Monday, January 9, 2012

The Letter Someone Didn't Want you to See

For my 100th post (!) I'm going to share with you a letter that someone else didn't want you to see.

Intrigued?  So was I, when Google Alerts notified me of this book review, recently posted on YouTube.   Woohoo!  I thought to myself.  A video review of Maybe Never, Maybe Now!

I clicked on the link...the video loaded, and then, (before even watching the review) I saw the following comments from the reviewer:

"Heres my opinion on a terrible book.

Things I forgot to add in this video:
-Most unoriginal names ever. Tyler, Caitlyn, Conner? Wow. We're just missing Alex and Julie.
- It was really annoying when she explained what the french meant because I already understood what it meant. Its not that bad if you don't understand what une baguette is but if you're bilingual like me, do yourself a favor and don't read it.
...ALSO on it said this book was for: (ages 13 and up) ... it doesn't seam that way AT ALL"

I'm sorry she didn't like the book, but obviously, that sometimes happens.  The reviewer goes on to describe everything she hates, and then, she tempts me by saying "sorry if you're the author and you're watching this".

So yes, I replied, asking her to be fair and post my comments along with hers.  She didn't post my response, which is her prerogative, but since she is using a public forum to question me, I am using this public forum to address those questions.

And so, my reply:

"Hey there!  I’m sorry I don’t know your name.  Surprise! I AM the author of Maybe Never, Maybe Now, and there are no apologies necessary for your very honest review:  nobody likes everything, and I was well aware of that fact when I “put myself out there” with a publisher.  I do hope, however, that you’ll grant me the courtesy of reading (and posting) my response as I’d like to address some of your comments.

If you are in grade 11, you are much older than the target audience of 13+, so I am not surprised that you found the book too short and lacking in detailed description.  As you mentioned in your review, Maybe Never, Maybe Now is actually the sequel to Painting Caitlyn, so was written in the same spare style.  The quick pace and deliberate lack of extraneous description helped all of my books win numerous awards, and Painting Caitlyn’s appeared on the American Library Association’s prestigious “YALSA Quick Picks” list for Reluctant Readers in 2007 along with New Moon and a number of other more well known works by authors with whom I am truly honoured to be associated. 

“Popularity” in books is actually harder to assess than you may realize.  Did you know that publishers actually have to PURCHASE the front page space on websites such as Amazon, and the good display tables in bookstores?  The bigger the publisher, the more they can spend convincing you to buy their books, so a whole table of one author doesn’t necessarily mean that the books are amazing, but it probably means the publisher has lots of money – and they may also have a larger budget for producing so-so books.  Smaller publishers actually have to be much more careful with what they publish, and will often turn out great stuff that’s critically acclaimed, but harder to find, because bookstores might only carry one or two copies on the shelves, with the spines turned outwards instead of the covers.  (Note that I’m not claiming to be great [though all of my books have been critically acclaimed by major reviewers] I am simply pointing out the irrelevance of describing a book as “popular” or “not very popular”.)

Character names, obviously, are always a matter of personal preference.  I addressed the name issue both on my website (ie. how I chose the names) and in my blog (ie why I hate strange character names), so take a peek at both articles if you’re interested.

By day, I am a teacher of both French and English.  The French teacher in me LOVES that you are bilingual, and apologizes for annoying you with translation, but hopes that you can recognize how unique and special your bilingualism makes you: translations were absolutely necessary for most readers.

The English teacher in me worries that you identified only the literal journey of going on an exchange to Quebec, and completely missed the figurative journey of learning to trust yourself again after you’ve been mistreated by someone you believed in.  I know I did my job as an author and managed to make that message accessible to readers because School Library Journal recognized that the story “is about the emotional journey of healing and forgiveness…”

The reader in me knows that nobody enjoys everything they read.  I HATED The Great Gatsby in high school for one of the same reasons you hated Maybe Never, Maybe Now:  I couldn’t understand why the guy kept mooning over Daisy and didn’t just get on with his life.  The thing was, at the time I read it, I’d never actually been in love, so I couldn’t identify with the characters or make any personal connections to the story.  But guess what?  When I had to re-read it, three years later in university after a devastating break-up, I felt Gatsby’s pain.  I understood Daisy’s flirtations.  I got it!  And I loved it. 

I receive lots of emails and letters from girls and women all over North America who identify with Caitlyn and her experiences.  Many of them make me cry as they describe their own history of abusive relationships, and the lasting scars that result.  So you know what?  The woman in me is actually HAPPY that you did not relate to this character.  I wish you continued joy and success in life, and in romance."