Posts tagged ‘john green’

February 7, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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.


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


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

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).
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?


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 23, 2011

ALA Conference Excitement!

Hello all! I am getting ready to leave for the biggest social event of the year (for librarians)! The ALA Annual Conference! Several of my grad school friends and I are road-trippin’ down to New Orleans to geek out with 30,000 other librarians (and librarians in training). I guess it’s my first professional conference, although when I was a senior in college I presented at the American Pop Culture Association National Conference (on why Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is awesome, which I am still happy to discuss). But since I plan to become a professional librarian, and not a professional Scholar of Pop Culture (UNFORTUNATELY), I’m going to go ahead and call this my first professional conference.

There are TONS of workshops and talks scheduled, and I’ve spent a lot of time poring over the schedule and figuring out what workshops to attend. Obviously some on networking and the job search, but what else? Some of my peers are focusing on learning about new technologies, or joining new committees. Me? I’m planning to stalk as many YA authors as possible. Here’s a list of people who will be there:

  • JOHN GREEN, the YA love of my life
  • David Levithan (there to talk about series fiction, meaning I will hopefully get to pepper him with questions about his history as a Babysitters Club ghostwriter)
  • Jeff Kinney
  • Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)*
  • Rebecca Stead
  • Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Maureen Johnson
  • Holly Black
  • Lauren Myracle
  • Other authors I haven’t heard of but who are probably also awesome

* I met Daniel Handler once in San Francisco. It went like this:

Me: UMMM, I’m sorry, I just have to ask, are you Daniel Handler?
Daniel Handler (noticeably surprised): Yes.

And then we talked for awhile. I don’t remember. It’s not a great story. But he did sign my copy of The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket.

(By the way, if you are an ALA member and will be at this conference, or if you are just curious, or if you are stalking me, you can view my planned ALA conference schedule at ALA Connect.)

I also created a “professional” Twitter account for “networking.” Feel free to follow @sanckenr for my “professional” “tweets” about “librarianship.” It might be the fastest way to find out if I throw up on John Green when I meet him.

May 13, 2011

Friday Feud: Gale vs Peeta!

Sandy and I decided to try out a new feature called FRIDAY FEUD. Gotta get down (with YA literature) on Friday.

Our first feud comes from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Which, if you haven’t read it yet, you’re probably a really boring person. I just don’t know how else to say it.

In case you haven’t read it, I will warn you that this post is full of SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE TRILOGY! But if you want to read on anyway, a quick intro: the Hunger Games books are set in a weird dystopia where every year, each district is required to send two children to fight to the death against children from other districts. It serves both as reality entertainment–the games are broadcast and are the most popular show on the air–and as a way to keep the people scared and under control.

Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Games. She’s accompanied by Peeta Mellarck, the relatively well-off baker’s son who she doesn’t know very well. Katniss is well-prepared for the games, having grown up illegally hunting in the woods with her late father and her best friend, Gale Hawthorne.

Gale and Peeta

Left: Liam Hemsworth (Gale). Right: Josh Hutcherson (Peeta)

Gale is rough and manly and woodsy! Peeta is gentle and shy and artistic! And they are both so totally in love with Katniss. And Katniss, well, she is basically over it. She just wants to save her sister and have people leave her the eff alone.

So, Team Gale or Team Peeta? I think Team Peeta is more popular–at least, among people I know. And, of course, Mockingjay ends with Katniss and Peeta together. I don’t have strong feelings either way, honestly. I like the Hunger Games trilogy for its political intrigue, and not so much for the romance. And if you ask me, Katniss doesn’t need a boyfriend, she needs a therapist. But for the sake of FRIDAY FEUD I will stick up for Gale.

Gale and Katniss have a history. Gale’s the one Katniss trusts with taking care of her family, with her secrets. She and Gale are both hardened and traumatized by the war. They are both warriors in a way that I don’t think Peeta understands. Let me revisit the epilogue to Mockingjay, which I found pretty disturbing:

It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree [to have children]. But Peeta wanted them so badly. When I first felt her stirring inside of me, I was consumed with a terror that felt as old as life itself. Only the joy of holding her in my arms could tame it. Carrying him was a little easier, but not much.

What? Come on, Peeta, Katniss should not have kids. Homegirl is too traumatized for that business. You should know better. Gale wouldn’t pull that.

Opposites may attract, but lasting relationships tend to be built on similarities. Katniss and Gale could have had a good thing.

