Saturday, 20 April 2013

YA Writers - Could They Care Less?

I’ve been reading quite a number of young adult series novels of late. Partly, for Cereal Readers website content; partly to preview material for my own YAer; and partly (mostly) because I enjoy the genre. I was somewhat perplexed when I read the phrase—issued with disdain and defiance from an adolescent protagonist—"I could care less!".

I read this twice; three times. Was this the oft-encountered e-book typo? Did the character care more, rather than less? Was the author just confused about the saying?

I read on, and the dialog slipped from my mind, but I soon encountered it again…and again. Let me clarify that I encountered this phrase in YA novels by American writers. Not every writer 'could care less'—some 'couldn’t care less'—but still, it was obviously not an error as I first thought, but rather a cultural difference in the saying. I have spent almost seven years of my life in the  U.S. (including a year as a high school student) so I was amazed this difference hadn’t come to my attention before.  Perhaps when issued in verbal form, my brain had just filled in what it thought was missing or meant? Regardless, what bothered  me most was the lack of logic of it: if you 'could care less', you could feasibly care a LOT, which was obviously not what the  characters in these novels wanted to communicate.

Hmm, so what was this about? I couldn’t let it go. I really cared—a lot (just to be clear). A little investigation was required, and such nuances are the life-blood of the Internet.

In brief, here’s what I found out. 'Could care less' is unique to America, and whether it developed from a sarcastic interpretation, careless pronunciation, or some other factor—or indeed, combination of factors—is unclear. [1] It is not a new issue, by any means, and has certainly elicited controversy and heated discussion. As recently as March 2013, the furore around that phrase 'could care less'—uttered by songstress, Taylor Swift—was the motivation behind this article in the Chicago Tribune.

Assuming the sarcastic meaning, which seems to be well-supported, I’ve been walking around the house uttering, ‘I could care less’; ‘I couldn’t care less’, in varying tones. (My husband is looking at me like I should be committed.) I don’t always seems to be something one says in defiance and anger; the gauntlet thrown down. Is the sarcasm really there? Perhaps I need to actually hear it said by an American (Taylor Swift?)...but I'll admit, it's hard for me to get away from the logic of 'couldn’t care less'.

'Could care less' is certainly not the form used in all American YA novels I’ve read, so either it’s somewhat regional, or there are writers attempting to be less parochial. Or as Maeve Maddox suggests, “Although the newer form of the expression meaning “not to care at all” has been widely-used for some time, many people still regard it as an uneducated error.” [2]

Michael Quinion also discusses the difference with interest and includes a linguistic point of view, but concludes that “it is still regarded as slangy, and also has some social class stigma attached. And because it is hard to be sarcastic in writing, it loses its force when put on paper…”. Perhaps, as Grammar Girl suggests, when in doubt, go with 'couldn’t care less'.

As an American YA writer, you might not be aware that this form of the saying is colloquial to America; that it does—in the midst of riveting and emotional dialog —mentally trip the non-American reader; something of a foot whipped out as you're walking past. Perhaps you’d like to consider the wider market and the dissolving international publishing boundaries; but then again, perhaps you couldn’t care less.

Marielle Rebbechi

Monday, 1 April 2013

Review - 'Requiem' by Lauren Oliver (Delirium series)

I've just finished reading Requiem, the final book in the young adult series, Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. The main character, Lena, lives in a world where love is considered a disease—the deliria—the source of all unhappiness and negative emotions, including anger, pain, jealously and hate. Scientists have found a cure for love, and the controlling government seeks to eradicate the deliria by forcing all citizens to be cured at age 18. Despite looking forward to being 'cured', Lena does the unthinkable and falls in love before she can undergo the procedure, and then must deal with the dangers she faces.

  "this story is about the freedom to love—not just romantically, but across friendship and familial relationships..." 

Unlike some trilogies that start out strongly and then waver somewhat, Delirium is a series that gains pace and builds tension as it progresses. The storyline moves in unexpected ways, and there are unexpected cliff-hangers at the end of the first two books, Delirium and Pandemonium, that raise the stakes. Lena, Hana, Alex and Julian, as well as many of the supporting characters, are thoughtfully developed and engage the reader at an emotional level. This story is about the freedom to love—not just romantically, but across friendship and familial relationships, as well.  (The romantic relationships are subtly treated; heartfelt without venturing into detail.)   

Set against a controlling dystopian society, those who want to live freely are forced to fight against eradication. In this final novel, Requiem, Lauren Oliver adds the narrative voice of Lena's friend, Hana. Hana's contrasting perspective proves critical to the success of the series conclusion, allowing us to follow events both inside and outside the government's jurisdiction, and enabling the story to build steadily and convincingly to its ultimate ending. 

Oliver is a talented writer, able to describe elements of nature or the bleakness of the city in ways that create a sharp picture in the mind’s eye, without detracting from the momentum of the novel.  A disused parking structure takes on a new form when portrayed as a ‘massive cement honeycomb structure’, while my favourite image is the one Oliver gives to a landscape of night wilderness highlighted by a ‘slalom of trees’;  immediately I could picture the bare winter trees, staggered and stark in the moonlight.

The controlled nature of the walled and ‘protected’ cities, is contrasted with the untamed wilderness that while beautiful, is difficult to survive in; and here lies the crux of the message: the freedom to choose does not create a fairy-tale world of 'happily ever after'. The main characters are confronted with the painful dilemma of their choices, reinforcing one of the central themes of the series: the right to choose your path in life doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily make the right choicesor be happy all the time. Or as Hana puts it, ‘You know you can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes, right?’ Right.

Cereal Readers gives the 'Delirium' series five spoons. A well-paced and thought-provoking read that doesn't shy from the difficult issues of choice and love.