"I poured the odoriferous milk down the drain."
Later, when my car died, I had to rewind a bit to find my spot, and found myself replaying parts of the book I'd already heard. And that word, odoriferous, bothered me just as much the second time as it did the first time.
Why? Don't get me wrong; it's a great word, and totally appropriate to the situation. But Shiver is told from a first-person narrative, and, well...teenagers just don't talk like that! (Seriously. Have you ever been to a high school? Or the mall?)
"But wait a minute Heather!" I can hear you all saying. "Grace DOES talk like that. She's intelligent and likes to read non-fiction books, so it's totally in her character for her to use a word like that!!!"
Sure. Except the whole I'm-an-intelligent-teen-so-I'm-going-to-use-big-words-when-I-narrate has been done before. Over and over and over and over.
My copy is currently out on loan so I can't quote any passages, but I remember Nick using words like "nebulous," "sobriquet," and "torpid." He also uses phrases such as "wank your winkie" "more than usually horny" and "T.E." - short for thunderous erection, so he loses a little credibility in the intelligence department. But the entire book is written in the form of Nick's journal entries, and I never for a second doubted that Nick used those words every day. C.D. Payne told me he was intelligent, so I believed it. End of story. (This is still one of my favorite books of all time, and seriously hilarious.)
Then I started reading more YA, and found the phenomenon of teenagers using vocabulary well beyond their years was everywhere. Twilight's Bella uses some ridiculous words to descirbe Edward - but it's OK! She learned them from Austen and Bronte. And even my beloved Jessica Darling (and the sexy Marcus) uses some words she probably shouldn't know, but she's a writer, so it's justified. (admittedly, most of the people around her are pretty stupid and talk/act that way. Ohmigod, OTB!)
This is the problem with writing a YA first-person narrative. If you want to use advanced vocabulary, you have to make the readers believe that your character would know that vocabulary. You can't have your character be the stupidest person in school, failing all their classes, then have them describe the myriad challenges of being an oafish dullard. Their voice has to remain constant not just when they talk to other characters, but when they talk to the reader, as well.
Of course, if you want to get around this problem, write in third person. I prefer first person because I love to get inside one character's head, but that's just me. I guess then I'll always be stuck with the wise-beyond-their-years type, or at least smart enough to have good vocabulary. Because no one wants to read a book that's, like, totally OMG, the best book EVER about my bff Jill!!!! J/K. I totally, like, would never write a book like that. (Of course it's possible to write a first-person narrative that isn't like this, but still makes you believe the character could really be a teenager. I was convinced by Katniss, and by the few passages I read of Ever. Still, Katniss doesn't really count, because she lives in the future, and since I haven't read all of Ever's story I don't know if she ever slips into some unbelievable vocab.)
What do you think? Does it bother you mean teens use vocabularly that seems too good to be true? Or do you just suspend your disbelief and keep reading?