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The difference between writing and literature

May 10, 2009

One of the reasons I don’t consider myself a writer of fiction anymore, even when I write, is illustrated quite easily by The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies by Lizabeth Zindel. Zindel, as I mentioned a while ago when I read her Girl of the Moment, is the daughter of Paul Zindel, author of The Pigman and other great YA novels.

Zindel is no Zindel, let me tell you that.

When I frst read Girl of the Moment, and I mentioned this, I believed Lizabeth Zindel to be a young writer–that is, very young, finishing or recently finished high school.  Had this been true, her books would be standout, a sure sign of things to come as she matured.  And I’m not saying that Lizabeth Zindel will never mature as an author.  I would never say that.  But what I am saying is that the expected growth from Girl to Butterflies wasn’t there.

She did give up the embarrassment-as-plot Bridget Jones crap for her second book, but her metaphors are heavy-handed, her morals plainly stated rather than understood, her pacing too rapid–which ultimately makes the plot too obvious.  If you are rushing through everything, you’re not building the relationships up between the characters and the reader that make the obvious understandable.  The “Big Reveal” of Butterflies is guessable right off the bat, which means that if Zindel wanted me to care, to really care despite being thirty-one and so over teenage bullshit, she had to work hard to make its protagonist, Maggie, so fishbowled and tunnel-visioned that I would feel as if I were reading a trainwreck and I could not look away.  Zindel doesn’t pull this off, as far as I’m concerned.  I like Maggie, but I never loved her.  I knew what was going to happen, and I felt she had enough distance to see it coming too.

Did I think Butterflies was a bad book?  Not at all.  I think it will be enjoyable for younger readers, its primary market.  Maggie and her friends live in a sexless, drugless world–although there’s alcohol–filled with, more than anything, labels.  (OMG, the labels.  It’s like Zindel is so bent on authenticity–or maybe she really thinks that all teenagers have this sort of label recognition.  I don’t have it, so I was beyond caring.  If Butterflies were a movie, the product placement would make any grown-up ill.)  But adults who enjoy YA will realize how fluffy this book really is, especially compared to something by John Green or Sarah Dessen.

The difference between writing and literature is that literature has more going on it to than “telling a story.”  (I always told stories, too.  It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not what I’m looking to read, either.)  Zindel tries to make this work for her but she’s still struggling.  I think she might get there eventually, which is why I’ll keep reading her.

Also?  Her editor should be fired immediately, because there are so many typos in this book it made me sick.

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