It’s been eating me up inside– the bad karma from speaking ill of another writer’s work. How did I have the gumption to hate on The Hunger Games, when my bestselling book is actually unwritten (so far)? I can’t do all the mindfulness exercise that other esteemed members of the bloggeratti are doing, because the minute I sit still, this is what I hear:
“Not only did you eat about 7 handfuls of nuts today and 2 peanut butter eggs (ooooh, the calories!), you also wrote and published on your blog a not-so-nice critique of The Hunger Games. If you ever emerge from artistic obscurity, some god is going to be really pissed off and you will have to pay. Tenfold.”
Why do I want to be more mindful of THAT? (“THAT” is the voice of my inner critic, Sally, and as much as I try to get her to SHUT UP or go on tour with American Idol, she keeps hanging around telling me what a bad mom/friend/wife/person I am.)
I have, however, been willing to reflect on what it means that I admitted I hated The Hunger Games.
As for criticism coming my way one day, I will be more than happy to accept any and all critiques of my work, especially once I hit the NYT bestseller list (for that book I haven’t written or outlined or fully conceived). And, I wrote my true reaction to the book and owned that dystopian literature isn’t really my cup of anti-oxidant green tea. So there’s that.
To clear my oh-so-cluttered-with-shame mind (OMG– I dared to tell the truth? What a bitch), I decided that what I needed was not to avoid expressing my opinions, which often are not so nice, but that I could employ the principle of balance and offer my opinion on a book I did enjoy.
That book: Little 15 by Stephanie Saye (available at Amazon now).
Little 15, a “dark tale of first love,” is an uncomfortable read, but I respected the relevance of the story and the artistry of Saye’s language. The main character, a 15-year-old girl named Lauren Muchmore, has a passionate love affair with her basketball coach, who is a married man twice her age. Saye tells this story in a fast-paced, utterly believable way. Lauren’s family life is fractured and runs without its members offering much love or care to one another. It’s no accident that the starving-for-affection heroine falls for the first man to give her attention and love. Their “romance” is fostered, ironically enough, against the backdrop of a religious institution (wait, that’s not really irony, is it?) and the rigorous world of high school athletics. Lauren, who is talented and intelligent, is perilously isolated from most of her peers and unsupported by her parents who each have their own demons to slay. Lauren and her sister– two high school girls fighting for the phone and fighting for a sense of identity in their stifling household– also share a relationship that was realistic and compelling.
The most stunning achievement in this novel is how Saye has Lauren address the reader directly from the very first word:
“My name is Lauren Muchmore and I am of no consequence to you . . . In a sense you already know my story. Newspapers covet stories like mine . . . You know, the ones about high school girls having affairs with teachers more than twice their age.”
I will never ever forget that opening. I will not forget the impact that having Lauren talk “to me” throughout the book had on me. Not only is it original and fresh, it also provides a way for Lauren to get back into control of the story. She explicitly tells the reader what she wants the reader to know and when. It’s triumphant because there is ample evidence that Lauren is a victim: of her father’s bullying, her mother’s neglect, and her coach’s pedophilic impulses. That’s all terribly grim and depressing. But, Saye subverts Lauren’s victimhood by giving her “control” of the narrative. For me, having this troubling “love” story told through Lauren’s controlled voice redeemed her from a status as lowly victim. She’s ultimately more compelling than her coach, who does not get a chance to address the reader. It was a brilliant narrative move. My only regret is that I didn’t think of it first.
Saye’s fictitious account of a teacher bedding his student takes the reader beyond the headlines of such salacious stories as Mary Kay Letourneau and dozens of other teachers who have transgressed with their students.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it was a very good book.