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About a year ago, I made a list called “How to Write a 21st Century YA [Young Adult] Novel” based on several trends I had seen in all the new books.  Other than “include a gay character,” number 1 on the list was “drop pop culture references like mad.”  This will show your young readers that you are just as hip and trendy as all of them, and you know what the teens these days like!

I just finished reading a semi-trashy...okay, not in terms of vulgar content, but like "this is absolutely not great literature"...YA novel called Reality Chick. (plot in a nutshell: college freshman gets onto a reality show which consists of her and four other people sharing a special house but otherwise going about the normal routine of a college freshman – only having cameras record every aspect of their life, to be broadcast nightly on MTV)   I’d rather read horse stories or historical novels or older books in general, but the library is mostly populated with glossy-covered new books.  And sadly, I gravitate towards them and they entertain me, even though I know they will have as much substance as that shiny red apple that looks so nice in pictures, but when bitten into will be made of mush.

Now, as far as the pop-culture references go, they’re usually somewhat reasonable.  I know I’ve written about TV shows and stuff in my journal, so the occasional comparison is to be expected when written in the voice of a teen girl.  However, in this book, I didn’t even get past page 1 before the author described how the media loves scandal by using an example with Madonna and Courtney Love on MTV.  Right then, I knew it was going to be one of THOSE books.

My mom and I suspect that authors do this in order to cut down on the amount of actual effort they have to put into their writing.  A perfect example is here – the character in the book is describing how she and this other girl both wore the same dress to Prom.  Rather than use any adjectives, this was the author’s entire description: “To understand the seriousness of the situation, you have to know what she looks like: Picture Scarlett Johannson’s face with Eva Longoria’s body.”  And that was it.  The character’s boyfriend is also a central figure in this book.  The sum total description surrounding him?  He’s an extremely talented basketball player who “looks exactly like Chad Michael Murray.”  

Don’t the authors realize how dated their books are going to sound in ten or twenty years?  I mean, thirty years down the road, a person reading this book would practically have to sit at the computer while they read, constantly feeding things into search engines.  It’s pathetic.  Look at just about any older book, it's not like that.  The characters are developed on the strength of their personality, the story moves through the use of description and shows the scenes without needing to use something famous all the time as an example.    

So I went through and I made a list of every single celebrity, brand name, TV show, etc that the author used.  I did this once before, with Meg Cabot’s obnoxious Ready or Not, and I came up with at least 97 references in the 238-page book.  Let’s check out Lauren Barnholdt’s list for Reality Chick.

(If the same name is used several pages apart in a different context, it counts as a separate reference.   Now admittedly, some of these are perfectly acceptable, like “Oreos,” but when I’m revved up, anything that requires capitalization gets on the list)

Courtney Love, Madonna, MTV, Dave Matthews, Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, Desperate Housewives, Nick Lachey (2x), Jessica Simpson (2x), Teen Vogue, The Apprentice, Dawson’s Creek, A Cinderella Story, Scarlett Johannson, Eva Longoria, Chad Michael Murray (2x), Girls Gone Wild, Nelly, Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake, Eminem (2x), People magazine, Teen People, Ashlee Simpson (2x), the Zone diet, Lindsay Lohan, Mean Girls, Legally Blonde (2x), Katie Holmes (3x), Tom Cruise (2x), First Daughter (3x), US Weekly, Hooters, Alias (2x), Viagra ads in email, Google.com, Paris Hilton, ESPN, the Lifetime channel, Dr. Phil, Seth and Summer (as in “Nobody goes out of their way to say someone’s a “friend” unless they’re really not.  Look how long Seth and Summer were “just friends”), Mary Kate [Olsen], Brittany Murphy, “in that one movie where she played an insane girl” (couldn’t get copyright clearance for that one?), On Demand, Pay-Per-View, Creature of the Black Lagoon, the Halloween movies, Jay Z, the WB, The O.C.,  Seventh Heaven, Debbie Downer, Sorority Life, John Travolta, Dateline, The Amazing Race, Seventeen magazine, Judge Judy, Ruby Tuesday, Jennifer Lopez, Whitney Houston, and free advertisement for Oreos and Diet Coke With Lime as well as Nike, K-Swiss, Abercrombie, and The Gap. 

SUM TOTAL: 77.  Awww, she didn’t break Cabot’s record.  It’s still an average of one reference every 3.5 pages, though, which is pretty bad.  

You know what the best part is?  The quote on the front cover says “Barnholdt is a fresh new voice in teen fiction.”  HAH!



Mar. 16th, 2007 11:30 pm (UTC)
OMG. I tried to read "Prep".. and oh god, what a disaster. And then I read that new book called "The It-Girl" by Cecily Von Ziegesar [http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Cecily-von-Ziegesar/dp/0316011851/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-0347514-1661716?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1174087536&sr=8-1]
And I was disgusted. Absolutely disgusted. Lets just get this out in the air: I go to a private "prep" school, and I despise authors who attempt to put a sterotype on the girls who attend theses schools. No wonder people point and laugh when they see a uniform anymore -- this book basically plastered prep school girls as backstabbing - phone sexing in their spare time - having an affair with a professor just to earn an A in their history course - bitches. And if half of this stuff happened in a private boarding school like mine, those kids would be tossed out on their ass so quickly they wouldn't know what hit them. And yet Cecily is trying to prove that this is the standard, that every girl would do anything on two legs just because they are so boy-deprived, and that the only reason a girl would do a good essay is so she would get praised by the "hot teacher". ALl of this is utterly rediculous, and a huge slap in the face for anyone who has ever attended a private school.

I honestly seriously considered sending her a letter giving her a piece of my mind, but I figured it wouldn't make any difference, anyway.

But you are 110% right. Chick Lit hurts my head.
Mar. 17th, 2007 12:04 am (UTC)
Oh man, Prep...I read it last summer because the cover was shiny, and that was quite possibly the most horrible book I had ever read. I put it down so many times, and only my lack of any other reading material got me through the end of it. Actually, my main complaint was "Excuse me. This is why I refuse to graduate into the adult fiction section - I don't want to read about sex. Why is there so much endless sex in this book?!"

As for The It-Girl? All I need to hear is that it's a spin-off from the Gossip Girls series to know better than to go anywhere near it. I haven't read those either, and I don't plan to given that everything I've heard about them turns my stomach.

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