Cinderella’s Seashells: A Novel

Years ago, my eldest daughters admitted they won’t read books with “A Novel” on the cover. A Novel is a catchphrase meaning this is a boring, yet very meaningful book. I laughed. I knew exactly what they meant. In the adult world, A Novel generally indicates pretentiousness. For a while, it meant that at least one woman in the novel would be diagnosed with breast cancer, when I would have much preferred a lobotomy–of the author. The publishers might just as well have tied pink ribbons around every copy. The pink ribbons would be more meaningful, since every new work of fiction is technically a novel. But for unknown reasons, very meaningful books have to remind their readers of what they are. And so they cry, “We are novels!!”

Last weekend, I discovered what my daughters really meant by the repeated insistence of A Novel(s) in the YA/MG market. We had just finished watching a B-grade film in which a California teen and her family move to the Oregon coast, and we were still groaning over its awfulness, when my eldest, Eva, piped up and said, “That was A Novel.”

I disagreed with her. “No,” I said, “that was a formulaic teenage romance plot. A Novel(s) are pretentious literary wannabes.”

“Mom, you have no idea,” Eva said. Apparently, A Novel indicates a different beast altogether in the YA market. The premise is this: teenage girl is forced to move to a small town on the coast with her parents, who don’t get along. The teenage girl thinks she’s going to have the worst summer of her life until she meets some Bieberish boy and falls in love and the summer turns into the best EVER. If there are any hints of adventure, such as finding buried treasure, they never actually pan out, the point being that boys are the best adventure a girl will ever have. In other words, stop looking for fun and come sit on the sand with some totally hot guy’s arm around your shoulders.

So much for the pretense of meaning. No wonder my teenage daughters hate A Novel(s). And seriously, if you’re a YA/MG writer, don’t follow this plot. Please, I beg you, allow your teenage heroines to find buried treasure instead of boys. Maybe you should move them to some nowhere town in the middle of the Southwest, too. That way they can find real Spanish treasure. Oh, and I would also avoid the parental problem. Maybe the girl should be an orphan adopted by her grandmother, who has recently been diagnosed with . . . breast cancer. Pink ribbon anyone?

p.s. My daughters also avoid reading books that win the Newberry Honor. That is, according to them, a sure sign the book will suck. Hey, their words, not mine. I remember doing the same as a child, though–avoiding the books with the shiny gold or silver medal stickers.

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