It was the summer of 2003. I had just turned 15 and my family was going to the beach for about a week. (My mom’s boss had been nice enough to let us use her beach house.) Being the dork that I was at the time, I packed an enormous fantasy book just in case of rainy days or boredom. That book was Elizabeth Haydon’s Rhapsody. I didn’t think I’d like it, let alone get through it.
Sure enough, it rained on the beach one day, so I settled down with the book. It sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go until I’d read (and loved) all 600-odd pages. What kept me reading the book wasn’t merely rainy day boredom. It was the sheer depth of the world Haydon had created. Her characters were deep and complex, her descriptions were lovely, and the plot was perfectly knitted together.
Looking back now, I remember the book having its flaws (many gripe that the main character is a Mary Sue), but I am still amazed by its depth. There are very few books I read today that have that same depth.
YA books, to me, are notorious for being relatively shallow. I can usually zoom through one in about a day or two, and very few of them make any kind of impression on me. The characters don’t impress me, the details are forgettable, and the dialogue is often cliched.
OK, I know that YA books with contemporary, realistic settings don’t require the same depth of world-building as a 600-page fantasy novel, but their lack of depth still bothers me.
I recently read Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, which could very easily have been a YA novel – much of the book deals with teenage characters and themes that teens go through. But if it had been a YA novel, I’m guessing that the book’s amazing character depth would have been watered down.
I think it’s a shame that YA novels mirror the shallowness of contemporary teen culture. I don’t think books should be as frivolous and as easily tossed aside as an issue of Seventeen or as easily forgotten as a chick-flick. I think teens are at the age where they can handle (and where they deserve) a bit more depth in their reading material. There is a way for YA novels to mirror and replicate teenage life, but still have depth and memorable moments. Maybe if Jodi Picoult was to write a YA novel, she could pull that off.
I do have the horrible feeling that if more YA novels had depth, they wouldn’t be marketable. It seems that what teens want is a shallow read for entertainment value. Maybe I’m just of the old school of thought that a book is entertainment, but also should be “deep” and have some kind of lesson or meaning in it.
Any thoughts? 🙂