Why a TBR becomes a DNF

My growing list of books to be read may never get smaller and that’s okay. There are just so many great middle grade stories waiting for my time. This year I’ve been on a record breaking pace with 90% of my reading in middle grade. This has brought on a new problem I’ve never faced – I’ve now  started and never finished four MG books in 2015. It’s my unwelcome DNF list. I’m not here to reveal the titles as I know how hard the writing process can be. I will though give some insights into my reasons and what kids like.

I normally read a book based on recommendations from other blogs, reading a synopsis, or choosing one from an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. The choice to put a book aside typically happens after reading at least 20% of the story. I can narrow the reasons why into three categories:

  1. Nothing happens. That means no problem for the main character and no conflict. Sure I get to meet this character but any inciting event to get the story rolling is absent thus far.
  2. Atrocious Writing. Two of the books on my DNF shelf are a continuous series of tangled words, phrases, and sentences. Was there any editing going on at all? Worse yet, why does the MC sound like a cranky garbage collector nearing retirement? No thanks.
  3. Too Much Sadness. Our world is full of bad news. I choose middle grade for the wonderment, the smiles, and the adventure. There may be unhappy times along a MG story arc, but I don’t need an entire 200+ pages of it bringing me down. My most recent addition to the DNF list had a 12-year-old running away and then getting beat up by a group of teenagers. His money stolen, he’s left in the street to die. I was on page 50 at this point and I had to know were the remaining pages more of the same? I form my own opinion about books, but this is where Goodreads and Amazon reviews helped me decide whether to continue. A lot of people liked the book but many were depressed after reading, and it didn’t get any better for our young protagonist. I took the bookmark out of the book. I’m done.

I showed a small group of MG kids my list of reasons and they agreed, and of course added their own thoughts on what they search for:

  1. Characters solve problem.
  2. Plenty of humor and adventure.
  3. Short chapters.

So it’s back to reading. I’m pulling in a YA title for a change of pace this week. It’s been on my TBR list for some time. Cute blue cover and a great title: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.  I’ve had my head buried in MG world for a long time, but I hear this one is a best seller. It looks like just what I need…

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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8 Responses to Why a TBR becomes a DNF

  1. I totally understand where you are coming from. There are some books I’ve read and won’t review for many of the same reasons you have mentioned. My reads have to have something healing about them or are diverse. I want to support authors who self-publish, but I’ve had books sent to me that need to be seen by a by an an editor first. There are some who self-publish that do the work and I have my favorite authors. But, I won’t review a book I don’t like.

    Will be interested in your thoughts of “The Fault in Our Stars.” I really liked the story and movie. But, I had a friend who felt very differently. There are many books I read for my own pleasure, that I don’t review.

    • I also finish reading many books that I never talk about on this blog. Only the ones I can wholeheartedly recommend do I spend the time writing about. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. I think you are in for a great time reading The Fault in Our Stars. It’s fabulous. I very seldom don’t finish a book, but there are a few I’ve sure wanted to not finish. Since I write reviews for SFBR, once I take a book I have to read and review it. I check everything I ask for on Amazon and other places before I accept a book, but once in awhile I am fooled and it can be painful. I appreciate getting the comments from your students. Those are good rules. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    • I always finish a book when authors or publishers have asked me for opinions. Fortunately they have all been excellent reads. It can’t be a good feeling half way through a book you agreed to review and not liking the story. I do enjoy reading your reviews.

  3. You’re absolutely right with this post. In so many books no action and takes place on the part of the character; it’s just them reacting to events around them, and no one wants to read about that. Kids want to read about kids doing things.

    It’s sad that there are negative and depressing middle grade books out there. You’re right that they should be about fun and wonder, why in the world would I subject myself to reading a horrible book about terrible events? That’s not the kind of world I want to live in, and definitely not the world I want to enter into when I read. Not that bad things can’t happen, but the defining thing of the book should be about the awesome actions the kids take, period.

  4. What a great post! I actually think the too much sadness is a very valid one. I know a lot of people say “well, it’s true to real life!” – which is true, but it’s also a question of why you read, right?

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