Posts tagged ‘young adult lit’

June 17, 2011

Review: Every Little Thing in The World

Confession: I love summer camp. Love it. I went every summer as a kid, and as an adult, I spent four summers working at various Girl Scout camps. (I’m still volunteering occasionally at one this summer, when time allows.) And, of course, I love YA lit. So you’d think that I would love YA books about summer camp!

Well, mostly, I don’t, and here’s why: all the children’s and YA books I’ve read about camp so far are wrong. First of all, they are always about the kinds of fancy, expensive camps where kids stay in cabins. Also, they are always about co-ed camps. I acknowledge that expensive, co-ed camps exist. But I went to the kind of Girl Scout camp where you sleep in platform tents and make weird little crafts out of pine cones. As an adult working at Girl Scout camp, I learned just how tight the budget is at those camps. The reason we made crafts out of pine cones are because pine cones are free and we’ve already spent our summer budget on glue and marshmallows.


The camp I attended and worked at. NO CABINS. CABINS ARE FOR SISSES.

I literally laughed out loud (repeatedly) at the plot of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, which involves Camp Rock being outshone by the bigger, fancier Camp Star. The problem with that is that Camp Rock is a friggin’ ridiculously nice camp. (I briefly Googled to try to find images of their camp so I could show you, but all I came up with were lots of pictures of the Jonas Brothers pouting in nature. But let me just tell you that in their very nice, wood-paneled dining hall, the juice comes out of trumpet-shaped dispensers. Do you even know how much craft glue you could buy for the cost of one trumpet-shaped juice dispenser?)


Look at them, inside their CABIN. Ugh.

Anyway, so YA books about camp tend to focus on the drama of life at a long-term, co-ed camp. (Or, a single-sex camp with another single-sex camp across the lake. These camps always have huge, beautiful lakes.) Usually they are romances that spring up amidst cushy cabins. Bah! Also, they are always doing weird shit like Color Wars. What even is a Color War? BAH. Books about camp never focus on what I love about camp: the friendships, the creativity that comes up when you’re bored in your tent with no electricity, the delight in gaining prowess at new skills, and (yes) spending time in nature.

I did find a camp book that I actually kind of liked (even though it was still wrong):


Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont.

It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Sydney, a girl with divorced parents whose mother is fed up with her and whose dad is a strict “live off the land” type. Sydney gets sent to live with her father for the summer, shortly after discovering that she is pregnant. She’s afraid to tell her father, and he sends her off to an intense wilderness camp without the summer, completely unaware of her pregnancy. It’s a co-ed camp (drama!) and one of the boys happens to be the start of a Dawson’s Creek-esque TV-show (double drama!) and some of the boys are sent from a juvenile detention center (triple drama!). The teens get sent off on long canoe trips. To Sydney’s surprise, she really enjoys canoeing and being outdoors, and she enjoys the teamwork of canoeing. She also spends a lot of time reflecting on her pregnancy and weighing the options. I won’t spoil the ending, but I really appreciated how well de Gramont captured her tough decision and the process she went through. I also appreciated that romantic drama was kept to a relative minimum, even though it was a co-ed camp (boo). It captured a lot of what I love about camp–friendships, learning new skills, loving nature. And yet it had enough drama to make it a compelling and surprising read.

I’m still waiting for someone to write an awesome YA novel about Girl Scout camp. If no one does it in the next few years I might be forced to put pen to paper myself.

June 13, 2011

Is YA Lit Too Dark?

Spoiler: no.

I’m a little late to the game on this, but I still wanted to chime in. Because why have a blog if not to post your opinions even if no one else cares about them?

It seems like every few months or so, some adult has written a big story discovering YA lit for the first time and being shocked at how well-written/violent/popular/whatever it is. Meanwhile, YA lit continues on being written and read like usual.

Most recently, Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote this story for the Wall Street Journal, Darkness Too Visible, about how YA lit is just too graphic and dark for teens to handle, and whatever is a parent to purchase for their poor teens to read?

She quotes a concerned mother who:

Had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, “nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.” She left the store empty-handed.

