I get a fair amount of feedback from my YA readers, sometimes singular and spontaneous via email, sometimes produced as part of a class project. Recently, a batch of letters came my way from some high school students who had read Buddha Boy.
I always enjoy hearing from readers, whether they’ve loved a book of mine or hated it – either way, I can learn something valuable from their experience. But what troubled me about these particular letters was how many of the kids seemed to confuse a story’s action — the way the plot progresses, the way characters change — with pure motion, so that a novel lacking a charge of constant doing was a novel where nothing actually “happened.”
Certainly any reader can be bored by any book, or left unmoved: sometimes a given book just does not speak our internal language. What bothered me about these readers’ reaction (or the interpretation I gave to that reaction, anyway) was its central misconception. Life, for most of us, takes place in the everyday landscape of the grocery store, the bus or the car, the schoolroom, the breakfast table. To assume that because those daily landscapes do not glitter with motion, with high speed and furious dash, they must thus lack fundamental action — the action of growth, grief, passion, change — is to misconstrue the act of living itself. Sometimes tremendous things happen without a single surface ripple.
As in life, so in a smaller way in fiction. If some readers think Buddha Boy is boring, that’s OK. But if they think something has to blow up to be worth looking at, well, that’s another story.