Final Draft is one of the best books I have read this year. It was an Experience, and I mean that in the best way. I genuinely believe that were this not marketed as YA it could easily pass as literary fiction. Not that YA is bad, and neither is literary fiction, but Redgate’s cerebral story is just really, really tersely written. and really Deep. Effectively, Redgate uses the form of a YA contemporary (on the surface, this book is pretty standard high-school-senior-comes-into-herself stuff) to interrogate that same form, and the use of cliche more broadly. I finished it last week and I already want to reread it.
This is one of those stories where it’s writing about writing, and I have read a lot of writing about writing, and I have seen what Redgate uses here before: extracts from what the character writes, a creative writing class, a visiting author. But they’re combined in the best way. I consider myself something of a writer too, lol, and I just felt so seen. Take this
“She wrote to see the way her thoughts looked with polish applied. And maybe those inner satisfactions were enough for other people, but to her they didn’t seem like the complete set. Someday, she wanted the give and take, the sense of tradition and participation that came from going public with her stories.”
That is why I write in three sentences. I mean, I would put it differently, but why would I when Redgate has given me the words already? The idea of writing, and what writing is, and why it is, runs through the story. The theme is hard to untangle from the messy stuff of Laila’s life, but I would sum it up thus: writing is about life, and thus you have to have a life to write about it, and because writing is about living, there is a time when the writing is done. But I’m not sure how much I’m editorialising based on my own thoughts about writing and drafting and sharing your words (but, like, obviously I like sharing words enough to have two blogs, a twitter account, a part time copywriting job, a position on my student magazine, and submissions to a variety of competitions and magazines). Also this, lol:
” Scanning her own writing in public felt arrogant, a feedback loop pushing her own voice back into her mind.”
The writing itself is just really absolutely excellent. I characterise this as literary fiction because of the original combinations of phrases, just a little ornate and showy, that I find more common in litfic than YA. Here are some of my favourite examples:
“the gummy resistance of the play button”
“[this was] the shard of the night she would remember in ten year.
“Her hangover had half-receded and left the world looking sharp and dehydrated, like oil paint left in the sun”
See what I mean? Redgate descibes the world in unexpected ways that still make perfect sense, and there’s something thoroughly delightful about that. At the same time, it’s never intrusive: the language is a landscape for the characters to explore, but it is still their background.
This book is fervently vivacious. I have never been to New York City, but as I read I felt the oppressive tingle of too tall buildings, the greasy smudges the public transport leaves across the city, the lound voices of all the people there who know themselves to always be in the right. (People who have been to NYC can confirm this for me.) At one point the characters leave the city, but the vivid, architectuaral descriptions remain:
“The evening light was still crisp and clean, whittling narrow shafts to fit between evergreen needles.”
The characters are just as unforgettable, of course. Laila, the main character, was something wonderful: a girl who was willing to inhabit her own body, someone who tried absolutely hard and sacrificed pieces of herself easily. I loved that she was someone who asks questions: she asks Nadiya, the teacher/author who routinely eviscerates her drafts, again and again: What did I do wrong? How can I make it better? Her normal creative writing teacher is in hopital, and Laila writes painfully earnest letters to him too. asking how he’s finding it, what he’s thinking about, and on and on. More than that, Laila interrogates herself, asking how she can be the most authentic and kind version of herself. This makes her stand out so much, and was perhaps where I related most to her: I am an asker of questions, always. Laila’s group of friends thrum around her, too, holding tight to their shared enthusiasms, and to her by extension. For Laila to become a more final draft, she must reach deep into the life of her friendgroup and make something out of it–forging herself, perhaps? The friend oriented pieces of the novel are the flesh to writing’s skeleton, and the messy, fragile pieces of that are what makes the story so effective.
This polished novel is a question in itself. Riley Redgate asks: why does writing use cliches? She carefully uses a number of cliches, such as using a sudden character injury as plot impetus; having a character literally run away; featuring drug-borne revelations (yes! in a YA book! drugs that aren’t the central focus of the story but are still part of it, and fairly condemned). She also chooses to not use cliche’s in many parts of the story, notable the ending, but also utilising the urban nature of her metropolitan setting in a way that is unusal in YA. She sticks recognisably to the contemporary form, which is why this is still a satisfying novel, but uses Laila’s writing and her own to tear at the boundaries of genre in a way that I’ve never seen before. I loved it.
At the end of the day, I think my critique of this novel is that I don’t think it gives all of itself away on first reading. I am left yearning for more. But what makes it brilliant is that whether you read all the meta-commentary, as I have done, or just appreciate it as a well written YA contemporary novel, it is equally effective. What a wondrous book!
Have you read this? Do you read literary fiction, and do you think it’s an exclusive form? what’s your favourite cliche? tell me in the comments!