A few caveats to begin with because I’m the writer and I do what I want, dammit.
Right. Sorry. Caveats: 1. I freely admit that I may, or already have fallen prey to the pitfalls I’m going to complain about. I’m working this whole life thing out just like the rest of us. 2. This isn’t just about YA books even though that’s what I’m talking about. Writers do try too hard are everywhere. 3. I’m a big old snob. And a bit a elitist.
You may be thinking, Alright, Captain, get to the point. (Yup, in my fantasy where I work on the LCARS on a starship, I’m also the freaking captain of the ship. A girl can dream, yes?) Here’s my point: writers have good ideas but they are not always executed well. This happens all the time. I would even venture to say that this is the cause of many a bad book. It’s not that all the ideas of bad books are bad but that sometimes the writer doesn’t have the language or imaginative skills to pull it off, or make a tired plot new, or along with a host of other problems, they have no editor. You can’t just have a good idea or a brilliant plot, you have to back it up with skills and maybe some actual talent.
Let me illustrate what I mean by talking about Chime by Franny Billingsley which was nominated for the National Book Award for Youth this year along with my man Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now. Schmidt’s book was extremely excellent and should have won but I won’t talk about it here because I would spend the whole time talking about how he crafted a compelling, moving, and funny novel centered around Vietnam, Audubon’s Birds of America, child abuse, and cancer – of all combinations of things – so here is the other book.
Chime is basically the story of a girl in 19th century England who thinks she’s a witch who killed her stepmother and mentally injured her twin sister with her witchly rage. In the setting the townspeople hesitantly acknowledge that witches and magic are real so Billingsley has a story with great promise that could show the way guilt acts and works upon a person to confirm lies. Billingsley attempts to do this in a dreamy, atmospheric style but I don’t think it works. The narration is choppy and episodic, like the unfortunate part of a dream, so you can’t really figure out what is going on. The writing is strange, too. At one point the main character and her love interest kiss and in the moment she thinks of his “silk and butter lips” and his “velvet and cream kisses.” I know this is nitpicky, but doesn’t that gross anyone else out? I think it’s a bit icky. Also, I think in general when people are kissing they think, “WOOHOO! MAKING OUT!” instead of, “Mmmm, silk and butter.” Blech. Though, the boyfriend and I did come up with a good party game making new combinations of food and fabric. I favorites were “polyester and mayo” and “satin and hollandaise.” Sexy. Let’s just say it was a struggle to finish the book.
So there was a good idea made weird by over thinking the atmosphere of the novel and by strange food fantasies. Seriously. What is up with those food things?
The most frustrating thing for me is just the squandered idea. What a waste.