Before Christmas I went into a Barnes & Noble hoping to score a copy of War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo
for my niece. I figured the movie adaptation was being advertised to death, a Christmas Day opening was planned, I should find a case of the books right by the front door. Nope. While checking out the situation with a sales clerk, I said, "Gee, I thought you'd have this out in a rack because of the movie." She was looking the book up on her computer screen and in that bored or tired way that sales clerks have when they're doing that sort of thing said, "We had it. I can order you a copy."
I don't recall how I got Rebecca her book. But for the next few months, I kept thinking, Wow. What an opportunity missed. That's an older book that should have sold by the truckload with all the attention it has gotten not just because of the movie, but it's a Broadway show
. Come on.
Well, I didn't need to worry about War Horse
's sales. According to the book's author
, they've gone from a couple of thousand a year to over a million copies total, and it has now been translated into over 40 languages, up from 4 or 5. It looks as if here in the U.S. Scholastic is promoting it for its book fairs
It may be an odd book in terms of audience, though. The main character is Joey, the war horse, himself. He has a lovely, elegant voice, but the humans around him tend to sound alike. They also often speak in an intense...er...I hate to say it about a fairly grim war story...but, sort of sappy way. Maybe it's because Morpurgo is trying to recreate the speech patterns of another era. Or maybe it's because these people are often talking to or about animals. I have some family members who can be quite cloying when they're talking to or about my mother-in-law's cat. At any rate, the age group that's most interested in animal main characters may not be as interested in war experiences and battle scenes. And the age group that appreciates war narratives may not be crazy about having one told by a horse.
Of course, the fact that a million books have sold probably suggests I'm talking about a nonissue.
World War I was the forgotten twentieth century war for a long time, always existing in World War II's shadow. War Horse
's renewed popularity is part of an upswing of interest in the earlier war and the era surrounding it. A lot of what is portrayed in the book seems historically accurate as far as my knowledge of WWI is concerned. It could be argued that the outdated tactic of sending cavalry and single soldiers across battle fields into machine guns is handled in a pedantic, instructive way, but it did happen. An article on a horse that actually "served" in the war
supports the end of Morpurgo's book, which shows the British army selling off its horses in France rather than bringing them back to Britain. I've seen some talk on-line about the book and the movie being sentimental, but at least with the book I think enough characters are killed off to avoid a claim that it glorifies war.
As with a number of ch
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber sounded like a movie thriller when I saw the review for it in The Horn Book a while back, which is why I sought it out. Hey, I like thrillers. It also reads very much like a movie, so it's not surprising to read that movie rights sold around the same time that the book was accepted by its publisher.
The book is an entertaining mash up of two genres. First you have your traditional (or stereotypical) YA story of an older teen boy getting ready to heady off to college soon and having problems with his successful, powerful, and demanding father. And, of course, the boy is in a rock band. Secondly, you have your traditional (or stereotypical) violent assassin who is actually seeking revenge for some terrible wrong. We've all read or seen those stories before. Putting them together in one place makes them if not actually new, at least more interesting and fun.
Okay, I feel a little bit of guilt about finding murder fun. Or, actually, I feel a little bit of guilt about not feeling guilty about it. But, it's a book, right? Lighten up, Gail.
Crazy European Chick has a lot of narrative drive and a wonderful female character who can always be counted on to pull a razor out of sock or a helicopter out of thin air just when one is needed. She's not actually a YA character, the male lead is the YA character, but she's the one who makes the book.
Plot Project: This is definitely a plot that is dependent upon a disturbance early on. Young Perry is just your regular upper, middle class YA guy who has been wait-listed at Columbia and is a member of a rock band. Then his mother and pushy father force him to take their incredibly dumpy eastern European exchange student to the prom. Gobi has big plans for prom night, but none of them have anything to do with dancing or going out drinking later. She needs Perry to drive her around from hit to hit in his father's fast, expensive car. Once Perry's life is disturbed, he's got to deal with the consequences for the rest of the book.
