#11 Young Adult… Starring Charlize Theron

I watched this the other night with a few friends and it wasn’t that great. Now, I was slightly inebriated while doing so, but I could still comprehend the plot. So, here are my thoughts:

It’s one of those movies where you just feel embarrassed for the protagonist THE ENTIRE TIME.

Charlize Theron’s character has no redeeming qualities that I can see. She ghost writes for young adult novels that sound similar to the Gossip Girl series, but with Babysitter’s Club reminiscent covers. Her book series is about to end and the sales of the books are very low, being on the “do not shelf” list at bookstores. She spends the majority of her screen time downing alcohol and Diet Coke. The only part in which I laughed out loud was when she woke up and placed a two-liter of the stuff to her mouth, and that was only because I do the same exact thing quite a lot (minus the alcohol).

In summation, Charlize Theron’s character is a recently divorce YA writer and alcoholic who is so incredibly full of herself and lost in her own fictional teenage plot lines that she believes she can get back her old high school flame, even though he is married and has just had his first child with his wonderful (very unarchaetypal) wife. Her parents look down on her, her old friends look down on her, and strangers look down on her. She tries every skeezy trick in the book to steal this man from his marriage and child because she believes that real life is supposed to mimic juvenile romance novels. In the end, she confesses her “love” to the married man in front of everyone at his newborn’s naming ceremony, then sleeps with a man from high school whom she has always bullied and then suddenly everything is fine. She realizes, out of the blue, that she needs to grow up and stop being selfish and that she can do anything she wants.

This was too sudden for me. If a movie wants to make me hate a character right off the bat, that movie needs to make me hate the character, feel sorry for the character and then love the character in all equal parts. It’s not good if I hate the character ninety percent of the time and feel somewhat sorry or hopeful for her the other ten percent. Especially if it’s a movie about a young adult author!

If you’re looking for a “grown up” movie with a tiny smudge of information regarding young adult literature, this might be a fair pick. I would recommend going to see this film if you’re into mainstream, whiny dramas where you end up wanting to see more of the minor characters rather than the protagonist (who was actually the antagonist as well in this film), but if you’re wanting to see it because of the theme of young adult literature and the lives of the genre’s authors, it won’t be anything that you expect it to be, and it will definitely not be worth the time or the money you waste on it. Unless, maybe, you’re as drunk as the main character.

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#10 “The Tough Stuff”

Let me start off this blog by saying, I had a wonderful 21st birthday this weekend.

Anyway, now I’d like to cover a couple of books dealing with what most mentoring adults we know would call “the tough stuff,” when recommending them to teens. I like to call it, “life’s bullshit,” but that’s simply a personal preference.

Back in the day, I’d say around the 80s and 90s, the only teen literature around that was popularly read was Chicken Soup for the Soul.  I think the problem back then was definitely censorship, and fear of that censorship festering inside the thousands of people who wanted to write literature for young people that dealt with actual real-life issues. Sure, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were nice and fun to read, but what about for a kid living in an abusive household, or struggling with drugs, or even a young person of color dealing with anything, really. There wasn’t much out there for a troubled bookworm tween.

But nowadays, there are vast amounts of choices in the young adult genre for teens struggling with one thing or another.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins is one of my favorite YA books dealing with a heavy subject. That subject being suicide. The book follows a couple of teens, all sent to a mental health facility after attempting to end their lives. Hopkins’ style of writing is poetry, which makes this story even more beautiful in the end. I know the book is very beloved among young and old readers alike, as are Hopkins’ other books, Crank, Glass, and Identical. This author isn’t afraid to write about a real problem bluntly and artfully. Any lover of textual art and poetry would find this book a great read.

One of the things I dealt with frequently in middle school and high school was bullying. Because of my weight, kids would tease and taunt and throw things at me, simply to see if I would do anything in return. A couple of wonderful books for those interested in or dealing with the subject of bullying are novels,  Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins and Huge by Sasha Paley. They are both very short, very simple and to the point reads about young women learning how to view themselves and the people around them who choose to waste their time judging others. Their dust jackets are both bright, neon pink, so I doubt you’d miss them if you spent even a moment in the young adult section at Barnes & Noble.

Thought it may seem that people out of this age range wouldn’t enjoy novels written about issues that are most often associated with teens, I think that it would actually be beneficial for more of the older crowd to study these stories more closely. Isn’t it better, after all, to see things from the point of view of others, or to step into the shoes of someone you’d like to help? I believe that these books can aid teachers and parents and any adults seeking to help the next generation. Of course, one could always just try and remember what it was like for them to be a kid. But maybe things have changed, and in that case, my recommendation is to read away. There’s no damage in learning something new.

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#9 YA Cinema

With the film adaptation of the epic dystopian novel, The Hunger Games, coming out in theaters this Friday, I thought it might be fitting to talk about a couple of other great young adult books made into movies. Personally, I love when my favorite books are even talked about being turned into movies (Uglies, where are you?). Many people don’t, because these people have the tendency to be very picky and end up getting increasingly frustrated with each line, character, or scenery change. I am definitely one of those people (Harry Potter 1-6), but it is fantastic to see the things you once could only imagine displayed on the big screen.

