Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why 50 Cent's Young Adult Book Matters: Some Points (& Pointy Ends)

Very soon, the public voting for the 50 Cent Cover Contest will begin here.

But first, I'd like to explain why I even care.

When I first heard that Razorbill would be publishing a young adult novel by 50 Cent, I laughed.  Way outloud.  It seemed like such a ridiculous farce!  In what world would someone think that the man who penned these (warning - they're really lewd and inappropriate) tweets would be a adequate author for young adults.  I still feel this way.

However, as I sadly have to remind myself, publishing companies do not exist to be purveyors of good taste, nor should they: to a degree, that would be censorship.  The bottom line is that they exist to make a bottom line.  I'm quite certain that there are book lovers in their ranks; but, to keep those jobs, companies have to make money.  To publish promising new talent, they have to have the resources to do so.  Let's remember, Razorbill is the publisher that put books by Beth Revis, Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson and Breanna Yovanoff on the shelves.  Popular, respected authors.  Of course, the question as to whether Razorbill inked this deal just to make money exists.  Given the cover in the Spring 2012 Penguin catalog, I'd say it's a possibility, or at least part of the reason:  

That's a mighty big name for such a small title.
Taken from the Spring 2012 Penguin catalog:

A hard-hitting and inspirational novel about the redemption of a bully from international icon 50 Cent.

Thirteen-year-old Butterball doesn’t have much going for him. He’s teased mercilessly about his weight. He hates the Long Island suburb his mom moved them to and wishes he still lived with his dad in the city. And now he’s stuck talking to a totally out-of-touch therapist named Liz.

Liz tries to uncover what happened that day on the playground—a day that landed one kid in the hospital and Butterball in detention. Butterball refuses to let her in on the truth, and while he evades her questions, he takes readers on a journey through the moments that made him into the playground bully he is today.

This devastating yet ultimately redemptive story is told in voice-driven prose and accented with drawings and photographs, making it a natural successor to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  

Loosely inspired by 50 Cent’s own adolescence, and written with his fourteen-year-old son in mind, Playground is sure to captivate wide attention - and spark intense discussion.

Well, Razorbill is right about that last point.  To some extent.  At least on this blog.  Some of you may not agree with me about bringing attention to this book, saying that I simply am feeding the fire.

Good.  I want to.

Here's two things to keep in mind:  1) My pee-diddly little blog isn't big enough to bring attention to jack outside of the YA book blogging community, and I'm not even big enough to cover that.  I know this.  I see who my top commentators are, and I check out my traffic sources on a daily basis.  Trust me: I'm not selling any books for this man; and 2) the more this book is discussed, the more it has to live up to.

Here's why Playground needs to be discussed more, and it's partly a personal anecdote:  once upon a time about six or seven years ago, I was a reporter in New Mexico.  A principal in one of the communities I covered and I were talking one day.  He administered a school for children whose community had high dropout and truancy rates.  He desperately tried stressing the importance of education, but often his reasoning ran into deaf ears, especially when parents would take their children out for days at a time for cultural fairs ran by their nation (this was a high Native American population area).  He understood, but at the same time, he needed education to be a priority.

However, he would absolutely delight in the students' enthusiasm when a major book came out.  Part of him wanted to rebuke sleepy-eyed kids who stayed up way too late reading the latest Harry Potter, but in his heart, he was glad they were at least reading.  He loved watching them devour the book in question during lunch and as they sneakily read under their desks during class.  He didn't say it out loud, but he was willing to make his peace with this if it encouraged them to read more.

Fast-forward about four years, give or take, and I was in grad school studying to be a teacher.  Specifically, an English teacher for middle and high school students.  My heart was always with the junior high kids, though.  The 12 thru 14-year olds who were starting to test their mettle that would serve or underserve them during their high school years.  I loved their pluck.  It's the age group for which Playground is geared.

No matter how much we regret that 50 Cent got a book deal for a young adult book, no matter how much we hate that celebiauthors are getting these deals, this isn't going to stop this book from being published.  50 Cent's YA offering matters because of the same reason he got the deal in the first place: his name.  Some kids will want to read it for that reason alone.  The discussion about it needs to happen because it needs to be a book worthy of them.

Truly, I am hoping that it will be, but if it isn't, I won't be surprised.  Just another hustle, right?


  1. If this book can get kids who wouldn't normally care about books to pick one up, then that is 100% a good thing. And, because of his name, he has the potential to capture the attention of and appeal to demographics that many YA authors do not - particularly children in poverty stricken areas with poor schools and high levels of violence. A book about bullying and redemption, written by a rap artist, seems to me like it could certainly do some good.

  2. I don't know Linds. I could have maybe given it a try, but then you linked me to those tweets, and really, WTF? They were so illegible, so I lost interest.

    I completely understand your plight here, but I'm not interested in getting hustled.

  3. @Jenny - I'm with you, and it's the basically the only reason why I am interested in the book in the first place. I just keep hoping it won't be crap.

    @Missie - SERIOUSLY. Since it's geared towards young ones, I'll still read it, but, um, yeah, those tweets are foul. Rest assured, I'll likely be reading a copy from the library.

  4. Here's my question- after you edit out all the bad language, is 50 cent really saying anything? Is he just putting his name on this book and someone ghost writing this? In that case, it has a chance of being decent and his name will get kids to read it.
    I'm just not even sure given his tweets that he's literate enough to write a complete sentence without expletives. And he's still a bully! So what's he really teaching anyone? That he can make a boatload of money off his name? I'm not willing to give him any of mine.


  5. I love how his name is bigger than the title LOLZ.

    But in all seriousness, I remember that time Snooki got a book deal and they lost money on it, according to Hollywood Reporter. I wonder if the same thing will happen with 50, because the people they are trying to sell it to are people who don't read. And well, on the positive I guess maybe some people will want to read it who aren't typical readers.

    I'm just concerned that someone who is pretty much a bully gets a book deal writing about bullying. Honestly, I think that sends the wrong message to teens, but yeah, not like my opinion on that will influence Razorbill haha.

  6. @Heather - Haha, good point! I won't be purchasing the book, but I will read it and see if it's decent. I hope there is something positive to come of this.

    @April - that was the FIRST thing I saw, too! It kind of confirmed for me that it's about the money - sad. That's my deal with the devil thing - I can make my peace with it if it gets normally reluctant readers to give reading a shot. As for being a bully, he recently said something along the lines of (paraphrasing), "How can I be a bully? Bullies pick on people who are weaker than them. I go after people who aren't weaker." or something similar - sooo, I guess he feels he is going after professionally adversaries rather than bullying. Hmmmm.


  7. Great post, great thoughts, great comments. I think getting kids to read is a good thing...after they get interested in reading that is when a mentor whether it is their parents or an older sibling can influence them to read well written books, thought provoking books or just fun books. I don't know that I would read this, but I am curious about the aftermath.

  8. Fantastic post! I completely empathise with the dilemma you faced. Still, anything that gets kids reading can't be a bad thing right? Who knows? Maybe 50 Cent (or whoever his ghost writer is) have concocted a fantastic book? Stranger things have happened. It can't be worse than Snookie's effort.