Look, I know this is not about theology, or Moltmann, or the church, or even parenting. So feel free to abstain from reading my rant-y post.
On Friday, I read The Hunger Games on the flight home. On Saturday, I bought the next two books in the series and finished them over the weekend. Clearly, I found the story compelling. And certainly, I appreciated the escape into a different kind of world…even if that world was confronting all the same problems that haunt us here (power, violence) in ways that were often grotesque. Maybe another day I’ll blab on about what I thought about the actual content of The Hunger Games. However I have a much bigger concern that could not help but creep up over and over as I read these pages: why is teen fiction worse than children’s fiction? How can that possibly be?!
If you don’t believe me, I submit the following:
Exhibit A: Teen fiction often does not use complete sentences. Do you have any idea how many choppy, weird phrases and words are littered on every page? It’s like a grammatical bomb hit it, and pieces lay all over the place, splayed out here and there. I seriously cannot understand why the authors cannot bring a few of these sad little fragments together by using perfectly nice things called conjunctions, or commas, or semicolons. I honestly had to read a few paragraphs over again because the grammar made such little sense.
I will spare you a rant about how Twitter and blogs and text messaging is ruining our ability to communicate in complete sentences. However, I am TERRIFIED that it’s also ruining our ability to THINK in complete sentences.
Exhibit B: I honestly think the characters in teen fiction are far less nuanced and complex. I think this is almost exclusively because the authors, rather than showing you something about the character through actions or dialogue, just flat out TELL you what the character is thinking. This may be the most jarring thing of all, this straightforward, knock-you-over-with-my-authorial-intent sort of style. It’s the difference between sitting down to dinner with someone and inferring thoughts about him/her based on the flow of the evening and sitting down to dinner with someone who just tells you who they are, straight and without break, all the way through dessert.
I realized that I could skim The Hunger Games, because the words didn’t really matter that much. I was using the words as a means to an end, to get to the next plot twist and find out what happened to Peeta. There was no savoring, or paying attention. You didn’t need to feel the cadence of the thing. You just needed to know what happened next. Maybe this is why sometimes these books are improved upon in movie form (which is never, ever the case for good literature, in my estimation). At least you see a sideways glance or sense a mood when you watch it on screen. The book practically barks military orders of action sequences at you.
In contrast, the children’s books I’ve read this year (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Mysterious Benedict Society) are well written. The stories are rich and the characters are three dimensional. I did not feel, as a reader, beaten over the head with the author’s intent. The world that was created was more full and whole and lyrical.
So why is it, when it would seem to make good common sense for books to become more complex as the reader gets more mature, do we see such hackneyed, flat and prosaic teen literature? Well, clearly they sell just fine. (I mean, honestly, Stephenie Meyer would likely fail English class in college but she’s made millions…as an AUTHOR.) And obviously, even adults are willing to read them. But when I think about my ten year old graduating up from Hugo and Harry Potter to this brand of shove-in-your-face, grammatically choppy literature, I’d just as soon convince her to stick with the classics. Later, when she’s old enough to know how to spot truly good literature, she can take a foray into The Hunger Games arena for kicks. But Lord, let’s not send our teens there without giving them a good rule of thumb for judging a book: if you’re reading it to enjoy the story and the way the story is told, it’s literature. If you’re reading it not for the words itself but for the basic plot, it’s teen fiction, and should be consumed sparingly.