I found it interesting yesterday that the comments about Wonka seemed to be evenly divided between “I didn’t like the Wilder version because he scared the crap out of me” and “I liked the Burton/Depp version better because the Wilder version was too saccharine and Burton/Depp brought the weird.”
So some folks thought Wilder’s version was terrifying (raises hand, also points to Marilyn Manson, who also clearly found it terrifying, as he co-opted the “rowing song” which may actually be some sort of other literary allusion, but Google’s not helping me out much), and some found it “too sweet.” Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to Burton’s brand of weird. It’s like, oh look, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, and Deep Roy. Must be a Tim Burton film. Or maybe I just had to sit in that boat with Gene Wilder too many times as a young, impressionable film.
I also remember an interview Jack Black did when School of Rock came out where he talks about how folks think that acting in children’s movies is such a step down or whatever, but then cites Wilder’s Wonka as something that may be a tad too intense for the kiddies.
All of this, by the way, segues neatly into my rant for the day, which is about the trend I’m seeing in a certain family of YA reviews that’s making me very hot under the collar. Hey, it’s great that folks are reading YA. But they have done it with a certain level of condescension which is amazing to me.
“XYZ is unique in children’s books, because you don’t often see this level of intensity/horror/consequences/violence.” (False. I’ve seen some pretty horrific stuff go down in YA novels. Read How I Live Now, or Life as We Knew It or Living Dead Girl — or a book without any form of “life” in the title: The Forests of Hands and Teeth — to see some more pretty horrific stuff happening to the characters.)
“XYZ is pretty good, for a book for children, but I doubt the author will be allowed to take it to the next level, because children’s books rarely do that.” (The “that” in question, by the way, is a rebellion against the powers-that-be by the teen main characters, which is so common in YA fantasy and SF books that it’s practically a cliche.)
“It was so obvious to me in XYZ who she was going to end up with.” (This from a romance blogger –the mind boggles, really? You knew who the hero of a romance was? — about a teen romance based on a retelling of a classic romantic plot)
“I read XYZ’s author’s adult work, but the YA is probably too simplistic/uninteresting to hold my attention.” (Insert any of the following authors into that statement: Allegra Goodman, Neil Gaiman, Sherman Alexei, Mark Twain, Robert Heinlein, Cory Doctorow, Scott Westerfeld, John Scalzi, Kelly Link, Richelle Mead, PC Cast, me…)
And then I look at someone like Roald Dahl, who pulled no punches when it came to writing for children, even cutesy, fantasy, genre books. His stuff was dark. It was intense. It was often scarring. Witches scares me to this day. And that’s not even YA. that’s for children children.
Also, have all these folks forgotten what these teens are reading in school? Hamlet. Macbeth. The Iliad. The Sun Also Rises, Farenheit 451. As I Lay Dying. The Jungle. Lord of the Flies. The Crucible. Where are they getting the idea that kids read simplistic/happy-go-lucky/non world-shaking stuff?
What’s so cool about today’s YA is that it’s a response to the fact that, in the past, teens were jumping straight to adult books because so many of the teen books weren’t intense/complex/world-shaking enough to hold their interest. YA imprints get this. There are all kinds of books published in YA now that I know whould have been adult a few years ago (Madapple comes to mind) and all kinds of books that were published adult that would have been (and perhaps are now) being repackaged as YA (Prep and The Lovely Bones, for example and Life of Pi already is).
In honor of that, today’s giveaway is THE HUNGER GAMES, which has already achieved massive crossover appeal from the kids market to the adult market, and was one of my favorite books of the year. It was pretty close to a perfect book; I had a few quibbles with the inclusion of a aliens-land-in-chapter-14 scene near the end (those of you who have read it probably know which scene I’m talking about). But an astounding read. I so can’t wait for the next one! I’m currently making my way through Suzanne Collins entire backlist (Before this, her YA debut, she wrote MGs.)
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P.S. Those of you signing up for my newsletter today can check the archives on Yahoo to get the message I sent out yesterday with the prize. There will be another next month.