Thursday, July 19, 2007

innovative story concepts

Summertime has translated into more reading than writing for this blogger. A few posts ago the topic was high-concept YA novels, and this will be a brief discussion on one of them. "I'd tell you I loved you, but then I'd have to kill you," by Ally Carter, has an intriguing concept—the students at the 'Gallagher Academy for exceptional young women' are actually pursuing rigorous academic and field training to become spies. The secretive academy is off-limits to outsiders, and even the town in which it is situated has no idea of its nature. In addition to normal studies, the high school level girls learn to be fluent in up to fourteen languages, and are trained in covert operations, including the use of lethal force on adversaries. This would be an ambitious set of plot elements for any writer to keep in play while selecting and pursuing a story conflict and resolution. It could be addressed seriously, or perhaps as a spoof. Carter seems to have alighted somewhere in between. The story is nicely written, often humorous (Gallagher graduates were responsible for inventing such useful spy materials as 'Velcro' and duck-tape, and some national heroes—e.g. Amelia Earhart—are revealed as graduates). But the basic storyline is about Cammie, the girl protagonist, falling in love with a lower middle class boy from the nearby town. Now, all the esoteric spy elements can be dealt with as points of intrigue, and not treated too strenuously, while a straightforward, universal appeal, romance story is told. A fun, chick-lit story.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Boy's tribalism, and rites of passage

In all strata of life, in every neighborhood, and every ethnicity, there seem to be common rites of passage that all boys must wend their way through in one style or another. Girls will have their own rites of passage, in some ways similar, other ways not. The rites endure, though the threats change with times. The pensive mood of this piece arises after having read Chris Lynch's "Sins of the Fathers." Lynch can be such a powerful writer (disclosure—he was a faculty member at my Vermont College MFA). The three boys of the novel form a tightly knit tribe to themselves: Drew, the narrator and most expressive, Skitz, the fatherless clown, and Hector, seemingly the strong, silent force. Drew's terrific dialog, flowing smoothly from inner to outer expression, draws the reader into almost inhabiting his physical character. The setting is a Catholic parochial school in Boston, and rough as they are, or would like to see themselves, they respect the sisters who teach there and the three parish priests who oversee the school. One of the priests is a newly assigned, young, hippie-like Jesuit, who tries to befriend the boys, and continually uses bad judgment, drinking on outings with the boys to a Bruin's hockey game, rolling a joint in Drew's presence—immature conduct, and ultimately damaging to him. The boys have some destructive habits themselves: popping St. Joseph aspirin with RC cola to get a buzz, and one of them experiments with sniffing glue. A deeper, darker theme emerges toward the end of the novel. The abuse of minors by some clergy is all too common in the news these days, but it is unfailingly wrenching with each new disclosure. One of the boys has probably endured such a betrayal, and we hope his tribe will be able to keep him from falling into an abyss of remorse and substance abuse, and that the three friends will help carry each other forward.
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