I picked up Night Road at the library for one reason--A.M. Jenkins wrote it. Jenkins is the author of Repossessed, a book I liked a great deal.
Night Road is terrific, too. It involves a hemovore named Cole. Hemovores are humans--and Cole does consider himself a human--who live on blood. Though Cole looks like a teenager and always will, he is worn down by life experience. Lots of it. He's been walking the Earth for over a hundred years. He's pretty much a broken man, burdened by the knowledge of what he failed to do for his brother over a century ago and what he did to the woman he loved a few decades back.
Think some kind of lone noir hero, adhering to a code that keeps him alive but not really living.
Cole is contacted by the leader of the hemovore community because a new heme was "accidentally" created by the funny, kind Sandor. Sandor and Cole take the newby, a real teenager, out on a road trip to help him acclimate to his new existence. If the kid can't make the transition, Cole is charged with seeing to it that he meets a fate that Cole believes will be worse than death since he believes people like them can't be killed.
The journey provides Cole for a chance at redemption, a redemption he wasn't looking for.
This is a great book, but, as often happens with me, I don't see why it's YA. Cole may look like a teenager, but he sure isn't one. This guy is world weary. He isn't trying to separate himself from family. He isn't trying to determine his path in life. This poor guy isn't trying to do anything when we first meet him. In my post on Repossessed, I said that while that book was definitely YA (imho), it could just as easily have been an adult book if the devil had been placed in an adult body. With Night Road if Cole had become a heme at twenty-five or thirty or thirty-five or...you get my drift...the book could have worked just as well without changing anything.
The Plot Project: Is this a book that's plot was generated by a character wanting something and meeting obstacles to getting it? I don't think so, because Cole doesn't seem to want anything at the beginning of the book. Yes, he seems to have moved on to a better situation by the end, but it wasn't one he was seeking. This book might have begun with a situation--the classic road trip on which older characters guide a younger one. As with any situation, the author would then have to decide which character her book would be about. It sure isn't the real teenager who truly does have something he wants--to go back to his old life.
A marvelous book, whatever it is.
This past month I've read two quite dreadful books. They were what I describe as skimmers because I wanted to get through them, but I'm just not such a good person that I can bring myself to read every word of stuff like this. Why did I bother reading them at all? Well, I think it's important for writers to read books they believe are bad. It's what they used to call a learning experience.
Book Number One was an adult mystery, English, a series from a few years back that I'd never heard of before. What did this book in, as far as I'm concerned, was the third person omniscient narrator. The book illustrated the problem my editor brought up when I was trying to use that sort of narrator for my second book. Unless the author is very skilled, jumping from one character's mind to another can be very off-putting.
In this case, the book was described as "A Joe Blow Mystery." However, we are in Joe Blow's mind for, I'm guessing, less than half the book. Well less than half the book. We jump from Guy B to Guy C and we even get into the head of a guy who turns up about the mid-point for the sole purpose of being killed. If the book hadn't said "A Joe Blow Mystery" on the cover, quite honestly, I wouldn't have known who the main character was because he often isn't even on stage. The constant movement meant we never knew anyone very well, never had anyone whose thinking we could follow. It also meant we weren't getting a smooth story.
The second book was YA. It probably wasn't a very unique story to begin with, and I got the feeling the author was trying to be instructive, both in terms of life lessons and history lessons.
Plot Project: I forgot about my plot project, in which I try to determine if the plots of books I've read could have been built around giving protagonists something to want and then dropping roadblocks in the way of them getting it. There's no time like the present for picking it up again.
With the Joe Blow Mystery I'd say yes. Joe Blow wants to find out who has been killing young girls. The obstacles to him finding the murderer are so big as to make the story unbelievable. With the second book, I'm guessing we could say yes, too. However, it wasn't something she was aware of wanting or working toward. It was something instructive that a writer might have wanted her protagonist to want in order to write a problemish book.
So I need to try not to do any of those things.