Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Rating: WARTY!

Zona Lowell is fifteen and is halfway through her second year of high-school, which in Canada and the USA is known, sophomorically as the sophomore year. It's derived from a combo of the Greek words for wise and foolish! LOL! That pretty much sums up Zona. Why it has a Greek name and the other three years have regular English names can only be put down to pretension.

I have to ask where this girl's name comes from. Maybe the author thinks it's Greek, but it's not. In Serbian and Spanish, it means 'zone', so why a girl with an American father and a Greek mother would have a name unconnected with either lineage is a mystery. In Hebrew, it's worse: it means whore. That's not a great choice for a girl's name - not when there are so many wonderful Greek names (and of other nationalities, too).

For me it didn't work, and that sentiment pretty much sums up this whole novel. I made it a third of the way through, and it was so predictable that it was tedious to read. The author quite evidently downloaded a plot-point list from Trope (tripe?) Central and stuck to it rigidly. Can YA authors not have original ideas? On the whole they seem quite incapable, but I know for a fact one or two of them do, since I recently read an excellent story set in high-school, and a romance at that, and I loved it - so it's not impossible. I can only conclude these writers are lazy and/or unimaginative.

How shall I trope thee? Let me count the ways:

  • ☑ Story is in first person because it's understood by the YA writing community that it's illegal to write a YA novel in third?
  • ☑ Mid-teen girl, parentless, or half parentless?
  • ☑ Girl has had very close female bestie for several years?
  • ☑ Girl has very close male bestie who is gay?
  • ☑ Girl has low self-esteem? (She's even named Lowell! LOL!)
  • ☑ Girl thinks breasts are too small?
  • ☑ Girl thinks she's not that great looking?
  • ☑ Author thinks 'pretty' is actually a character trait?
  • ☑ Author thinks 'pretty' is the most important character trait?
  • ☑ Girl gets to go on trip abroad so it has to be France, Greece, or Italy since there is nowhere else?
  • ☑ Story ends on positive note because you can't write a YA novel that has a tragic ending?
  • ☑ Story makes frequent comparisons between two nations, and US is made to look trashy, violent, boring, and heartless?
  • ☑ Author thinks jazzing-up the text with boring inserts is cool?
  • ☑ Author thinks Greece is way south of NYC and therefore significantly warmer?

Lowell's year is smashed in two by her father who drops the bombshell on her that he's going to Greece for six months to write a story and she's coming with him. Mom isn't in the picture having conveniently died shortly after Zona was born. The Greek half of the family washed its hands of Zona and her father since they were not even in favor of the marriage, let alone any births and deaths. Now her dad suddenly wants to reconnect. He's older than most fathers of fifteen year olds, but not at death's door, so the premise was a bit weak, especially when the Greek side had been so overwhelmingly negative, so this premise failed for me.

It failed worse in that Zona is shown to cave to her father's precipitous demands far too quickly. I lost all respect for her at that point, but I'd already lost a lot of respect for the story-telling, so it mattered little by then. One big annoyance was the absurd newspaper clipping inserts. I'm sure the author thought this was cute and inventive, but the news articles - simply reporting everyday events in Zona's life, were monotonous and I started skipping them completely after reading the first two. I didn't miss them.

They were especially poor given that they were often not contained on one page, but overlapped to the second page. The problem with that, is that in order to facilitate reading, the story ran down column one, then down two, as it should, but on the second page, the story reverted to column one again, and finished in column two. They had to do this because of poor planning in fitting the articles onto one page, but the articles were so tedious they should have just omitted them altogether.

So, the story was poor one, with nothing new to offer. Going to Greece? How original! Why not try someplace completely different for a change? Child missing a parent or two? Yawn. Child supposedly unnaturally smart (but in practice really dumb) and has low opinion of herself? Been done a trillion billion times. Token gay best friend? Seriously? I ought to be commended for even getting as far into as I did. Could the kid not have both parents? Could the girl herself not be gay? Could the trip have been to Serbia or Chile or South Africa, or something instead of (yawn) Greece?

Could the girl not have stayed at a friend's home, and we followed her adventures there? Could the girl not have precipitously followed her father and the story been about her journey there rather than the destination? Apparently not when this author is at the helm, because she had a rigid checklist to follow in order to keep her name in good standing at the YA Club, and she was in no way going to deviate from it for anything, not even for the absurd purpose of telling an interesting story which is new and different from the rest of the flock. I am never reading another of her efforts. She has Big Publishing™ behind her, so you know there's no way she's ever going to be original.