I totally judge books by their back covers – that is, by their synopses. I am extremely attracted to interesting concepts- like a society where everyone has a clock that tells them when they’re going to die, or a girl who falls into a book and alters the plot, or a society where women existed first and how man’s arrival changed them, or a not so beautiful woman in the role of Beauty. If a book’s synopsis introduces something unusual, I can guarantee you I’ll pick it up and start reading it, whether I know the author or not.
Unfortunately, not every interesting concept delivers, and I find myself ploughing through bland plots from time to time. On these occasions, I find myself facing a dilemma: finish the book and give an honest review, or put it aside and forget about it. Last week, while reading once such book, I finished the book with the intention of reviewing it, then I decided against it. After all, reviewing can be rough when you upset an author.
I changed my mind again. Today, I’m going to semi-review it, without naming the book or the author.
First of all, a synopsis is a sort of promise: readers base their expectations for a book upon it. Based on this particular synopsis, I expected a strong, action-oriented, female protagonist and a snappy, suspenseful plot to accompany her, and since it takes place in another world – well, I hoped for another world. The protagonist was female.
After a tragedy in the prologue, the protagonist sits around for approximately the first half of the book pining for her love interest, complete with flashbacks to conversations about things that had no relevance to the overall plot. Once the love interest shows up, our protagonist has a fresh perspective on her life and purpose. I have a big problem with this: it reeks of co-dependence in a book geared toward young women, and it’s a far cry from the protagonist I expected to encounter. If the synopsis had mentioned the protagonist pining after her soul mate – well, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. It’s just – not my thing.
(This is not to say I don’t like romance. Heck, even The Field has a little bit of romance. Generally, I enjoy plots with romantic elements, and if the plot does center on romance, I prefer it to be of the triangle variety, where the protagonist is learning who best suits her (or him, as the case may be). The Word Changers by Ashlee Willis, A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, Mortis by Hannah Cobb, and Becoming Beauty by Sarah E. Boucher are all excellent examples of how I like to see romance done.)
So fast forward through that first half of the book where nothing (aside from whining-and-pining) happens to when the love interest arrives. Finally, the plot sputters to a start, as the protagonist takes interest in the world around her. (Because her boyfriend showed up – I’m having a hard time getting over that). Forget what I was expecting from the synopsis, every story should start in the first chapter and it should progress from there. It doesn’t have to be action-packed from the get-go, but it should always develop and build, or else you run the risk of losing readers. This particular story was told from the first person perspective and in present tense, which typically does engage readers when done correctly, but it can make it difficult for the author to get out of the character’s head and on with the story.
Most of all, I don’t understand why this particular story had to take place in another world. The characters had certain powers, but nothing so terribly extraordinary or original as to warrant an entirely different place. The society was slightly more technologically-advanced, but nothing I can’t see in our world a few decades down the road. Even the main moral issue this fictional society faces is one we deal with here. I don’t know – I guess I think if a writer is going to build another world, they should build another world.
All that being said, the moral issue is really where this story should focus, and I think had the author introduced its gravity earlier in the story, and the protagonist had been more proactive about it (without her love interest), I would have related much differently with this story.
The bottom line is this: I pick up every book I read for a reason. It might have an interesting concept, or it might be a social issue near to my heart, or it might be by a favorite author. Any way it’s sliced, I come to every book I read with expectations, usually set up by the author in the synopsis, and most of the time, the synopses are accurate and my expectations are satisfied. (You can see that by the number of positive reviews I’ve written). Basically, I want to like your book.
This morning I woke myself up from a dream yelling “give ’em what they came for” at someone, and I thought it fit how I’ve been feeling about certain books. When a writer grabs my attention and sets up my expectations for a proactive protagonist and an exciting plot, I fully expect them to follow through.
And, no, I don’t think I’m asking too much.