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Not as rhetorical a question as you might have wished

From the promo blurb for My Double Life, by Janette Rallison:

You know how they say everyone has a twin somewhere in the world, a person chance has formed to be their mirror image? Well, mine happens to be rock star Kari Kingsley. How crazy is that?

Not crazy at all, when you, like I, have just spent two days combing through dozens (and dozens) of new YA novels, every other one of which seeming to encapsulate a formula of romance novel plus high-concept commercial hook plus glamorama cover art. In my day we called these paperbacks.

One of the more interesting of post-Harry Potter developments has been the emergence of commercial fiction for young people; that is, books designed to be purchased by kids/teens themselves, written in an undemanding style and with an alluring, quickly graspable premise. Airport books. Except if they were airport books, I wouldn’t have to think twice about not reviewing them. And. There. Are. So. Many. And so many that seem to want desperately to be just like some other book that has already been a hit. Little Vampire Women, I’m looking at you.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Terry Doherty says:

    >Funny you should say that. Little Vampire Women just arrived on my doorstep this morning and left me with a look between "huh" and "why?" I'm sure we can find a teen that'll read it … a parent? not so much.

  2. Rachael V. says:

    >Little Vampire Women?!

    So, does this mean Beth lives?

  3. OfficeGirl says:

    >Yeah and does Laurie finally man handle Joe into loving him? He should bite her. Joe messed up a good thing with Laurie. Damn her. Maybe if Laurie were a vampire he could scare her into loving him. I gotta get that book!!

  4. says:

    >Professor Baer was the only vampire in the original. Or perhaps a troll. He sucked the life out of Jo at the end. I wanted her to hit him up the side of the head with a frying pan when I re-read the book as an adult. As a kid, I loved the whole thing unreservedly.


  5. >"In my day we called these paperbacks."


    I look at them and think, "huh, if it were a movie it would be straight to DVD…"

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >I wonder if the zombies-and books are going to be like Blanche Knotts' Truly Tasteless Jokes and the Magic Eye books–ubiquitous then, bam, gone.

  7. Monica Edinger says:

    >…only to rise again at some point in the future. I mean, isn't always about the sameoldsameold?

  8. >I was at the book release for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the author said pretty much yeah, a trend, it'll be over soon, and he won't be writing any more himself. Though I'm still sort of sorry (but only sort of) that Little House and Werewolves was apparently only a rumor.

  9. Jeannine Atkins says:

    >Little Vampire Women: yikes. Though what LMA's father said to her on his death bed, then her dying two days after him, always seemed creepy. I hope Bronson gets cast as the blood-sucking one, though in the old tradition of unsexy vampires.

  10. K T Horning says:

    >This puts me in mind of the excellent Leonard Marcus interview with Jean Feiwel that HB published last fall, which offers a cautionary tale about publishers putting all their eggs in one basket. I do wonder what will happen when these books fall out of fashion with kids, as Goosebumps did overnight. The cool teens are already making fun of Twilight. Seller, beware!

  11. Anonymous says:

    >written in an undemanding style and with an alluring, quickly graspable premise

    Wow. Thanks for trashing an entire revenue stream. Really. Thanks. Because I've been having this problem lately when I read glowing reviews for a book and finally get a copy and read it and am left stunned by how silly it is, with the occasional high-minded moralizing pasted on to be thought-provoking. I couldn't understand why these books were so well-received.

    Obviously, the reviewers I am reading aren't drawing any distinction between a good book and a good trashy book.

  12. Janette Rallison says:

    >Hi Roger,
    I wasn't going to comment, but then figured if I didn't, everyone would think I was the last anonymous comment.

    To tell you the truth, when my editor asked me to write this book, I had some similar thoughts to yours and joked with him more than once that we should call the book: Yes, Hannah Montana Fans, This Book is for You!

    But really, there are no new plots, just new characters to live in them. I asked myself what elements I could add to this much used Prince and the Pauper plot to make it meaningful. Trust me, the issues in the book do run deeper than the flap copy suggests.

    As far as the benefits of commercial fiction go, I'll just say this: I've had teenagers tell me they didn't like reading until they started reading my books. I had two reluctant reader sons who learned that reading could be fun by reading Captain Underpants. Whatever works! Now they're reading the classics.

    And thank you, Roger, for all you do to bring the wonderful world of reading to kids too!

    Now I think I'll sit down and start writing that Little Vampire Women book you mentioned. It's going to be gold!

  13. Anonymous says:

    >Ms. Rallison,

    That took a lot of guts for you to comment – nice job! I've read your books and I think they're great. I'm sick and TIRED of crap like HUSH, HUSH getting rave reviews when it tells a girl that having a man repeatedly threaten to rape and kill her is sexy. Oh, and she can change his ways if only she is patient enough with these silly little threats.


