YA Smackdown—Team Contemporary
April 20th, 2011
Okay, it’s Smackdown time! Paranormal! Dystopian, I’m talking to you! (Imagine the previous sentence in Robert DeNiro-ese, okay?)
So, I look around the bookshelf these days, with my characters without any superpowers, living in a world that is just as nice and just as sucky as the one I live in right now, I feel a cool breeze blowing. It’s lonely around here. Dude, what is up? No magic, not post-apocalyptic world, no dice. Yeesh.
Kami, Margie, I’m looking at you. Caster Girls. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES. Pff! And oh, Ally, MATCHED Dystopian Lady, with your nice smooth-running Society, don’t try and sneak away. I got some choice words for you, lady.
Casters, you’re up. Oh, sure, sure, you could say that BEAUTIFUL CREATURES & BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS are gorgeously written, and that’s got nothing to do with genre. Sure, you could use that as a flimsy excuse. Or talk about how well you’ve created your Gothic Gaitlin, South Carolina town. Yeah, whatever. It still gets stormy when your girl arrives around town. And what about those tunnels? I have issues with the subways now, thank you! And what’s with the relatives that can do crazy-ass things like make houses redecorate likethat? (By the way, if you guys actually possess such skills, would you like to take a look at my living room?) And you might say that a love story is a love story and Ethan and Lena’s connection is true and real and nothing magical about that beyond the otherworldy magical that is falling in love? Of, of course you’d say that! Please!
Come on! Curses! Can’t they not be together because she has an early curfew? What’s wrong with that? Or maybe she just gets really bad PMS and might kill him? Huh? And that fantastic bigotry you so perfectly portray, Lena the odd-girl out, in a town of small-minded folk, the Casters versus Mortals, I mean why not just make Lena weird in a normal way, like with piercings? You already have her dress all Goth. Or maybe she’s shunned because she has an unattractive goiter? Girls with goiters are woefully underrpresented in YA literature. But no, she’s a magical girl with POWER. I mean, you’d think you were trying to be allegorical or something about, well, I don’t know what. I’m not that deep! Maybe you can tell me. In contemporary, we don’t beat around the bush so much. Everything is very straightforward and nice and neat and the plots and themes are very clearly laid out. Right?
Okay, Ms. Condie, you’re up. What is up with the Society? Are you trying to make a point about something? All those Officials everywhere. And the Warming? Are you trying to suggest something? Because where I live, it’s been crazy cold! And, like how was Cassia supposed to get it on with Ky or Xander with all those officials everywhere? I mean it was maddening! If you hadn’t had that oppressive society in the way, maybe they could’ve just had their relationship and been done with it. Okay, maybe then there wouldn’t have been any tension or word count or anything, but do we always need a Big Brother to get in the way of romance? What’s wrong with a really bad case of acne? And speaking of oppressive, cooking three meals a day? And cleaning up? That society seems pretty dreamy—even if the food is kinda bland, kinda airplane meal seeming (remember airplane meals?). And those air-trains were like always on time. And everyone gets Atavans? You call that a dystopia? Because from where I stand, the someone else does the cooking/cleaning/butt-wiping no anti-anxiety pills when you need them, that’s pretty dystopian. (Okay, maybe I read the butt-wiping part into it.) And so what if there’s only 100 poems or songs or paintings? How many people here can actually name ten poems? Yeah, I thought so!
Ally, couldn’t you just tell your story in, like, present-day Detroit? I mean, what would you lose, really? Maybe the names wouldn’t be as cool, and the trains might not run on time and people would have to eat crappy fast food, but your love story could work, right? Cassia, she could just have really boring parents and not realize it yet and maybe she meets a bad boy in town and then rides around on his motorcycle and rebels against “society” that way? I mean that’s a fresh story, no? You wouldn’t lose anything by taking your story out of “dystopia” and putting it in Detroit, would you? And I’ve never been to Detroit, but I hear it is pretty darn dystopic as is. So, I challenge you, to recast the rest of the series not in the Outer Provinces but in Detroit. Are you woman enough?
See, we Contemporary authors, we just rely on feelings and true dialogue and the real-life gritty world to tell our stories. None of that magical business. None of that end-of-the-world dystopia. Oh, sure, sure, I can hear you haters now: Isn’t Mia being out-of-body in IF I STAY a little bit “paranormal”? Umm, No! Because this has happened. Not to me. But to people. It was even featured in a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, so it has to be legit. And Grey’s Anatomy is not fantasy or paranormal, though anything having to do with the healthcare system—and oh, lord, insurance claims—is kind of automatically dystopian, no? Come to think of it, never getting sick and getting offed at 80 like in MATCHED doesn’t sound so bad. But, wait, I digress.
And, I suppose you could argue that for Adam and Mia, life in WHERE SHE WENT has become somewhat dystopian, personally post-apocalyptic. I mean, how many teen girls come back from a coma after losing their whole families? How many boyfriends nurse their girlfriends back from the brink of death, only to get dumped and then become rock stars. Yeah, a little dystopian, but whatever. They still have to make their own meals. Well, Mia does. Adam has People to do that for him.
So, my challenge to you, Madames Condie, Garcia & Stohl, is to defend your genre. Tell me why you must put all this fancy-schmancy paranormal dystopian wrapping around what are such awesomely good stories? Why can’t you take away the magic, the dystopia? Can’t you keep it real, like we Contemporary peeps do?
I challenge you to a duel, next Thursday night, 4/28 at 7 p.m.. At the old saloon. Or, umm. Diesel bookstore in Brentwood. Be there. Prepare to defend your genre. Pages blazing!
Snap! And that, my friends, is a Smackdown!
(Umm, in case it wasn’t clearly obvious, tongue planted firmly in cheek.) Like Megan Fox. Boobage optional.