Peter Parker: “I can’t go to Germany!”Tony Stark: “Why not?”Peter: “I have…homework.”Tony: “Okay, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that.”
—Captain America: Civil War
Back in the dark ages, I worked for a software company. Like almost every other tech company on the planet, we were victims of hackers. Unlike most others, our customers included some of the most sensitive branches of the military, the government, and other computation-intensive institutions.
The FBI was not pleased.
We brought in our own in-house experts to track the intruders, and they followed leads back to a group of kids affiliated with a private school back east. Because of the sensitive nature of the organizations which might have been compromised, the FBI decided to raid the hackers, and asked that our experts go along.
“Sorry, they can’t go,” we told them. Our experts were all in high school and their moms said they had to go to school in the morning. Industrial spies, crime, pre-dawn raids, and geek duels. And the heroes weren’t old enough to drive yet. Eat your heart out Jason Bourne.
I’ve often thought about those kids when I hear some of the plots for young adult thrillers. And I thought about them again when I read The Rift, the YA SciFi thriller for today’s review.
So…how would YOU write a young adult novel?
To get you started, here’s a sample blurb, courtesy of the ever-helpful plot-generator.
MarySue, The Super Cute Dresser: A Young Adult Novel
by Up YA
The night of the basketball pre-game pep-rally changes everything for MarySue Normlgirl, a 16-year-old geometry whiz who lives in the creaky old house in front of a deserted olive orchard.
One moment, she was discussing lunchroom table seating with her boyfriend, GaryStu, who almost never made fun of old people. The next thing she knew, she was watching with horror as gossip-mongering students who had made very poor clothing choices posted Instagram closeups of their last date showing Gary smiling at a really enormous (photoshopped) zit on her nose.
She knows these high school students are from a cult of dysfunctional reality show families, but she can’t prove it—at least not without some of their secret scary-shiny ruby-hilted mystical iPhones as evidence.
The super cute dresser MarySue, who can tell clean jokes with punchlines and everything, knows that her super-cool life is over unless she acquires some scary-shiny ruby-hilted mystical phones and is reborn as the hero who will save her school from gossip-mongering bad dressers with substandard texting skills.
However, MarySue finds herself troubled by her super-cool ideals and becomes overwhelmed with moral questions. Will her conscience allow her to do whatever is needed to stop the gossip-mongering bad dressers or at least improve the photoshopping standards of her fellow high school students?
GENRE & TROPE NOTES:
- PMS to the Max: If MarySue hits puberty, develops superpowers, gives her favorite weapon a pet name like Mr. Sharpie, and/or discovers that she’s the hidden True Heir, this might be YA Fantasy. If the Prophesy says that she is The Chosen One destined to save the world/ save the cheerleader/ win all her PokemonGo gym battles, it’s YA SciFi/Fantasy. If GaryStu develops an unhealthy interest in brainzzzzz, it’s the Zombie Apocalypse, and MarySue will probably have to use her trusty Mr. Sharpie on GaryStu. If MarySue hits puberty in a land devastated by an unnamed but terrible event in the BeforeTime, and so she is taken for The Test, after which she must fight a bunch of other children for survival, it’s either YA Dystopian Fantasy or—if MarySue does NOT have long red hair and green eyes—it’s Middle School.
- Hey, y’all! If MarySue lived in South Carolina and called GaryStu “shug” and her house was haunted by the ghost of her old grandmother (but that was a good thing because Granny kept out all the werewolves although not GaryStu now that he’s been turned into a vampire), it’s Southern Gothic YA.
- Hankie-Wringer: If MarySue is dying of a terminal disease but she’s still a funny, feisty girl who inspires GaryStu to lifelong (or at least until summer vacation ends) devotion before she—after taking her excruciatingly book-length time about it—dies, it’s YA Schmaltz. Pass the box of tissues and the Oscar nominations.
- History is boring: If GaryStu wears a tophat with goggles and wants to be an airship pirate in a proper Victorian world full of old-fashioned steam-powered vehicles and antique-looking clockwork automatons, it’s either YA Steampunk or the Republican National Convention. If his girlfriend MarySue has a dragon and they are all fighting Napoleon, it’s YA Alternate Historical or Seattle ComiCon.
