Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 21
Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.
Ladies and gents: Dan Waters!
Dan Waters’ Favorite YA Book of the Year, 2010
The Half-Life of Planets
Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin
I read a lot of YA books, I really do. And yet for some reason, I always struggle when I’m someone asks me for my recommendations on what my favorite YA books of the year are. I read a lot of YA books, you see, but I don’t finish a lot of YA books. Why? It isn’t that there is a dearth of good YA lit out on the shelves, far from it. Since the category kind of blew up a few years ago, with the sections being expanded from a shelf or two to being one of the largest in the store, the game has changed. I’ve only been publishing for a few years, but I remember that even in 2008 when my first book came out I had to walk into the children’s section of the bookstore to try and find it. Not anymore. The Teen section now exists prominently in a high traffic area of the bookstore, separate and apart from the kiddie section (Thank heavens! Have you seen some of those YA covers? Shocking!), usually with a few overstocked display tables, endcaps full of promotional gear, and the shelves crammed full of new titles. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of great YA books being written and published every year.
Many of which I can not bring myself to finish.
Why? Because many of the YA books that I read, simply, do not read as though they were written by writers whose vision takes them beyond elements of plot and character. They read—this is my perception and mine alone—like they were written by people who believe that good writing ends with good storytelling. When I read such a book, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the author had different goals in mind for their writing than those of authors I admire—that they maybe wanted to be famous, or rich, and that they thought telling a good story would be a practical method of going about pursuing those goals.
If that sounds elitist, I really don’t intend it to, because I think aspiring to be famous and/or rich are perfectly legitimate goals, even within the hallowed realm of publishing. It isn’t my intent to suggest that a book written by someone seeking fame or wealth is necessarily a bad book, either. What I am saying is that a book might be the most fast-paced, tautly constructed book available, and it may even have interesting, fully developed characters doing strange and exciting things in thrilling locales, and I may even like it—certainly my bookshelves are filled with books that aspire to do no more than to tell a great story, and succeed in that aspiration—but I’m at a point in my reading where a good story isn’t enough for me. If a book doesn’t reach for something beyond the story at hand, it probably won’t move me these days.
Please don’t plug your favorite books into my admittedly vague equation above to try and determine if I am insulting your favorite novel. I’m certain I am not. Your favorites are your favorites because they move you in some way, and we’ll just have to assume that what moves me may not move you, and vice-versa. Vive la difference.
I don’t believe that good writing ends with good storytelling; I believe it begins with good storytelling. All those elements I mentioned above? You have to have them, absolutely. But if you want to move me, you have to give me a little more. You have to go on a quest. You have to reveal something to me that I haven’t seen before; you have to make me feel something I’ve never felt, or explain to me why I feel the way I do. You have to ask questions, you have to present mysteries.
My favorite for 2010 is a book called The Half-Life of Planets, by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin, and it does all of those X-factor type things that I require to really enjoy a novel. Emily and Brendan may want to be rich and famous (and may actually be, for all I know) but they write like people who have wanted to be writers all their lives. No, that isn’t quite correct—they write like people who’ve been writers all their lives, and they’ve written a beautiful book together; one that bears my favorite title of the year, my favorite cover, and my favorite story. Half-Life is the story of a relationship between Liana, a girl with a reputation, and Hank, a boy with Asperger’s syndrome.
I got to know Brendan and Emily a little on the unRequired Reading tour that our mutual publisher Disney sent us on, and I was fascinated listening to them discuss their collaborative process. Brendan wrote Hank’s POV, Emily wrote Liana’s, and somehow they met in the middle to create something wonderful. The Half-Life of Planets is a book with humor and heart, one that strives to present questions about how we deal with difference and emotion all sorts of other pertinent and trenchant things about growing up. And it is a great story, too. Great enough that I finished it not once, but twice—the first time so I could enjoy it, so I could feel all of those emotions and discover all of those questions, the second time so that I could try and figure out the magic alchemy of Brendan and Emily’s accomplishment.
And I haven’t been able to figure how they did it all, which is probably one of the many reasons I like their book so much. Some books you finish and feel like you’ve read it all before; some—the special ones—feel unique on every page, every paragraph. The Half-Life of Planets is such a book, and you should give it a shot if you haven’t yet.
Thank you Dan! And a Happy Smugglivus to you!