Monday, October 15, 2007

your slang is whack

I cracked open A Sky Full of Stars by Rene Saldana, Jr., hoping for some eye-popping action that would appeal to boys. After all, it's about a kid who gambles on his best friend in an underground boxing match. The front flap promised Spanglish, fight scenes, card sharps, prize money and 1964 Fold Galaxies. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the first chapter, because of lines like this: "What kind of friend pops a buddy in the schnozz for no good reason?" (2).

OK. No self-respecting person under the age of 50 says schnozz. My Dad says schnozz. I actually remember him accusing this high school friend of mine, CJ, of leaving a "schnozz print" on the windshield of his car. And it's OK for my Dad to say schnozz, because he's a 1950s boy straight outta Stand By Me. He sounds good saying schnozz. But not the pre-teens of today, people. They say, "Yo, I thought you was my boy. Why you trying to get dumb?" They don't even mention schnozzes.

I'm not bringing this up so I can hate on Saldana. (He's in Guys Write for Guys Read. I'm sure he has a lot going for him.) I have the same problem with Carol Gorman, who, in her recent effort, Games, has one kid trash-talk another by comparing him to Yosemite Sam. Yosemite Sam? Really? And I see this in alot of books for boys. I guess it's OK for girls to talk in Standard English (always hated the caps on that), but guys are supposed to use slang and sound tough. So authors give it their best shot, but they're not even on the court.

I mean, if you don't know any kids, you can at least watch TV, right?


david elzey said...

Thank you. I had to review (and thus finish) this book and all I can say is that it looked like Saldana too a 1950's boxing movie, made the main characters kids, and kept the plot and dialog unchanged. You stopped after the first chapter? Trust me, it gets much worse.

My answer has always been to give the tough/hip kids hyper-literate language skills or to invent new slang.

Rene Saldana, Jr. said...

Hey, Alpha Salad: Saldana here. I certainly appreciate your attempt at reading my latest book. My thinking on the language for this book is that slang, the way you write it in your example, would've diminished the characters, made them flat and nothing more than caricatures. Like you, I think language, especially in dialogue, is key, and I can't stand these books that are hyper-slangish. Stuff like that, more than my use of schnozz, will date a book faster than anything. And that a kid wouldn't know the word means it's fresh, and so he or she can now call a nose something other than a nose. And perhaps, like my delving into Faulknerian English, a teen will become interested in a word search: my favorite of Faulkner's very regional words is branch for streamlet or arroyo. Nothing to do with branches and limbs from off a tree, you know, like I thought, ignorantly, before. That is, until I dug into it myself. As for the Yosemite Sam reference in this other author's work, the same applies. Who cares about just today's pop culture without caring about yesterday's? These are icons. They don't cease to be relevant just because a young reader doesn't automatically catch on. Let them work at it or remain ignorant; heck, as a promoter of literacy, I say, if they don't get it, but get the greater story, let them skim over schnozz, branch, or YS. But literacy is a direct catalyst for curiosity, I feel. Those who love to read, or have the potential, already love words and language and will explore it further. The Spanglish thing (really mestizaje is closer than Spanglish, which implies a bilingual sort of made up tongue when it's really a multilingual, multigrammar, multicultural living language), I looked over the flap copy, and there's no mention of it that I can tell that would cause any reader to think I was going to use it. But that was done on purpose too because to expect it automatically would mean a certain prejudice; like the one reviewer who felt I didn't throw in enough of it and so these characters were not Mexican enough. Because these non-Spanish speaking Mexican American kids do exist. I do hang out with them, by the way. I get the slang. I love that they're playing with words like that, but I'd be an old (at 40 years) fart trying to sound like a kid, which I couldn't pull off successfully no matter how much I do hang out with them or how mucy teeny bop TV I watch. Cool. I'll put your blog on my favorites list, too, though, because any friend of books is a friend of mine, even when she's not a friend of my titles.