Bad Review Of The Year

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Eleanor Updale reviews The Opposite of Chocolate by Julie Bertagna and gives it a battering...

Beware the reviewer who begins her review by telling us that her 14-year-old daughter didn't like the book. "She didn't get to the end. She was defeated by pretentious prose and a story that manages to be predictable and unbelievable at the same time." Who is reviewing the book? Mother or daughter? And since the events in the book only begin to stretch credulity as it reaches its dramatic denouement, if the daughter didn't finish it, what exactly did she find unbelievable? We're not told.
Nor are we given any examples of "a wearingly self-conscious writing style". Updale says, "There are too many contorted metaphors, irritating repetitions and clich?s, and time and again the narrative flow is arrested by paragraphs pointing up the messages." Such criticism would carry more weight if it were accompanied by a sample of a contorted metaphor or irritating repetition.
It is quite clear from reading this review that Updale has read the book with a bee in her bonnet about 'issue-led' fiction ("grim, didactic psychobabble that has dominated teenage fiction for too long"), and as a result completely misread this particular novel, which is not in any way intended as a work of social documentary realism.

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I have read Opposite of Chocolate and thought it was wonderful. I simply don't recognise or agree with any of this reviewer's opinions. I found the writing lyrical, beautiful and atmospheric, and the characters sympathetically and richly drawn. Most books disappear from my appalling memory quite quickly but the feelings and tastes of this have stayed with me, thanks in part to wonderful phrases like 'apricot moons' that the reviewer so narkily derides. I have recommended it whenever I have done school talks and pupils have asked for my favourite books. But it all just goes to show how very personal reading tastes are. The fact that the reviewer and her daughter did not 'get' the book or respond in the way the author intended should not put Julie Bertagna off from writing an equally brilliant book the next time. Don't change a thing, Julie!

I did feel uneasy when reading this review. I haven't read the book in question but I did wonder what the reviewer had in mind when she referred to the grim and didactic issue led fiction that has dominated teenage fiction for so long. Which books might these be? Any work that deals with modern life perhaps? What makes a book issue led? Does that mean that a book that deals with a 'modern' subject matter is automatically issue led, surely a book like Megan or Junk is a good book. Books have to be about something and only fail if they are preachy or boring. I can't think of any preachy or boring books that have dominated teenage fiction recently. Teenagers aren't immune from the world they live in and enjoy reading about the best and the worst of human nature. If that means interesting and informative and entertaining books about pregnancy, or race or drugs why not.
I think teenage litereature at the moment covers a wide range of topics and are written about by some brilliant authors, Alan Gibbons, Malorie Blackman and others and I think the comment the reviower makes shows up her lack of knowledge of what's going on in teenage fiction

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on November 29, 2003 9:26 AM.

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