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Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey

January 13, 2012

Well, it’s been said that you can learn how to become a better writer both by reading great books and awful ones.  Turns out that you can learn from reading books that are just sort of okay, too.

Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey was published in 2009 and is aimed at the YA market.  It’s got a neat premise: After a fire burns down his home, the Gwali, a sort of grim reaper/boogeyman, steals the souls of Kipp’s parents and puts them in a sack.  Kipp will go to incredible lengths to get that sack back.  It’s also refreshingly different that Carey decided to set this story in an African-like society.  (Although the girl on the front cover is quite clearly a white person with darkened skin.  But I digress.  That was the illustrator’s fault.)

I was disappointed to find that Carey took such a cool idea and made a mediocre story out of it.  There’s nothing at all wrong with this book.  But I got about twenty pages into it and wondered to myself why I didn’t care what happened next.  The answer: It’s only a made-up story.  Kipp isn’t real, so it doesn’t matter what happens to him.  When you’re writing fiction, this is a very bad sign indeed.

Carey tells us, outright, that Kipp is sad that his parents and little brother are dead.  Okay.  And he has a crush on his landlord’s daughter.  Okay, but where is the evidence for this?  Does he do anything to show that he’s sad?  No, he just sort of packs up his stuff and starts on his quest.  He’s okay, but he never makes that jump from “generic YA protagonist” to “person I care about desperately.”

I suppose the writing lesson to take away from this is that crafting a compelling story is hard work.

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