Jun 11, 2014

YA Novels revisited and The Mortal Instruments

I retract my opinion of YA novels.

I don't think they're inherently terrible. Sometimes the writing is great, sometimes the story isn't great, sometimes both, and sometimes neither. But you'll find the same things happening in any kind of novel, and it's really not fair for me to clump all these together.

So, let me revisit some of the series that I've read.

Hunger Games:
It's first person, which I don't love, and I wish that some of the really critical scenes would actually be written out for us to experience (versus having Katniss pass out and then recapped later). But I like the story, I think it's good. It's been a while since I read it, so I don't really remember how the writing itself is, but I still read it all twice. And Catching Fire was my least favorite book. Mockingjay was my most favorite. I think the movies have been really well done.

Harry Potter:
Really good series! It spans a long time, and the writing starts out attracting a younger audience, which is cool, but not what I wanted when I started reading it (because I didn't start reading it until all the books were out, so I didn't grow with the characters). Rowling does a lot of things, actually, that I've read about doing in "How to Write a Novel" books, and it's interesting to see it in a real book. Like, one of the things I read is that whenever you have a character come up in the book, you need to emphasize something about the character (like Hermione's buck teeth and frizzy hair), and each time they come into a scene, make sure you include the description of them. I thought it was unnecessary, but I'm not an author, so what do I really know about it. Haha. Anyway, really good story, and I like how complete it all is. Also really well done movies.

First person, again. I still don't love that, and I don't really think there was anything spectacular about the writing, as mentioned earlier, but I love the story so much. I would recommend it, especially to people who aren't super into reading. It's nice and easy to get through, so that's got its perks. And the movie was fantastic. I like the little changes it had, I think I prefer it (but probably mostly because I saw it before I read the book).

The Mortal Instruments:
The last book just came out, which I just finished a week or so ago. This is the one that's made me revisit my opinion of YA novels, since I read it so close to having decided I don't like YA novels and it contradicted a lot of the things I said.

This is another 3rd person story, and I really like it. It has the main character, and then all her friends are main characters and frequently the POV character for any given scene. And the writing is actually pretty good, lots of nice metaphors and similes and all that. She references real things from the world (like bands, or pieces of art, video games) which I always think is odd, but it's not bad.

I read the last book in a few days (which is pretty average for a book I like, I'm a terribly slow reader). It was good, but what bothers me about it is the same thing that's bothered me about all of the books up to now. Everything comes together perfectly. Haha. That seems like a strange complaint. Hear me out. I'm gonna compare it Divergent a bunch, and also Harry Potter.

Everything that happens in TMI has a purpose, it all connects back to have had a reason for happening. It's kinda cool, but I think it's overdone. They do it similarly in Harry Potter *spoiler alert* like the killing curse rebounds on Harry to hit Voldemort, and yet Voldemort doesn't die. Even though it's the killing curse... why? Well, you find out books later, it's because Voldemort has horcruxes, so his soul is split into a bunch of different objects, preventing his death. And you find out later, that because Harry didn't die and he rebounded the curse, now he's an inadvertent horcrux. It all connects back to have had a purpose.

And it's similar in TMI. For example *spoiler alert* Clary has a friend who's a mundane (this world's form of muggle) and through a series of events, he gets turned into a vampire. Which is awkward, because the friend (Simon) is a vegetarian and now he has to drink blood, so he's trying to live off old animal blood so at least he doesn't drink for humans, but they're stuck on a boat, and he's dying since he hasn't fed in a while, so Jace (one of the main characters) lets him drink his blood. Simon does, and later, as they're on boat and the sun is rising, everyone's freaking out because Simon is a vampire and he's about to die because there's no way to save him from the sunlight, but turns out the by drinking Jace's blood, he can go out in the sunlight now. Why? Well, back in the day, the guy who raised Jace was experimenting with thing and he put angel blood in Jace's blood, and by drinking that, Simon can go out in the sun. Which makes him super special to all the vampires, and they all hate him a bit because of it, and that goes on to get more complicated.

The two have complicated story lines that run together and affect the outcome of events, but it's different. Take another example:

In Divergent, sometimes Roth (writer) has Tris (main character) do something just because she can. Like, Tris goes on a big zip line over the city. How does this change the story? It doesn't really, which is why I'm not calling a spoiler alert. All it does is give the reader some insight into the way the Dauntless live, but it doesn't affect the plot. It's just something Tris does because she can.

