Today’s guest blogger is Luisa Plaja, author of Split By A Kiss. She’s written a fabulous post about YA books in the US and the UK, and I know you all will really enjoy it!
Travelling Trousers and Pants on Fire: When YA Titles Cross The Ocean
In suburban London, England, my friends and I grew up thinking we understood what it was to be an American teenager. Actually, I’d go further than that: we thought we were American teenagers. We had Stars and Stripes pens and NFL folders for our coursework. We watched John Hughes films and 90210, we read Sweet Valley High. We knew all about ‘lunch ladies’, ‘principals’, ‘proms’ and ‘graduating’ from high school in a big ceremony, as contrasted with the British experience of dinnerladies (or just vending machines), head teachers, and taking exams before slinking off quietly for the summer, waiting for a scrappy printout of our results to arrive in the post in August and certainly not a whiff of any mortarboards thrown in the air.
British teens of today might not have NFL emblazoned on their iPod skins, but many are just as well-versed in the ways of schools across the pond as I was. They watch films and television programmes set there, they devour books by American authors and they don’t need a glossary to understand that when Meg Cabot’s J.P. says he hates ‘corn’, he means ‘sweetcorn’. (Or at least, I think he does. Someone correct me if I’m wrong!)
When I lived in the United States, I discovered that the same does not hold true the other way round. The teenagers I met in the States did not know very much about life in Britain. Well, why would they? They don’t watch hours of primetime telly programmes (er, television shows) set in Britain, or read masses of contemporary British teen fiction.
But some British fiction has made it to the USA. I’ve heard that Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson comedy series, soon to be released as a film (er, movie), has brought the term ‘snogging’ to the USA, as well as creating a generation of Brit-literate American teens. I believe the books are published with a glossary, but then so are the British versions. Nicolson-ese needs as much translation in Billy Shakespeare land as it does in Hamburger-a-go-go land.
I’ve always thought that you can tell a lot about a culture from their teen book titles. Jaclyn Moriarty (who is Australian, but that’s a whole other post) made me think of this. The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie (USA) is called Becoming Bindy Mackenzie in the UK, and The Year of Secret Assignments (USA) is Finding Cassie Crazy in the UK. I used to think this meant that the US audience demands more dramatic, thriller-ish titles while Brits prefer to ponder their identity and sanity. But perhaps not. After all, you only have to look at Louise Rennison titles to see a certain randomness: And That’s When It Fell Off In My Hand is called Away Laughing on a Fast Camel in the USA, and the USA’s On The Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God is a translation of Britain’s It’s OK, I’m Wearing Really Big Knickers.
Well, I can see that ‘knickers’ and ‘pants’ might not cross the cultural divide, and I notice that Meg Cabot’s Pants on Fire became Tommy Sullivan is a Freak in the UK. But, confusingly, Sue Limb’s Girl 16: Pants on Fire is Girl Going on 17: Pants on Fire in the USA, so perhaps it’s not the pants that are at issue. After all, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants gained an ‘l’ in the UK but did not change its ‘pants’ to ‘trousers’, perhaps because ‘travelling trousers’ sounds faintly ridiculous, though possibly not as hilarious as the idea of travelling knickers. And, back to Louise Rennison, the latest Georgia book has been translated from Luuurve is a Many Trousered Thing to the plainer Love is a Many Trousered Thing, but fully retains its trousers. And both nations are awaiting the imminent release of the same title: Stop in the Name of Pants!
Putting pants, knickers and trousers aside, maybe the truth is that title changes don’t say very much about a culture after all. I recently heard that the prizewinning British novel Ways To Live Forever by Sally Nicholls will be issued in Dutch with a title that translates as “By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead”. I immediately scratched my chin wisely and thought, “Hmm, clearly a cultural difference in attitude to death.” But perhaps not. It seems that the second title just sounds better in Dutch.
If you have any theories on this matter, or know of any interesting UK/US book title changes, I’d love to hear them!
Plus I’m giving away one copy to a Teen Book Review reader. Please leave a comment below for a chance to win! You have until midnight EDT on Wednesday, April 30 to enter.