May 12, 2011

Literary Moms

In honor of Mother’s Day, how about some fictional moms?

(NOTE: I started writing this on Mother’s Day and then got distracted and never finished it. But, you know what? In the Dominican Republic, Mother’s Day is the last Sunday in May, so I’m early for that. Also, you should love your mom every day!)

Unfortunately, it’s hard to come up with too many great moms in YA fiction, since YA books nearly always kill or marginalize the parents. This is understandable from a narrative perspective–it really forces teen protagonists to take action if they know they can’t count on help from their parents. But it makes it hard to write Mother’s Day blog entries.

So, the top fictional moms in my book (ha!) come from what should probably be called children’s literature, not young adult literature. But whatevs! It’s all good.

1) Marmee from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Until re-reading this as an adult, I never really realized how very religious Marmee and the March girls are! That is okay, though. It’s just how they roll. Marmee is such a sweet, hardworking lady. She knows how to encourage her daughters to make it through some rough times without going all Tiger Mom on them. Like, remember when she gave them a week without chores so they would realize on their own how terrible it was when the house was so messy? Great parenting, Marmee.ILU Marmee

2) Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Smart, brave, and up to the task of mothering insecure Meg, child prodigy Charles Wallace, and average-ish twins Sandy and Dennys. All this while her husband is being held prisoner on the planet Camazotz and their small-minded neighbors assume he’s left her for another woman. But, please, who would leave Kate Murry?

3) Lowercase will grayson’s mom from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. (Sorry–I don’t remember her name and can’t find it online. It might not have been mentioned.) I love her response when will comes out to her, and I love the way she helps him through his breakup as best she can. She hasn’t had the easiest life herself, but she’s got will’s back.

Then, because I kept thinking of them while I was trying to come up with good moms, here are some of the worst moms in children’s and YA fiction:

1) Renee from the Twilight saga. Flaky, annoying, childish, and responsible for creating Bella Swan, the most irritating female protagonist since, like, ever.

2) The Other Mother from CoPlease keep those buttons away from me!raline by Neil Gaiman. Sure, she seems nice at first, but then it turns out she wants perfect conformity and obedience. Oh, and to replace your eyes with buttons.

3) Petunia Dursley from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Obviously, she’s horribly cruel to her nephew Harry. But she really wasn’t doing Dursley any favors by spoiling him so much. He turned out fat, mean-spirited, and generally awful–not that Petunia will ever see it that way.

Who are your favorite or least favorite literary moms?

May 5, 2011

“Teens will like”

I was just perusing Goodreads and saw this beginning on one of the reviews. “Teen will like” and then later “Teens will identify” – and I’m not sure why, but that really bothers me, though I’m sure I’m guilty of it as well. Obviously, as a writer of YA I want to write novels that teens will like, but if I spend too much time thinking about their likes and dislikes, my story will get lost. Because lets face is, not all teens like the same thing. In fact, the reason there are so many different “cliques” in high school is because teens are so different. Is there any book/movie/song that every person likes? If there was, there would be a backlash as soon as people started talking about it. (Even Harry Potter has his naysayers, though those people are obviously unhappy in their general lives). My point is, to say “Teens will like this novel” is a huge generalization.

For an adult to even try and guess what teens will like is patronizing. I believe that for every teen, reader or no, there is a right book and for every book there is the right reader. For example, I just finished reading K.L. Going’s King of the Screwups which was in fact where I found the quote that offended me. Sorry “Darlene” on Goodreads, but you put yourself out there – here’s her quote, copy and pasted  “Teens will like this YA novel about a boy who just can’t seem to do anything right, even when he’s deliberately trying to do things wrong!” And a kid with a not-so-nice dad may have a different reaction to a kid with a great relationship with his father.

That’s great that you think teens will like it, but did you? You were the reader, weren’t you? Yes teens may have been Going’s intended audience, but if an adult reads it, they bring an entirely different lens to the story. I enjoyed the novel, felt for Liam and as an adult worried about his future. His father is emotionally abusive to both him and his mother, but that term is never used. His father is consistently disappointed in him, but he never realizes that no matter what he did it would not be good enough. Eighteen years of this weighs on Liam’s self-esteem, though fortunately,  he inherited his mother’s good looks and charismatic personality. This seems to be a big reason why his father treats him the way he does, but that is left for the reader’s interpretation. His father kicks him out and Liam goes to live with his estranged cross-dressing “Aunt Pete” and tries everything he can to be the son he thinks his father wants, but he can’t change who he is, so he feels he even fails at that.

