Sunday, December 14, 2008

"I need a book for a reading class..."

Today's guest blogger is Teresa Keyes, the librarian for Bloomfeild High School in lovely Bloomfield, NY. In the interest of full disclosure, she's my kid sister. And, it turns out, a hell of a good writer. Charles.

“I need a book for reading class …”

Twenty-or-so times a week, this proclamation is muttered by one of my students. Too often, they have no real interest in the book, the genre, or even the class, just in meeting the teacher’s expectation and earning the coveted ‘prepared for class’ tally in the grade book.

It’s my job to help them, not only to feed the insatiable GPA beast, but to whet their intellectual appetite for quality literature. So before they reach for another cheesy chick lit title or nibble on the next cookie-cutter vampire series, I try to steer them to the literary banquet that is Mystery.

I’m quick to recommend Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books, Running Out of Time and other Margaret Peterson Haddix works, or Ellen Raskin’s classic, The Westing Game. But if the kid’s idea of Mystery hasn’t changed since reading Encyclopedia Brown chapter books, it may be a tough sell.

You want to know what keeps them reading past the first page? Successful YA mysteries …
·… grab teen readers instantly. Mystery connoisseurs may enjoy the foreplay of a finely detailed, hand-sculpted tale of suspense, but reluctant YA readers don’t. Spend too much time setting the mood, and they’re using your book as a coaster.
·… don’t try too hard. Attempting to reach teens through awkward adolescent colloquialisms turns decent writers into the print equivalent of the geeky teacher doing the Macarena at the middle school dance. Some skilled YA authors have pulled this off, but most copycat attempts are crap.
·… are not predictable. Please. No more tragic tales of a quiet, yet likeable teen who loses both parents in a car/plane/cuisinart accident, left to solve the mystery of the attractive, yet dead/comatose/abducted member of the opposite sex, while being stalked by the eccentric tug boat captain/cheerleader/insurance rep. Oh, yeah, the dog dies, too.
·… have kick-ass covers. Like moths to a bug zapper, teens are drawn to books that can increase their coolness factor. If they have to actually carry a novel in the hallway, it damn well better make them look good. Seen the latest paperback release of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon? That’s smart marketing.

With disappearing budgets, school librarians need to be more discerning than ever. I’m going to spend my money on the best YA lit available. Here’s hoping it includes plenty of mysteries – maybe even yours – in 2009.

1 comment:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

A chorus of praise for Peter Abrahams' Echo Falls mysteries..they're hip, funny, clever, honest and smart. And main character Ingrid Levin-Hill is a real treasure! Highly recommended.