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Christina Reads YA

"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis

Learning from Books as a Reader (Changing Reading Tastes)

A lot of y'all seemed to like my 5 Fantasy Authors I Fangirl Over post, so I thought that I'd go over more books that I've read and learned from as a reader about my own reading tastes. (And I don't mean learning facts - though I once did write about that as well).

As a reader, my reading tastes are always changing. And I realized that:

A.) I don't like when fantasy books start off with the main character as a kid (though the MC is an actual adult). I actually like middle grade novels; I like the voice, I like the characters, etc. But when fantasy books begin by showing us the main characters as a child - or even begin at age fourteen and then head to age seventeen - I start to wonder when the story will actually begin. Plus, the voice isn't the humorous, upbeat middle grade voice; it's the voice of an adult showing you how the character came to be where they are now. On a practical level, I can acknowledge that that's the way our lives work - if we're truly coming of age, there's no one "starting point." We learn many, many lessons along the way. At age fourteen, something guides you as you continue developing on through to seventeen and such. Yet I no longer have the patience to slog through those beginnings to see what kind of character I'm following (yeah, a younger version of you reflects the older version but not 100%; I'd like to think that I'm much more interesting now than I was at a younger age lol). Stories with an older, more "classic" writing style, also often considered a more "literary" style, tend to do this because pacing is of less importance. And I find myself skimming the beginnings when they do. Take, for instance, The Lies of Locke Lamora. I'm only on page 10 or so. I'm already bored not because it's badly written but because that's the kind of beginning I'm not a huge fan of. On a surface level, the writing is great. It's establishing the suspense of who Locke Lamora is and how he got to be the way he is and what exactly he is now, given his criminal start as a child. But for this reader, I'm ready for something else to happen.

B.) I've said before that I like when romance is a side plot, but what I really meant is that I like when it's tightly tied to the main plot. To me, that's a slight difference. Take for instance the Captive Prince trilogy. I hesitate to call it a fantasy romance, though in many ways that is exactly what the books are. And that's because the romantic aspect is tied very, very tightly to the political intrigue of two princes trying to reclaim their thrones. Every one of their conversations has this undercurrent of tension, even when they're discussing what they'll do next to thwart the Regent. I looove books with that kind of tension. I often dogear the conversations and scenes that I love best -- frequently, those are the romantic scenes, and if the book has tied the romance tightly to the other plot, that means almost every conversation is one that I'd like to dogear. And those are the books that I love best. Another great example? Summers at Castle Auburn. The romance there also involves other obstacles that the couple often discusses when they're together, and when you've read the book and know how both sides have grown and how they see things, you can go back through and read the scenes again, see how much is left unsaid. Definitely dog ear worthy.

B. Part II) I love romances where the main character thinks that he/she loves another person while the romantic interest waits for them to realize, hey, I'm better for you. YES. I love romances tied to the coming of age plot. The main character is innocent and naive. He/she has a crush on someone else. He/she doesn't see what's right in front of him/her. See, even though I recognize the practical elements of starting off as a kid, I feel like this right here is another good way of showing how the main character goes through a lot of change in a short period of time. Here's a lesson that the main character learns and grows from. Some people might consider this a love triangle - I don't. The tension is so perfect in these scenes, where you as a reader can tell that the real romantic interest is there; we have to wait until the main character realizes it as well. *Sigh*

C.) My favorite kind of openings give us a hint of who the main character is while setting up the major conflict. The Winner's Curse has one of my favorite openings. From the beginning, you know that Kestrel likes to gamble with sailors and frequently wins because she's more clever than people expect. She also disobeys her father in gambling; this is what she does on her own time, for herself. You already get a sense of her character within those first couple of pages, and then not long afterwards she's at the slave block... and buys Arin, which sets off the central conflict for the book and trilogy. I also just bought Riddle-Master. In the first chapter, the main character is ordering his family around - telling them to get to their individual duties. We see his responsibilities, we see his every day life, we see his love for his family. And yet we see his family recognize his lies (they have a specific dynamic with each other), and he has to admit to what he did when he was grieving for their parents. We get a sense of their backstory and how that loss has affected each of the family members but also how the backstory then sets off the central conflict (he set off on an adventure when his parents died, answered a riddle, won a prize-- but, oh, the prize meant more than he realized). It's such a brilliant beginning that I immediately bought the entire trilogy; I felt like my brain was getting bigger just by reading it.

Do you ever read books and think about how you've learned more about yourself and your reading habits? What kind of tropes do you avoid and what kind of openings do you like best?