Saturday, May 23, 2009

YA Life immitating Art

So has anyone read Wintergirls yet, by Laurie Halse Anderson? I read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy, and thought that it was beautifully written, completely sucked me into the story, the voice, the well-rounded characters... Yet when I was done reading it, for the first time in maybe ever, I felt hestitation about reccomending it to teens. Something about the powerful first-person narrative of a young anorexic girl who is so singlemindedly focused on her weight and food made me fear that this book could be dangerous. I couldn't even articulate why, exactly. Then in the past weeks articles have begun appearing addressing the issue of this book as a "trigger" for teens who may potentially suffer from anorexia, and a lot of my partially-formed qualms were addressed. In particular this from the New York Times I found helpful in speaking to me about how I felt about this compelling book, even just because it was nice to know others had had similar reactions. And by "others" I mean people who, like myself, are not in the position of censoring books or information but rather making it as available as possible. Why had I felt tentative about placing this book in teens' hands? As I reflected on the book itself, and the articles I had read, I also started to wonder about the influence all teen literature has on its readers, and asking myself what YA literaure isn't a trigger of some sort? I remember in my tween years beginning to read The Babysitter's Club series; suddenly my mother noticed that I was starting to have a lot more attitude. I may have forgotten about this completely had not a patron's mother recently voiced the same concern about her daughter (in fact, she used the exact same word to describe her daughter's recent behaviour as my mom had mine: snotty).
One of the reasons I love young adult literature so much and find it so vital for adolescent development is that it presents readers with scenarios that help them to make difficult decisions. It gives them a set of life experiences, even if they are varied, fantastical, and fictional, that adults usually have accumulated through learning the hard way. The same way we hope that books will trigger confidence, tolerance, self-respect, or any of the other attributes teen literature positively instills, can I wonder why I feared the power of a book as well written as Anderson's Wintergirls to trigger dangerous behaviour? I must of course stress that I understand the substantial difference between a psychological trigger impacting a disease like anorexia and the influence or "trigger" of a book that speaks to other, perhaps more universal, teen development.
One of the greatest arguments for Wintergirls' power is that it speaks honestly to consequences, doesn't glorify the disease, and concludes with Lia seeking help of her own accord.
I'm anxious to hear from others who have read this book, or any books they may have felt similarly about. Have you ever noticed a direct relation between what a teen is reading and a sudden shift in behavior? Have you ever recognized this in yourself as a reader? And is there ever a justification for wanting to withold powerful and influential works from impressionable minds both young and old?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Serial Drama

A smattering of lines from some recent teen book reviews:

“And I'd further bet that the things that don't appear in this book will appear in others in the series.”
(From Tea Cozy's review of Prophecy of The Sisters)

“Ryan’s tale is certain to be popular with teen readers who will anxiously await a sequel.”
(From Alissa's review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth)

“and the ending of the novel is abrupt, begging for a sequel, instead of being a completely satisfying, self-contained whole on its own.”
(From The YaYaYas' review of Silver Phoenix)

“It ends almost as abruptly as The Fellowship of the Ring, with Todd and Viola standing on the precipice of a sequel some serious evil.”
(From Librarilly Blonde's review of The Knife of Never Letting Go)

I could go on in this vein for a while. (In fact, I deleted another 4 or 5 similar references already.) The number of recently-published books that have sequels attached, or plans for sequels, is overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong—when it’s a good book, I’m perfectly happy to go back and revisit that world. (Though, to be fair, I’m the kind of reader who has to exert serious effort to not read sequels to books I didn’t like.) I’m not anti-serial: I’m looking forward to Catching Fire, despite my complaint that The Hunger Games was a fantastic stand-alone, and there are plenty of books that I don’t think could work any other way than as a series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, even Earthsea—anywhere there’s too much story to cram into one book). But there are plenty of books that have sequels, or sometimes just “companion books,” that don’t really need them. For instance, the otherwise-enjoyable 100 Cupboards (N.D. Wilson) contains a poorly-integrated afterthought of an epilogue that reintroduces our vanquished villain for Book 2, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains was barely even published before word was out about Forge.

Maybe it’s a marketing decision (an established product is more likely to sell), or maybe it’s a laziness thing on the authors’ parts (surely it’s easier to revisit an established world than to invent a whole new one). Maybe it’s publishers’ reactions to the idea that Teens Don’t Read Anymore (I disagree, but that’s another post), so if we can hook them on one book maybe we’ll convince them to read three or four in the exact same vein. Maybe it’s due to the popularity of manga and its 40+-volume serials, and publishers of prose novels are assuming sequels are the way to keep up. Maybe it’s a simple resistance to change, the safe cocoon of characters and world settings with which we’re already familiar. I don’t know—I’m throwing darts at a map, but I don’t believe it’s entirely any one of these things. It does make me wonder, though: when did we get so reliant on having every conclusion spelled out for us? What’s so wrong with ambiguity, that we can’t have an open-ended book without immediately clamoring for a sequel?

If you want to feel bleak and hopeless, read this

Living Dead Girl by Scott
A Long Way Gone by Beah
Lessons from a Dead Girl by Knowles
Before I Die by Downham
Tears of a Tiger by Draper
Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher

this list seems so much easier to write...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alcatraz VS the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

I just finished reading Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson which is about a boy named Alcatraz who received a bag of sand for his 13th birthday. I know what you are present ever right? To the evil librarians who rule the Husland, they could take over the world with this bag of sand. With the help of his long-lost grandfather, Alcatraz must retreieve the bag of sand before it's too late. I loved the style of this book. The author actually directly addresses the reader throughout the story to provide humor and play with writing techniques. It helps develop an attachment to Alcatraz by learning along with him about the Huslands. This book has an array of memorable characters too. I enjoyed the stereotypes of the shushing bun in hair librarian and the romance paperback monsters. The themes of the "power of information" still ring true in today's headlines. Do we give too much information away? Is information censored? What about what's in the news?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Happy Teen Books?

I have a new goal... i want to put together a list of happy (even funny!) teen books for summer reading. This all started because I'm reading A Long Way Gone and I just can't handle anymore death and destruction. So I tried to find a good happy book for my book club and it took serious effort!!!

So let's make a list. I'd like to gear it to 7th-9th grade specifically, but older is ok too. This is what I have so far:

My Most Excellent Year by Kluger
Lemonade Mouth by Hughes
Skullduggery Pleasant by Landy
Bloody Jack by Meyer

Fate & Luna

I just saw this book cover on Amazon... is it just me or is it suspiciously similar to the paperback cover of Luna?

I find this a little odd.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

High School summer reading

So I'm on the committee for high school summer reading. We've come up with 3 options for the *entire* high school to read this summer.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Myers (my first choice)

A Long Way Gone by Beah (I'm reading it and am not sure yet...)

All Souls by MacDonald (I don't even think I want to try this one...)