Tuesday, May 7, 2013

CBR5 #2: Cinderella's Secret Diary: Lost

We often dismiss the young adult genre as being filled with a lot of trash and cliches, but I believe that being able to write a good YA novel is an underappreciated art. Some of the books that I call my Favorites of All Time are from this genre. If it's written well, and is able to posit some great ideas, these books can go on to shape young people's minds. The Golden Compass (and the entire Dark Material trilogy, for that matter) was an eye-opening experience that made me realize that adults might not always have your best interests at heart, or they think they do, but they really don't know what they are doing.

Of course, we can't hold Phillip Pullman's masterpiece up as a yardstick for every YA novel, because if we do, then everything else basically pales in comparison. But there are other enjoyable and important YA novels of a much smaller scale that I hold dear to my heart. The Giver by Lois Lowry, everything Roald Dahl has written (The Witches scared the shit out of me as a kid), The Girl with Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (This one is not amazing and not a classic, but as a kid, it really spoke to me). 

And herein I arrive at my point: One does not have to aim for the stars to be a great YA writer but one should not condescend to their young readers either. 

And for Ron Vitale's Cinderella's Secret Diary: Lost, the mark was missed on several counts. This was provided to CBR5 readers as a free e-read, which I am so appreciative for. I can only imagine what it's like to be writer -- it actually gives me a bit of a panic attack to think about putting my work out there in to the masses to judge and criticize... gah, panic attack. (Yes, I am a reporter for a daily newspaper, but that's totally different.) But we're encouraged to blog about these free e-reads, and also told to write how we really feel so... here goes. 

Lost is a retelling of Cinderella's story -- a "After Happily Ever After" of sorts. It's written as a dairy from Cinderella to her fairy godmother, maybe about five years after she and the prince got married. In the beginning, Cinderella is pleading for her fairy godmother to come to her and help her because she is unhappy: her prince seems disinterested in their marriage, she is unable to conceive and she feels like a bit lost in her life. The diary serves as a means to communicating with her godmother, and sure enough, after a few entries, there are responses that the godmother magicked into the diary for Cinderella to read. Eventually, Cinderella begins on this journey that leads to her eventually "finding herself." 

There are several issues with Lost. The first and foremost is the writing. It's bad. It is written in the most bland manner possible -- I'm not saying that writing has to be flowery to be amazing (look at Cormack McCarthy, whose writing is basically the most stripped down and concise, but delivers such an emotional punch). If Cinderella is feeling happy, she says she's happy. If she's sad, she says she's sad. I found it difficult to get a real sense of the character behind these words, which translated no emotion. There are also issues with phrasing and paragraphs that can be very jarring to a reader if they are not done well (and that we don't notice in books because these things usually go through a rigorous edit by a second or third person). 

Throughout the book, I kept thinking, "Well, maybe this is realistic. In my real diary, I probably wouldn't be using incredible language and diction and paying attention to syntax as I just whine my feelings out." But here is the second issue -- the diary platform that Vitale chose for his book. I personally think it's one of the laziest way of conveying a story. It's really a crutch that authors use to try and get straight to the voice of the main character. When it's done well, it can be amazing (Think The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I have personally never read, but everyone else seems to love) but it's so rare when that happens, and in Lost, it just comes across as thoughtless.

There is, however, one part in the book, where the fairy godmother is writing back to Cinderella and she said (I'm gonna paraphrase), "Your letters to me do not tell the full story. I saw you in your room last night and you were so broken up, I thought my heart was going to break." Something to that effect. And I thought, Oh, ok, maybe Vitale is holding back emotion on purpose, as like a character trait of Cinderella. 

But it's not worth it. It isn't. Because the writing is so soulless, I found it difficult to get through the plot or even to care. There were some surprises throughout the story, but it was hard to get invested at any point. Vitale had also inserted historical details throughout the book to let us know what time period this is taking place, but these details just frustrated me even more. If he took the time to think these details through to put it in his story, why couldn't he had thought his story through? Or taken more time with the writing? Or given more depth to his characters?

One of my favorite retellings of Cinderella was also a YA book -- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. In that, there was a girl worth rooting for, a plot worth sitting through, and characters worth getting invested in. I wouldn't consider that book a stroke of great literary genius -- and looking back at the free preview on Amazon now, the writing isn't even that exemplary -- but it was still amazing, because Ella was made real to us. Sophia (as Cinderella's real name was in Lost) was just a cipher. 

(We were also given the sequel, Stolen, but I'm not gonna read that.) 

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