July 20, 2006

A Big Ol' "DUH!" and other random commentary

(For the record, I do know what random means. Honest.)

My big "duh" moment was realizing I had not listed Pooja Makhijani's book Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America as part of our International Blog Against Racism Week. Of course, my list dealt with the fictional, but this is an important book, especially for me as a writer, as it sharpens my recall of trying to blend in, wishing for another name, another identity, another race, and enables me to recreate that longing and internal dissent within my characters, to address it honestly and write it through. Incidentally, this author also has an online article on Paper Tigers, a website which highlights young readers lit for the Pacific Rim and South Asian. You can find her piece on YA lit for South Asian teens and kids here. Also don't miss Mitali Perkins' piece, A Note to Young Immigrants.
Previously I've blogged about that YA "kernel of hope" thing that was pounded into my head during MFA days. Now over at Rosemary Graham's blog, the question is being discussed: Must YA work have a happy ending? Polly Shulman postulates in the July 9 New York Times Sunday Book Review that that's all YA writers do: make up tidy endings and moralize little lessons for YA readers to take away and ponder. Ms. Graham's question, then, is do writers actually feel compelled to write happy endings through editorial pressure, etc.? And do readers of YA lit expect that happy ending?

Well, I know we were told that's what YA lit is -- stories about life, only told from a hopeful point of view. Of course, the stuff I read isn't artificially hopeful... I tend to throw books across the room if they appear not to be heading towards a satisfying ending -- and by satisfying, I don't mean the girl always gets the guy, or vice versa. What goes up, must come down, is my take on the matter. If my author is manipulating reality, I get ticked off, and feel manipulated as a reader. A manipulated reader doesn't read for long... they feel betrayed.

In many ways, writing is manipulating facts, etc., for the purpose of entertaining or enlightening your readers. And I agree that painting the world with nihilistic ashes is a depressing and somewhat self-defeating thing for a writer writing specifically for young adults to do. I don't want my work not to have a lesson - because life is about learning things. On the other hand, I read enough didactic fiction growing up, and I know how offensive it is. Instead, I think my goal is to create fiction that creates level ground... so the reader can say, "Oh, my life is kind of like that, too." And maybe the way the fictional character deals with things can be of some help to someone. Or not, you know? Either way, life provides no tidy resolutions, so let's hope our art always imitates life.


Pooja Makhijani said...

I love the idea of a International Blog Against Racism Week--though I think it should be a year-round activity.

Some recent YA books that deal with this theme in interesting and contemporary ways are PROJECT MULBERRY by Linda Sue Park and LOOKING FOR BAPU by Anjali Banerjee (forthcoming this fall). As you said, I am sure there are tons more; these are the ones I came up with right now.

Thanks for mentioning my PaperTigers article. It was a fun piece to write.

And THANK YOU for mentioning Under Her Skin. May I alert your teacher and librarian readers that there is a teacher's guide and reading group guide online?

tanita✿davis said...

It SHOULD BE a year 'round activity, truly. Thanks for adding to my list (I'm tracking down each one to read them!) and thanks also for the heads up on the reading group guide; our writing group is on hiatus at the moment but I think reading a book together might be a great way to kick off writing again, and UNDER HER SKIN really is a book that opens up discussion and thought and emotion.

David T. Macknet said...

Regarding the "happy ending" thing ... tell me why Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die is a classic, then? Not exactly happy, the butchering of one's prized pet, I'd say. No. Not happy at all. It does, however, wrap everything up so that the reader is satisfied that the story is well and truly all-the-way told. If that's what "happy ending" means, then I suppose it's happy. I must say that despite having maybe sniffled a bit there at the end, I was happy about the ending from the standpoint of not feeling cheated, as I so often do when an author leaves room for a sequel by leaving the story half-told.

tanita✿davis said...

You do realize, Dmack, that A Day No Pigs Would Die is a challenged book? As in, every year, someone tries to ban it?

We MUST have happy endings!
These are children, after all...
Wouldn't do to be realistic with them...