Archive for April, 2011

April 28, 2011

Fairy Tales With a Twist

Fairy tales! We loved them as children and there’s no reason we shouldn’t love them now. These classic (if admittedly bizarre, when you really stop to consider the plot of any of them) stories are finding new life as young adult novels. Here are a few of my personal favorite re-told fairy tales.


Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. Robin McKinley is kind of the fairy godmother of YA retold fairy tales. She has written approximately one million of them (it’s possible that number is closer to ten, which is still a lot), and I have not read them all. But I have read both of her Beauty and the Beast retellings, Beauty and Rose Daughter. She wrote Rose Daughter nearly 20 years after Beauty, and you can really see how much she’s grown as an author between the two books. It develops the magic of Beauty’s world and gives authentic personalities to every character, including her sisters. And the ending has a slight twist, which I love. Beauty is quite good also, and (in my opinion) Disney’s Beauty and the Beast pretty clearly ripped a lot of stylistic elements from it. (Though, of course, they’re both drawn from the same source material.)
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale (and illustrated by the improbably unrelated Nathan Hale). This is a super fun and funny graphic novel. It takes Rapunzel and sets it in the Wild West, and gives Rapunzel some serious attitude. She escapes the tree the witch has imprisoned her in and uses her long hair as a deadly weapon, Indiana Jones-style. She learns early on that the prince can’t be trusted, so she falls in with Jack (of Beanstalk fame). Together, they ride around on stolen horses and discover how far the witch’s power extends, and come up with a plan to take her down and restore justice to the land. The art is perfect to accompany the story and has a lot of great comic touches. (Note: I described it to some people and they said it reminded them of Tangled, which I have not yet seen, so I cannot comment.)


Sisters RedSisters Red by Jackson Pearce. I first heard about this book when Bitch Media included it on their list of 100 YA Books for the Feminist Reader, and then removed it due to a few reader complaints. After reading it myself, I have to say: Eff you, complaining readers. The argument made was that in the book–which incidentally is a modern-day re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood in which the wolves are werewolves and the titular sisters dress in red to lure them in and kill them–being attacked by a werewolf is an allegory for rape, and the book makes it seem like girls who are attacked by werewolves deserve it, hence the book is saying that girls who get raped have it coming. This, in my view, is a stretch. The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Scarlett, the older sister, who lives to hunt werewolves; and Rosie, the younger sister, who hopes to one day have a normal life that does not require her to strap a knife to her belt every time she leaves the house. Both sisters are great characters who provide contrasting views on events. (And, this is, I think, where the controversy comes in–Scarlett does think that the girls who get attacked by werewolves have it coming. But Scarlett is also seen as over-the-top and consumed by bloodlust. Just because Scarlett thinks something does not mean that it’s the position the book is advocating, duh.) Anyway, I couldn’t put it down. And I’m a feminist reader, so take that, Bitch Media.


Also, it just so happens that I did a project about retold fairy tales for my Young Adult Literature class. I’m uploading the bookmark I designed, which has even more book recommendations! You can print it off, or just, you know, look at it. (By the way, I got an A- on my bookmark, with the feedback that it was kind of hard to read. I opted for smaller font size rather than removing one of my book suggestions. So maybe you should zoom in on it.)



PS: You may have noticed that this post is tagged “John Green” even though he does not actually appear in this entry. That is due to my goal of making John Green the biggest word in our tag cloud.

April 28, 2011

Why didn’t I go to boarding school in Paris?

That is what I asked myself when I finished reading Stephanie Perkins’ fantastic debut novel, Anna and the Kiss. Let me tell you, I’ve read this book twice now and I love love love it. I actually bought the kindle version of it, and I love it so much, that I’m going to order a “real” copy so that I can lend it out to friends and make them read it too.

The novel introduces us to Anna, a teenage girl who is happy with the life she has in Atlanta, a best friend, a job she likes and a cute boy that she’s been flirting with. Her father, a Nicolas Sparks type novelist who has fallen into new money, decides it would be a good experience for her to spend her senior year the “School of America Paris” AKA SOAP. She is not happy with development at first. I admit, the first couple of chapters I was like “Come on, Girl. Your get to LIVE in PARIS! Get over it!” but before I started really disliking her she won me over with her instant crush on Étienne St. Clair.  St. Clair, as his friends call him was raised in London and therefore has a cute accent and good hair. He is flawed though. First of all, he has a girlfriend and he strings both her and Anna along for most of the novel. But that’s ok, because he is charming and his and Anna’s chemistry radiates off the page.

One of my favorite parts of the novel, which rang so true to me was Thanksgiving weekend when the two are only ones left in the dorm. (Spoiler Alert, but nothing earth shattering) – St. Clair spends the weekend in Anna’s room, and they are together the entire time. They bond, they talk, they get physically close but notthatclose but then on Sunday, when everyone comes back that intimacy feels like a brick wall between them. Suddenly they don’t know how to deal with each other. I have been there. It reminded me of all-night phone conversations where I revealed my most inner thoughts and then the next day feel strange about it.

As for the third character, Paris – I have fallen in love with a city I have never been to, but I feel like I have. The descriptions of the people, the places, sights and sounds gives a perfect setting for a love story.

Basically, Anna and the French Kiss instantly became a favorite of mine. Stephanie Perkins has two companion novels coming out, the next one Lola and the Boy Next Door will be published in September. If Anna is any indication, she is going to have a nice long career in the YA world.

