Pale by Chris Wooding and My Problem with High Interest/Low Reading Level Books

On NetGalley the other day, I found a listing for a new book by Chris Wooding called Pale.  Many of you will recognize Wooding's name from Malice or The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray. He's written some of the best and more original fiction out there in my opinion, so I knew I had to read this new book.
Pale is a 67-page book designed for reluctant teen readers, and I thought, okay, I haven't really read any impressive Hi/Lo (High Interest / Low Reading Level) books yet, but this is Chris Wooding, so I'm sure it'll be different.

The story is set in a world where people can be brought back to life with a special serum, as long as their bodies are compatible. The only thing different when you come back is that you will look visibly different. The serum turns your whole body white, hence the term "Pale". People are not fond of the Pales at all. They are shunned for life and banished to live in The Graveyard.  Just ask Jed and Kyle. If they see a Pale coming towards them, they'll go over and beat him up. Just because.
Then one day, Jed got hit by a car. When the paramedics asked his girlfriend Sadie if they should use the serum on Jed, she panicked and said yes because she didn't want to lose him. Jed was now a Pale. He hated the idea at first and was really mad that he got changed, but he knew that he was still Jed, even if he looked different. No one else understood that though and accepted him. Not his parents, not his best friend, not even Sadie. Sadie who turned him into a Pale in the first place!

I was disappointed with the story. It feels unfinished and the characters don't seem natural to me. The changes in them are too abrupt and not very believable. It is also too much of an issue book sprinkled with a bit of sci-fi, which is what bugs me mostly about many teen Hi/Lo books. Haven't we moved past that in teen literature? We want a variety for anyone, not just books about taboo subjects that we adults for some reason think every teen loves. 

This is what the author said on his website about Pale.
"Now listen y’all. This book was written for a specialist market. It’s very short, and the language and story are much, much simpler than the books you’re used to reading from me. If you’re curious, or if you’re a completist, or if there’s someone you know who’s a struggling reader and might like this sorta thing, then by all means pick it up; it’s a creepy little sci-fi tale that may tickle your fancy. But if you’re expecting something in the vein of Malice or Alaizabel, you’ll be disappointed. I wouldn’t want anyone spending their hard-earned readies and then being gutted because of the content."

Okay, Mr. Wooding. I will still read every one of your books because I like your stuff too much, but your explanation/excuse is not good enough. Why do Hi/Lo books exist in the first place? To entice kids and teens who have difficulties reading to read of course. By giving them a book that is easier, kids will not have such adversity to books and they'll discover the joy of reading.  Which sounds fine in theory, but the problem with many of these books is that often, not only the language, but also the plot, is simplified. How are we supposed to convince a kid that reading is good stuff with mediocre stories?  The concepts in the books don't have to be dumbed down, and no, I'm no writer, but I'm sure a good one can tell an equally great story even if they're somewhat limited by the kind of words they can use, or the number of pages they have. If a story is crazy intriguing, wouldn't it motivate kids to try harder? I would like to think so.

I immigrated to Canada when I was 15. For the first couple years here, I had trouble understanding everyone around me, especially my classmates, who used words and slang I've never heard of from my minimum Hong Kong English classes. I still remember one of them asked me for a calculator one day, and when I asked her to repeat what she just said, she said it louder and slower, mimed the pressing-calculator motion, and explained what a calculator is. Duh, I know what a calculator is. I just didn't catch what you said. Just because I couldn't speak the language perfectly didn't mean I'm stupid, I remember thinking.

What is your experience with Hi/Lo books? What are some of the better ones you've come across?  Do share in the comments.
Email Facebook Twitter Favorites More


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...