Right after this story went up, I read All This Darkness! What to Buy the Grownup Reader (A Parody) by Sarah Ockler, a pretty funny piece about how condescending Gordun’s article is. One of my favorite parts of Ockler’s piece was:

I recently stood slack-jawed in the adult fiction section of my local big box book store, having decided that supporting my community while getting personalized recommendations by professionals who generally adore books and make it their business to know exactly what sorts of things a reader will love was just not on my to-do list this year, feeling stupefied and helpless.

The mom in Gurdon’s story could have asked a damn librarian (or small bookstore employee) for some kind of appropriate book rather than standing at Barnes & Noble and wringing her hands. But whatever. We all know about librarians and their leftist, anti-censorship agendas.

Anyway, assuming libraries are out of the question, is it even true that YA lit has gotten “darker”? Darker than what, exactly? YA lit is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until maybe thirty, forty years ago, if you weren’t reading children’s books, you were reading adult books. Adult vampire-suicide-mutilation books.

Gurdon even briefly points this out in her article:

As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing. There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers and some not.

I don’t really understand how this is supposed to be preferable to the existence of young adult literature.

Anyway, tons of people have already responded to this article. There was a pretty hilarious Twitter meme: #YAKills. (A few highlights: “I became convinced that my labrador retriever was my daemon, and we got kicked out of every restaurant for a year. #YAkills@NaturallySteph. “Shared 1 pair of unwashed jeans w/3 friends for a summer – not only did I not get a boyfriend, but no one would sit next to me. #YAKills” @ChandraYB )

There was also the serious version, #YASaves. Sherman Alexie (author of the YA book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, as well as several books, short stories, and poems for adults) wrote a response to Gurdon’s article that’s probably the best explanation of how YA lit saves: Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood.

He talks about his own childhood of poverty and abuse. He talks about the children and teens who have responded positively to his novel, which gets called out by Gurdon for being popular among teens, yet depraved. Do read Alexie’s piece if you are at all interested in YA lit or young adults or humans. A small highlight:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children.

Word, Sherman Alexie. Word.

Or as Linda Holmes wrote for NPR:

While the WSJ piece refers to the YA fiction view of the world as a funhouse mirror, I fear that what’s distorted is the vision of being a teenager that suggests kids don’t know pathologies like suicide or abuse unless they read about them in books.

Obviously, I would prefer it if no children or teens had to suffer. But the fact is, millions of young adults are survivors of abuse and/or poverty and/or homelessness and/or discrimination and/or any number of things that are much worse than anything that happened in Breaking Dawn.

And even for privileged children, there is value in reading “dark” books. I myself grew up a happy, white, middle-class kid. I had my own little school dramas and angst, of course, but overall I was extremely lucky. But I devoured Lurlene McDaniel books–you know, the ones about teenagers dying of cancer? Why did I do that? I didn’t have cancer. A cousin of mine died of leukemia when I was four or five, but I didn’t know him very well and don’t consider myself to have been particularly scarred by the experience. (it’s sadder to me now, as an adult, to think back on what his death must have been like for my older cousins, my aunts and uncles, and my parents, than it was for me personally as a child.) And it wasn’t just me–Lurlene McDaniel’s books, and other copycat teen illness books, are extremely popular. According to Wikipedia, she’s written over sixty YA books.

In case you’re not familiar with McDaniel’s books, here’s a plot summary of one, chosen at random from Amazon.


Wait, she dies? Spoiler alert, Lurlene!!

She Died Too Young (published 1994–well before the alleged onset of Darkness in YA lit)

Chelsea James and Katie O’Roark met at Jenny House and spent a wonderful summer together. Now Chelsea and her mother are staying with Katie as Chelsea awaits news concerning a heart transplant. While waiting for a compatible donor, Chelsea meets Jillian, a girl who’s funny and kind. Jillian is also waiting. She needs a heart-lung transplant. The two girls become fast friends. When Chelsea meets Jillian’s brother, he awakens feelings in Chelsea she’s never known before. However, as her medical situation grows desperate, Chelsea finds herself in a contest for her life against her very best friend.

I’m pretty sure I read that one. Why would I read that? That is super sad. I mean, the title gives it away. I read it because kids and young adults are trying on the idea of mortality, of tragedy. Even if I didn’t need a heart-lung transplant, and neither did anyone else I knew, there was still the idea that someone out there did, and someday I might. Someday I would die! How sad! I read about dying teens, and teens with drug problems, and teens who were exposed to toxic waste and developed super powers. I read about teens who were abandoned alone in the woods with only a hatchet and their wits to keep them alive. I turned out fine (does that sound braggy?).

