This week I had a book sitting on my desk that I'd just finished reading. A student picked it up and looked at the cover.
"Is this any good?" she asked.
"Freaky scary good," I replied.
She returned it to the library and checked it back out and returned to the classroom. After a minute she said, "Can I go take this back."
"What, you're not going to read it?"
"No, I don't like the names."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't like the names, they're like Carlos and Joey and Alex."
I was stumped. This is a cool kid, not likely to be turned off by ethnicity other than her own.
"Is it because they're Hispanic? Boys?"
"No, it's not that. I just don't like the names so I don't want to read it."
When I think about the books I've read and loved this year and the protagonist's names I come up with Katsa and Katniss and Marcelo, Peeta, and Gael. Names are grittier in lots of ways. Unusual. Even in my own WIP - I have Roan and Slight and Whisper - names I don't hear in the halls at school. Susan's and Gordy's don't show up much in MG or YA fiction these days.
Think about Katsa and Katniss - both start with crisp, strong consonants. The 's' sound is like a hiss or a slither. They sound strong. They sound otherworldly. And maybe that's what it's about. When we read we want to escape, to experience life or another world through someone else's skin.
What are your favorite names from this year's fiction? Do you think names make a difference? Are you surprised by my student? Do you think it's true of most young readers? Looking forward to your thoughts!