Wendig can craft a wonderful sentence and transport you to his settings. They may be broken and unhappy settings, but you can see, smell and taste them. By all accounts I enjoyed this book. It’s a great story of a victimized white-trash girl making good and turning herself into a teenage, real-life superhero, helping not only herself, but other disenfranchised students at her school. My concern is not with the writing of this book but it’s research.
A quarter of the way through Atlanta buys a pack of “cheap”cigarettes. Wendig chose American Spirits and talks about the Native American picture on the front of the pack. I can see why the brand appealed to him. It fits a gritty noir vibe Wendig goes for. The problem with this is American Spirits aren’t cheap. They are an expensive brand because they are made on Reservation land and don’t contain the additives other cigarettes do. I know this not because I did research, but because if you spent time with the people Atlanta would you know it. If you have spent any time around smokers you know this. Atlanta would definitely know this. This simple error shocked me out of the story. It made me think that Wendig didn’t know what he’s talking about. If he gets this small stuff wrong it will alienate readers who grew up in an environment like the one Wendig focuses on in the book.
As a reader, I tend to separate the author from their books. As long as it rings true I don’t care. I don’t check on the authors credibility. I tried to ignore the error and write it of as a stylistic choice, but I kept seeing other small errors like it. I ended up researching Wendigs history…and decided it is irrelevant. The problem is if I went looking others will to. If it was an adult book I wouldn’t care as much. With YA, however, your research needs to accurate. Maybe not with urban fantasy or paranormal books but ones dealing with serious issues such as molestation, hate crimes, and racism you do. I don’t recommend stylistic choices or creative license with this kind of YA. Working with at-risk teenagers, one thing I learned is they will crucify you if you get this stuff wrong – with some justification. Truthfully, a part of me got angry and started throwing terms like poser around in my stewing brain. It took me a minute to figure out why I was having such a strong negative reaction.
Wendig has a good book here. He also has a reputation of his research being accurate. He did so with the Miriam Black series. I had a hard time with Miriam because I know a real non-paranormal version of her. I had to give him credit for bringing to life this character that you feel sympathetic towards despite her sociopathic behavior. I believed he must have had some real world experience and gave him the credit for it. I wish he had done his research as well this time so I didn’t come away disillusioned – justifiably or not. I came away feeling he had appropriated poor culture. This may sound strange but there isn’t a lot great about being poor and definitely not about being young and poor. The claim to fame is you survived it. I started to feel that Wendig sat back and said who can I make the bad guy? Atlanta is supposed to help the disenfranchised so who can be the bad guy? I know! White-trash neo-Nazis! I say good choice. I’ve no love for neo Nazis, who does? – except for neo Nazis. I know Wendig does not want to discriminate. He mentioned so in his blog. However, with Atlanta Burns, he could be perceived as discriminating against a socio-economic class. He has white neo Nazis; poor pedophiles; a poor white slut; a set of poor white trash, home schooled, Irish twins that kidnap bait dogs; a weak single mother who doesn’t work, lives off the system, and who didn’t protect her daughter; etc. The Amish and Mennonites are only used in reference to being the dirty side of town and for selling expired food. Each of these characters need to be there, they exist, but it came off feeling wrong. All that effort to be politically correct, to the point it’s almost painful, and he missed socio-economic class. There had to have been one good poor adult in that town.
At some point I realized I was reading an ARC and was so glad. It meant I could give feedback. I didn’t hear anything back but I do think it was a mistake, and one I’m betting was fixed. You will have to tell me – those of you reading the finalized copy after the publish date. I will cross my fingers. Let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.
I received this from Netgalley and Amazon Children’s publishing in return for an honest review.