Posts tagged ‘Young Adult Literature’

February 7, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

by renata

Okay. There’s probably no point in me reviewing The Fault in Our Stars by John Green since by now it’s been a NYT bestseller for a couple weeks in a row (not to mention that it was also a bestseller in pre-sales) and you’ve probably already read it. But nevertheless, I read it and I have thoughts about it.

The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I have heard the complaint leveled that John Green is overrated. And, to some extent, I think I agree. Or at least–I think that his Twitter and his YouTube videos make me feel more fondness toward him as an author than his books alone merit. Is that the same thing as being overrated? Or is he just good at social media? Is that the whole point? (Maureen Johnson also triggers this confusion in me.) I think that John Green is excellent at social media but I think he is also excellent at writing books, and I will happily consume both.

Still, I was nervous about The Fault in Our Stars (or TFIOS, as the internet calls it). I mean, it’s about cancer kids. And Jodi Picoult wrote the cover blurb. Let’s be real: it could have been cringe-worthy. But instead, I really thought that it transcended cliche and delivered wonderful characters and, you know, deep truths about mortality or whatever.

TFIOS was so engaging that it cured my jet lag. The first day I got back from my European travels, I went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 4am. It was less than ideal. The second day, I picked up all my held mail, including my pre-ordered copy of TFIOS. I decided to read a few chapters of it before going to bed at 8:30pm, a totally reasonable bedtime for a jetlagged grownup. But I got so sucked into it that I read it straight through until midnight. Then I wiped my tearstained eyes and went to sleep. Ahh.

kleenex

Just got something in my eye

So. TFIOS is the story of Hazel, a teenage cancer patient. Hazel loves the (fictional) book An Imperial Affliction, which is about a teenage cancer patient. She dislikes most of the kids at the teenage cancer support group her parents make her attend, except for Isaac, a sarcastic eye cancer patient. And Isaac’s friend, Augustus. Before long, Hazel more than likes Augustus. She loves him, and vice versa. But Hazel knows her days are numbered, even if she doesn’t know the exact number, and she’s afraid to let Augustus get too close to her.

I don’t want to give too much away, but, you know, it’s a book about cancer kids. It’s funny and heartbreaking. Don’t put on mascara before you read it, that’s all I’m saying. These characters have a unique perspective on life and mortality, and Green–who worked as a chaplain in a children’s hospital–brought them to life unforgettably. As is true in many of my favorite YA novels, the teens talk perhaps a bit more intelligently and profoundly than normal teens. Like, whatever, at least they’re not vampires, am I right?

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
— Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

Swoon!

five stars

Anyway, I give TFIOS five faulty stars out of a possible five. (The title, BTW, is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Classy!)

July 1, 2011

ALA Conference Highlights

by renata

So, what did I do at ALA, besides swoon at David Levithan and go on an awesome ghost tour? It’s kind of a jumble! The conference was so overwhelming, and I also wanted to get in some NOLA tourism, so I definitely didn’t get to see or do half the stuff I wanted to do. (Like, I missed seeing Stephanie Perkins and getting an ARC [Advanced Readers Copy] of Lola and the Boy Next Door. And I saw Daniel Handler but missed getting an ARC of Why We Broke Up. And, saddest of all, John Green did not attend ALA after all, breaking the hearts of thousands of librarians.) But mustn’t dwell. Here’s what I did do and see:

  • Saw Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) give a presentation and Q&A. He seems like such a genuinely nice guy, and completely taken aback and flattered by the massive popularity of his books. He also spoke about why he keeps his day job on the website Poptropica, which I guess is an interactive game. He said he loves having a different medium through which to tell stories, and even though it’s stressful to have two jobs he thinks it’s worth it. Oh, he also said that he would like to have ten Wimpy Kid books and then stop.  My favorite part of his session was a young boy (who must have a librarian parent) asked him how he got the pages of his books to look like notebook paper. That’s totally the kind of thing I used to wonder about reading books–like how in the Babysitters Club books sometimes there would be handwritten letters. How did they do that? (The answer is: computers.)
  • Went to the YA coffee klatch event. It was cool, but honestly a little disappointing. The idea was librarians sit at a bunch of tables in a big ballroom and drink coffee, and every four minutes a new author comes to sit down and talk. It was just a big whirlwind, really, and I wished we could have had a few more minutes with each person, but I did get to meet Maureen Johnson (and see her wear a Burger King Twilight crown), Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why), and Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things).  Also some new authors. The one I’m most excited about is Leila Sales, who has a book coming out called Past Perfect, which is about teenage historical reenactors. It sounds awesome.
Maureen Johnson & her crown

