Sunday, May 15, 2011
A Long, Difficult Road
Sometimes I wonder if authors forget that writing a young adult novel means they are writing for... young adults. Young Adults are not always the strongest readers. They aren't adults. In fact, for young adults, reading for pleasure is a huge part in developing their language skills, such as vocabulary, comprehension, and decoding. Therefore, I have no idea why authors would choose to write a YA novel and make it impossible for young adults to read... but sadly, that is exactly what Moira Young has done with Blood Red Road. She created an awesome story that I would never give to my students.
Saba lives in Silverlake with her family and not much more. There is almost nothing left in Silverlake besides her father's grieving misery for his dead wife. Saba and her twin brother, Lugh, are inseparable, but Saba has a tough time dealing with her younger sister Emmi. When riders come to their home, kill their father, and take Lugh away, Saba knows she will go to the ends of the earth to find her brother. She sets off to leave Emmi with an old family friend and find where the riders took her brother.
As soon as she deposits Emmi with the family friend, she realizes Emmi has followed her (and stolen the friend's horse). She agrees to let Emmi come along, and when they bump into a kooky old couple, the Pinches, they are grateful for the food and water the couple shares with them. As they finish their food, it becomes quickly apparent the old couple has drugged them and intends to kidnap them. The Pinches take them to Hopetown, the city filled with drugged maniacs, thieves, and crazy people. They intend to make Saba fight in the gladiator ring while keeping Emmi hostage to ensure Saba does as she's told.
In Hopetown, Saba starts to learn about this side of the world. The people of Hopetown are kept under control by the King and his drug, chaal. Enough chaal will keep anyone under control, but too much makes them crazy. The King harvests the chaal in the Freedom Fields and distributes it to keep his subjects coming back for more. Even his slaves are under the spell of the chaal. Hopetown is the worst, a place where drugged out lunatics pay to watch children battle and if someone loses three times, they run the gauntlet. The gauntlet is a narrow path surrounded by the citizens of Hopetown who literally rip the loser to pieces.
From Hopetown, Saba becomes an unbeatable gladiator nicknamed the Angel of Death, manages to team up with the Freehawks- a group of touch girls who want to tear Hopetown down from the inside out, and meets a guy named Jack who makes her forget everything she is supposed to be doing. Together, the group head off to the Freedom Fields to get back Lugh and make sure the King doesn't hurt anyone ever again. But can they make it in time?
The story is great. Honestly. It is exciting, well-paced, great characters, and there was a solid ending that can lead to a sequel but isn't a cliffhanger. I loved this story. The writing on the other hand? Hated it. With a passion. The story is written in Saba's point of view and told completely in her dialect, which reminds me of hillbilly slang. I could have tolerated this if it was only the dialogue in this dialect, but the entire 500 pages is written like this. And sometimes, the spelling changes have absolutely no effect on the pronunciation ("wurm" for "worm"), so it seems Ms. Young just wanted to make the book difficult to read. Once I had suffered through 20 or so pages, I got used to the writing, but every time I put the book down, when I picked it up again I had to fight for another 20 pages to get used to it again- it was frustrating. Add to that the complete lack of dialogue punctuation (quotation marks), and you have one big hot mess on your hands.
The result of this writing style means I have a fantastic, exciting YA novel I would never give to a Young Adult. Young Adults are still familiarizing themselves with spelling, grammar, mechanics, etc. Why would I give them a book that completely destroyed all the rules I have spent so long teaching them? As a little experiment, I brought the book to work and asked one of my strong readers to read the first few pages aloud to me (we read aloud every day). After five pages he gave up. He stumbled over every other word and could barely understand what he was reading because he spent so much time decoding ("pratikally" for practically). Those five pages effectively made this young man feel like he couldn't read again. What purpose did this language serve if it alienates the target audience?
So my advice for Ms. Young is to stop trying to ride the wave of YA dystopia and make a choice: you either write a YA book that young adults can read, or you keep the book as is and sell it to the adult post-apocalyptic/dystopia junkies. You can't have both. What you get is a book teachers and parents simply won't give their kids. And honestly, that is just plain sad because it was a really great story!