Fifty Shades of Grey By E.L. James
April 16, 2012

This is a dirty book. It is probably the dirtiest book I have ever read, and that is really saying something, because I am not new to dirty books.

As teenager, after I finished all the Sweet Valley High Books, I started reading adult fiction of the Jackie Collins variety. These were really fun books. On the whole, the stories themselves were only slightly more sophisticated than the YA books of my youth. But, instead of focusing on high school politics, they were about grown up teenagers, almost-recognizable celebrities living very scandalous lives.

It was like harmless celebrity fan fiction. Except that they were very, very racy. The first adult fiction book I read was Jackie Collins’ Lovers & Gamblers. While I was far too young to be reading it, I seriously loved it and read it multiple times. And not just for its blushingly explicit depictions of casual and frequently kinky sex.

Lovers & Gamblers is positively puritanical when compared to E.L. James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy.

Given that the plot of the series seems to exist only to facilitate explicit sex scenes, its not that surprising that the plot and characters are lifted blatantly from the Twilight series.  The author openly admits that the story started as a piece of Twilight fan fiction called Master of The Universe.

The only difference between the stories is that instead of Edward Cullen being a vampire, Christian Grey is an emotionally damaged sexual Dominant who wants his Bella Swan – Anastasia Steele – to agree to play Submissive in a kinky BDSM relationship.

I realize that sounds really different, but in practice, it isn’t.

Basically, Christian looks and behaves almost exactly like Edward Cullen – down to the copper hair and chiseled abs. Like Edward, he fights a compulsion to hurt the girl he loves, and obsesses on controlling and protecting her.

Like Bella Swan, Anastasia (Ana) Steele is beautiful and special, and only she thinks she is ordinary. She believes that she is too pale and skinny, that her eyes are too big and she is too clumsy. These ridiculous insecurities prevent her from realizing that the most beautiful and mysterious man on earth is hopelessly in love with her. He almost immediately wants to give up his dangerous ways have a real relationship with her and she is somehow FURIOUS about it!  The only thing keeping them apart is Ana’s stubborn insistence on acting like an idiot.

Exactly like Bella Swan, you guys.

I know that Twilight itself is rather poorly written, but the writing in Fifty Shades is epically awful. I’m never one to complain about a little explicit sex in my reading, but even Jackie Collins included an actual plot between the “good parts”. Otherwise, it’s just LadyPorn for the Twilight Soul. There is literally so much distractingly narrated sex in these books that I actually tried to stop reading those scenes.

But, literally nothing else happens.

Any semblance of a story runs out halfway through the second book, so the third book consists of Ana and Christian being rich and in love and hanging out with their bodyguards and maids. It would be very Downton Abbey, if Downton had a sex dungeon.

I have to admit that the biggest complaint I had about Twilight was that it didn’t have enough sex in it. But, the biggest complaint I have about Fifty Shades, is that it has too much sex. I think this makes a pretty convincing argument for splicing the books together. (If someone does this, please let me know!)

Having started as fan fiction – which is really just a fantasy about a fantasy – this book is just using the plot of Twilight as a vehicle for wish fulfillment.

So, to me, the most interesting thing about both stories is to consider what these fantasies say about the reality it is intended to stand in contrast to. Does this mean that ladies these days are beset by men who are mean for no reason, never buy them anything, criticize them for eating too much, make them have jobs, drive their own cars and engage in boring and infrequent sex?

That’s kind of sad, ladies.

I have no comment on the cover art for these books. I was grateful to read it on my phone, so I didn’t have to admit to anyone that I was reading porn.

If I Stay – By Gayle Foreman
June 14, 2011

As you have probably surmised, I love YA. I love it because as a virtual grown-up, its always an escape for me. I gave up on “serious fiction” a long time ago. I made the decision that I didn’t want reading to be a chore, I wanted it to be an escape. I wanted it to be fun. I live a real life, with real problems and I don’t really want to read stories about real life.

This book is real life, and in this case it hit particularly close to home for me.

This book was pretty serious. It is the story of a girl named Mia who takes a drive with her parents and younger brother one winter morning. The drive ends in an accident which takes the lives of her parents and brother – leaving Mia gravely injured and trapped in a limbo of sorts. Like a ghost, she wanders the hallways of the hospital where her body lies comatose, reflecting on her life and trying to decide whether to try to live her now-shattered life….or to give up the fight and die.

Pretty heavy, right?

