Monday, 19 May 2014

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Janie finished her essay.

The end. Not. We should be so lucky.

After a thorough academic analysis, we may with confidence conclude that this line does not hook. How could it be expected to pull a reader in? It does not introduce conflict, nor does it even foreshadow conflict. All it does is introduce the protagonist and let us know by way of inference that this person is a student. Yawn.

The next paragraph makes an effort to force some useless conflict down our throats:

She never knew what grade she would get in Mr. Brylowe's English class. Whenever she joked, he wanted the essay serious. Whenever she was serious, he had intended the essay to be lighthearted.

There is an easy way to fix this kids: Pay attention in class! Next paragraph:

It was October.

Next paragraph (though why we need to start a new paragraph, as we are still on the same topic of season, is beyond me. Could it be for dramatic effect, even though there is nothing dramatic about it being October in itself?):

Outdoors throbbed with autumn.

I appreciate when writers try to be creative, but there is a fine line between success and failure, genius and stupidity. This fails and/or is stupid, take your pick. The outdoors, i.e. weather/season throbbed? It sounds funny and just a little disturbing. Imagine this conversation:

Mom: Go outside, Janie.
Janie: Ah, Mom, do I have to, it's throbbing outside.


"Hey, Bob, can you take a look out the window and see if it's throbbing out. Thanks, man."
"It is."
"Okay, so should I wear a striped shirt, or do you think flannel is better when it's throbbing outdoors?"

The paragraph goes on about the pulse of the sky and leaves being wrenched off twigs, before ending with:

She felt like driving for hours: taking any road at all: just going.

I think those are colons. They could be semi-colons; in any case, they are wrong. So the last sentence of that paragraph has nothing to do with the beginning of the paragraph, describing the weather. Since writing is usually determined good or bad at the paragraph level, we can safely call this bad writing.

The next paragraph has a shocking twist: But Janie can't drive yet! That's right, she's only having driving fantasies (so this only fantasizes about the car opening cliche) because of dinner last night. Enter flashback: A scene in which we learn that Janie's father doesn't want her to drive but her mother does. Her father thinks she's too young and says that he hates all this growing up (she's 15). I can just imagine him saying to Janie while she's writing essays: What are you doing? Stop growing up; go out and roll around in the mud like my little five-year-old used to do. I mentioned essays because I now have no idea why this book had to begin with essays and then steer off course with weather, seasons, driving fantasies and serious hair.

Serious hair? Yeah, as weird as this sounds, as the father is talking at the dinner table, he: ...wound some of Janie's hair around his wrist.

It's creepy enough for a father to sit at the dinner table and play with his fifteen-year-old daughter's hair with his finger, but wrapping her hair around his wrist? What the...? However, never fear, this is the author's "clever" way of introducing the world to Janie's hair and how her friends say: Janie, that is serious hair.

Which makes the beginning of chapter 5 make a little more sense:

The kiss was long.

And serious.

Serious like my hair, thought Janie. She stared amazed at Reeves's cheek, which was pressed against hers, and with amazement brought her lips together to kiss him again - to start the second kiss, and to choose when to end it.

I'm not sure I'd compare a kiss's seriousness to hair. Anyway, that line tells me that this Janie is very self-absorbed and a bit of an idiot. Here she is sharing an intimate moment with a boy and all she can think of is: That kiss is serious like my hair. What, is the kiss about her and her hair? Is that all she can think about when kissing: her hair?

The other thing that makes no sense, is how does one stare at someone else's cheek when it is pressed against one's own cheek? What does it mean: she stared amazed? Maybe: she stared amazedly? Or: She stared and was amazed? Could she be staring off into space and is amazed at staring off into nothingness? Is Reeve's cheek amazing her? Personally, I think she's more dazed than amazed.

Plus, closing your lips to kiss is what one does when one is about to kiss grandma, not a boyfriend/girlfriend. I'm confused: is this girl fifteen or five?

The next paragraph begins thus:

Very slowly her hands crept [Like Wile E. Coyote?] around his face, finding the back of his neck where his hair lay thick over the pulse.

So this dude has a throbbing pulse on the back of his neck? He might want to get that looked at - it might be a tumor.

First thing said:

"She's just a baby."

Verdict: Epic Fail

So this book and writer has earned a place on my private blog: Horrible Writers Club.

Rudy Globird

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