Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What if a Problem Book is About a Problem That Interests You?

There's just no way I can finish my problem book monologue.

Last week I read Sweetblood by Pete Hautman. Sweetblood is about a teenage diabetic with a big interest in vampires. On top of that, she's angry and frustrated about the constraints her illness puts on her life. Big, big problem, right? Plus there's a first person narrator with an attitude, which is oh, so common in problem books. Though I am a little bit of a sucker for a vampire story (Get it? Sucker? Vampire?), there were various points where I felt this was just another problem book, vampire interest or not.

Here's the thing, though--I have a young relative who has had a chronic health problem for a few years, since he was around 16. The problem is nowhere near as serious as diabetes, but it impacts every day of his life. He was a pissed off teenager, anyway, (pardon my French, as they say, but the main character in the book is always talking about being pissed off and wondering how that differs from being angry) and having his health issue gnawing at him all the time definitely made him more so. He's frustrated and negative, and his mom, just like the mom in Sweetblood is always wringing her hands and fearful of how he'll be today or, when he's at college, how she'll find him if she calls.

I think the author nailed a lot of things right on the head. And I thought the ending was both positive and realistic, suggesting the main character could change her way of living and her attitude without changing who she is.

So, what am I saying here? That a problem book is okay so long as it deals with my problems? I can barely sit through the crummy ones when they're about someone else's problems. I've read that some writers believe their problem books are serving a therapeutic purpose, and my own experience suggests that may be true. But these books will only be therapeutic if they fall into the hands of people who share the problem.

This is one of the many, many things in life that I mull over but never resolve.

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