I also definitely slipped into my mom’s bookshelf and read some adult books I didn’t really understand. I mean, I could read the words, but I didn’t really understand them. I distinctly remember reading She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb at about age 12 and having no idea what was going on, but feeling really grown up that I had it. I also remember seeing the movie Cider House Rules as a young teen and thinking Tobey Maguire was like, so cute. Then as an adult I read the book and went, wait, this is about abortion? Was that part in the movie? (I checked and yes, it’s totally in the movie. It’s like, the central premise of the movie. But I didn’t get it because I didn’t really know what abortion was.) If kids aren’t old enough to be reading something, they won’t understand it.

If teens aren’t already doing meth, they’re  not going to run out and start after they read Crank by Ellen Hopkins. But it might help them gain an understanding of why someone might start doing drugs.  And if they have been affected by meth, they’ll be relieved to see someone on the page whose experiences might match their own.

I guess in summary all I have to say is: if you don’t like the Hunger Games, don’t read the Hunger Games, and don’t buy a copy for your kids. But please settle down about what a travesty it is that teens are reading books where bad things happen, or I will come to your house and shoot you with a crossbow. I’m unhinged! I read YA literature! Do not fuck with me!

June 9, 2011

Can We Talk About the Breaking Dawn Trailer?

You guys. I can’t tell you how excited/appalled I am for the Breaking Dawn movie (part 1!) to come out. I am not a fan of Twilight per se, but I did slog through all four books and I do love talking about them. (I always preemptively clarify that I read them while I was in the Peace Corps. I find that this cuts off judgment. Oh, what, you haven’t read all four Twilight books? Yeah, I read them… while I was saving babies* in a developing nation, NBD.)

Anyway, so, I’d read all four books. (Note: in case it’s not clear, this post will contain spoilers for Breaking Dawn.) Then after the first movie, lots of people were talking about Twilight. Specifically, lots of people were talking about how effed-up Twilight is. I’m not going to go too in-depth about that; I feel like other blogs have already talked about how effed-up Twilight is better than I could hope to do. But for a few years now, my party trick has been to say, “Yeah, sure, Twilight is messed up, but do you know what happens in the fourth book? Can I tell you?” And then I tell them and revel in their horrified stares and their adorable insistence that I am making it up. But no, my friends, I am not capable of making up the atrocities of Breaking Dawn. Only Stephenie Meyer is.

Now that the movie is approaching, I feel the way a friend of mine feels about Scientology. For a long time, her party trick was to explain all the hilarious details of Scientology (“And there’s an alien lord named Xenu–yeah, seriously–“) But now South Park and everyone else have made fun of Scientology. It’s old hat. Everyone knows how crazy Scientology is. And soon, everyone will know how crazy Breaking Dawn is.


Anyway, the trailer. In case you have not seen it (or would simply like to revisit it), here it is:

So, first of all: the first minute of this trailer is mail getting delivered. Was this movie sponsored by the U. S. Post Office? This perfectly encapsulates how simultaneously appalling and boring I find the entire Twilight saga.

Second of all: “No measure of time with you will be long enough. But we’ll start with forever.” Edward, that is meaningless, but I will give you a pass because everything you say is either meaningless or offensive.

Also, can we talk about how Bella does not look at all pregnant when she starts freaking out? I mean, I know her pregnancy was all super vampire fast and everything, but I feel like that scene is just going to trigger some eating disorders. I guess it’s more visually compelling than a scene of her looking at a pregnancy test or something.

In conclusion, as is true with all things Twilight, the best part of this trailer is Charlie Swan. Play the trailer back and just watch his reaction to the wedding invite (It’s at 0:26.) Thank you, Charlie, for saying what we’re all feeling.

* Number of babies personally saved by me during my two years in the Peace Corps: zero. But whatever, how many babies have you saved? The most important thing to remember is: none of us are as bad of people as Bella Swan. She is the worst person.

