Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Give them what they want

I recently got into a conversation with a friend who doesn't get conference-going. It's not integral to her profession, she says. As I was stumbling to defend my own professional development, I mentioned one of my favorite events at both Midwinter and ALA Annual, YALSA's teen feedback session for the Best Fiction for Young Adults selection committee. It is the best collection development advice I encounter outside my own student readers.

At BBFA, teens from local library teen advisory boards have access to new titles and ARCs and contribute their thoughts as readers as the committee members move through the list of hundreds of recent titles. The only downside is that the teens inevitably make me homesick for my students.

Some of my recent favorites made the Best Fiction for Young Adults list this year, including Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People, Margaret McMullan's Sources of Light and Numbers by Rachel Ward. Unlike the other two, Numbers was mentioned in the feedback session. The young woman said she didn't like the ending -- a complicated observation when the unavoidability things fuels the entire plot. I didn't understand how she could want something so antithetical. It reminded me of one of my students, who always requests romance, but ones where there is only one boyfriend. The idea of having rivals seems abhorrent to this girl. In the same way, the idea of a less-than-happy-ending ruined the whole reading experience for the BFYA teen.

The Martin Luther King holiday was the last day I will have off for a while, and I reached for the sequel, The Chaos, because I wanted something escapist. And it was terrific, it's 2027 and Jem's son Adam is seeing patterns in the numbers (which presage the death of those who meets) just as his mother had before the London Eye terror attack. Chicken House imports such consistently high products, I enjoy all of them. (And I want everything I read from here on out to have genre tags for action/adventure AND love stories/romance AND science fiction.)  But strange Ward chooses to subvert the premise of the first reality she crafted. And if the numbers are mutable? Where did that leave Jem and Spider in the first volume? If The Chaos would satisfy that reader's complaints, where does it leave its fundamental concept?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for mentioning the discussion of 'Numbers' at the conference and also thanks for your take on 'The Chaos.' You're right about it subverting the premise of the first book - I'm hoping this won't disturb readers too much. It came about partly because I felt that 'Numbers' was more fatalistic than I actually am. Whatever Jem tried to do she couldn't influence the future and I felt that I would like to show readers that we can actually change our lives through the decisions we make every day. I'll be interested to see how 'The Chaos' is received by readers who liked or didn't like 'Numbers' (if the ones who didn't like it are prepared to give 'The Chaos' a chance), as I think they're quite different books.

    All best wishes,