The “slush pile” usually refers to the tons of unsolicited manuscripts sent to publishers or agents that underlings are assigned to read through, in the hopes of finding a literary gem. Those professionals are supposed to dive through the slush, around it — not serve it up to us on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Unfortunately, they’ve lost a little credibility of late, according to some of us who actually require quality prose; we find it increasingly necessary to dive through the slush ourselves to find something that won’t cause us to roll our eyes.
Ah, post-Twilight YA — my last post was about it. To recap, it essentially consists of plots involving teenage girls entering into romances with supernatural males, and book jacket designs with a single focal point (à la Twilight’s apple); remember, it has become increasingly apparent to publishers that young adult females want to be eaten, so they’re merely pandering to our deepest desires — right? In some senses, perhaps. Much of the young adult audience is concerned with forging that first powerful romantic connection; no less importantly, they’re interested in the discovery of identity — and magical powers serve as the perfect metaphor for this. After all, Bella discovered that her unique power was to unwittingly resist penetration, and that’s certainly something to aspire to, right? In any case, I was lamenting the current era of YA, where every book seems to be attempting to copy this mediocre, yet commercially successful Twilight Saga. Were we doomed to nothing but copycats? I hoped not.
Then I picked up “A Certain Slant of Light” by Laura Whitcomb, and raised an eyebrow. Like Twilight, there was the teaser (“About three things I was absolutely certain, etc. etc. only decent line in the entire book”), except this one read: “Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.” You see, Helen (yes, another name indicative of beauty) is being stared at in a high school classroom by her beau, not because no thoughts come from her head, or because she smells good — but because he is the only one who can see her, in all her introspective splendor as a ghost. Of course, this already gave the book bonus points in my mind — but there is more to it than that.
It might not be fair to compare Bella and Helen; after all, the latter is much older, wiser, has experienced more suffering. But because her memories of life have been taken from her in this disembodied state, Helen has to experience a different kind of adolescence… An afterlifescence, if you will. In it, she initially thinks that she has to be bound to a living “host” — a person who is the center of her universe, from whom she must derive all her energy of consciousness, but with whom she is severed from all communication because he or she doesn’t know she exists… Sound familiar, anyone? This is until she discovers that there might be more to her existence after all.
Furthermore… It gets even better… Helen is armed with literature. And I’m talking actual literary references, not just some sycophantic pining shout-outs to Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet without any demonstrative understanding of their themes (*cough* Twilight *cough*). With this knowledge, she’s able to navigate the insane world of the modern adolescent, and put it in perspective, in a way that an immature teenager would not be capable of. And it’s written well! With like… Actual imagery and character development!
So does that mean Helen is an inaccessible protagonist, “Slant” an inaccessible book? …I don’t think so, or at least I hope not. I think she has enough vulnerability, sentimentality and romanticism to be perfectly likable, but with an element of deeper wisdom. I think there’s some hope here, in a book like this; I just wish more people would go out and give it a read!