The Week in Books 2009, No. 46

This week I had the singular experience of reading a book written by a friend of mine. Dina Nayeri (a good friend from Princeton and a bridesmaid in my wedding) and her brother Daniel cowrote Another Faust, which is a modern Young Adult twist on the original legend of Faust. The idea of a Faustian bargain, as you will doubtless recall, involves selling your soul to the devil in exchange for what you want. Another Faust follows five children who make that deal to get things teens might want, like beauty, brains, athletic ability, etc and examines questions of evil, power, corruption, and the lengths to which people will go to get what they most desire.

Those are heavy subjects, but not out of reach for mature and thoughtful teens. However, here I must enter the caveat that I don’t care for the Young Adult genre. I think teens who are thoughtful enough to ponder deep issues and themes should be mature enough to read a book that doesn’t have YA elements (by which I mean the Sweet Valley High type formula of cheesy slang, superficial secondary characters, and an “easy to read” feel). I felt like the YA thing was really at war with the meat of Another Faust, and the book would have been better without trying to be YA. I haven’t discussed this with Dina, and don’t mean any disrespect to her by it, it’s just my opinion about YA clashing with my admiration for the more literary aspects of the novel.

Oddly the book is in the subgenre of “horror.” Personally I would have put it in the subgenre of “fantasy” because I think of horror as involving things like lots of blood and guts and gore and knife-wielding zombies and sadistic clowns and whatnot, whereas Another Faust is full of things I think of as being more fantasy elements requiring a strong sense of imagination and ability to suspend disbelief. Then again, I’m not in publishing, what do I know.

I found the book a little hard to get in to, but I kept reading because I kept seeing little bits of things and thinking “Aha! Dina put that part in!” I’m not sure how you’d fare if you don’t know Dina, but if you like YA or don’t mind it, you should keep reading because the second half of the book really picks up speed and more literary elements are woven in, and those elements are where I think the real strength of the book lies. I thought some of the twists at the end were quite original, and I thought the authors did a nice job of keeping the story from being predictable, given that it was based on an existing concept.

Overall I would recommend this book to you if you enjoy YA. I have not read popular YA like Twilight so I can’t say for sure, but I would venture to guess that Another Faust has far better writing. If you are not a fan of YA but enjoy reading books based on older concepts but updated to modern times, you might also enjoy the book. I’m not sure what age range the book was targeting, since it seems like lots of adults are into YA (which I totally don’t understand, but ok) and the themes are quite a bit heavier than most young teens could absorb. They might still like the book, but I think some of it would go over their heads. I think the Nayeris intent to engage young people enough to spark an interest in literature is admirable, and I hope it works!

Most of all my conclusion is that Dina should throw off the YA shackles and write literary fiction. That is just my selfish opinion. 🙂

I finally made it to Heather‘s Knit Night/Book Club this month and enjoyed the discussion on Henry James’ Washington Square. I read the book a long time ago (can’t remember when – college? high school?) and I remember liking the ending better the first time, perhaps because I was more idealistic and less acquainted with real life. (Insert smile here) In any case I think Washington Square is a much better book than either The Turn of the Screw or Daisy Miller, neither of which grabbed me particularly. The writing in this book is better, but I think what I find off-putting about Henry James is the fact that he seems distant from his subjects and characters, as if he is observing them as social commentary rather than feeling with them and really understanding their foibles. That said, I did like the book and think it’s literature worth reading.

2 thoughts on “The Week in Books 2009, No. 46

  1. can you tell dina that she should make ” another pan ” and ” another faust ” into movies? that would be awesome and i would be the first one to watch it 🙂

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