In TMI, you don't really get that. Everything that happens has a reason for happening, once you finish the story. Let's continue on with my previous example. *major-spoiler alert*

Clary and her group of friends all go to a party hosted by Magnus Bane. They go because Clary needs to talk to Magnus to try to get to the bottom of something or other, but really Clary's the only one who needs to go. And actually, she needs someone to escort her. So Clary and Jace are the only ones who really need to go. But everyone else joins because, well, party. This could have been a great opportunity to just get acquainted with how the Shadowhunter world works in a casual setting, especially when they mix with Downworlders (and this would have been an especially good opportunity since it's Simon and Clary's first party with Downworlders and Shadownhunters, as well as the audience's). But it's not left to just that. This is where Simon accidentally gets turned into a rat and accidentally gets kidnapped to the Vampire's lair in the Hotel Du Mort.

Jace and Clary go after Simon in the hotel and save him, and then they go home and everything's fine. They continue on with their plans as normal. It was odd to have them leave the Hotel and everything was fine. Simon turned back into a human, and they kept going along their way, no lasting conflict, just a random side trip. Several chapters later, though, you find out there was some conflict that came from that-- Simon is turning into a vampire. So they now have to deal with that for the rest of the story, and it complicates things nicely. It's a lasting hurtle to get over-- Simon is never going age (he's stuck at 17), he has to deal with his blood lust, inability to be in the sunlight-- until the thing with Jace happens, trying to tell his family he's a vampire, trying to maintain his old lifestyle, being rejected by all the vampires in New York because he doesn't really want to be a vampire... It's interesting. He has to come to terms with who he is now and find a place where he can belong in society.

And in the very end of the series, the group finds themselves in this situation, and to get free, Simon volunteers to give up his Daylighter Vampireness in exchange for himself and all of his friends to go home. Which then undoes the entire thing where he had to come to terms with being a vampire and try to work things out with his family and really everything that made this story line interesting.

I mean, I suppose it's ok, up to a point. I can deal with there not really being a period specifically to get to know how things work casually in this world. That can be combined with the plot twists, no problem. Plenty of books do that. But then, the ending... I'm not sure forced is quite the right word, but more like planned.

I firmly believe that there's the way you want to story to end, and then there's the way the story should end.

And sometimes it matches up. Like with Harry Potter. It was sad, it was happy-- it was mostly happy-- there was redemption and many people died that I didn't want to die, but everyone that was most important lived and went on to be ok. And they had their traumas and things to get over, but they all ended up fine. And there's no reason that anything different should have necessarily happened.

Sometimes it doesn't line up. Divergent had a way I wanted it to end: perfectly. I want this to be wrapped up nicely, I want them to work out their problems, I want him to gain back her trust... There's probably going to be some sacrifices, sure, but this is the idea I have of how I want the story to end based on how attached I've grown to the characters. And then there's the way it should end, and I think that's exactly how Roth ended it. If the story had ended any differently, it would have been wrong. It would have deviated form the integrity of the characters, and it would have been an insult to what she had created.

But I admire Roth for writing a story with characters so strong that this is the way it had to end, and there was nothing else that could be done for it, and then writing it anyway, even though honestly, it probably broke her heart more than anyone else's to have to write it how she did.

With The Mortal Instruments, the characters had flaws and everything, but it all worked out to create a perfect ending, so sickeningly happy that it actually turned me off a little bit.

It seems like the big difference is this: Rowling and Roth wrote about life and about characters. They had a story that needed to be told, and they had characters who manipulated the story to make it turn out the way it did. Clare wrote about a story. She had a story that needed to be told and an idea for how she wanted it to end, and she created characters that would fit the molds so she could have the perfect ending. It's the difference between the characters defining the story and the story defining the characters.

I can imagine Roth sitting down to plan her story and at some point having a realization about how the story needs to go and saying, "Oh no. I can't do that. Oh no. No no no no no. Oh but... eff. I can't not do it."

And I can imagine Clare sitting down to plan her story and saying, "Ok, so I want this ending, and I can get there if I do this... which will actually work out here because I'll write like this is what's going to happen, and it will catch everyone so off guard when I bring this out, and it's just, it's perfect."

Blah. I want to rewrite these stories haha. I want to rewrite Divergent so it's third person and has some more description in it, but keep the plot, and I want to rewrite The Mortal Instruments so that the story is tweaked just a little here and there. Maybe someday. I'll add it to the list of projects haha.