April 27, 2011

Why YA for me

When I was 12 I did not like to read. But one day I was bored and I went into my older sister’s room to

snoop around. She had one shelf of books and I remember sitting on her floor looking at them. I pulled out a tattered copy of Judy Blume’s It’s Not the End of the World, read the back cover and decided to give it a try. I went back into my room and I don’t know if I read it in one sitting, but I know I read it pretty quickly and the whole thing. I had never read a book that sounded like a friend of mine. I was hooked. I soon devoured all of Judy Blume’s YA titles, discovered S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders is still my favorite book of all time) and moved onto Norma Klein and Paula Danziger.

This is what the copy I read in 1986 looked like

That was obviously a long time ago, but I found as I graduated from high school and moved onto college and adulthood, I still was drawn to the same kind of books. In the 90s, YA wasn’t really a “thing” in the way it is now, and a lot of novels were categorized general fiction that would be seen as crossovers today. In fact, my favorite novel of the 90s, Blake Nelson’s Girl was first serialized in “Sassy Magazine” published and sold in the adult section of the book store and then reprinted ten years later as a YA novel. In the 90s I started reading novels about 20 somethings (which I was one) and Gen X, but I also spend a couple of years working in the Children’s Dept of a large bookstore (hint, not the one which just filed for bankruptcy), so I read all the YA books I could during my downtime. A that point, I tried to hide my addiction, embarrassed that I was reading novels meant for teenagers when I most definitely wasn’t.

Then I made a fantastic discovery. There was a whole world of academia surrounding Children’s Literature. I did some research and discovered Simmons College in Boston offered an MFA in Writing for Children.  I applied, was accepted and my life became all about YA. I recall sitting around the table at orientation making the introductions. The others were talking about the books I loved. The books that I hid in the back of my bookshelf behind Jane Austen because I wanted to look smarter than I am. I found my people and it felt like home.

So to tell you some things about me – I guess the biggest thing is that I’m a mom of two young boys (one is hanging on my arm as I type this). L & R are 4 & 2 respectively, so I’m in the thick of it  so to speak. I finished my MFA last May and now I’m working on one of the novels I wrote for my final project. I will finish it and submit it. Someday.While there, I was able to read and discuss my beloved YA novels with others who were passionate about them too. I discovered a whole slew of authors that I missed along the way, like John Green and Marcus Zusak. (I may or may not have driven over two hours to meet John Green and David Levithan. I admit nothing.)

I also like teen TV like Degrassi and Glee, and I may have recently bought seasons 1-4 of Boy Meets World. Basically I’m obsessed with high school and the people in it. I love character driven stories, strong voices and flawed characters. I’m also a sucker for romance. But mostly, I just like when a character feels real to me, like they could exist in the world that they are in.



April 27, 2011

Why YA?

That’s the question, right? I’m twenty-five–so, not old, but old enough to feel a little sheepish about walking into my public library’s designated Teen Zone. I got my B. A. in English. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I read all of Infinite Jest. (I’m not claiming to have understood all of it, mind, but I read it.) So why am I still reading YA books? Why am I going to school in hopes of becoming a YA librarian?

  1. Humor. I love a good laugh–who doesn’t? Of course, “adult” books have humor too, and not all YA books do. But many of my favorite YA authors have a great sense of humor, and the awkwardness of the teen years provide ample fodder for this. (“High school sucks. People who say those were the best years of your life – those people are liars… Who wants the best years of their life to be in high school? High school is something everybody should be ready to lose.”–Meg Cabot, Forever Princess)
  2. Ease. Yes, all right, I said it. I don’t mean to deride YA lit here. But YA books are generally shorter than adult books. They are written, generally, in a clear and straightforward style. This doesn’t mean they don’t deal with complex issues. It just means that you can devote more of your brain power to connecting with the characters and with the story.
  3. Nostalgia. I’m not that far out of my teen years myself, but it’s still fun to think back on high school–and be glad that I’m done with it!
  4. Characters. More than adult literature, YA literature tends to be character-driven. YAs, we are told, need role models, characters with whom to identify. And adults don’t? Who among us doesn’t love Anne Shirley, Harry Potter, or Katniss Everdeen? YOU KNOW YOU LOVE HER
  5. My Ongoing Quest for Self. Some time ago, I read a really great article about why adults like reading YA literature. I cannot for the life of me remember where I read it, and I cannot seem to track it down again. But it left an impression on me. It basically posited that adults like to read YA lit because it provides relatively clear-cut moral instruction in a way that adult books rarely do. The article also highlighted Kurt Vonnegut as an author who does this and used that to explain his popularity among both adults and young adults. That rang true to me. The YA books I like the best are about teens trying to figure out what kind of people they are, and usually these teens talk about it and manage to say something pretty profound about their search. (And if they don’t, maybe the narrator will.) Well, I’m not a teen, but I’m still trying to figure out what kind of person I am. And I don’t go to church, so I just have to rely upon John Green. There’s a quote from his book, Paper Towns, that maybe doesn’t stand up 100% out of context, but when I read it–last year, at age 24–it completely slapped me in the face and made me realize that I was doing the exact same thing in some of my relationships. Thanks, precocious fictional teenager!

“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it’s going with my girlfriend – but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you. My parents have a shit ton of black Santas, but that’s okay. They’re them. I’m too obsessed with a reference website to answer my phone sometimes when my friends call, or my girlfriend. That’s okay, too. That’s me. You like me anyway. And I like you. You’re funny, and you’re smart, and you may show up late, but you always show up eventually.”

Compare this to Vonnegut (from The Sirens of Titan):

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

More concise, perhaps, but both convey the same basic message, am I right?

So, in a nutshell, I guess that’s why I still like YA literature. How about you?