Friday, September 18, 2009

FitG Update: The Blind Faith Hotel

My main goal in joining the Fill-in-the-Gaps 100 Book Project was to read more YA.

Because I'm trying to be a YA writer, it only makes sense to read more of what I write.

My only problem is, I'm having trouble finding many of the titles on my 100 book project list at my local library. Plus, now that I'm actually looking around an American library, I'm realizing a lot of what I had on my list that I thought would be YA isn't YA.

I have a lot of Newbery Medal winners on my list, but after looking for titles in the library and reading Bud, Not Buddy (which is an excellent middle-grade book, by the way), I realized most of the books on my list are middle grade.

So, I resorted to plan B, scrapped my list, and perused the YA section instead, looking for realistic, contemporary fiction. Since there aren't any RULES in the FitG project, I figure I can just replace some of the books on the list with these random books I'm picking off the shelves.

My first random pick was what I would consider a literary YA novel called The Blind Faith Hotel, by Pamela Todd.

Definitely character-driven, I think Pamela Todd's novel was wonderful in many ways. The writing was beautiful. Really beautiful. And she had some pretty funny dialogue thrown in there too, especially between main character, Zoe, and her self-centered older sister, Nelia.

The problem for me was that with a character-driven plot, I'd expect to feel like I knew the characters extremely well at the end. With this one, I got all the slow-moving, slow-developing plot of a literary novel, but not much of the character depth.

There was beautiful writing, yes, but there were three different times where I got so tired of the long, meandering plot that I almost abandoned the book all together. And you know, I read a lot of classics. I'm used to meandering plots!

The jacket copy talks about the main character Zoe and how "a brush with the law lands her in a work program at a local nature preserve." The only problem is, this particular event doesn't even start to happen until half-way through the book.

There's another main character mentioned in the jacket copy; a boy named Ivy who is the main character's love interest. We see Ivy once from far away about a fourth of the way into the book. We see him a little later, again, from a distance. Half way through the book he's still not even a central character. I think it wasn't until I was two-thirds of the way through that he actually says something. And then instantly we're expected to know him, to invite him in, and treat him like a central character.

When something actually HAPPENS at the end of the book, I didn't feel like I knew Ivy well enough to really care. I knew that he was well-built and wild. And I knew Zoe liked him, and other facts about him. But that's all they were. Facts. The writer didn't really show me enough about him. His introduction felt rushed. Here she wrote a long, drawn-out beginning, and thenc contented herself to choppy generalizations when describing Zoe and Ivy's relationship.

It's always interesting to be a person-who-writes critiquing another person's book. I'm probably harder on other writers than I should be. And when it all comes down to it, Pamela Todd is published and I'm not. So she must be doing something right.

To be fair, she's doing a lot right. She has a wonderful writing style, so I think her books can only get better. Her descriptions of the prairies are incredible. I could see exactly what she wanted to show me through her words. If anything needs work, it's pacing and character development. Pacing may be slightly easier to improve; character development is hard. But practice makes perfect.

Would I pick up another Pamela Todd book again if I saw one? Hmm. I think I'd have to be blown away by the jacket copy and if the first chapter didn't absolutely grab me, I would be quick to abandon it.

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