I Know Your Book Is Shortlisted For A Prize, But... (Sydney Salter)

My internal dialogue as I read some of this past year's buzziest books (written for grownups):

Encountering yet another obscure word.

--Dipsomaniac? Okay, I know Faulkner was an alcoholic, but did he have this other condition too?

Sets novel down to look up word on phone's dictionary app. Checks email quickly. Might be important.  Nope. Junk. What was that word again? Dipsomaniac. 

--Oh, it means alcoholic. Why couldn't the author just use the word alcoholic?

Repeat. Again. Again. Even in the chapters from the under-educated teen character's perspective. 

I've read hundreds of pages of gorgeous writing over the past few months, yet a lot of these books left me feeling emotionally disconnected. Maybe because I had to set down the book to look up yet another word, even though I have developed a fairly extensive vocabulary; like, I'm pretty sure I'd kick posterior on the SAT at this point in life.

Many of these titles were short-listed for the big literary awards, leaving me perplexed. Yeah, these authors packed their stories with resplendent sentences, yet, to me it seemed to come at the cost of authentic voices and characterization. The novels read like mannequins in a department store: gorgeously dressed, yet lifeless. 
I don't worry about the vocabulary I use in my writing--I strive to stay authentic to my characters--and I despise those grade-related word lists. 

Reading is how we all grow our vocabularies. 

But word choice should never come at the cost of characterization! I believe that creating an authentic voice and character perspective is more important than showing the reader all the obscure words I've learned over my lifetime. Look at me! I'm a smarty! Teenage readers aren't impressed with show-offs, forcing those of us who write in the genre to work hard to portray human truths, no matter the genre. 

I love that aspect of writing for young adults, and I think that's a lesson we YA writers could teach to many authors working in the literary genre.


  1. This is a really good reminder, Sydney. A book's got to have heart...


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