Maureen Johnson, Queen of YA, doing her best Bella Swan impression

  • Went to signings and met Maureen Johnson, Jay Asher, and Carolyn Mackler again and got ARCs of Maureen’s book The Name of the Star and the one Jay & Carolyn co-wrote called The Future of Us.
  • Shared an elevator with David Levithan and, I’m almost certain, kept my cool about it.
  • Went to a workshop about transliteracy and had some librarians tell me that the digital divide is like a seashell and sometimes you have to teach people how to use the mouse before you can teach them how to use Microsoft Office.
  • Handed out my business cards six times, although once was to my friend Stacey and I wrote “sext me” on it, so that one probably doesn’t count as “networking.”
  • Shamelessly picked up tons of free stuff.
daniel handler

Daniel Handler, aka the elusive Lemony Snicket

  • Saw Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) read an excerpt of his new YA novel, Why We Broke Up, which features paintings by Maira Kalman (13 Words). (Although, like I previously whined, they ran out of ARCs and I didn’t get one! Boo-urns!) It sounds really funny, though. And his own little comments and asides were perfect and hilarious. I love him. Example (recreated from memory… was funnier when he actually said it): “Hollywood has optioned Why We Broke Up, which is a thing that Hollywood does sometimes where it pretends like it wants to make a movie out of your book but usually it doesn’t really. Anyway, one of the concerns that Hollywood has about this book is that it portrays teenagers drinking alcohol. They are afraid that if teenagers in real life see teenagers drinking alcohol in film, they too will want to drink alcohol. Here is what I say to that, and what you should say, when teenagers, as they so often do, come to you, as adults, for advice. I have had alcohol, and I have had my heartbroken. That is not a coincidence. If you drink alcohol, you will get your heart broken. It is far better to stay sober, and passionless, and alone. So teenagers, do not drink alcohol.”

I also met Jackson Pearce (author of Sisters Red and others) standing in line to get a book signed by Maureen Johnson. That weirded me out, like I assumed that all YA authors would automatically be in the same club and not have to wait in line to see each other. I had this interaction with her:

Me: Excuse me, is this the line for Maureen Johnson?
Jackson Pearce
: Yes.
Me (looking at her name badge):
Okay, thanks. And, um, are you Jackson Pearce, the author?
Jackson Pearce: Yes, there aren’t too many of us with this name.
Me (awkwardly)
: Oh, um, cool! I really like your books!
Jackson Pearce
: Thank you!
Me (still awkward and confused)
: Um, are you having a signing sometime?
Jackson Pearce:
Oh, I had one yesterday, and we already ran out of copies of Sweetly (her upcoming book).
Me:
Oh, too bad! Um, nice to meet you?

And then I kind of awkwardly was going to shake her hand but we were both holding books and I kind of shrugged and then got in line to see Maureen Johnson. Oh well, what can you do?

sweetly

Later I got this free lollipop to commemorate Jackson Pearce's new book. Pretty sweet. GET IT?

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend and I’m so glad I went! I just wish I could have cloned myself so I could have gone to all the workshops and all the signings and all the paranormal tours! Being in the same place with 20,000 librarians is a trip. There is a definite “librarian look” and “librarian personality” and we were all just sort of dressed sensibly, yet quirkily, and all very polite. And many, many of us were constantly on our smartphones, livetweeting our conversations about the power of social media and #hash-tagging them.

