Skip to main content

Believable Voices

(Disclaimer: The following article is my opinion, solely my opinion, and I mean no harm by it.)

I'm a huge reader. Love it. I read lots of things, but not everything. I almost never pick up non-fiction unless it's Civil War-related, animal related, or on Wikipedia. Of late I've been reading a few things outside my reading comfort shell. A co-worker suggested a cozy mystery. I don't read mysteries because I'm never able to guess who-dunnit. As in never. Seriously. Sometimes I would play the Lotto bingo games and to this day have never won. I can't guess who the murderer is. I guess I lack a gene or something. So I don't read those because frankly, I don't care. I read this one. It's called Murder Past Due. To sum it up, it's about a widower part-time librarian at a college in Mississippi who goes nosing in on a murder because his housekeeper's daughter is the stand-in investigator.

The author is a woman and she's chosen to tell this story from a man's point of view. Right from the get-go I didn't buy it. Either the man is really a woman posing as a man or he's mildly gay. I tried (semi-hard) to buy the first-person POV as a man. It just didn't work for me. He was too fussy, too cat-loving (yes, I know some men love cats too), too sympathetic to his boarder and his boarder's mother. It wasn't plausible for me. I'm not saying the writer is bad, I just couldn't buy the protagonist as a man. Didn't work for me.

Moving on to a name you'll certainly recognize unless you live beneath a rock: James Patterson. His young adult series about birdkids. I haven't read the whole series. The one I picked up while cataloging is called Angel: a Maximum Ride Novel. A) Why did he give the kid a stripper name? B)Wow, way to plug the previous six novels at the very least twice in the book. I don't know if he planned that or if his editor thought it was a good idea, but to me it felt like a really poor marketing strategy and if anything, it made me want to read the series less. What really makes me not want to read on is the voice he chose. It does not sound like a fifteen-year-old girl is narrating the series. A forty-year-old angry-at-the-world-man-who-lost-everything-in-his-divorce, maybe. He even gave the girl a name that sounds masculine. It also switches from Max's POV to third person a couple of times and not always the same character. That threw me. Maybe it's the cold medicine I'm taking, but I had trouble following along. This is a young adult novel, so I'm thinking it's not me.

The voice is all wrong for a fifteen-year-old girl. C'mon, we all know what teenage girls sound like. Even if they're part bird, they aren't going to sound like jaded middle-aged men. Kudos on your Children's Choice Book Award Author of the Year 2010 trophy or medal or whatever, but you might want to consider that kids these days are kind of weird about their reading habits (think Twilight. What is that about?). I'm not buying into the she's the leader of this flock and is worried about being usurped by a seven-year-old.

I'm not saying that a woman can't write a character of the opposite sex (and vice versa), because some excel at it. Some heroes are written by woman and they're completely believable. Sometimes members of one sex can't even write for their own sex. My guess is that it takes work. Some editor somewhere (probably following a trend), said, "Hey, that's a super idea!" and didn't bother with whether someone like me was going to nitpick on the character. Of course, you have to take into consideration that James Patterson is "one of the bestselling authors of all time" (per his book jacket) and I'm on the bottom of the writing foodchain.

Then again, you have to consider how many authors say they don't read anymore because they go through and nitpick about things like that. See, it's not just me griping.