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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!

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Comments

stunt_muppet
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
Picture Scarlett Johannson’s face with Eva Longoria’s body.

I hate it when people do that. I hate it so much. Not only does it betray extreme laziness on the part of the author, it also creates a high school full of gorgeous fasion goddesses. Because we all know that's exactly what high school was like.

And that name-dropping? Please. Oreos and Diet Coke I can understand, but all those celebrities? It smacks of desperation. But then, nobody will be reading these in 30 years anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter.

As for the above comment: If you can handle the YA section, you can handle at least half of the adult-fiction section, provided you don't drift into the romance novels (for the love of all that is holy DON'T). YA novels tend to be so oversexualized and sensationalistic that so-called "adult fiction" isn't much worse. Of course, the fact that much of the adult-fiction section is comprised of the same trashy chick-lit as the YA section just depresses me all over again.

I again applaud your ranting skills.

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