Every year we drown in new holiday movies, books, and TV specials. And yet it is so rare that any of them last more than one season. They all disappear in time, discarded like used wrapping paper after Christmas morning.
My theory around why so many holiday stories fail is that most writers today are scared to go to the dark side. See, the darkness never leaves stories like "It’s a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol". In most of the classics there is the strong possibility that everything could go horribly, horribly wrong. But the darkness makes the light so much brighter. And after all, isn’t that the heart of the holiday season? It’s a moment of warmth in winter, a glimmer of hope in a bleak world. Without that contrast, the stories just feel hollow. Strangely, in the new holiday collection of short stories "My True Love Gave to Me", the opposite problem occurs. That is, many of the writers had no problem going to the dark side, they just didn’t bring Christmas along with them.
Stephanie Perkins, author of such young adult novels as "Anna and the French Kiss" and "Lola and the Boy", has brought together twelve of her fellow young adult authors for this new collection. One of the things going for this book is the sheer diversity of the entries. From Holly Black’s spooky “Krampuslauf” to Kiersten White’s heartwarming “Welcome to Christmas, CA” you never feel like you are reading the same story twice. But for all the diversity, many of the stories feel predictable, almost formulaic. In other words, the stories might be different from each other, but not from anything you’ve seen or read before.
Even though these tales were written by twelve different authors, the main teenage heroines all feel like the same person. She is at a turning point in her life, feeling like the entire world is against her. She is a little shy, moody, and awkward. She is always from a broken home. Even Santa Claus’s daughter is glum and pining for an unreachable boy. Of course, in that story the boy is an elf. In technical YA terms, they all feel like Bellas instead of Hermoines.
And while the book collects young adult authors, I’m not sure if it is for all young adult readers. There is coarse language in most of the stories and adult material. This might be one of those moments where a parent might want to read the book before putting it under the tree.
In the end, I’m just not certain you can call "My True Love Gave to Me" a holiday book. Christmas is usually only in the background, rarely taking center stage. It is something for a majority of the characters to be cynical and complain about. Some of the stories could easily take place in another month without losing anything important. In short, it’s a Christmas book with very little Christmas. It almost makes a holiday reader want to say, to quote Scrooge, "bah humbug".
There are two new ways you can check out Scott's own writing. His novel "My Problem With Doors" was just released for the Kindle, and his book "A Jane Austen Daydream" is now an audiobook on Audible and iTunes. You can find out more information via his writing blog "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.