To me, this book doesn't seem particularly worthy of discussion. Its basic premise- three colse friends at a crossroads in their lives- offers plenty of material, and Ron Koertge adds in plenty of interesting subplots. But then he doesn't DO anything with them. The book doesn't same to have an overreaching plot, and I don't know what, in the end, the author was trying to say. The book just sort of meanders on to an ending- and honestly, I'm not even sure why it ends where it does. Even that seems rather arbitrary.
I think my main issue with the book is that everything about it just feels so rushed. The short length, the complete lack of character development, the inconclusive ending, the way Koertge just, in general, seems unsure of what he's doing and what he wants to say. All of it smacks of his needing to meet a deadline. And if that's the case, then it's a shame, because the author had some good ideas here, and I would liked to see them explored in much more detail. ...more