Tag Archives: Matched

The YA Way — Unusual Names

Writerly fact: I am moderately obsessed with names. If I hear one in a movie or TV show that strikes me as beautiful or unusual or otherwise worthwhile, I recite it in my head like a one-item grocery list until I can write it down. I read baby naming websites for fun. I sometimes create new characters simply to have a good excuse to use a name that’s been nagging at me. So when I read this post over at Tracey (with an e!) Neithercott’s blog, I was delightedly prompted into sharing my own thoughts on names — specifically, those of the less typical variety. Why do so many YA authors seem to gravitate towards unusual names?

image found at tildewill.wordpress.com

Some name choices are symbolic. Remus Lupin, a werewolf, is inarguably lupine. Sirius Black is capable of turning into a dog (a black one, naturally); Sirius, astronomically speaking, is a star prominent in the Canis Major constellation. To keep with HP, the fact that Voldemort’s name is unusual goes beyond metaphoric wordplay into even deeper character symbolism. The Artist Formerly Known As Tom Riddle chooses his new name specifically to avoid the commonplace; he is in fact quite blatantly disgusted at the thought of sharing a name with anyone else. He is intent on fashioning himself as peerless, wholly unique, and selects a moniker accordingly.

Speaking of unique, it seems quite probable that a drive to stand out in the crowd is behind some authorial naming choices. No one is going to confuse Scout with another plucky young heroine, for example, or forget which magical creature Aslan is. Ally Condie writes about this struggle for originality — her heroine Cassia was originally named Calla, but so was the MC in another of her publisher’s forthcoming books. One Calla is memorable; two are more easily muddled. One unique Cassia, coming right up! (Her love interests, Xander and Ky, are also unlikely to run into many nomenclature doppelgangers.)

This can become interesting when relatively ordinary names take on literarily iconic status. How long before someone else can write about a Bella or a Harry without everyone’s minds immediately going to their fictional predecessors?

Unlike those two, some characters simply wouldn’t sound right with “regular” names. Would eccentric, fantastical Xenophilius Lovegood make sense as Joe Turner? Could Kristin Cashore’s determined, flame-haired heroine be called anything but Fire?

Many of Suzanne Collins’s characters remind me of Cashore’s naming choices. Both authors have a knack for names that are almost exclusively unusual and very often outright made-up, yet still (for lack of a better word) functional. They make sense in the context of their fictional worlds — not necessarily because of symbolism or relevant character traits, but due to a more nebulous, difficult-to-define feel. Cashore’s Katsa, Po, Faun, Roen, and Bitterblue (my personal favorite) don’t sound anachronistically contemporary, but neither are they alienatingly genre-based like some fantastical mouthfuls I’ve come across. They’re poetic, and exactly the right amount of otherworldly. Collins’s Katniss, Peeta, Cinna, Haymitch, and Finnick are odd, to be sure, but I can’t imagine any other names working as well. They have a bit of bite, a slight discordance or strangeness, that’s perfect for the edgy, violent universe they inhabit.

Do you love bizarre names in YA, or do you find yourself put off by them? What are some of your favorite YA monikers?



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The Week In Review — Making Readers Care

This week, I blazed through CATCHING FIRE and began flying through MOCKINGJAY. (NO SPOILERS, PLEASE rule still in effect!) I also began considering the possibility that my own WIP may not be a stand-alone. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps readers devoted to the same world, the same characters, book after book after book.

Writing is a strange pursuit. It’s often solitary to the point of comic stereotype — see the ever-hilarious Kiersten White’s recent thoughts on the craziness of writers — yet its ultimate goal is to entertain, edify, or otherwise please the public. Writers spend vast swaths of their time alone, crafting sentences and paragraphs and books that they hope will be read by as many people as possible.

Like Tinkerbell needs applause, writers need readers. So what do writers have to do? They have to make their readers care. It sounds almost insultingly simple, but then again so is the act of closing a book and setting it aside. A book is perhaps the easiest piece of cultural entertainment to give up on. Walking out of a theatre production or even a movie has a social stigma attached to it; it’s at the very least considered rude and is a statement generally reserved for the most offensive or problematic of works. True, a radio or iPod can always be switched off, but music is still everywhere — emanating from grocery store loudspeakers or trickling out of your neighbor’s apartment. Museum entrance fees are often expensive, so patrons are likely to feel obligated to stick around long enough to feel the price was worth it. But books? Even if bought as opposed to borrowed, they tend to be relatively affordable. They’re generally read alone, and to set one aside is to risk disturbing no one except perhaps the cat curled up on your chest.

