Hello everyone, and welcome back!
I thought I’d try to climb the hill of my reading slump by getting into a new(ish) anthology (I had some shipping issues). A bunch of short stories in a pretty small volume are easier to digest than a whole novel, right?
Well…let’s get into that.
Because You Love to Hate Me, edited by Ameriie
This is an anthology of short stories about villains. It’s also a collaboration between BookTubers and young adult authors, most of whom are pretty hot right now. (I hadn’t heard of a few of them.) The BookTubers provided prompts and commentary on the short stories; the authors filled the prompts with short stories.
Immediate honesty: I found it difficult to get through this, and I don’t think it was just my general book-reading malaise. That had to do with it, but…I had some impediments, too.
Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t actually hate any of the stories. I think Victoria Schwab’s “Death Knell,” in particular, was excellent! (My second favourite was probably “Sera.”)
In all of the pieces, I could see at least the seed of a story concept I enjoyed quite a bit—except perhaps “The Blessing of Little Wants,” which seemed a lot too predictable twist-wise, with far too much necessary worldbuilding crammed into a tight few pages. (Which is not to rag on Sarah Enni, who I don’t really know. The world she laid out seemed like it could’ve been pretty fascinating if it had time to grow.)
I do feel a couple of things, and don’t hate me for saying them, okay:
First: I love BookTubers, and I enjoy watching BookTube and seeing reviewers there react to books, but…I don’t think the commentary aspect of this anthology really worked, at least for me. (Maybe it’s a matter of audience; sometimes the commentary felt very explanatory, and I’m really not a person who needs to be told to have Thoughts About Literature, but I also like to trust most teens can do that on their own, too?)
…anyway, I think the notion of prompts for an anthology is really cool (although some people definitely gave more interesting prompts than others—we all live in the Tumblr age, I’m sure you’ll be able to tell), but the rehashes of the story and meaning of villainy and so on never really felt essential to the book, and only seldom piqued my interest as their own Thing. Maybe this would’ve been better off as a collaborative essay near the end rather than responses to each story? Maybe they could’ve gone for a multimedia launch and paid BookTubers to publish corresponding videos? I don’t know, but this just didn’t work for me.
Second: Not all good novel writers are good short story writers. Are there transferable skills? Absolutely! Are some people good at both? Obviously! Is everyone? Nah.
Addendum to that point: one of my issues with a lot of the stories in this anthology was that they felt kind of…smushed. Like there were so many aspects of squished out the sides (particularly character-building pieces, which I think are essential for interesting villains) that half the quesadilla was elsewhere or it had just kind of exploded? This metaphor is ridiculous, but you get me.
Example: I liked the concept of Marissa Meyer’s “The Sea Witch,” but I really didn’t get to know why Nerit was so into either of her two love interests, and that really left me not invested in the sting of either betrayal. (It made me feel she either needed more time to develop both interests, drop one, or give us more about Nerit to understand why she loved people for almost no reason.) Counterexample: Susan Dennard’s “Shirley & Jim” is very character-focussed and self-contained, so it’s a little easier to care about the feelings involved. (But this story can also lean on the fact that it’s a Sherlock Holmes retelling/fanfic, which makes it a little easier in general.)
Short stories are short, I get that, but that’s why they generally need to be more narrow in scope, whether that’s by dealing with a short span of time, a small number of characters, a tight setting (or an easily imagined contemporary one), personal stakes that are easy to outline, and so on.
Less pages doesn’t need to mean less feels or no shocking climax and so on; it just requires those things happen more efficiently, and I wasn’t always on board with the shorter routes these stories took, I guess? I felt like in a few cases, the stories sacrificed character to throw down the bare bones of a cool premise/setting or to just leave off information from the reader so the twist would read like a twist. But twists only twist us when we feel we know enough to expect the opposite. (My example here would probably be “Marigold,” if we have to name one.)
In any case, I liked the lushness in Cindy Pon’s “Beautiful Venom,” even if I wish I’d gotten to know the main character better, so maybe that’ll get me riled up to get into Want. Otherwise, authors read a lot like I would expect them to—I generally liked work by people I generally like work by, I was meh on people I generally don’t love work by, and of the unknowns (to me), I probably liked Andrew Smith’s story the most, so I might check him out.
Which tells me this: if a handful of your faves are in this book, this book is probably worth it for you. If not, eh…I mean, I stand by my statement about my favourite story here being really lovely, but there’s enough going on in current YA that if these people and/or villain short stories aren’t your Exact Thing, you can probably find something else more up your alley.
Do you have any favourite anthologies? What prompts would you give to your favourite YA writers? (All this and no one asked for an evil coffeeshop AU.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!