Tuesday, May 09, 2006

How Opal Mehta compares...

Ok, so I finished Second Helpings. I really liked it.

Jessica Darling’s grandmother, Gladie, knows more about her love-life than Jessica does herself. In fact, all the seniors at Silver Meadows nursing home know more about Jessica’s life than she does. Jessica fully blames Marcus, who she refuses to talk to, because he’s been talking to Gladie.

But the mysterious editor of the gossip email, Pineville Low knows more about everyone’s life and their dark secrets and everyone assumes it’s Jessica. It’s caustic, it’s cutting, and Jessica hasn’t had a public outlet for such things since she quit the newspaper when the administration tried to censor her post 9/11. No one seems to notice that Jessica’s secrets are in the email as well, including the fact that Manda is planning on stealing Jessica’s boyfriend.

At home, her mother is too wrapped up in Bethany’s upcoming baby to care about anything else. Bethany has moved back in for the final months of her pregnancy and Jessica’s father hasn’t spoken to her since she quit the cross country team.

But it’s senior year and Jessica has to decide where to go to college. Over the summer, she ran into Paul Parlipiano, her crush-to-end-all-crushes who convinced her to go to Columbia University. It was going to be a hard sell to her parents, who fear New York City, but after 9/11, does Jessica really want to move to the city anyway?

It’s only a matter on months before Jessica finally gets to leave Pineville for good, but where is she going to go? And what will happen before then?

This was a beautiful continuation of Sloppy Firsts. Jessica speaks so well for all of us smart girls who grew up in Middle America.

I also read How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. There has been a lot of talk about how this is just a case of recycling in a formulaic genre. These arguements are being made by people who have obviously not read the books in question.

First of all, I wouldn't consider McCafferty's works as part of the YA chick-lit genre. They're more sophisticated than that. The writing style is a step above and the subject matter is more complex and probes deeper than most YA novels. Second of all, Opal Mehta reads like it was written by a teenager. The writing style lacks style... it's just not that good. The story is nice, but nothing special. Entire paragraphs are essentially lifted wholesale and there are other similarities that are harder to write up, but were unique to McCafferty's work before this.

But, that said, I'm not sure it's entirely Viswanathan's fault. In Sloppy Firsts, McCafferty thanks Claudia Gabel, her editor's assistant "who also gave me precisely the feedback I needed to write the book that I'd always wanted to read". She's thanked again in Second Helpings "for convincing me that I hadn't succumbed to 'sucky sequel syndrome'". She isn't mentioned in the acknowledgements for Charmed Thirds. But Claudia Gabel rears her head again in the acknowledgments for Opal Mehta. It smells fishy to me!

Also, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada has taken Peter McPhee's Runner (Sidestreets) out of the school curriculum.

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