    I'll read commercial cliches over irresponsible trash like that any day, thank you very much.

  14. >Janette – I'm really glad you stood up about your books! I wholeheartedly agree with you, as a Teen Librarian, that the goal is to get kids and teens reading…it doesn't matter what they are reading! Once someone develops the habit they will become more discerning and may decide to branch out…or not…Does it really matter? We just want people to read!

  15. Rachel Andersen says:

    >My vote goes to writing what the audience will read. As for Janette Rallison – I've read all of her books except this last one which I intend to get the next time I'm in a bookstore. After I read good YA books I pass them on to my nieces and nephews. Janette is just one of the authors I trust to get a good read from.

  16. Cindy R. Williams says:

    >Janette, You rock! You hit the nail on the head. Every story has been told, it's the characters that are different. Your books are a fun read and the teens love them. Keep it up.

  17. Amber Lynae says:

    >Roger, What would you have the Young adult market be? I think that authors must offer what the readers are looking for.
    Janette Rallison happens to be an author that writes books that have laughter and tears and dig a little deeper than many others I have read in the young adult market. So I doubt that My Double Life is as shallow as you as you say.

    I will say I have read some very shallow YA novels that I felt were a waste of my time. However, I don't know if you can brush the whole YA market under the rug saying it all needs to go out with the trash.

  18. Roger Sutton says:

    >Thanks for coming by, Janette. I am not picking on your book in particular or on the genre of commercial fiction in general, either, just pointing out that our attitude towards it (as evinced by the comments that follow yours) differs from the way we regard similar books for adults. When you say your editor asked you to write it, do you mean that you were presented with a concept and asked to write a book that would fit? To me, that is definitionally commercial fiction. That's not to say it "needs to go out with the trash" and I'm not sure how Amber inferred that from what I wrote. I read and enjoy tons of commercial fiction (those who know me know I can quote entire passages verbatim from the complete works of Judith Krantz).

    But I think librarians who believe that it doesn't matter what people read need to examine that credo closely. First: Really? It doesn't matter what people read? People read all the time on their computers; does that count? Or do you mean it doesn't matter what people read so long as they read books? Why are books special? And so on. My point is that most defenders of the innate value of reading "anything" are in fact far more particular in their definitions than they admit.

    And why is reading, beyond the kind of functional reading people need to do to survive in contemporary society, good? Why is recreational reading better than watching TV or playing a game or whatever else a non-reader might prefer to do? Why is reading "something" better than reading nothing? Is "at least they're reading" truly a powerful defense of the practice?

  19. Janette Rallison says:

    >Hi Roger,
    Putnam likes me to present them with a bunch of plot ideas I could turn into novels and then they choose which one I write. That way, if they already have a novel coming out about a girl who decides to climb Mt. Everest, I don’t inadvertently write another one. This last time I sent in many well thought out and meaningful plot outlines and I also sent in a one line idea: A girl who doubles for someone famous.

    That’s the one they choose. I quickly realized it was a very narrow plot idea. For example, if you’re writing a romance about a girl who doubles for a rock star (and there’s very few jobs a teenager could have that she would be famous enough to need a double) there is really only one possibility of who she can fall in love with: another famous rock star. If she fell in love with some guy from the lighting crew there would be no danger for her character, and thus no tension. He wouldn’t care that she wasn’t famous. He might even be glad. Nope, it has to be someone way out of her league so she has something to lose if the truth comes out.

    The more I plotted this story out, the more I realized the plot points had already been determined in those original seven words.

    I didn’t want the book to just be about fame and money, so I choose a character who is looking for a father who doesn’t know she exists. Her job as a double allows her to meet him. In my mind the story is all about family and the desire kids have to be loved and accepted by their parents. But that doesn’t sound nearly as cool on a flap copy.

    As for getting kids to read and what they should read, I could talk for an hour on that subject since I have two reluctant reader sons. Keep in mind that 1 in 5 children have a reading disability. I myself am dyslexic. (Thank goodness for spell check!) When my oldest son was in 4th grade his teacher came to me (after the school refused to get him extra reading help) and she told me, “I’ve seen this happen a thousand times. Kids struggle with reading, then they fall behind in school, then they hate school, then they get in trouble and drop out of school. If you don’t want that to happen, you need to get your son reading help.”

    I homeschooled him for fifth grade so we could concentrate just on reading.

