I have been musing on the phenomenon (a not unsurprising one) of bestselling authors of adult fiction writing kidlit or teen fiction. In my mental perambulations, I haven't stumbled across many authors who can write for different age groups at a consistently high level of quality. Here is my list:
Um, that's a short list. I'm sure I'm missing some people right now, but if you did a comparison of authors who excel in more than one age bracket as opposed to those who try it, you would have a lot of meh YA novels on your hands. But honestly, most writers have a niche. It could be as broad as a genre or as narrow as, I don't know, queer Lovecraftian steampunk. There's a reason that certain authors consistently top the NYT lists in certain genres (and yes, I am currently discounting the fact that they are probably white men)--that's what they write the best. Obviously, "the best" is a subjective assessment. I might harbor a deep, deep loathing for James Patterson's books, but loads of people adore them. He makes up like half of our adult circ at the library (kidding, but only a little). So, in my opinion, he should stick to rough-drafting eleventy-billion thrillers about awful crimes and the people who solve them (who are also maybe incestuous). People seem to really like those.
The other issue that pops up when a successful adult author writes a YA novel is that we receive far more purchase requests for these titles at the library, since patrons are already familiar with the name. I don't doubt I'll receive a bunch of requests for Gregg Hurwitz's upcoming YA series opener The Rains. Will I fill them? Yep. Will it cause me immense psychological pain and inspire unsolicited rants in the workroom> You betcha.
As you might have guessed, I'd stack Hurwitz's effort in the No Way pile of the Great YA Migration. I've not read any of his adult novels, but he writes thrillers. According to Goodreads reviews, his thrillers are: "crazy fast paced," "an intense thrill ride," "roller-coaster thrilling." THAT IS A LOT OF THRILLING. So, I expected THRILLING to the nth degree in The Rains.
What I read (half of) was gory, action-packed, and totally, completely unbelievable. I don't mean "unbelievably good"--I mean "unbelievable." Hurwitz's "plot" (air quotes totally intentional, thanks) relies on you being THRILLED and not noticing that this book makes zero sense. Actually, it makes negative sense.
SCENE: The middle of nowhere, America. Land of crops, clear skies, and good ol' down home cookin'. The kind of place where everyone participates in 4H and can operate a combine at the age of five. Basically, the kind of people who can definitely survive some sort of apocalypse, while city girls like me freak out about not being able to shower every day.
Chance Rain (I swear I am not making this up) and his brother Patrick live with their aunt and uncle, Sue-Anne and Jim, after the death of their parents. Jim breeds Rhodesian ridgebacks, which means that Chance gets to have a canine companion for the end of the world. The story is in the format of a letter/communique of some sort from Chance to us. I'm not sure if we are supposed to be in the future, or just outside of his zero-cell-coverage valley, or what.
Asteroid 9918 Darwinia hits the Earth's atmosphere and explodes, sending large hunks of its evil alien-infested self all over the valley. Pods start to grow, and some of them grow inside people. One, McCafferty, climbs to the top of the water tower to die and let his gut explode so all the alien spores inside can infect the population. Charming.
I told you it was gross. This book does not skimp on the gross. But hang on. If we are being told this by Chance, how do we know exactly what happened to McCafferty? The author is switching between first-person and third-person omniscient in a diary-format book, which is extremely disconcerting. Oh, I think that's one of those pesky logic issues that the reader is supposed to gloss over because, you know, exploding intestines.
Suddenly, all the adults in the area start getting violent. Also, they no longer have eyes. Not in a "I clawed them out in a frenzy" sort of way, but in a "alien spores ate my optical nerves woohoo!" sort of way. Imagine taking a giant apple corer and going through the skull, following the orbits of the eyes. Ta-da! All the grownups.
Thankfully, once Patrick and Chance figure out what's going on, they rescue some kids, dispose of said kids' mom in a grain silo, and quickly figure out that things are not normal. Especially when they come upon all the adults in town who haven't exploded or killed each other capturing children and putting them in cages, sort of like that creepy scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with more gore and farming accoutrements. Eventually, they all end up at the high school, where Chance finds his super-awesome science teacher, Dr. Chatterjee, unharmed and totally normal. In a few paragraphs, Chatterjee explains that the alien organism is attacking the brain's white matter. Since teens have less white matter than adults, they are not affected by the fungus. Chatterjee has multiple sclerosis, meaning that he has lesions on his white matter. Thank goodness there is a wisdom-imparting adult figure to infodump on the teens!
But this is where the story gets really, really ridiculous: the teens figure out that at the exact moment they turn 18, the alien mycelium takes over their brains, disintegrates their eyeballs, and turns them into evil, mindless drones.
I understand--as much as one can understand--the theory behind this particular alien invasion. Teenagers are immune because less white matter. Okay. But ... it's not like biology cares about your birthday. It's not as if you turn 18 and suddenly your brain explodes with white matter. That's not how it works.
Furthermore, why and how should an alien organism know to exploit this? Wherever these alien spores are from, I'm pretty sure they didn't have a 365 day year with 24 hours in a day, which is how we calculate our age (more or less, except for those pesky leap years). Assuming that in Hurwitz's world, a person's 18th birthday indeed ushers in all the white matter (which, remember, is Not A Thing), how would the aliens know that? The answer in the book is that the aliens, which are basically a hive mind with a Queen, want to turn the teenage humans into alien hosts.
Now look. I'm no military strategist. But ... let's say you are a technologically advanced civilization. You have the capacity for biowarfare on a level that modern humans cannot even comprehend. You can strategically seed an asteroid, chuck it towards a planet, and "invade." Unless you are few in number, why do you need ... more of yourselves? Why this elaborate process for turning that planet's ruling organisms into hosts for your own consciousness? Wouldn't it be easier to wipe them out, send a shipload (or asteroid-load--who knows how these creatures get around?) of your own people to the planet and ... do whatever you want to do? Unless the whole plan is to get alien slaves, which is pretty pulp fiction retro. Again, why not just bioengineer some more worker drones?
But I guess these aliens do things the hard way. Thankfully, the laws of biology don't apply in this book, creating a convenient Race Against Time for the hero so that he can save his brother from turning into an alien host the minute he turns 18.
Other plot points of dubious note:
- Chance is in love with his brother's girlfriend Alex. That's not awkward at all.
- Dr. Chatterjee constantly speaks with a "lilting accent" just in case you forgot he is Indian and evidently all Indian-Americans speak with a "lilting accent."
- Patrick's nickname is "Big Rain." Chance calls this his "Native American nickname." Do we really have to have the "there is no such thing as 'Native American culture' and also what is up with the offensive fake Indian names???????" conversation again? It's 2016! Wake up!
- Chance also measures distance in kilometers, even though he's American. Now, I personally think the metric system makes a lot of sense, but I don't think random teenagers switch between metric and English when talking distances.
Some of these things might change before publication day. I really hope some editor--ANY EDITOR--catches the "Native American nickname" line and tosses it into a bottomless pit of fire. Unfortunately, the book itself cannot be saved. It relies on a biological change that literally does not exist as described in the book. I suppose teens who enjoyed The Maze Runner might like this, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it.
I should just blast Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" as I read through these wannabe teen books by established adult authors. Please, for the love of Cthulhu, stop doing this to readers. Stop assuming that since you write successful adult books, you are going to be the next Veronica Roth or Suzanne Collins or John Green or James Dashner and write a wildly popular series that teens just can't get enough of. There are loads and loads of POC authors and authors with disabilities and LGBTQUIA authors who need a voice in publishing, and when agents pick these white dudes, they're shutting out voices that teens desperately need to hear.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.