As someone who writes novels for young people, I try to read as much Young Adult fiction as I can stomach. Occasionally I discover something really good. But not this time.
City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, was a New York Times best-seller in 2007 and went on to win dozens of awards. I’ve learned that an award from the American Library Assn. usually denotes tacky or unwholesome subject matter.
This particular book embodies most of what’s wrong with YA fiction. Dividing readers into age-group classes is a dumb idea. We don’t have Old Adults or Middle-Aged Adults fiction, or Doddering Adults With One Foot in the Grave Already fiction. Why set up a literary bantustan for younger readers?
(But didn’t you just say you write “novels for young people”? Yeah, I do–in the sense that I don’t presuppose the reader knows or cares about certain matters that only seem to become important after one has passed the age of 50. I also leave out profanity, graphic violence, and sex scenes. The reality is that my publisher disapproves of such things in a novel. I have learned to live without them, and my books are much the better for it. I strive to write material that any reasonably intelligent person from 12 years old and up can enjoy.)
Cassandra Clare is not an awful writer. She knows how to set a scene and how to keep the story flowing. But she writes down to her audience, as if readers under the age of 21 just aren’t able to think outside a narrow “teen culture” box–a little coffin for the brain. Her dialogue is dreadful–what you might expect a clever extraterrestrial to write after spending some decades monitoring MacDonald’s commercials. It would be a better book if the characters never spoke. She even succumbs to the temptation to make her rigidly teenage protagonists superheroes with cool powers. I hate superheroes with cool powers. And there’s a lot of technicolor violence.
After some 200 pages of it, I doubt I’ll have the patience to read all the way to the end of this 500-page monstrosity.
And I can’t think of any reason why you should, either.