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Kea Alwang is the author of Treehugger and Risktaker, the first two books of a four-part Young Adult fantasy series. She believes world peace could be achieved if everyone would just pick up a book. After all, as a mother of two and a martial arts teacher, she has seen enough good fights. Find out more about Kea on our Who We Are page.
Whatever I responded with was not the most coherent description of my work. After all, the whole purpose behind my speculative fiction saga is to watch an odd-girl-out rise from the ashes of her screwy, albeit unusual life, while placed against an intergalactic backdrop. The theme centers around standing on our own two feet versus needing people in our lives. Clearly, this girl was not my target audience and not in the mood for my fictional study of finding yourself while battling your way through personal flaws.
For me, as a writer and a reader, good stories are about relationships--platonic, familial, business, or romantic--whether incomparable, good, bad, or ugly. So I became a little neurotic over that awkward Q&A. I wondered: Are my lead character’s beautiful friendships nothing more than pathetic crutches? Is something wrong with me that I wanted to watch a character grovel, then grow, instead of coming out of the starting gate as super woman? Will the series romance come across as frivolous? Is this picky potential reader part of a new generation that thrives on heart-of-steel solitude? OMG! Is this the result of today’s kids growing up behind apps and texts? Is the human race destined to become a population of autonomous cold fish? Eventually, I talked myself down and recognized the intense questioning for what it was: a reflection of who that reader was at that moment in her life. (As it turns out, the girl was dumped by her boyfriend the month before and had sworn off men forever. I get it.)
Readers bring something of themselves to whatever tale they read, and that is where wildly differing opinions, reviews, and preferences come from. The reader who cringes over love triangles might have loyalty issues that create unpleasant angst when a ‘winner’ is made clear. A down-on-his-luck main character may appeal to a reader working through his own personal issues, while a reader with everything going for her might consider that same protagonist weak and annoying. Or … perhaps the text makes her uncomfortable about her own hard luck. Ever wonder why a reader remains ‘eyes glued to the page’ over an arrogant, bad-ass male lead with no redeeming values? Perhaps that reader lives a humdrum existence while craving excitement and fantasy. I’m sure we’ve all been there, whether Mr. Bad-Ass fits the bill or not. But wait … next week, that reader’s Mr. Right could come along. Suddenly, our arrogant bad-ass is simply an ass and no longer worth reading about.
Barring complaints about poor writing mechanics, readers and writers need to take reviews for what they are: subjective. They say books take you on journeys. But if you can’t relate to where a writer has taken you, you--and the writer--are out of luck. Experiences with various emotions, victories, wounds, education, travel, prejudices, and treatment from others influence our perceptions of what we read. When a writer’s words and a reader’s experiences mesh, we have a ‘good book.’
I have often thought comparing readers and their reviews would make a fascinating psychological study. But we do know one thing about readers’ minds: avid readers, no matter what sort of reviews they leave and what type of baggage they carry, are among those higher on the food chain. Neuroscientists at Emory University* have concluded that reading novels can improve brain function on many levels. Let’s hear it for picking up a good book—whatever your definition of good may be.
FYI: Here at Infinite Ink Authors, we can take you on all sorts of ‘good book’ journeys!