Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Club Booger. Venting about Poorly Written Kids' Books

Have you ever found yourself settled in for a good read – perhaps a soft blanket, a cat or dog and a hot cup of tea all present and accounted for -- and ended up hating the book? Yep. I’ve been there, too. Very recently, in fact.
OK, so “hating” might be a strong word. What other words could I use? Bored? Disgusted? Frustrated? Disdainful?
Usually, I try to write about the books I love. Stories that touched me somehow, stories I learned from either as a writer or as a person. And I’m going to TRY to turn my recent disappointing experience around. Really, I am.
Here goes:
I’m part of a book club. Most of the members are kids. I love this book club. I love being the “bus driver” and getting the kids to the meeting. Love listening to their energy and excitement when they read something they really connected with. Love that I get to sit in a hard blue chair and sniff elementary school scents around me while we discuss the month’s selection. Love that the adults involved (there are only 3 of us) are not “in charge” of this experience – we are on equal footing with the kids and take turns with them when choosing what book to read each month.
But… I absolutely didn’t love this month’s book.
I know you’re now asking… “Well? What was the book?”
I’m not going to tell you. I feel very awkward and very writer-bashy if I put the title and the author’s name out there for all to see. Plus, as you all know, I’m trying to break into this biz myself. And tromping all over someone else’s PUBLISHED BOOK doesn’t feel like the right thing to do right now.
But seriously? I’m so jealous I could just spit. I read a book like this Book Club Selection for November, and wonder how it ended up published and distributed by one of the world’s largest kids’ book distributors. Why is my book -- a (um…ahem) BRILLIANT, fast-paced, exciting story full of relatable characters and tigers and stolen treasure – not already flying off of shelves and being drooled over in book clubs around the world? Huh??? Really! As my friends at Forever Young Adult would say: What’s the shizz?
I’m seriously doubting the logic and inner-workings of the publishing industry today. All over this one book.
Here are the things that annoyed me most about The Book Club Selection:
1.       Unbelievable events. I mean, kids are notorious for being sticklers for the details. This book is not fantasy, mind you. I can deal with vampires and killer unicorns like any other red-blooded American reader. This plot was just full of things that were supposed to be realistic and believable – but just weren’t.
For example: Kids lost at sea during a hurricane, rescued by dolphins…then riding the dolphins (and holding hands) to the nearest beach. Seriously. I couldn’t help it. I kept trying to picture how two children would straddle their dolphins, who must have been swimming practically on top of each other, and then happily smiling and holding hands during a fierce hurricane in the middle of the ocean. Have you ever seen a dolphin swim? Those suckers are fast! And they move around a lot as they swim. And in a hurricane? Who would believe this?
2.       Stilted, unrealistic dialog. I wish I could give examples, but again, I’m not too comfortable with this “negativity” to actually put quotes in here. Suffice it to say I’ve never ever heard any kid talk like these kids talked. It was enough to interrupt any flow of the scenes and make me chuckle out loud while rolling my eyes.

3.       Evil People Hurting the Beautiful Unspoiled Environment storyline. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for being green and doing everything possible to protect what few unspoiled parts of the planet that may be left. But the villains in this story were so cliché it was, again, enough to make me laugh out loud. They were not only going to ruin an unspoiled beach by building a hotel – but they were outsiders making money by allowing the evil military of an unnamed country to test sonar (Purpose? Never revealed. Just mystery sonar tests.) which hurt the dolphins. Evil white outsiders hurting or taking advantage of the native population – who, by the way, weren’t “with it” enough to do anything to stop the evilness without the help of some 11 year old castaways.  Again, I found myself thinking, “Oh, give me a break.”
Lest you are thinking I’m just being a stuffy adult over this middle grade book: I’d like to remind you that I’ve read dozens of kids’ novels over the last few years. Many dozens. And most of them are pretty darned good. I’ve read literary fiction for young adults, mainstream popular fiction, fantasy, sci-fi…you name it, I’ve read it.
So how does a book like this get published? I really want to know! Because there must be a trick to it. How do poorly written stories with clichéd plots and over-used, one dimensional characters make it through the enormously high hurdles of the publishing world?
Sigh. It’s a mystery to me. And I’m gonna have to get over it. And keep writing…and keep learning from the great writers I find. And learn, too, from books like the Book Club Selection for November – take their mistakes, the things that drive me nuts – and try very hard not to repeat them in my own work.
Note to self: Avoid unbelievable situations, stilted dialog, or clichéd characters.
Wish me luck.


  1. I have indeed settled in for a good read many a time only to be disappointed. I hate it when a book fails to live up to my expectations! But I am such an avid reader that I know immediately if a book will be a failure with me - if I can't get past the first ten pages, it's over. :(

  2. I should have let myself off the hook after 10 pages, Sabrina. But I kept trying to find something good or endearing about the story so I won't have to go be the grown-up-who-was-bored-with-my-favorite-book at our book club meeting! :) (Now I guess I have to hope the kid who picked the book doesn't read my blog!)

  3. Yeah, even at the age of a middle schooler, you can tell when you get into a book how poorly written it is. It really is a wonder how it got published. Although, there has to be someone out there who likes it, so good for them. I guess it's just best to say 'it's not your type of book' and set it down :)