A few months ago, Kim-Mermaid and I did a book exchange, where we lent each other ten or so of our favorite YA books to read. Among these ten was a worn, much-loved (by both Kim and her children) copy of a 2001 MG novel called FLIPPED, by Wendelin Van Draanen. Now, I don’t read too much Middle Grade, but I have frequently been charmed by the magic worlds of this genre, so I was more than willing to give it a try.
Oh. My. God.
This book sucked me in on the first page and wouldn’t let me go until long after I finished the last page. Told in the alternating first-person viewpoints of a thirteen-year-old boy and girl, it is more or less a story of a first crush. Julianna falls in love with eight-year-old Bryce’s blue eyes when he moves into the neighborhood, but he finds her, at best, annoying. When eighth grade rolls around, and he finally starts to notice her, she’s no longer sure she’s interested. Sound pretty basic?
Perhaps. But the characters! The voices! So poignant, so distinct, so charming, so REAL. I finished the book, and I thought, “I will never be able to write a book like this in a million years. I might as well give up writing right now.”
Interestingly enough, I had this reaction to exactly one other book this past year, and it was also a light, charming contemporary YA. This is not to say I didn’t read other beautifully-written, well-crafted, superbly-paced books in the last year. I did. But they didn’t intimidate me. In fact, they inspired me to learn more and work harder and continue to improve my craft. So why did I have this reaction to this book?
My theory is because the strengths of this novel are so very different from my own. Whereas I feel like I can continue to improve in the areas of writing and craft and pacing and plot, I feel a bit at a loss when it comes to being “charming.”
This insight was pretty critical for me. It kept me, after all, from giving up on writing. 🙂 It may be true that I’ll never be able to write a book like FLIPPED, but there’s room for lots of different books and lots of different stories in this world.
What about you? Have you ever had this reaction to a novel? If so, why do you think that is?
Also, if you haven’t read FLIPPED, I highly recommend you pick it up. Or if MG just isn’t your thing, suggest it to any of the preteen/teen girls in your life. I guarantee they will love it