June 7, 2011

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly Black was on my summer reading list. It’s the first one off the list I’ve read so far. And I didn’t even read it, I just listened to it. (It’s fine, it’s still the first week of June. I have time, right?) Anyway, it was so awesome, you guys! Normally I’m kind of ambivalent about audiobooks. I love the idea of them, especially for long trips. But in practice, I get fidgety. I usually end up listening to a disc and then changing to music for awhile, then putting in the next disc. I listened to White Cat all the way through, and I was mad when it was over. I already requested the sequel, Red Glove, from the library. (In audiobook form, of course, since it is also narrated by my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg.)

Partly I think this audiobook was successful because of its narrator (my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg). He was a perfect match for the book’s narrator, Cassel Sharp. Cassel’s a teenage con man attending an upper-crust private school. He’s often the smartest guy in the room, though he’s not always quite as smart as he thinks he is. I know not everyone loved The Social Network the way I did, but hopefully we can all admit that my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg is an excellent smartass.


My celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg

I didn’t know much about the book. I might not have read it if it hadn’t been narrated by my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg. But I’m so glad I did! I knew it was a fantasy book, which isn’t usually my jam. But for some reason I thought it was an old timey fantasy book, which really isn’t my jam. But, it isn’t! It’s my favorite type of fantasy book, which is, of course, fantasy books set in modern day where everything is the same except for one magical difference. I also love it when the political ramifications of magical differences are explored in detail. (This is also why I love X-Men so much, though I guess that’s sci-fi, not fantasy. Whatevs. See also: the scene from Harry Potter when the Minister of Magic talks to the regular Prime Minister of England. Totally awesome. Is that book 5 or book 6? Uhh either way, totally awesome.)

Anyway, the one magical difference in the world of White Cat is that some people are born with a magical power. These people are called “curse workers” and they’re very rare. There are seven kinds of curse workers, and the most common type is luck workers. As the name implies, these people can change your luck. Mostly, people hire them to be present at weddings and baptisms and stuff. But there are other ones, like death workers (who… can kill you) and memory workers (who can erase your memories, or give you false memories). It’s illegal to ever use these abilities, so most people who have them end up as criminals.

Everyone in Cassel’s family is a curse worker, except for Cassel. He’s the youngest and he’s still in school while his two older brothers work their way up the hierarchy of one of the biggest crime families. His mother is in jail after one of her cons went bad on her. Cassel has learned a lot from her, though, and even though he’s not a worker, he’s still a talented con artist in his own right. But he tries to downplay his family life at school–he just wants to keep his head down and fit in. He especially doesn’t want anyone to find out that he accidentally killed his childhood best friend, Lila. Unfortunately, Cassel starts having strange dreams of Lila that cause him to sleepwalk, and he’s forced to leave boarding school when he almost sleepwalks off the roof and the school declares him an insurance liability.

Cassel starts to suspect that someone is working him, and he starts to discover that things in his family are not what they seem.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s all very exciting! I figured out some of the plot twists, but not all of them. I rate this book four Jesse Eisenbergs (out of a possible five Jesse Eisenbergs).


White Cat by Holly Black

May 25, 2011

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna?! Okay, I Guess (And Other Thoughts on Hunger Games movie casting)

In case you have not been following the Hunger Games movie casting news closely, you might not have heard that Lenny Kravitz was announced to be playing Cinna, Katniss’s stylist.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz

A lot of people have been reacting with surprise/negativity. I’m definitely disappointed, but only because I really wanted Christian Siriano (from Project Runway) to play Cinna.

Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano. He looks slightly different from Lenny Kravitz.

Obvi, Christian Siriano is not an actor, and I have no idea whether or not he’d be any good as Cinna. And his persona is much more manic than the calm Cinna. Cinna is actually probably more like Tim Gunn. But a long time ago someone put the idea in my head that Christian Siriano should play Cinna, and I ran with it in my head. And I think that, based on his work on Project Runway, Christian could totally design an awesome outfit for Katniss, and I would in fact love for that to be a Project Runway challenge.

Lenny Kravitz does strike me as an odd choice. He’s not an actor, either–though apparently he had a role in Precious, which I have not seen. But, like, honestly I don’t care that much. I’ll definitely see the movie no matter who they put in it.I also think it’s a positive to have another person of color in the cast–I don’t remember if Cinna was described as being black, and I don’t really care if he wasn’t. I totally missed that Rue was described as being black, but I’m glad they’ve cast an actress of color for her part.

