I’m Reading a Book…

About a book inside the book.

Okay, maybe not a book, but a journal. And the book isn’t really about the journal, but it’s the construct that explains why we, the reader, get to step inside the reader’s story. From close up in his head. Because he has been given an assignment to record his days, his actions, his thoughts in this journal.

I’m going to cheat and not share the book title, because it’s one I’m not enjoying as word-of-mouth would have predicted, and I just don’t feel like getting into all the whys and why nots today. Besides which, I haven’t finished the book, and maybe it’ll surprise me. Maybe one of the surprises will be a true story reason for the journal.

Right. The journal. It bugs me. Traffic alert: Whining ahead. The book is a YA and the journal “allows” us to get in very, very close to the hero’s perception and thoughts. Except…don’t a lot of YA books do that without a journal? Isn’t that…and, yes, I’m making a big generalization here…something that’s relatively common to YA? Could we have foregone the journal in this case and just stepped into the story? First person, third person–couldn’t the author have even slipped in the few instances of second person that he uses–with the “you” being the reader, instead of the person who assigned the journal? Why, yes, I believe we could, he could. It all would have worked.

I get irritated when something is added to a story without a reason.

Of course, the journal/diary construct was something I adored when I was a kid. I’d have to go back and reread most of my childhood books to be sure (not a horrible chore by any means), but maybe we just didn’t get first person as often as today’s young readers. Maybe the diary was, in those days (hand me my cane, will you?), a construct that gave us access to a voice we didn’t get as often, a close up and really personal voice. I suspect, though, that I loved it because the kid hero who kept a diary was a hero I aspired to be. Aspired to and failed. I have never once, not as a kid, a teen, a young woman, or a…less-young woman succeeded in making more than a few entries in any journal. And as a child, I so wanted to. Every time I read a book with the diary-inside-the-story format, I tried again. After I read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, I tried to find my own version of “Dear Kitty.” Nope. Nothing. And I kept reading about and loving those heroes who  managed to put their thoughts on paper, day after day, week after week.

I keep reminding myself that there are a whole world of young readers out there to whom the journal format isn’t old hat, kids who may still identify with or aspire to be a diary keeper. I keep telling myself that they haven’t over-eaten in the genre, so that yet one more serving results in a bout of piggy burps. But all the time, as I tell myself these things, I’m still thinking…he didn’t need it!

What do you think? Do you like/still like the diary format? Did you like it as a kid, and has your affection hung around or faded with the years? Do you think the need for a journal device has shifted as story voices have become more immediate, more intimate all on their own? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. It’s tempting to use a journal, (and I loved it as a kid) but I agree, there are other ways of getting close POV. I did just include a letter from one character to another though. What do you think about that?


    • beckylevine says:

      Carol, I bet the letter works fine. It’s a way to CHANGE voice, right? ☺


      • Actually, I alternate voices with the 2 protagonists, but it did start out as an exercise in practicing voice. I liked the results and (for now anyway) going to include 2 letters- back and forth between the girls. During a time they’re “not talking.” Ha! I just thought of that “twist.”


  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I loved the use of the diary format in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s LIFE AS WE KNEW IT. We got to see the MC change and grow as a worldwide disaster threw new things at her on a daily basis. I thought the format really worked there.

    I used diary excerpts in THE SECRET YEAR not only to bring in the voice of a character who was dead, but to let the MC discover her voice–her experience of their relationship–in a very direct way. I thought this character would very believably keep a journal, and the type of journal she used (letters to the guy she was involved with) was a type of journal I once kept myself during an intense relationship.

    So I do think diaries can work, but they have to have a reason for existing–by which I mean a reason that’s important to the character, not just the author–and they should seem to evolve naturally from the circumstances of the story. And they should provide an experience we couldn’t quite get in other formats.


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