It is very heavy, yet still enjoyable to read. Mia’s life is simple and beautiful. She has no superpowers, there are no vampires or shapeshifters making things interesting. It is simply the story of a 17 year old girl – the child of mellowing punk rock parents. Despite her punk roots, Mia has become a talented classical cellist and has applied to Julliard.  Her life is filled with the usual drama and moderate angst that are the hallmarks of teenage life. Her boyfriend Adam is a talented musician in a local band on the rise, he fits almost perfectly into her quirky musical family – but in the days before the accident Mia had begun to fret that they would grow apart when high school drew to a close.  Before the accident, it wasn’t quite clear to Mia that her life was filled with such possibility and love.

Her reflections on her life paint a portrait of a family both unconventional and extraordinary and make the choice that Mia makes  all the more heartbreaking. She watches as her family and friends implore her to stay, but whisper quietly that they will forgive her if she cannot bear the weight of the tragedy.

I won’t tell you what Mia chooses, but I will say this: As I read this book I was quietly annoyed that the author recently published a sequel, Where She Went. I love a series, but I also appreciate a good stand alone story.  I hate to see perfect single volume tale ruined after the fact by the desire for sequel sales. I prepared myself to use this story as an example of an unnecessary sequel and rant and rave about greed and how series are ruining YA, etc etc etc.

But, when I finished the story, I realized I was dying to know Where She Went. So, I will continue to read Mia’s story.

Just not yet. As I was reading this book, friends of mine lost a young family member to a tragic car accident. I had only met this young woman a few times, but she was sweet and kind and her family loved her dearly. She was a real young girl, who lived and laughed and danced and loved – and in a moment she was gone.  There was no time for her to choose to stay or not. Her shattered family stays behind – grappling with the unimaginable – and comforted only by the dark reality that she did not suffer.

And that’s more than enough real life for me right now.

Old People Hate YA
June 5, 2011

So, apparently the Wall Street Journal has discovered Young Adult fiction…. and they HATE it.

Whew!

For a moment I was worried that YA had jumped the shark, and even old people were into it now.

I guess old people were tired of complaining about loud music and computers, so they decided to take a trip to the YA section at Barnes and Noble, and they were shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at what they found. The Wall Street Journal – that bastion of youth-focused culture and edginess – felt it was its duty to warn the world of the horror lurking in school libraries and bookshelves all across America.  You can read the article here.

The crux of WSJ’s complaint is the same complaint that old people have had about young people since time immemorial. Why can’t you kids like good music/movies/books/clothes like they had back in my day?

The author – someone named Meghan Cox Gurdon – essentially argues that YA books these days are all about cutting and raping and incest. Letting kids read about such things normalizes them and makes kids more likely to cut and rape and incest. Or something.

Back in her day YA books were dark too, but they were dark in a more modest and appropriate way. Books used to only allude to drugs and sex and violence, and never came right out and used the F-word! The F-word! Can you imagine? Grandma Gurdon seems to think that kids should just pipe down about their issues, because if other kids find out about problems they might get problems too!

She even drags the beloved Judy Blume into her awful argument, insisting that if Publishers Weekly says that Lauren Myracle is “this generation’s Judy Blume” that the writers bear comparison. They don’t, and not just because Lauren Myracle’s writing is nowhere near the caliber of Judy Blume, but also because Judy Blume is this generation’s Judy Blume. Judy Blume is timeless. Lauren Myracle is meh.

Grandma Gurdon even pretends to be cool and relevant by suggesting a few appropriate selections for “Young Men” and “Young Women”. The best part about the suggested reading isn’t just that she thinks boys and girls would never like the same books, but also that 6 books are suggested for boys, but only 5 for girls. Because boys are better readers, right? Or perhaps girls shouldn’t be reading books anyway, they should be learning about more relevant things like housekeeping? Also, of the 11 books suggested – only 7 were published in this century.

The irony of suggesting that kids- but only the boys – read Farenheit 451 while at the same time suggesting that some books are dangerous seems to escape Grandma too.

Oh and the comments on the article are like the Circus of Your Elders. One commenter – whose user name is her husband’s name, but is adorably modern enough to sign her actual name – realizes that the reason that her YA novel has been rejected 12 times is that all the kids want to read about is bestiality, self-mutilation and gore. I think its probably more likely that her novel remains unpublished because she is clearly out of touch with what is popular in her chosen genre.

At the end of the day, it really dosen’t matter what the oldsters at the WSJ think about the state of YA literature. I’m pretty sure that the first time most teenagers heard about the WSJ was when this article started trending on Twitter today. All of this is pretty reassuring to this adult fan of YA literature. If the Generation Gap can survive global warming and the Baby Boom, maybe there’s hope for humanity after all.