I can’t imagine how a teen will feel about this novel – would they get that years of emotional abuse will effect Liam for the rest of his life, or will they enjoy the story at its surface, as our friend Denise says “about a boy who just can’t seem to do anything right, even when he’s deliberately trying to do things wrong!” My prediction is that it will depend on the teen, and their own experiences, and that is something you can’t predict.

May 3, 2011

Book Club

First, a follow-up on prom. It turns out that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a book about prom. It’s cunningly entitled Prom. I’m definitely adding it to my to-read list, since if anybody can write a somewhat-normal book about prom, it’s probably her. David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft have also edited a YA anthology called 21 Proms, which includes a story by my YA lit crush, John Green, so I will also check that out. Perhaps there is hope for some decent prom stories after all!

And now, on to me talking about my homework. I’m working on creating a “book club discussion portfolio,” which requires me to choose a theme and select an appropriate set of books, and then create promotional materials and discussion questions. I’ve somewhat ambitiously chosen racial identity as my theme and I am now discovering how terrible I am at writing discussion questions. I keep catching myself writing questions like “Do you think you are racist?” and “Did you hate [character]?” These are not productive questions. The very act of trying to write these questions is giving me a greater understanding of the books. It’s also making me really glad that I decided to pursue librarianship rather than teaching.

Do you like book clubs? There is a YA book club on campus that I sometimes attend. I like talking about books, of course, but sometimes it gets very heated. Our Mockingjay discussion particularly got my blood running! Who knew there were so many Katniss-haters out there? Not me. And those opinions are wrong and must be corrected. … Right?

And now, for your enjoyment, a few of the discussion questions I’ve been slaving over, with annotations.

For Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:Absolutely True Diary

How do you interpret the book’s title? Is Junior really a “Part-Time Indian”? Is his story “Absolutely True”? (I almost added “What does it mean to be ‘true’?” but I thought that might be getting a little heavy for a high school book club.)

For Julia Alvarez’s Return to Sender:

How would you react if you found out that your parents were hiring undocumented workers on their farm? (This book’s narrator is a white kid who is basically terrified of immigrants and any perceived threats to “homeland security.” I basically could not stand him and had a hard time writing any discussion questions that did not reflect my hatred of him.)

For Walter Dean Myers’ Slam:

Slam is one of a handful of minority students at a primarily white school, and he thinks he got in “when they had all the fuss about getting more black kids to go to the magnet schools.” How diverse would you rate your school? What effect do you think diversity has on classroom learning? (It was really hard for me to write any questions about this book that were not extremely leading. But my target audience for this project is largely white Midwestern teenagers who probably have not given much thought about what it’s like to be one of the few minorities at their school. Think about it, kids!! And adults!! If I ever actually lead a book club discussion on this book it will probably end with me screaming at everyone.)


Discussion Questions

Have you ever had to write discussion questions? Why or why not?

Would you like to write some discussion questions for my project? Discuss.

If you could discuss anything, what would you discuss?

Would you rather discuss discos or discuses? Would you rather throw discos or discuses?

What would Katniss Everdeen do if people said mean things about her at book club?

May 1, 2011


As aficionados of YA media, my friend Anna and I went to see the movie Prom on Saturday. We have sat through and enjoyed many cheesy YA films, most recently Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (“racially problematic but entertaining”) and Soul Surfer (“I thought it was called Shark Girl”–which I also want to blog about as soon as I read the book).

So. Prom. As advertised it looked to me kind of like a Breakfast Club/High School Musical fusion, featuring all the classic high school archetypes–misunderstood bad boy, overachiever, stoner, jock, awkward nerd, mean girl, et cetera. By law, every film goer is required to identify with at least one of these archetypes. I claim overachiever (or nerd, if overachiever is unavailable. There is a distinction between overachiever and nerd–overachievers having more social skills and being more generally well-rounded than nerds.) Unfortunately, overachievers are almost always unbearable in film and television. (Ren Stevens, bless her heart, is a notable exception. Also, in books, the overachievers/nerds are nearly always the likeable narrators. That is because books are written by overachievers/nerds.)

As adult consumers of film, nearly all of us root for the bad boys or stoners, because they are the ones who are like, so totally over high school. And we, too, are so totally over high school (one hopes). They are always the characters who have monologues about how high school doesn’t matter, and after graduation you’ll never have to see any of these people again.

