105 Ways to Give a Book

Not So Much Love

Oh, Gary Soto, why do you hurt me so?

Accidental LoveI would have given you a pass for the first few pages of Accidental Love. After all, I have always liked your writing — so clever, so funny. This was something new for me, reading your young adult fiction, so I was willing to cut you some slack in the beginning.

But, Gary, it just didn’t get better. The writing was stilted and unrealistic. I’m not even including the dialogue, where I am going to trust that Latino teenagers talk the way you say they do. I’ll give you that. It’s the back story thrown in as Marisa walks down the street, steps into the elevator, picks her nose. Okay, I made up that last one, but do you see where I am going with this? It just doesn’t flow. It’s the ideas planted that don’t come to anything. There’s a nail in her mother’s tire, and it sounds like something is up — but there’s nothing there. Her father seems suspiciously out of it, like something is wrong with him — but I guess not.

And the story, well, I just don’t buy it. Marisa meets this nerdy smart boy, after beating up the boy he is tutoring. They pick up the wrong cell phones, and meet to exchange them. Based on this one meeting, she is suddenly inspired to change her ways and switches school to get a better education in a nicer school. She becomes Rene’s girlfriend, but his mother tries to keep them apart because Marisa is from a rough part of town. Rene and Marisa try out for Romeo and Juliet. Wait, is that a parallel to their story? Wow! No one has ever thought of that before.

I liked how you incorporated Spanish words and phrases in the dialogue. When I read books that do that, I always believe that I will somehow learn a little bit of Spanish before the book is finished. Of course, I took three years of Spanish in high school and two years of Italian and can’t even eavesdrop properly, but you never know.

I know I’ve been tossing your name around for ages here at the library. But you know what? It is only your picture books that I have ever recommended. I don’t know that I have ever read your books for older kids and teens. But I know I hear great things about your writing in general. Even the reviews of this book were good.

Where did it all go wrong, Gary? Is it me? It’s me, isn’t it?


fusenumber8 said...

There is no pain more acute than finding a favorite author's latest book was phoned in. Apparently Richard Peck did the same thing with his recent "Here Lies the Librarian". Shame on them all.

Greg Pincus said...

Hey, now. There's a difference between "phoning it in" -- meaning putting no effort into something simply to fill a book -- and writing a book that for some reason or another is not as good as your best. Cuz that happens. No one I know sets out to write something substandard, but all of us end up doing just that from time to time. You want bad poems? I got 'em. You want weak screenplays? Got those, too, even after 6 months or more of work. It happens. But shame is not deserved under those circumstances. Now, if you know that someone simply wrote a draft with little thought and got it published cuz of who they are (which is different than the publishers saying "we're putting this out")...that's a different thing entirely.

fusenumber8 said...

Gregory, as always, has a point. One should not assume that simply because an artist has produced substandard art, they weren't trying. The question then becomes, "Which is more insulting? Assuming they worked their hardest and came up with something wretched or assuming they 'phoned it in' and that's why it's dreck?".

Greg Pincus said...

Well now that's an interesting question. As one who has had wretched output, I'd prefer being accused of that. I've never phoned in a job. Ever. Sometimes I've tried to "stretch" and delivered something the buyers weren't expecting... but some of those were my best stuff. Not always agreed with me. Now if this was a book of mine you were talking about, I'd probably disagree for a long time and say you just read it wrong. Damn you. Why must you read me wrong?????? That's it. No more comments (until tomorrow)