I've read some marvelous books this past month during my fantasy/scifi binge for the Cybils. This week, though, I hit upon a couple of...disappointments, let's say. They were both books that involved contemporary teenage girls who stumble into fantasy scenarios.
The fantasy scenarios were clever. They had potential for humor or wit, even social satire. The problem was the contemporary teenage girl portion of the books, the realistic aspects of the novels. One girl was a stereotype, which could have worked if she'd been, say, a take-off of a stereotype. But she wasn't. She was just a girl. In the second book, the girl protagonist seemed to suffer from a multiple personality disorder. Sometimes she was a dull teenage girl with dull teenage girl problems and an improbable trauma in her past. Sometimes she had a mouth on her and some attitude.
I guess in both cases I'd have to say that the characters weren't well defined. They weren't strong characters.
A couple of other problems:
One book had a very weak story. The basic situation was neat, but that's pretty much all there was. There were many funny scenes, but there wasn't a powerful storyline to string them on. Most of my books begin with a situation. I know how difficult it is to move from a situation to a story. Nonetheless, without a story to draw readers on, we're just left going, "How did I manage to get to page 67?" and "How am I ever going to finish this thing?"
The other book had a main character who was always commenting on what was happening to her. Running commentary only works if the commentary is unusual in some way--full of insight or twisted. The commentary has to be unique, which will then make the character unique. However, if a teenage girl sees that her English teacher is always standing in a puddle or is always wearing a wet blouse and her commentary is, "Weird" or "Odd" that's only stating the obvious. We've just read the scene. We know it's weird or odd. She's not telling us anything new or unique. And if the teenage girl uses that same commentary for similar weird or odd situations, she becomes annoying. Really fast. On top of that, the author is giving readers the impression that she doesn't trust them to work out what they've just read. She's telling us how to interpret what we just read in case we didn't get it. She's annoying us and disrespecting us in one move.
Fortunately, I have many more Cybils nominees to read. Something good, or at least intriguing, should be coming up soon.