I just finished reading a book called Godless by Pete Hautman. It is a young adult novel and a National Book Award Winner about a young ‘disaffected’ (the reviewers word) 15 year old agnostic who decides to create a new religion with the town water tower as its’ god.
The writing is compelling enough, but I wondered why this book merited a National Book Award. I found the characters so stereotypical as to almost be caricatures – the wiry mean kid who turns out to be intelligent, the skinny science geek with the high pitched voice and no social skills, the hulking fat kid who is sort of invisible despite his size (he’s the one who created the religion) and the good-looking girl all the guys lust after and who winds up with the mean kid. And of course none of them get along with their parents. The parents are the dictators, the crazies, the abusers, the totally out of touch people who just don’t understand their kids.
I’ve not read any of Hautman’s other books, but this one left me cold. Why is it that books that address teen angst or so called ‘disaffectedness’ are automatically considered poignant, important books worthy of discussion? My copy of the book has an Educator’s Guide and Discussion Questions at the back of it. An educator’s guide? Discussion questions? If the book is that great, shouldn’t we be able to discuss it on our own, without someone feeding us the material?
I guess I’ve just had it with the whole stereotypical child/parent relationship, both in books and in life. I’m tired of the people who tell me that sure, I get along with my kids now, but just wait until they are teenagers! The ‘us vs. them’ mentality is self-fulfilling in a lot of ways. It’s my experience that you usually get what you expect. And you know what? I got along with my parents as a teenager and although I don’t expect that we will never disagree, I do expect that for the most part I will get along with my kids as they grow older and into their teens. Books like Godless, that show parents as insensitive buffoons and teens as disaffected do nothing but bolster the parent vs. child stereotype.
Give me Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books any day over a book like Godless. Imperfect as they may be, their story is equally as compelling and Bella, though often mired in her own drama, loves and gets along with both her parents, as does Edward with his ‘adopted’ family. Give me Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books or even her Gregor series, both of which show teens who are close to their parents and families. Neither of those authors were deemed worthy of National Book Awards, but when it comes to parent/child relationships, they’d both get my vote.