Friday, January 4, 2013

Murder at the Foster Manor (or Why I'm Not Writing a Young Adult Book-It's Hard People!)

I wasn't expecting much from this book, but I read it because I am a fan of Big Rich Texas.  I'm a fan of most ridiculous reality TV, sadly, and this show has me hooked.  It's funny, I never seek the series out, but once I see that a new season is on, I'm there!  I will sit glued to by TV for hours watching these women fight it out.  So when there was a book release party for the second Fiona Frost novel this season, I realized that I was behind on my reading.

Fiona Frost is an overachieving student that set up a forensic crime lab in her high school using a $250,000 federal grant (this cannot be said often enough).  Together with her team of high school investigators, they shadow the police, usually on petty crimes, until there is a death at Foster Manor!  Old Mr. Foster died while a team of paranormal investigators from the local university were attempting to verify an otherworldly presence in the house.  But Fiona is much too logical to believe in such nonsense and she starts digging for the real killer, which puts her in real danger as she starts to receive threatening letters and her cousin is kidnapped!

It's all very dramatic.  There are many, many exclamation points and much of the book is beyond belief, but not in a fun, campy kind of way.  Maybe in a it's-so-bad-it's-good way.

There are several problems with this novel, so let's start small and work our way up.

1.  Editing.  Oh, small press books, you make it easy for even a terrible speller and grammar butcher like me to see the mistakes.  There are probably half a dozen grammar and punctuation errors in the book, but that wasn't the worst of it.  One character, a homeless guy that was taken in to Foster Manor on the night of the murder, it named Kosmo Wilder, but twice he is referred to as Kosmo Kramer.  Too much Seinfeld there?  These are relatively small mistakes that a quality editor would catch and correct.

2.  Preachiness.  I know that some teens can be over zealous in their commit to not drink, or smoke, or text and drive-I know because I was one of them.  But the level that Fiona is against smoking, phone use while driving, and slacking on school work was absurd.  Take this for example:  "I felt awful for not paying attention to my teachers for I loved to learn and felt compelled to respect those in authority". This was obviously a book written by an adult that had some advice to dispense.

3.  Voice.  And while we are talking about the writer, let's mention voice.  The characters do not sound authentic at all.  They swing between sounding too adult to sounding too forced and fake.  The dialog is not authentic and it is distracting.

4.  Overloaded plot.  The plot is far too complicated to come up with the gardener-did-it ending.  Oops, spoiler.  There's Fiona and her crime lab, Fiona's locker bombing, paranormal investigators, poisonous snakes, a kidnapped cousin, high school student arrest, overprotecting mother relationship, slight love interest, car accident, etc. etc. etc.  I know that high school is a complicated time, but this is not Degrassi (love that show too!  Drake played a kid that was paralyzed from a shooting by a disturbed kid-not quite the street cred he was hoping for I'm sure.).  There is way too much going on for such a simple conclusion.

5.  Unbelievable.  The whole plot was utterly unbelievable, and let's remember that I read this book after Going Bovine, which is essentially one long morphine trip.  A high school getting a FEDERAL grant for a quarter-million dollars?  My university can't buy ink pens and you want me to believe that a high school got a quarter-million dollars-in Texas.  I'd believe it if it were for a football stadium, but not a crime lab.  Fiona's life was too perfect.  Her mother and father were both wildly successful, she has a loving nanny, big mansion, all new town cars, and a master key to the school.  Don't believe that last one for a second.  I don't care if you brought five million dollars into the school, there is no way that you are getting a master key.  It's the little things that kill, and it was finally the little things that drove this book to complete fantasy land.

All that being said, the basic premise of this book isn't terrible.  If you boil it down far enough, it's a forensic Nancy Drew-CSI High School, if you will, and there is a market for that.  I think to make this book more believable, the main character needs to be in college, not high school-it's much more likely that a college has a crime lab.  Plus, many colleges do look at old criminal cases, so the idea of working with the police is again more believable.  Leave the poisonous snakes at home, and you might have something.  And take out the paranormal references-only one pop culture phenom at a time, and you've already chosen CSI, so leave Twilight out of it.

I honestly don't recommend this book.  And unless you also watch Big Rich Texas, you've probably never even heard of it.  But this is another example of someone that is intelligent and thinks, hey how hard can it be to write a young adult book?  It's hard people.  And that's why I stick to blogging.  For now.  I'm working on it, dad!!

Happy Reading!

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