- Congrats! If nobody ever seems to think about school, if the only people who have parents are those with abusive dysfunctional families, if the only sympathetic adult is captured/killed/doesn’t have his contract renewed for the next season, and if the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of one strong heroine and her (snarky, possibly LGBTQ, undoubtedly racially-diverse) posse, then it’s the next YA Blockbuster hit and the only things you’ll have to do will be to hire armored truck fleets to haul your royalties and figure out who will play MarySue in the movie. (**Bonus points if parent organizations and Ted Cruz try to ban it.)
Praise for MarySue The Super Cute Dresser
- “Never have there been more chilling villains than these gossip-mongering bad dressers with their substandard texting issues—especially that faked Insty closeup of the really huge zit.”—The Daily Tale
- “When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through the bung hole, until he reaches 16…at which time you plug the bung hole.”—Mark Twain
- “Are we seriously supposed to find a super cute dresser who remembers joke punchlines heroic, even if she does come from a deserted olive orchard?”—Enid Kibble
- “I did not see that coming.” —Said nobody at the end of a YA novel ever.
For a look at a YA writer who subverts the usual YA tropes, please check out The Rift, the first book of J. T. Stoll’s SciFi/Fantasy series of the same name. And the good news is that it’s now available FREE from Amazon US and Barnes & Noble.
The Rift by J.T. Stoll
A bitter civil war from a world of magic has spilled over into the small California town of San Luis Obispo. In a desperate act, a warrior from the world of Ruach gives soul armors—the ultimate weapons of his world—to four high school students.
This sounds like the exact opposite of how Vero would like to spend her senior year. Poor and new to the area, she finds surviving in her new surroundings hard enough without stepping into the middle of a war of wizards.
Unfortunately, two soldiers from the other world know what she looks like and want her dead. In the small town of San Luis Obispo, it’s only a matter of time before they find her. She might have to fight, whether she wants to or not.
The first book of J.T. Stoll’s series, The Rift, opens with a SciFi sword and sorcery scene so classic I almost stopped right there. If, like me, you keep going even though the first paragraph actually includes the word “empyrean”—well, you’re in for a treat as Stoll proceeds to pay homage to most YA fantasy tropes even as he systematically subverts them.
In the first scene—which appears to basically borrow the Mordor set from LOTR—we are introduced to James, whose main job here seems to be to leave his world through a convenient portal called The Rift, lose a fight with a couple of other escapees, recruit the first four people he meets by offering them superhero suits, and then die.
Luckily for all of us (if not, perhaps for James), the first ones on the scene are four typical teenagers. Now, these are not TV teens who hardly ever swear and always wear clean clothes, and probably take out the recycling when their moms ask them to. I could give you a LONG list of the other teen tropes that they are…not.
What they are, in fact, is refreshingly annoyingly persistently normal teenagers. One is a slacker, one is a pudgy gamer, one is a beautiful if somewhat shallow social climber, and one is the shy loner who practically wears a “please bully me” sign on her back. These four are cruel, sensitive, self-absorbed, generous, brave, cowardly, mean, loving typical teenagers. They don’t want to save the world. They would much order pizza.
But each one receives a gift of “soul armor” and an accompanying superhero weapon from the mortally-wounded James. None of these come with a user manual, of course. As the four kids experiment with the gifts they are supposed to use to save their world, they start to realize that they might be in over their heads.
They don’t know what the superweapons do, how to use the armor, or even if James was telling the truth about who are the good guys. But they do know that there are others who came through the Rift—and that more might be coming. And they start to realize that they might be the next targets.
This first volume is primarily Vero’s story. As the child of a working class family and a newcomer to the affluent California community, she has plans that include being popular in her new school, hanging onto a boyfriend who is the school golden-boy, and somehow achieving a life that’s different from her minimum-wage, trailer-dwelling family. For her, those things are at least as important as saving the world, maybe more so. But Vero isn’t just a stereotype. She is capable of genuine affection and generosity, as well as spectacular acts of bravery. Or is she? Could it be that the armor and weapons are changing each of their new owners?
I do have some issues with this book. It’s got terrific characters who visibly develop and change over the course of the events. But the pace is so fast, the book so short, and the action so complicated that it sometimes feels forced and choppy. However, if you like a more realistic picture of actual teenagers who use both their faults and their strengths to succeed, then I recommend this fast, occasionally funny, character-driven YA story.
***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***
Book Title: The Rift
Author: JT Stoll
Genre: YA SciFi Fantasy
Length: 158 pages
Release Date: Sword and Staff Press (March 22, 2015)
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