I’m not sure what it is about my imagination, but when I read a book I hardly ever have a clear mental image of what the characters look like, which is fine. I have a better idea of what they sound like and what they feel like. Whenever a book comes out as a movie, the movie actors instantly take over in my mind as what the character looks like. I do notice occasional things–like I know Harry Potter has green eyes, which J. K. Rowling mentioned, oh, seven thousand times, and which Daniel Radcliffe does not have. But, honestly, not the biggest deal to me. If they’d cast a sassy Latina as Harry Potter (for example), I would be intrigued, but might not have been on board with it. But I think Daniel Radcliffe did a fine job as Harry, and he is now my mental image of the character, green eyes or no.

Also, I was ambivalent about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, but after reading her interview in Entertainment Weekly this week, I’m on board. (I can’t find the full interview online–I borrowed the magazine from a friend & don’t have it anymore to quote. But she talked a lot about her archery training and how important it is to her to be authentic as warrior-Katniss, and how she’s been working with the wardrobe people to make sure that her outfit for the Game is appropriately athletic. Here’s a link with the cover photo and part of the interview.)

Cool. So now that is how Katniss looks in my head, and that’s fine. Until I see the movie, though, Cinna will probably still look like Christian Siriano.

Finally, I’d like to say that when I was in junior high I thought this song was totally cool:

So, rock on, Cinna. Rock on.

May 19, 2011

My Summer Reading List

Summer’s here! If not in weather–it’s cloudy and in the low 50s here in central Illinois–at least in official school terminology. This summer session I’m only taking one class (web design), and I’m hoping to catch up on some non-academic reading. (Okay, let’s be real, I’m taking classes on youth librarianship, so a lot of my “academic” reading is in size 14-font with a lot of pictures. But still, woo, summer!) Here’s some of what’s on my list:

  • Re-reading the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. I burned through all three of these books so Firequickly that I don’t even really remember half of the stuff that happened. And I need to have a good background so I can nitpick all the movie photos that are starting to leak out!
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Highly recommended by many, including Sandy and John Green.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore. I loved Graceling, the book to which this is a prequel. (That phrase is awkward. Sorry.) Everyone I’ve talked to (sample size = 3) says that Fire isn’t as good, but that it’s still pretty good, so I’m willing to check it out. (If you haven’t read Graceling yet–it’s a must! A very cool fantasy world–and I’m not necessarily a huge fantasy fan–with great characters and a very suspenseful story.)
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Where She Went, the sequel to this, receShipBreakerntly came out, and everyone I know who’s read both raved about If I Stay and says that Where She Went is even better. If I Stay is about a girl in a coma deciding whether or not to live, and apparently it’s much more riveting than that plot summary might imply.
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Honestly, this book–a dystopia/post-apocalyptic kind of thing–doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea. But it did win the Printz award this year and I would like to at least have an opinion about it.
  • White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black–the audio book. Holly Black has been on my radar for awhile, ever since I read Zombies Vs. Unicorns which she co-edited (with Justine Larbalestier). She was Team Unicorn, as am I. (I highly recommend Z vs U, even if you do not have particularly strong feelings about zombies or unicorns.) Also, Stephanie Perkins was recently tweeting about her crush on Jesse Eisenberg (of Zombieland and The Social Network), which I share, and she mentioned that he reads the audiobooks for this series and recommended them, both for their own merits and for his narration. Anyway, White Cat is the first in a series about people who have magic curse WhiteCatpowers or some shit, I don’t really know. I’m going to wait until Jesse Eisenberg tells me about it.
  • More Meg Cabot! I loved the entire Princess Diaries series, but until I did a big project about Meg Cabot for my YA Lit class this semester I didn’t really realize how many books she’s written! Here’s a link to my project, which has info about her life and career as well as blurbs for all of her 50 + books. (And if you haven’t read the Princess Diaries yet–check them out! So funny and fun.)
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Not YA lit but it has been on my to-read list ever since it came out! It takes place in Peoria, which is kind of where I grew up. DFW is my non-YA, extremely-difficult-to-read homeboy. I will probably read this book at a ratio of one chapter of The Pale King to every complete YA novel I read this summer.