Persuading a reader to voluntarily give up his or her time, then, is no easy task — and that’s just for one book! Holding a reader’s attention for two or three or seven books (we all bow down to you, JK Rowling) is a truly inspiring feat. And there’s no magic formula — what hooks one reader may utterly bore another.

For me, though, it all comes down to the characters. Lovely, lyrical prose, like that of Ally Condie in MATCHED or Maggie Stiefvater in SHIVER and LINGER certainly encourages me to keep reading, but I wouldn’t have torn through any of those books on the merit of their eloquent writing alone. Breathtaking suspense, like that expertly crafted by Suzanne Collins in THE HUNGER GAMES and its sequels, inarguably rivets me to the page, but would have rung hollow on its own. What truly kept me clutching these books like they were the last pieces of sustenance on earth was how the characters made me feel. I positively ached for Cassia, Grace, Katniss and those they loved; I was desperate to know how things would turn out for them. I remain desperate, in fact — and that is the power of a series filled with compelling characters.

What keeps you glued to the page?

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The YA Way — Love Triangles

(That lovely image [from Shakespeare In The Park’s Twelfth Night] was found here.)

Bella, Jacob, and Edward. Laurel, Tamani, and David. Cassia, Ky, and Xander. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. (With a healthy dose of I HAVEN’T FINISHED MOCKINGJAY SO PLEASE NO SPOILERS! attached to that last trio.) YA lit is positively filled to the angsty brim with love triangles — and, I must confess, my WIP is no different. Almost from the moment of its mental inception, INSERT CREATIVE TITLE HERE included two love interests for my MC. When I got deeper into the actual planning stage and reconsidered this choice, not wanting to seem as if I was simply copying some YA formula set down by the greats who came before me, I realized I no longer had a choice. My two love interests had already weaseled their respective ways into being integral parts of my plot. The triangle was inescapable!

So what is it about love triangles that makes them so darn irresistible, especially in the YA world? The way I see it, there are two primary reasons — the literal and the slightly more symbolic.

The literal: YA characters are mainly — go figure — young adults. Even if, like Katniss and Cassia, they’re not depicted in a typical high school setting, most of them are still generally high school age. And what are the high school years notorious for? Hormones and heartbreak. First kisses and first break-ups. “I love you”s and “I never want to see you again”s. All manner of (often-conflicting) feelings swirled together — attraction, jealousy, nervousness, bravado, giddiness, confusion, hope.

I distinctly remember, as a freshman in high school, simultaneously crushing on two boys — with the same name, no less! oh, the agony — and asking my mom how I was supposed to manage the situation. “It’ll work itself out,” she told me. I was not assuaged. But what if I liked both of them and both of them liked me, I persisted, a note of panic no doubt creeping into my voice. “You’ll figure out who you like more,” was my patient mother’s sage response. (She was right.)

After all, isn’t that what love triangles boil down to — figuring out who you like more? And who can’t relate to that? Love triangles in YA tug at the heartstrings of readers and writers because they’re real. Even for those people lucky enough to only experience the most direct paths to high school love (do those people exist?), the essence of the problem still rings true — sorting out your emotions.

The slightly more symbolic: Not only are young adults constantly sorting out their emotions, they’re constantly sorting out, well, everything, from the relatively minor to the literally life-changing. Which extracurriculars do you want to make time for? Which group of friends do you feel at home in? Where do you want to go to college? What do you want to major in? Do you want to study abroad? Where do you want to start your career?

Literary love interests can serve as handy distillations of larger conflicts like these. One point of a triangle can represent stability; the other, spontaneity. One can stand for familiarity; the other, for taking chances. Dueling love interests can personify just about any dichotomy, from the subtle to the wide-sweeping. Particularly in high school, when the ups and downs of romantic interactions are registered with an acuteness unique to the teenage years, relationships often take on symbolic importance. It makes sense, then — and great entertainment! — for fictional characters to sort out their various life dilemmas through the swoonworthy lenses of juicy love triangles.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my MC and I have some decisions to make…

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Road Trip Wednesday — Blurb It

This week’s RTW prompt over at YA Highway: “Give a blurb for your favorite book or one of your own!”

