Sunday, February 24, 2008

YA and Cool

To aid my search for good, authentic, successful YA SF, several people pointed me to Scott Westerfeld. So I checked two of his books out of the library and read them.

Peeps, I'm sorry to say, didn't impress me. Vampirism-caused-by-a-disease, with the vampires being hunted down in New York -- Richard Matheson was doing this in 1954 in I Am Legend. Nice writing, but I didn't finish the book.

Then I read Westerfeld's So Yesterday.

This is a terrific book. Genuinely original -- it's about what's cool in advertising, brought down to an action-filled teen adventure! It's sharp, funny, and absorbing. The kids seem completely real and multi-layered (like most YA, adults are in the deep background). The ironic tone is exactly what teens try for themselves, and Westerfeld seems to really know their world. The music, the clothes, the fashions are here, specific enough to be recognizable but not named by brand and so not likely to be dated in a year (or a week). I loved it.

It also made me nervous. The book is about what's cool and what's not, and Westerfeld seems to know. But I have never, not once at any time in my entire life, managed to be cool. I missed every trend of my generation. If cool is part of writing successful YA, then I am indeed sunk. Not having understood fourteen-year-olds when I was fourteen, there is absolutely no hope of it now.

This requires thought. I will need to substitute something else for cool. I just don't yet know what.


bluesman miike Lindner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bluesman miike Lindner said...

It's not YA =SF=, but Paul Wilson has published the first of a trilogy about the teen years of his "Repairman Jack" character. SECRET HISTORIES is mighty good stuff. Mystery, suspense, well-drawn characters, wry comment on our civilization--everything we've come to expect from Wilson. And see his board for all kindsa fun. (OK, Paul? You're gonna let my wife and daughter go now, right? Like you promised?)

Jack Skillingstead said...

Well, Nancy, when you ARE cool, you don't have to know what IS cool. And you're definitely the coolest.

Anonymous said...

I love Scott Westerfeld. Peeps isn't his best, though I did enjoy it, and So Yesterday was fantastic. Have you read his Uglies series yet?

Wealthedge said...

I've never been super-'cool' either but I can make people laugh so I think that might be a side effect. If you look at Hannah Montana and stuff like that, it's geared around making the kids laugh. So a generous amount of humor might be a way to go? They might not think it's according to Hoyle 'cool' but they will respect the wit and intelligence of the character. Just my .02. My 14 year old loves the Maximum Ride series and Patterson usually writes suspense.

Also, question: How do you avoid being considered "derivative"? You mentioned that an author's premise was the same as I Am Legend, Omega Man, etc. Aren't all stories an emulation? Aren't there a limited amount of stories to tell? The difference should come in the author's ability to write great characters, emotions, and adventures yes? It's especially important to me as a fantasy writer. Isn't all fantasy Tolkien? Isn't all SF Asimov/Clark?

I am also a musician and I see it as there are only so many keys. There are elements of music that you can change (modes, minor/majors, tempo, 'feel') but it all comes back to 12 different notes and how you arrange them.

Originality comes in the arrangement and not in creating the "key of H". Or am I smoking crack? (My wife told me I should stop that, but what does she know?)



none said...

Not sure it's strictly SF, but Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve is hot stuff.

pancakegirl said...

If you're still looking for good YA, try the book Feed by MT Anderson. I'm still a young adult (read: kid, teen, whatever), and Feed is the first science fiction book I ever read. I remember being about eleven, reading and rereading this book, thinking about something new each time. Now I'm older (obviously) and I know the premise is not terribly original, but Feed's still a book with a soul; Westerfield’s books (Uglies series, Peeps) always feel hollow to me.)

Lisa Iriarte said...

I don't think you need to know what is cool to write for young readers. You only need to know what is hip if your protagonist is someone who would. But many of my favorite young-adultish type novels are about characters like me when I was young, and I couldn't navigate cool either. Frankly, a lot of kids who love to read are like that, and I think a lot of them appreciate characters who struggle with understanding cool. I'm currently writing a story that is, I guess, a young adult story (I didn't set out for it to be one, but the protagonist is young and that seems to be all that matters) and my protagonist is a kid who has a rough life, loves to read for escape from it, and isn't particularly connected to cool culture. Kind of like . . . I was. :)

José Iriarte said...

Heh . . . when I posted here I noticed that my wife has essentially stolen my google account, so I went and made a new one. "Cor" is me.