by Erica German
Writers everywhere should wonder: Who will read my stories? Will they like them? How important is character development? Setting? But, will they ever ask themselves how old will their readers be? Does it matter? I say no- it doesn’t matter!
This summer I asked my daughter, Juliet, to choose a book that we could both read and discuss. She decided on the book Flavor of the Week, by Tucker Shaw. The book follows a young man, Cyril, who is almost as passionate about cooking as he is about his childhood friend, Rose. Rose does not know either of these details about her friend Cyril and so, finds interest in one of Cyril’s friends, Nick. Cyril gets roped into helping Nick win over Rose by cooking food that Nick takes the credit for.
Many reviewers have said that it is a present-day adaption of Edmund Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Since I have not seen the play, I cannot comment about this either way; however, because so many reviewers stated this, I feel I must see this play for myself—partly because I was not a big fan of the book and I wonder if a similar, yet different, tale would not be more suited to my tastes.
Speaking of tastes, Juliet had her own opinions about the book, which varied little from my own. We both felt that the book was well written, even though the language was simple and easy to read. We enjoyed the recipes located at the end of each chapter and even tried two of them: Rhubarb Iced Tea, from page 23, and M&M Brownies with Caramel Drizzle, from page 133 (The brownies were a little too sweet for our family with the drizzle, so we ate them without the drizzle and found they were fabulous; also, we had some debate about the tea needing a bit more lemon or berry, but we could not agree on which).
As far as the story goes, Juliet and I felt that it was far too focused on Cyril’s undying love for Rose. For instance, “Cyril could have listened to Rose saying ‘Alfred from Vassar’ in that mocking singsong tone for days.” (pg 6); and, “What did Cyril have to lose, anyway? It wasn’t as if he ever had a chance with Rose himself.” (pg 68) Neither of us felt like there was much more to the story—but to be fair, it was a short little story that, had it tried to be more complex, would have fallen short in the page-space it was allotted.
In the post-read discussion, Juliet said, “It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read.” So, I asked her why and she responded by saying that it was kind of predictable. Juliet and I had read the same book so that we could talk about it. What follows is a peek at that discussion.
Erica: “What did you think about the recipes?”
Juliet: “The recipes were really good—really cool. It was an odd thing…never seen it in a book before.”
Erica: Thinking to myself of the many murder mysteries written for adults, which have recipes incorporated in the story, I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could pause at the end of each chapter and make the recipe, eat it and consider what we had just read in that chapter?”
Juliet: “Actually, that would probably make it come alive even more. I did that when I read Twilight [by Stephanie Meyer]. I listened to the soundtrack while I read the book and it was more of an experience because of that.”
Erica: “I think I would have used less lemon and more berry flavors if I ever make the rhubarb tea again, but it was pretty good overall.”
Juliet: “Really? I thought it needed more lemon next time.” We stared at each other, amused by the polar difference in opinion—jaws might have hit the floor if it wasn’t for Juliet’s eloquent save, “I really liked the brownie recipe!”
Juliet went on to compare the book against one of her favorites, The Name of This Book is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch.
Juliet: “Even though The Name of This Book is Secret is written for younger than YA, I really like the non-descriptive descriptions.” I added praise for the descriptive writings of Anne Rice and J.R.R. Tolkien. Juliet responded, “[Shaw’s flavor of the week] is probably a first story for him. I don’t think it should have been published if it was further along in his career.”
Erica: I admired how well Juliet could express herself. Though brutally honest, she was showing evidence of critical thinking patterns that will serve her well as she grows old.
We agreed that neither of us really fell in love with any of the characters.
Juliet: “There were not really any descriptions about any characters except for Rose—and, then it was clouded by Cyril’s perspective.”
Erica: I agreed. “Cyril was irrevocably in love with Rose; everything was Rose this and Rose that. But, they do say love is blind.”
We went on to discuss our favorite characters from other books.
Erica: “So, who is your favorite character?”
Juliet: “Grumpy Grandpa from Heidi [by Johanna Spyri].” This wasn’t surprising seeing that she loved the book so much that her father purchased her a beautiful antique copy for her birthday this year. “What about you, Mom?”
Erica: “Oh, so many—hard to choose—Anne of Green Gables, Bilbo Baggins—and, there are more.”
Juliet: “I also really liked Swiss Family Robinson [by Johann David Wyss]. Living in a tree house is such a foreign concept. It was great fun being able to imagine what that would look like—more fun than imagining a normal house. It was fun because it made you think.”
Discussing books with another bookworm is always fun and even more precious when it is your own flesh and blood, your child; however, all good things come to an end. Eventually, in true American style, I ushered in the end of the conversation—bluntly—and headed off to work.
As a writer, I had been curious to find out how the age of a reader might affect their opinions about literature—specifically young adult literature, as the average age reader in this genre spans from twelve to thirty-five years of age. What I learned was surprising: the measuring stick my daughter used to evaluate the novel was similar to my own. My daughter wants a story with strong characters, plot, and description as much as I do.