25 June 2016

'Empty-Calorie' Reading

    Every now and then as I am reading Young Adult Fiction, I come across a book I wish I had read when I was younger. When I finally read The Giver, I felt cheated that I hadn’t read it during my formative years. Yesterday I finished The Fog Diver by Joel Ross, and if it hadn’t been written in 2015, I would have felt the same way. 
    The Fog Diver describes a post-apocalyptic world where everyone travels by airships above the deadly Fog that covers the planet. Airships that are straight from a steam-punker’s dream; half blimp, half machine, with engines, valves and a pipe organ to steer it. All the markers of a perfect YA novel are there: danger, friends that stick closer than family, an evil villain and room for a sequel.
   I checked it out of the library, but forgot about it until got the reminder email that my books were due, today. I figured I’d be able to renew it, so didn’t take it with me. The librarian informed me someone has it on hold (good for them!). I bit my lip, trying to remember how long the book was, and said, ‘I think I can read it tonight’. She was sweet and reminded me I had a day of grace and that the library was closed on Sunday, so I could really have the weekend, as long as I returned it by Monday. Or, I could keep it till I’d finished and pay the .25 cents a day fine. “I’ll read it tonight,” I said with a smile. And I did. Well, almost. At 11pm I finally closed it, tantalizingly close to the finish. I was able to get the last few chapters read in the morning.
    It was fantastic, except...except that I’m not twelve anymore and I notice things. I notice what is there and what isn’t there. There was a lot of dialogue. The book is mostly dialogue, with no paragraphs of description. When there is non-dialogue description it is actually the thoughts of Chess, from whose point of view we see the world. When the author needs to give backstory he has a character ask a question and one or two other characters interrupt each other to give the story of why or where or how. It ends up feeling choppy, especially after the flowing, lyrical sentence I have been reading by E.B. White, L’engle, and Elizabeth George Speare. Do kids even know what good reading reads like anymore?
    I also ended up liking one of the supporting characters more than the main character. The book is written from Chess’ point of view, but Bea, the spunky ‘gearslinger’ who talks to the airship’s engines and treats her machines like people, ends up being the one my heart goes towards. The plot takes precedence over full-bodied characters. The characters are not fully fleshed out, but rather stereotypical (the mutineers who suddenly turn into our hero’s best friends).
    This novel has been nominated and shortlisted for a couple of awards including the Great Stone Face Award List, and I do feel that it is a good book. Perhaps it lands in the category of “empty-calorie” books. As Katherine Paterson writes in The Invisible Child,

            “We can’t snatch these empty-calorie books from our children’s hands, indeed, that would make them all the more desirable, but somehow we must make sure early on that they have books that will truly nourish them, that will enlarge their minds, that will prepare them to make wise and compassionate decisions when they are grown” (p. 94).

So don’t snatch this book away, snatch it for you child (or you!) and read it, in a sitting, in a day, in a week. It is good, like cake and ice-cream good. Just make sure you also read the 'meat and potatoes', something more substantial, something that will stretch your mind and fill you up with good writing.

Picture from www.amazon.com, cover art is copyrighted.

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