Cover traps, historical contexts and the insistence of witty banter and glorious one-liners.
Last week, one conversation dictated our weekly brunch, reducing my friend and I to ridiculous giggles. As aforementioned, we discussed what is most aptly termed Our Kryptonite(s) in YA fiction.
Or in plain english, the traits of YA fiction that cripple me, every damn time.
If you still fail to grasp the idea, allow me enlighten you with a lovely scenario. I mentioned to her that there would be a spinoff title to The Program by Suzanne Young, called The Remedy, scheduled for a 2015 release. Now she was no stranger to my newly arisen distaste for the YA dystopia, and was highly aware of my tragic disappointment to the sequel entitled The Treatment. So it was no surprise when she gave me a disapproving look, sighed and remarked that maybe I was a “masochistic” reader after all. I feigned offence, naturally, but I knew it was most probably true. At the rate I’ve been going, it most certainly seems to be that way. But I reassured her that it was anything but the storyline that drew me in. Dystopias and I are over, at least for the time being, I said*.
The thing is, I had caught the common cold of the YA world, that one that you try so hard to evade but always succumb to: the “look-at-me-I’m-damingly-mesmerising” cover. And by no means is this an award winning cover. But just let me explain.
Above you will find the aforementioned culprit. It’s simplistic. Clean cut and structured. Its alluring power, however, is emitted from two things: red and black.
That’s right. I bet you thought I was going to say something lovesick like that beautiful jawline side profile, or that intense, soul-searching glare. Nope, just two simple block colours—one primary, one a shade.
Over the course of my life, I’ve come to realise a certain reading pattern that I’ve developed. If it falls into one of my culprit categories then there's no rhyme or reason; I'm reading it.
If a cover has black and red then I’m game. I get so enamoured by such colours and I have no idea why. I’ve deduced that perhaps the black heightens the mystery, emphasising how enticing the book will be, while the stark red just screams “I’m going to be different”. But of course, 9 times out of 10, this formula has failed me. I may be drawn to such books but when they’re read, not a drop of empathy is stirred within me (Case in point: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke). I’m weary of The Remedy but the part that hates myself is telling me that I want that cover and I want it as room decor (I kid—I’m also curious).
2. Thou shall have history!
I’m a history buff. My favourite period? The one that lingers between what is categorised loosely as ancient and modern—so think the fall of the Plantagenets, the emergence of the Rennaisance, the Tudors and many different Henrys'. You could most probably sell me anything historically fictional because suddenly I’ll become a historian. That's where I get my knowledge (totally unreliable, I know.)
I like to think of myself as a chameleon; I adapt sufficiently to my surroundings. It’s a terrible habit, but one I can’t seem to shake. In this scenario I do one of two things:
Case One (i) World Wide Web and I unite as one.
Hit the net. I’m impartial to a good tangent. If I’m reading a book that makes reference to Marie Antoinette’s favourite dog then the world has to pause because before I know it, I’m on google and clicking away, opening a trillion tabs (a horrendous tendency) and dousing myself with the knowledge of Antoinette’s canine preferences. And the sad thing is, for the next two weeks I’m a bloody expert in canines. I can’t shake knowledge until it begins to fall out of a two week leeway.
Case (ii) "Back when I was showing Aristotle a few of my tricks..."*
I spew what seems to be knowledge, but is, in actual fact, minimal in the knowledge department, rich in the nonsense jabber. In this case it would seem that I have the general gist of things. It makes me sound relatively credible.
But honestly, who knows the veracity of my comments. I’m most probably spinning things around based on a crux of truth. And unfortunately for others, more often than not, it makes sense, in an odd way. They question themselves (and I hope they never care enough to prove me wrong haha!)
*Case (ii) is certainly not exclusive to history. A friend and I made the rounds at an art exhibition the other day. We’re both complete and utter novices with barely any knowledge of technique. But heck, that wasn’t going to stop us. Here we were, lips pursed, fingers tapping chin in that quintessential scholarly manner. We became well-renown critics of art. I distinctly remember phrases such as:
“I’m not sure I like the way the light hits her face. It’s too artificial. I want to feel.”
“I love the crisp criss-cross action. What an art form. But I’m not too keen on the three dimensional application.”
“I think I’m getting the essence of this. The chin juts in and the eyes are soulless; a perfect encapsulation.”
Don’t judge me. As we walked out, I was caught by the hilarity of the situation. I turned to her and uttered, “You do realise what a bunch of phoneys we sounded like. We’re critiquing art as though we mentored Picasso and curated the MET”.
Granted we weren’t alone, she reassured me. The room was jittering with a populace that had, up until that moment, an undiscovered knack for critiquing art works. It was contagious.
3. Witty Banter and those One Lines
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If a book has realistically funny lines and a good flow of banter then it has merit (in my books, at the very least). Humour really does a book miracles (and conversations too!). Books that are dense, going nowhere, or have lost/or forgotten their plot could do well to know this. Hilarity is universal; we all enjoy laughter (or at least I hope we do).
It doesn’t take much. True one liners may be an art form, but flowing banter can be taught or at the very least, mirrored. Take inspiration from daily life, from conversations that saturate us, from our very own human interactions. Laughter doesn’t come in explicit “laugh, I’m funny” lines. You could shake it up with some sarcasm, naivety or pure dramatisation.
So to those who skimp on the funny, I’m onto you. Don’t excuse yourself. Laughter is medicine.
After my tangental spew of thoughts, I want to know what you think. I’m not a sucker for a premise alone—covers will be the death of me and history will condemn me to tragically long and dense reads. But I enjoy them either way, no matter how many traps I fall into.
*In which I mean that after a tragic year of labouring away at a major work involving dystopias, I'd grown to expect a bitter taste in my mouth at the mention.
Care to share your kryptonite(s)? I want to know what your book weaknesses are.