Well, as discussed yesterday, I’m near-obsessive about keeping the workings of my Nutty Writer Brain (technical term) to myself, so a synopsis-style blurb is out. I also don’t feel I have anything particularly revelatory to share about my favorite reads; they’ve already been blurbed to death.

What does that leave? Oh, right, an awkward attempt at self-promotion. Hooray! While an honest blurb for my WIP in its current condition would probably involve something along the lines of “It’s cute that she tried,” here’s my living-in-fantasy-land sound bite:

“Looking for something to sink your teeth into after THE HUNGER GAMES? Need to be paired with another great read after MATCHED? Katelyn Gendelev’s INSERT CREATIVE TITLE HERE, a stand-out in the recent pack of YA dystopians, is in turns heart-pounding and thought-provoking. Seamlessly blending beautiful prose with innovative world-building, intriguing characters, and thrilling action, ICTH is a mesmerizing wallop of a debut that will leave you wanting more.”


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Cover Lover — MATCHED

All right, this cover may be an obvious choice — it’s been pretty much universally lusted over — but I adore it too much not to use it for my inaugural CL post. So here is the stunning cover of Ally Condie’s MATCHED (photo by Samantha Aide; jacket design by Theresa M. Evangelista):

Sigh. Isn’t it dreamy? So simple, yet so lovely and evocative. I know there are many who dislike the use of cover models, as seeing a particular face on a book can interfere with the joy of imagining a character for yourself. MATCHED’s cover neatly sidesteps that potential pitfall by only showing us the barest glimpse of Cassia’s face. Not only does this allow the reader to invent their own detailed image of Cassia, it makes the girl on the cover universal. She is certainly intended to be Cassia, but she could also symbolize any one of the countless other young women trapped by the Society.

I love that the color of the dress isn’t arbitrary; Cassia does wear a green dress in the book, and it in fact becomes a rather significant bit of imagery. Green is also important in another context, along with red and blue, which made me very excited to see this as the beginning of the sequel’s cover:

I will be thrilled to bits if the last cover is red! There’s something so satisfying about seeing all the books in a series lined up, thematically similar yet each unique. Candy for the literary soul.


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The Week In Review — Hungry Hype

Book hype always makes me nervous, especially if I’m behind the times on something epically popular. How could anything possibly live up to months of build-up — months of gushing reviews, enticing excerpts, speculation-laden movie deals? How could a late-to-the-party reader be anything but disappointed?

If anything in the literary world has ever known hype, it is Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES series. Everything I’d read or heard about the trilogy suggested it was more addictive than peanut butter M&Ms. Reviewers used descriptors like “jarring,” “violent,” and “pulse-pounding.” YA bloggers agonized over release dates. Authors like Megan Whalen Turner, John Green, and Stephen King oohed and ahhed. Booksellers reported swarms of demographic-defying Collins fans.

So what took me so long? I adore dystopian. I’m all about kickass female characters. I’m even, trite as it’s recently become, a complete sucker for a good love triangle.

But I’m also wary of hype, which as it turns out can create a vicious little cycle. The longer I put off plunging into the series, the more spectacular things I heard about it. The more spectacular things I heard about it, the more I worried it would be a let-down. The more I worried it would be a let-down…you get the idea.

A few days ago, I finished Ally Condie’s magnificent MATCHED and found myself craving more dystopian. “Get over it,” I told myself. “Enough is enough.” So, at long last, I picked up THE HUNGER GAMES.

Within minutes, I was apologizing out loud to an inanimate object for ever having doubted it.

Within hours, I was racing through the final pages of Book 1 and then racing to my favorite local bookstore to snag 2 and 3. But egads! CATCHING FIRE’s spot on the shelf was woefully bare. Clutching MOCKINGJAY to my chest, I returned home to endure 24 hours of literary waiting, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since the countdown to HP 7. Finally, blessedly, the bookstore called with those magic words —

“We’re holding your book for you at the front desk.”

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