Deja Vu?

I followed a Bookslut entry link today about teen chicklit. This seems strangely familiar, I thought, even before getting to the damning quote by Sarah Mlynowski about wanting to be in the same company as Christopher Pike and the Sweet Valley books.

Oh, yeah, I have read this before, and linked to it in this entry on crossover books, but the Houston Chronicle no longer has the earlier article available. The original link came from Bookslut, here.

The Star Tribune piece notes that there is a growing market for teen chicklit. What it fails to note is that while it’s popular and selling well, it’s complete crap, following a formula that teen-fiction expert Michael Cart nailed about ten years ago in his excellent critical analysis From Romance to Realism: 50 years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature, 1996, which also happens to be book #18 in my 50 Book Challenge for the year.

From Romance to Realism

Take one teenage protagonist (fifteen or younger–usually younger); give her/him a story to tell in her/his first-person voice. Keep the number of other characters to a bare minimum and develop their identities sketchily (no room for complexity, you know). Limit the story’s time span to a year or less. Fold in an undistinguished setting in a sentence or two and don’t refer to it thereafter. Add a lot of pop culture references and brand names. Stir briskly–no time for reflection or introspection–using lots of dialogue and a simple, unadorned, straightforward, colloquial style. Keep it short–no more than 200 pages; kids have short attention spans, you know. Hang the plot on a problem that can–after lots of hints of impending doom–be resolved satisfactorily by the protagonist without adult interference. The experience will change the protagonist forever–and for the better, please. Because downbeat endings are definitely not welcome. Cook until half-baked. (p. 243-4).

If you’re interested in teen fiction, ignore those books cited in the Star Tribune article and instead pick up any of Michael Cart’s anthologies, three of which I wrote about here. They contain well-written, provocative works that eschew the above formula.

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