What are you planning to read this summer? Any suggestions for me?

May 17, 2011

Soul Surfer: Sharks ‘n Jesus

A few months ago, I went to see the movie Soul Surfer. I was drawn both by my love of watching other people surf and my love of teen movies. Soul Surfer looked like it would be promising on both accounts.

Oh, before I say more–after I saw it, I went out and told everyone I knew all of my opinions about it, and they all looked at me blankly and said, “What’s Soul Surfer?” Apparently the marketing campaign did not reach my peers the way it reached me, so, in case you haven’t heard of it either–Soul Surfer is a movie based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, the young competitive surfer whose arm was eaten by a shark when she was 13 years old. Remarkably, she continues to surf (and win) at a competitive level with one arm. (By the way, “soul surfer” is a surfing term for someone who surfs for the love of it, not for money.)

And, okay, when I was in the Peace Corps I lived near the ocean. I took surf lessons and I went out a lot of weekends and tried to surf. It’s really hard. The physical strain of paddling, the strength required to push up to standing, and the timing of figuring out when to get into the wave–it’s hard. With two arms. So from a purely physical standpoint, let’s take a moment to say that Bethany Hamilton is a total badass for even getting up on a wave with one arm.

Soul Surfer Movie poster Anyway. So. Soul Surfer, the movie. I saw it with my friend Anna, and about half an hour in we glanced at each other and said, “I didn’t realize this was a Christian movie!” It isn’t, exactly, a Christian movie, but it is definitely a movie about a Christian family, in a way that is much more explicit than in most popular teen movies. Carrie Underwood plays Bethany’s youth minister, and there are scenes where they attend church. There’s a scene where Bethany’s father reads her an inspirational Bible quote while she’s in the hospital. All in all, there’s a total of maybe ten minutes of explicitly Christian content in the film.

Personally, I am not a Christian. I often cringe at Christian “inspirational” shows and movies, though I sometimes watch for entertainment value. (See: whenever Walker, Texas Ranger decides to have an explicit moral to an episode.) But I had no problem with Soul Surfer. Like I mentioned, Bethany Hamilton is a total badass in my book. If she says Jesus Christ helped her become such a badass, who am I to tell her otherwise?

After I saw the movie, I read an article talking about the studio’s reluctance to make such a “Christian” movie. Apparently they toyed with changes like, no joke, Photoshopping the word “Bible” off the cover the the Bible her dad reads. They also thought about changing the character of her youth minister to some kind of generic youth group leader. I’m glad they didn’t do that. Even though I’m not a Christian, I don’t have a problem with people reading the Bible. Frankly, it offends me that a movie studio would think that I would.

I really enjoyed the film. It was, yes, inspirational. The surf scenes were cool. The shark attack scene was not too graphic for my delicate sensibilities. And I’m pleased that Kevin Sorbo is getting work.

So, naturally, I decided to check out the book. (I was 14th on the hold list for it at the library, so clearly I was not the only person in town inspired by the movie.) It’s called Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, and it was written by Bethany Soul Surfer BookHamilton with Rick Bundschuh  and Sheryl Berk. She says that she talked for hours with Rick and he helped her turn those conversations into a book. The quality is about what you’d expect of a book written by a fourteen-year-old girl, and I don’t mean to be unkind. It’s a great story, but it’s written in a very simple, straightforward way. It is also a lot more Christian in content than the movie was. (I believe it is marketed as “inspirational” literature.) Christianity is clearly a big part of Bethany’s life. It isn’t proselytizing, exactly. It’s just part of her life. She gets up, she prays, she surfs. God had a plan for her, and it involved her arm getting eaten by a shark so that she could be a role model. I’ve never been attacked by a shark, so I’m certainly not going to tell her what she should believe.

The movie is pretty similar to the book, although it tightens things up to make it flow faster (and apparently invented a surf-nemesis for Bethany). The real story is pretty amazing, and elements that I assumed were made up for dramatic conflict apparently actually happened.

Overall, I’d say: check out the movie (if you’re into surfing, or have been wondering what Helen Hunt has been up to lately), pass on the book (unless you want it for your church youth group or something), and check out this interview with the real Bethany, featuring amazing footage of her surfing.

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 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?