Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journa by Chris Colfer (Audiobook)

Last month I decided to do some new things like reading books I didn't particularly enjoy and reading books in new ways. One of those new ways was experimenting with audiobooks, something that up until this year, I was dead-set against. It's not that I don't appreciate what audiobooks do for the reading community as a whole: bringing literature to the young and illiterate, as well as giving literature as a media for long drives. I also understand that it helps with pronunciation and experiencing new words. When people read a new word, sometimes they might look it up to see how it's spelled or what it means, but in all honesty, most people just put it into context with what was said before and after and go "ah-ha..."

My main problem with audiobooks is twofold, and simple enough that I won't go into too much detail about it...this time. The first is that it's lazy: listening to an audiobook instead of reading a book is like looking at a painting of a landscape in front of the landscape it was drawn from. The second is that it's expensive: Audible (sponsored by Amazon) gives one credit a month for its standard account (charged 14.99 a month if I remember right.) If you want to get something outside of the credit, a new book can cost up to forty bucks, with the cheaper ones around twenty. It all goes back to the laziness though: with the audiobook you aren't just paying for the printed media, you are paying for the voice actor's time reading it rather than you, yourself, taking the time and effort to read it yourself.

The benefit, on the other hand, for me at least, is that reading young adult books is always pretty taxing. The books aren't quite as advanced as the ones I am more accustomed to, and it always makes me feel that authors are dumbing their work down for people who aren't smart enough for Stephen King or Jim Butcher to name a few. I think it's a pretty shady system, to be honest. I was reading Dragonlance books and other such fantasy novels when I was in high school, and to me the quality of work is pretty low lately. That being said, using the audiobooks for reading YA books lets me bypass the generic writing quality of some books *coughPercyJacksoncough* and focus on the meat of the story, the character development, and how the book reaches out to an audience.

So with that in mind, and I know this was a longer introduction than usual, I decided to read Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal by Chris Colfer. I know that this book isn't fantasy all, in fact. This book is actually a holdout from last week’s focus on doing things different, (that is, audiobooks and general fiction) but it actually covers this week’s focus, Young Adult fiction, and so I thought I would hold onto it. The story, written by Glee famous Chris Colfer and a surprisingly well written read. The book is a memoir like recollection of a forward thinking high school writer and his attempts to get into Northwestern University so he can escape his Podunk classmates and his alcoholic mother and neglectful father. Along the way, he blackmails his fellow classmates through various means to contribute to fulfilling that dream.

Struck by Lightning is definitely a novelty as far as fiction goes. To clarify, a novelty is something you buy not because of its quality, but because of its popularity. Have a Disney Land mug somewhere in your cupboard? Or a cheap coke glass you got from McDonald's "for a limited time only"? How about a broken pair of $400.00 sunglasses you bought after The Matrix first came out? Those are novelties, and they tend to come out after something popular happens to cash in on its success. Almost all of the YA books and movies that have come out this year after Twilight finished up are Novelty books, cashing in on the success of a much more popular successor. It doesn't make them good or bad, just something to take note of. Wondering why you were compelled to go watch that god-awful Beautiful Creatures movie months after Twilight Breaking Dawn finished up in theaters? Or why the second Percy Jackson movie waited so long to go into production? Well the answer is very simple, "Ch-ching".

Struck by Lightning doesn't purely hold to its novelty, but it is very noticeably "Glee-ky" if that makes sense. A failing high school club is revitalized through blackmail. Gay sex scandals, awkward losers who are better people than everyone else because they are good people. Cliques cliques and more cliques. Colfer definitely recognizes his audience, (I'd say 16-25 at least) and keeps things light and fresh with a strong solid base of character development. The "writing" was well done, at least through audiobook. I know that a lot of people have complained about the format of the book, done through journal entries, and I thankfully, (but not coincidentally,) was spared that irritation, but it shouldn't really matter because books aren't supposed to be carbon copies of each other anyway.

Where the book fails, is in its inability to really connect with its audience, which I understand kind of goes against what I just said, but bear with me. While the characters are recognizable to its audience, there were several times that it was just a little overdone, which is what a lot of YA books have a problem with. For example: cheerleaders, jocks and other popular-esque characters in the story are so overdone as to make them caricatures of themselves, and therefore less identifiable and more like interchangeable names pulled out of a shallow hat. The cheerleaders are stuck up, bossy, soulless, and get their way. The gay character is super gay, (which is something I still blame Will and Grace for,) and have no substance. Even Carson himself is a caricature of that know-it-all, better than everyone jerk who never really develops because he doesn't see anything wrong with the way that he is doing things. More than once I had to wonder at why Carson said or did some of the things he did, (because he really does seem to see nothing wrong with insulting people when he wants something in return,) and couldn't come up with any reason other than that Colfer thought it would be fun to put it there.

There are several times, almost in a row, where Carson interacts with the other characters that he is blackmailing and actually has really in-depth dialogues with them about something important to each character. Rather than take these things and show that the characters, Carson or otherwise, grow from it, it's largely ignored towards the end of the book. I get the feeling that the stories are supposed to be PSA announcements about these problems and how they effect the regular Joe, but for the most part they seem more like trite platitudes because they are so rushed. I got more out of it when Daniel Radcliffe did a commercial for the Trevor Project.

This leads me to the worst problem the book has, and I thought that I would lead this with a cliché, but apt saying. That being, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I won't go into the history of the saying of course, but the usual meaning is that the more often you have something, or are around something, the less you like it over time. For me, and with this book, it was that I caught a similarity the book has with another famous movie, and that is, "Clue". I know, sounds a little wonky, but I draw conclusions from other things for less than this. An intelligent but devious student uses peoples secrets to get them to do what he wants them to do and feels little to no moral qualms about it. His victims, (who probably could have saved their anonymity by telling an adult and getting him expelled) protect their secrets and go along with it because...I don't know, Colfer wrote it that way.

Now, while I see nothing wrong with drawing inspiration, on purpose or not, I have to say that the results between the two were completely different. Whereas in Clue, the story was spiced up by sex and violence and murder and intrigue, Struck by Lightning uses...writing, within writing, within writing to show that everyone is better off being blackmailed because they were awful people and deserved to be schooled.

I could go on and on about the intricacies about the story and how they work and not, but I've been told my reviews are getting long enough to begin with. It wasn't bad. Not like King of Thorns wasn't bad, but just the same it was a decent read. Listening to Chris Colfer narrate a book he wrote about a character who sounds a lot like himself does sound a little bit like Writers Masturbation, but listening to him say something like, "I never considered myself gay," was perhaps one of the funniest things I've personally ever heard. I will comment that it's also irritating that Carson doesn't develop any love interest, but not uncommon to see out gay authors make their main characters out to be asexual in nature.

I smack myself for saying this, I would definitely see the movie over reading the book...*Smack*. Ow, but really, the story is written and played by Chris Colfer, as well as showing Rebel Wilson in it as Malorie. Also, parts of the story that weren't included in the book, like Carson's future step-mother and his mother's reaction at the end of the movie are particularly moving. It also casts Carson in a more favorable light, being this dejected soul with his life ahead of him but not the one he wants. Also I just think its better edited than the book and is more sad for it's less than random use of plot.