Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fully Converted to YA

Have you ever been knocked upside the head by a book? Please tell me you have. If you haven't, you haven't lived. (Or, you haven't found your genre, at least.) Sometimes a book comes along that grabs reality and folds it into an origami swan, and the world printed in tiny black letters on paper becomes more substantial than the people around you, than your job, than the priorities you place so much importance on.

Granted, getting lost like this in a book was so much easier when I was a teenager. My emotions were more easily manipulated. The demands on my time were less critical. I didn't have to make my own meals, and laundry did itself (thanks, Mom!).

Maybe it's not so ironic that it was a YA novel, then, that capsized my world recently.

I've confessed my resistance in reading YA novels many times on this blog. I've also admitted that those things I most resist often tend to be some of the best. From the small (delaying watching Firefly for months because I was sure it wouldn't appeal; now it's one of the only TV shows I own, definitely the only one I rewatch with fondness) to the large (I resisted falling in love with Cody—such a fool am I!—and delayed marrying him much longer—it was one of the happiest days of my life!). I really should start paying attention to what I resist.

Suzanne Collins changed my mind about an entire genre in a way that J.K. Rowling couldn't. Of course, I bow at Collins' feet, in utter awe of her writing skills, so she could probably convince me that true crime novels were fun to read at this point. (Not that YA and true crime novels are in the same category on any level in my head.)

I'm late to this party, slow to catch onto a trend, and for once, incredibly thankful. How could I have waited the year between each novel to find out what happens to Katniss and Peeta? (How did you all do it?) Would I be so incredibly obsessed with the world if I had given myself a breather, not finished all three novels in under two weeks? Probably. But sometimes full immersion is half the fun.

I could rave for posts and posts about the mastery of Collins' novels, but I'll limit myself to this: She truly brought home for me the power of well-chosen words. There are lines within the novel that resonate days later. My two favorite (**possible spoiler if you haven't read all three novels**):

"It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down." --Katniss

"That was the one thing I had going for me. Taking care of your family." --Gale

There are so many more lines that were superb, but these two, they say so much about the characters, about the world, about the way Katniss thinks and the way people see her—the way people know her. Writing books and instructors can repeat the advice every word should advance plot or develop character, ideally doing both until they're hoarse, and it wouldn't be as clear to me as these lines.

There's another line, a mini-speech given by Plutarch that hammers home the theme of the final novel, that makes me think of the real-life1930s and the 1950s and the 1970s...

"Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?" [Katniss]

"Oh, not now. Now w'ere in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated. But collective thinking is usually shortlived....Although, who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss."

It reminded me of the Philip Pullman quote: ‎"There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book."

Teach this series in high school, America. These are the themes of today. The power of a single person. The ramifications of decisions and actions. War. Compassion. The layers of right (often just as murky as the layers of wrong). The strength of hope. Capitulation through willful ignorance. Love.

And one last thought for the Universe: Please raise my writing skills up to this level!


Shaida said...

Great post! I just finished a book last night, so I finally get to jump back in to this series--I think it's good to start on a weekend so when I stay up too late reading the consequences won't be too awful. :-)

Rebecca Chastain said...

Good plan, Shaida! There were many nights when I wanted to read much later than I did. Just a warning: Tikibird and I both had lots of dreams based on this book. It worms into your subconscious. Plus, the reading right before bed might have something to do with it. I didn't think it was a bad thing, but... hum, almost gave a way a spoiler. :)

I hope you love the series as much as I did!