June 2, 2011

Colorful Characters: YA Lit and Diversity

by renata

Previously, I posted about my difficulty in creating questions for my book discussion group project. But I finally came up with some, hooray! You can view the finished project here (including book summaries and all the discussion questions I slaved over.) I spent a lot of time thinking about how to talk about race and culture in a way that didn’t sound awkward. I think this is something a lot of white Americans spend a lot of time thinking about (or else no time at all). I ended up calling my project the “Multicultural Voices Book Discussion Group,” though I’m still not happy with the name.

Ultimately, I think discussion of race and culture is something that can often be done more effectively in YA books than in adult books. (I think this might also be true of sexuality.) YA books often deal with a search for a sense of self, which includes a search for racial or cultural identity. YA narrators can often pull off a more self-conscious discussion of race than adult narrators. This is important on a literal level as well as on a metaphorical level.

Too, young people are more accepting of change. It’s realistic to have YA characters questioning the status quo in a way that many adult characters would be incapable of doing. (Not necessarily the case, of course. Look at Atticus Finch.) Even so, it’s hard to talk about issues of race without talking about race and being too heavy-handed. Racism as experienced today is subtle. We no longer have “whites only” drinking fountains, but wealthy suburbs might have de facto whites only schools. Young black teens might not be explicitly barred from entering certain stores, but they might be tailed by security the entire time they shop (as seen on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

FreshPrince

Fresh, but Persecuted

Also, discussing race does not have to equal talking about racism. Books, YA and otherwise, can feature characters celebrating their culture, or even taking it for granted. We can and should have books about black characters who aren’t defined by being black. We also can and should have books about white American characters who seriously engage with what it means to be white. I can’t think of any YA books that really do that. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments! Alternately, please write one.

Anyway, here are the eight books I chose for my Multicultural Voices discussion group:

I picked these eight not necessarily because they are my eight favorite books, but to provide a variety of viewpoints and racial/cultural identities. Of these, my favorites are The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (an instant classic and a must-read, in my opinion), Ten Things I Hate About Me, and Ask Me No Questions. Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa is another great novel, and I really admire the way it shows its protagonist grappling with all the political and personal ramifications of being Cuban-American. In retrospect, I probably should have included this book instead of Return to Sender, and I say this as an ardent admirer of Julia Alvarez’s work for adults (In The Time of the Butterflies is an all-time favorite.)  Return to Sender is the only book of these eight with a white narrator, and it’s really more of a middle grade novel than a YA novel.

PS: I have a future blog entry in mind that will be dedicated to giving Justine Larbalestier a gold star for her YA books and their treatment of race. I am sure you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting for it.

What are your favorite YA novels that deal with race? Are they by Justine Larbalestier? Why or why not?

May 16, 2011

A success story

by sandy

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend my fourth New England Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators AKA NESCBWI (worst acronym ever) Conference and it was a doozy. The keynotes speakers were Jane Yolen and Tomie DePaola, both known mostly for their work in picture books, but Jane Yolen has a few novels in her 200 publications. My favorite presentation was given by Mark Peter Hughes, the author of Lemonade Mouth, which is now a Disney Channel movie. A hit one at that. Truth is, probably more kids have seen that movie than Prom, which was the movie Disney released a few weeks ago (and Renata blogged about). My friend Shoshana (Hi Shoshana! Check out her blog here) works at a bookstore and said copies have been flying off the shelf. I read Lemonade Mouth three years ago, when I attended my first Whispering Pines Retreat and MPH (Not NPH, but just as cute and funny) was the mentor. He is a Rhode Islander like me, and sets his novels in my home state. I was so happy when I heard that Lemonade Mouth was becoming a movie, because I knew how big that this was. It is fantastic to see a local guy get success like this.

 

Anyway, I digress. His workshop was entitle Help! Help! I’m Stuck! and while I’m bound by the oath of NESCBWI to not discuss the details on my blog, let me say that I’m excited to continue writing my novel. Just seeing him there so excited to talk about the craft we both share and know that he is turning non-readers into readers at this very moment is exciting.

The theme of the conference was something about Milestones because it was the 25th year and there was a lot of talking about the success stories that have come from SCBWI and it gave me some hope and goals. For now, though, I’m just going to plug along on my novel and read my YA novels and dream that someday I’ll be standing in front of a room of pre-published writers with a story to tell.