Which, okay, fine, but when I think back to myself in high school, it mattered. It was four years of my life, and I lived them, and I stressed the eff out about whether or not a B in pre-calculus would prevent me from ever getting into college. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) So, I watch the overachievers and nerds and hearken back to my teenage years of extreme stress levels.

Here’s what did not matter to me in high school: prom. It always felt, and feels, so unrealistic to me when teens in movies and TV are so obsessed with prom. I mean, I went to prom, and so did my friends. We even helped make the decorations (again: overachievers). But our prom experience was nothing like this movie. Which, granted, was entitled Prom. Still. It was unbearable, and I wish I had not spent money to see it. (At least we went to a matinee, so I’m only out $4.)

So. For starters, Nova, the irritating overachiever and alleged protagonist of the film, has apparently spent most of a semester making ridiculously elaborate decorations for prom. (My friends and I on the prom committee spent like, a morning making ours. And it was fine. No one walked into prom and said, “These decorations are shit. I am leaving.”) She is also the class president and is going to Georgetown on scholarship. She is incredibly stoked about prom because it is “the one night when anything can happen!” Or something. Whatever.

he is mine

This scene takes place when they break into another high school to make fun of their inadequate prom decorations. The lesser high school is STILL way more decorated than my high school prom was.

Anyway, so, the shed the prom decorations are in burns down. Oh noes!!! There are only three weeks until prom! How ever will Irritating Overachiever get ready in time! God, I hate her. Then, as punishment for making fun of prom, the principal assigns Misunderstood Bad Boy to help Irritating Overachiever make new, also ridiculously elaborate prom decorations. What a sadist. Here is a fact about the Misunderstood Bad Boy: he is dreamy and I am totally in love with him. Sigh!!! Anyway, the Irritating Overachiever is a total bitch to him and then like they fall in love or whatever. I’m not really sure, I was too busy planning my wedding to Misunderstood Bad Boy.

Meanwhile, everyone else in the school was obsessing about really elaborate invitations to prom, like building a big set in the school auditorium or writing out an invitation letter-by-letter on the chests of football players. Um, does anyone do that? At my school it was more like, “Uh, so, do you have a date for prom? No? Want to go with me? Okay cool.” And if you were in a relationship with someone it was just assumed that you would go to prom with that person. It wasn’t some kind of wedding proposal scenario where girls would get worked up if their boyfriend hadn’t asked them yet. I mean, really?

Anyway, this movie was terrible and almost none of the characters were likeable. My friend and I decided that if the high school gym were on fire, these are the only characters we would care whether they lived or died:

  • Misunderstood Bad Boy (duhhh)
  • Funny Stoner Kid (* acts like a stereotypical stoner though actual drug use is never alluded to)
  • Cute Couple Who Are About to be Divided By Different Colleges
  • Token Black Girl (redeemed as a likeable character in my book by breaking up with her douchey boyfriend right before prom and going to prom by herself)
  • Awkward Nerd who takes his younger sister to prom and gives good advice to a Sophomore Awkward Nerd
  • Sophomore Awkward Nerd, whose best friend kind of ditches him for an annoying girl

That is it. And since this movie has at least 20 characters, that is a pretty low number of tolerable characters. Of the 20+ high school students whose prom drama is showcased, I only remember the names of three: Nova, the Irritating Overachiever (since a) they say her name so many times and b) it is a dumb name); Jesse, my misunderstood future husband; and Rolo, the Stoner.

Prom failed to make me care about most of its characters and especially to make me care about prom itself. I know I am not its target audience, but I am sure I would have been equally–if not more–annoyed by this film when I actually was in high school. Why are there so few high school movies that in anyway accurately represent a normal high school experience? All I can come up with is Mean Girls, and maybe Juno. Did the people who write teen comedies ever go to high school? Where did they go to high school? Did no screenplay writer ever get asked to prom? Is that what’s happening? Do we need to arrange for a big Hollywood Prom and then everyone can get over it? Because back in 2002 my friends and I spray-painted some sweet cardboard stars and bought some shiny disposable tablecloths, and we would be happy to repeat that arduous task if it could prevent more movies like Prom from being made.

Also, if you can think of any awesome movies or books that deal with prom in a normal way that does not make high school girls look totally crazy, please let me know!

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 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.