Newsflash: Character Loves Words (a rant)

There ought to be a database out there with all the characters in YA and MG novels who love books, dictionaries, literary allusions, or word play.

There ought to be such a thing so that I can print it out and write “WTF” in my prettiest penmanship over every freaking name.

Why the hate? It’s not hate. Really, it’s not. I mean, I’m pretty sure that I love words, writing, books, and so on as much as the next writer. When I was a teenager, I used to copy new words onto an index card. I’d even give the context and write a sentence of my own using the word. FOR FUN. I know, I know. You thought I couldn’t get any nerdier, and then…

My problem is that word lovers like us are seriously over-represented among the characters of the tween and teen literary scene. It’s this annoying trope that has me rolling my eyes even when the writer pulls it off convincingly and has me all, “oh, it’s so stinking cute when he plays word games with his girlfriend.”

Notice how I refrain from naming any names? That’s because, first of all, I really like a lot of books that would be on the list of offenders. Second of all, it probably wouldn’t be nice, and the laws of karma would dictate that my fourth novel or something will have a word fiend at its heart.

I know that teens who read probably, um, also like books. But they like other stuff, too. So I’m all for books where the character’s “thing” is not language. Like physics in The Freak Observer or drumming and music in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, to name examples from books I just read.

I’m so allergic to the whole English-is-fun-and-I-dig-language thing that I tend to overcompensate and make my characters haters on English. In What Can’t Wait, Marisa’s math teacher helps her with her college application essay (that’s how much she doesn’t want to get help from her English teacher). In The Knife and the Butterfly, Azael’s drawing and canning take the place that might otherwise be occupied by an obsession with language.

Any worst offenders in this category? Or should I change my last name to Cranky Pants and just shut up?


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