    My Harvard educated father was aghast that I let my son read Calvin and Hobbes and counted it as reading time, but comic books are a great thing for reluctant readers. The pictures and punch lines keep the kids there reading, and while they’re doing that, they’re learning important reading skills like vocabulary and visualization techniques.

    I went from disdaining Captain Underpants to getting every book in the series. And when my son stayed up until 3:00 a.m. in the morning to read The Lightening Thief, I decided that if I ever meet Rick Riordan I’m going to kiss him. A lot. Security will have to pull me away.

    This same son is reading The Iliad now. (Okay, not willingly, but he’s still reading it.) My philosophy is that kids need to learn that reading is fun first. It’s not like calculus homework that very few people do for enjoyment. Once we’ve taught kids that reading is fun, we open up a world of possibilities to them. Until they think it’s fun. It might as well be calculus homework.

    Again, thank you for the part you play in helping kids connect with books.


  20. >But — why is calculus homework inherently NOT fun?

    To me calculus is actually a lot like reading. Once is stops being difficult and mechanical, it becomes completely fascinating.

  21. Anonymous says:

    >Emily, Emily, Emily…

  22. Lynn Messina says:

    >Dear Roger,

    I hope you do look at my book "Little Vampire Women." As a re-imagining of "Little Women" with the March girls as vampires, it can be too easily dismissed by those who think the current trend of mashing an original text with new material is a cop-out at best and the death of originality at worst. I think it's a valid endeavor to provide new context to a familiar story and can only hope to send some young girl scurrying to the original to compare lines the way I did with "Hamlet" after watching "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."

    The presence of vampires and zombies, of course, raises the issue of sensationalism, which also makes books like these easy to dismiss. Personally, I think the beautiful absurdity of Elizabeth Bennet wielding a sword is validation enough, but obviously that's just my opinion. So the debate goes on, and I find it is particularly fitting that we have it over the grave of Louisa May Alcott, who herself wrote many sensational stories with titles like "Pauline's Passion and Punishment" and "Lost in a Pyramid: The Mummy's Curse." (Incidentally, she wrote "Little Women" at the request of her publisher, who wanted a "girls' story," even though she wanted to write about boys.)

    I understand that "Little Vampire Women" isn't for everyone–although the curiosity I read in several of the comments posted here makes me think it is for more people than I imagined–I think the conversation is for everyone. John Matteson, Alcott's Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, agrees. That's why he and I are sitting down on May 6 to discuss vampires, werewolves and Louisa May Alcott at Symphony Space in New York City. If anyone is in town, please come join the conversation.


  23. Hazel Mitchell says:

    >Excellent discussion. This is what it's about … communication.

  24. Anonymous says:

    >Sure. If you like hearing people toot their own horns.

  25. Elizabeth says:

    >Toot their own horns or explain/defend their work?

    Isn't this a discussion (and isn't that what these forums are about?) where all sides can be represented?

    I, for one, look forward to reading this Little Vampire Women book. If an Alcott biographer thinks it's worth his time then it's must be worth mine too.

  26. Roger Sutton says:

    >I'm with Elizabeth, everyone has a dog in this fight. Janette and Lynn want to stick up for their books, and I want to curtail the number of books published because it adds to my workload (without, I think, a compensating reward for readers or literature). Have at it.

  27. >The extraordinary talent of Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. is what makes their writing popular with both the "masses" and literary critics. Anyone who can write for mass popularity at the exceptional level of those you mention is more than welcome to do so.

  28. Anonymous says:


  29. Anonymous says:

    >"Writing for the masses" neither makes a book bad nor good in and of itself. Alongside the works of Shakespeare and Dickens, there was plenty of Elizabethan and Victorian crap produced that the masses ate up. Some reviewers might think it's important to maintain a distinction.

  30. Beth Kephart says:

    >Whenever I leave this space for awhile and then return, I wonder why I ever left the space in the first place.

  31. Anonymous says:

    >Hmm. I didn't mean that I thought people shouldn't defend their own work. What I meant was that I wasn't convinced by the defense.

    I think that what you call Airport Books are not only an inevitable part of the reading diet, they are essential. I don't know any real reader who doesn't read them and enjoy them. I'd be very interested to learn how you pick which to review given that lots of libraries must stock them and will want to know which are better and which are worse.

    But both these authors seem to be saying, "Gosh no, I don't write Airport Books!" As if writing good pulp is something to be embarrassed about. It makes me think less well of them.

  32. >Yes, yes, for reading a trashy beach book now and again. Also, for recognizing them for what they are. It isn't "guardianship" to maintain standards and distinctions, for reviewers to do their jobs by providing expert opinions on what is trash, what is fun and trashy, and what really excels.

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