Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Can We Learn from The End of the World?

I walked away from the public library with a stack of novels from the YA section last week. Only upon checking out, did I realize I had a theme going on: After The Apocalypse. Each novel was about young people struggling to survive and make sense of life after some horrible event (plague, total natural disaster, unknown set of events) almost eliminated civilization as we know it.

As you might imagine, four novels of the same theme over the course of less than 2 weeks was a little much. By the last one, I had started to see similarities I probably would have missed if I’d read these books over time with other stories in between.

For example:

·         Love story. All of the stories had an element of YA romance involved. (Apparently, love survives even when white bread and hot showers do not!)

·         Young heroines play a major role – and they are TOUGH. (‘Nuf said. Girls rock.)

·         Boys, after the apocalypse, still have strong arms and chests worth resting your hand on. (If you’re a tough girl who really wants to have a boyfriend in the midst of learning how to survive.)

·         Food is really important – and when you’re hungry after a plague or other disaster destroys everything, you’ll eat just about anything.

·         Villains don’t all end up dead when the end of the world as we know it comes. Where there are good guys, there are also bad guys.

·         A journey must be taken, with very little food or water, over treacherous landscapes (deserts, post-earthquake or post-tsunami wreckage, behind enemy lines, etc.).

In the meantime, I also learned a little bit about technique from each of these authors.

From Meg Rosoff and How I Live NowChanging voice in the story is a powerful way to create a distinction between a character’s mental state at different times in their story. Ms. Rosoff’s style for most of this novel is very “stream of consciousness” and rather rambling. (Took some getting used to, honestly.) But the end of the story – clarity is revealed. You discover something about the heroine through not only her words, but how she communicates. Her whole voice coalesces into something new, which fits in with who she has become.

From Jo Treggiari and Ashes, AshesDon’t rely too much on formula or your reader will be able to predict too much of your plot. Unfortunately, I knew early on who the “betrayer” was, who the “perfect guy” was, and who would be the game-changer in this journey. Although I thought Ms. Treggiari had great, gory descriptions of butchering a turtle. (Ick!)

From James Dashner and The Scorch TrialsHow to make the second book in a series even faster and riskier than the first. I didn’t think he could live up to the pace and fear-factor of The Maze, but Mr. Dashner ratcheted up the speed, the terror, and the consequences of everyone’s actions in this one. Breakneck pace. I felt like I’d run a footrace through the Mojave Desert by the time I reached the last chapter.

From Carry Ryan and The Dead-Tossed WavesEven zombie stories deserve poetic language. Like The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Ms. Ryan continues to use lovely language to describe a horror of a world where zombies infect humans and society has been reduced to small pockets of villages connected by fenced-off paths through the forests. In eerie scenes, Ms. Ryan’s storms bring not only the threat of flood and water to this post-apocalypse word – but the threat of the “downed dead” rising from the ocean floor, to awake and seek out victims again.

Have you ever picked a “theme” for a week or a month? Ever focused on a specific genre over and over until you see patterns emerge?

Maybe next week, I’ll pick another literary deep dive. What should I choose?