On hip and cool language

So I caved and decided to read The Mark of Athena (although I did read the third Series of Unfortunate Events in between finishing The Changeover and starting The Mark of Athena, which took all of an hour and a half). Now, I enjoy Rick Riordan’s books, especially, as I mentioned before, because I was obsessed with Greek mythology when I was about eleven or twelve. But there is something that bugs me about Rick Riordan’s writing – well, not just his, but many YA books that I have read recently. It annoys me when writers try and be all hip and write in ‘teenage slang’ – calling things ‘lame’ or ‘cool’ or ‘nerdy’, or having an unnecessary amount of pop culture references littering their writing. Lots of authors do this, and often it comes across as very inauthentic. But it also bugs me because I was never that type of teenager.

What was so refreshing about The Changeover is that it was not like that at all. The language almost resembled that of a children’s novel, apart from obvious references to love and sex. Laura, the main character, reminded me of myself at fourteen – no stupid teenage language, no whining about ‘crushes’ and ‘boys’ – this was not a romance novel, to me (despite the subtitle – ‘The Changeover – A Supernatural Romance’) or a YA novel – it was an adventure novel, a magical novel, and a novel about growing up, writing in the most natural, authentic way I could think of.

This struck me from the beginning, but I found it hard to put my thoughts into clear words until I read the postscript in the book, written by Margaret Mahy in 2003, where she said: ‘Rereading it after all these years, I think how curiously devoid of adolescent idiom it is (compared to many current books), but I am in no mood to apologise for this. After all these years, its folk talk origins, its city setting and its relatively plain language means that it can travel across time rather more readily than if it had made strong use of the jargon at the time.’

This made me think – I wonder if teenagers will read Rick Riordan’s books in fifteen years time and feel alienated by the use of the words ‘lame’ and references to the pop culture of today, of if this is not enough of a barrier to enjoy a good story? I guess I will have to wait and find out.

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2 comments

  1. When I was a teenager I read some books from my mother’s teeage years ad it was exactly like you said: it felt completely inauthentic and I didn’t even understand some of the words. Needless to say, I only ever read them once. (I ussually read books about ten times 😉 )

    • I think it’s interesting looking at the current range of YA books that sit on the bookshelves in most bookshops; I know, at least at the bookstore I worked at, that most of those books would not have been in print longer than 5 years. Maybe YA books have a shorter shelf life (pun intended) than children’s books, because the language that teenagers use, and the way teenagers communicate, changes so rapidly?

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