First, there’s Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: I remember watching this film for the first time in my Peer Counseling I class in high school, and then hearing that the main actress was going to play  Bella in the Twilight franchise. The film and book deal with some heavy issues, including rape, bullying, and abuse. It’s an easy read with an not-so-easy subject to handle, but if you can, I recommend it. Laurie Halse Anderson has a way of writing that makes you believe she is the character. In each of her books I’ve read, I would have to remind myself that I’ve read from this author before. I think that’s a sign of a good writer. The film is a great adaptation of the book. Some emotion and tension was missing, but the artwork and the dialogue (especially that of Kristen Steward) is wonderful. Even though it was a Lifetime TV release, it’s definitely worth the watch, and not just for people who have read the book.

Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Is my favorite young adult book of all time, and consequently, one of my favorite movies now as well. The book introduces us to Craig, a New York teenager dealing with more than the average amount of stress faced by most young adults in America; he goes to one of the best pre-professional high schools in the nation, he’s in love with his best friend’s girlfriend, and oh yeah, he has clinical depression. The novel follows Craig as he goes from a suicidal night on the Brooklyn Bridge through a week in the adult psych ward of Algernon hospital. As movie versions go, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the movie, blew my mind. It was hilarious and cerebral, just as much as the book had been. The characters were just as lovable and relatable as Vizzini had written them to be and the narration of Craig’s thoughts was straight from the pages. Though, not everything from the book was the same in the film, it was one of the acceptable examples of taking elements from the novel and from the screenwriter’s own ideas. It was perfect (even Zach Galifianakis, surprisingly), and if you are one of the unfortunate people who hasn’t seen it yet, do it now; I’m serious.

The last movie and book I am going to talk about is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Now, I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have high hopes for it. Those of us who have seen the trailer and read the book know already one of the changes they made, though it’s minor (MADGE!). I’m excited to see what they’ve done with the book. I am also crossing my fingers that they show quite a large chunk of the actual “games” and that they don’t focus on the romantic elements of the novel. There are so many more important themes in the book, including: poverty, rebellion, and sacrifice; if they don’t show up in the film more than a vapid love triangle, I will have lost my faith in the scrap of Hollywood that I still trust to produce worthy entertainment.

In closing, I hope to hear what most of you thought about The Hunger Games movie next week, and I’d like to hear about your own favorite movie adaptations.

The trailer for The Hunger Games, if you have yet to see it:

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#8 Queer Literature

The picture above shows the queer young adult novels in my personal library.

I know the word turns you off. Queer. Gay. LGBT. Homosexual. Transgender. Some of you may not agree with many issues revolving around those communities. And I would also bet quite a lot of money that many of you also know very little, if anything at all, about all of those words and identities. And if that is true, you probably had no clue there was such a thing as young adult literature for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens.

I don’t normally feel comfortable talking about my own identity within classroom walls. Avoiding awkward questions and looks is a specialty of mine. Maybe it comes from hiding my nose in a book for ninety percent of my childhood. But I am willing to talk about it briefly here, if it means others will learn that it’s alright to explore different identities. In literature, of course.

I read my first queer YA novel in the 8th grade: Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters. I remember secretly buying it on ebay and hiding it from my mom, because I didn’t want her to know I was reading about gay people. In the novel, the protagonist, Holland, meets a new girl at school named Cece. She thinks it’s odd that Cece is open and honest about her attraction to other women. People made fun of her for it; they graffitied her property and threatened her. But Cece makes Holland realize that she’s not happy just floating along in life, settling for a guy because he’s “nice.” It’s a story that shows many aspects of being LG or B in an American high school. Anyone who is just coming to terms with their sexual orientation or identity can relate to the book, and I think that’s why I’ve read it over ten times since I was thirteen years old.

A couple of years after that came a book called Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger. Parrotfish is about a transgender boy, recently named Grady, who is beginning his first year in public high school. He also lives in a house famous for its elaborate Christmas decorations, even though the inhabitants (his family) are Jewish. Sounds like hell to me, but Grady is brave. He makes it work. He acquires the friendship of a wonderful nerd and a beautiful girl, from whom he receives his first kiss. He proudly walks the halls of the school as himself, never giving in to their social expectations. He is who I wish I could have been in high school. I remember this book being the first time I ever read anything that was relevant to how I felt about my gender. All I could think after finishing the last page was, “I want more.” But unfortunately, books like Wittlinger’s are very scarce. It seems to me that young adult authors are afraid to delve into the world of transgender characters, or maybe they just don’t know enough to do so. My high school composition teacher once told me, after making this complaint, that I needed to be one to add to those stories; that I should write my own Parrotfish, so that others can know there isn’t just one way for things to go. I hope that I might some day do that.

My adoration for queer YA literature has faded some over the years, mainly due to my no longer needing to define myself, but I still enjoy the new stories that “come out” every year. David Levithan is a massively popular author who most often writes from the perspective of gay teenagers. His most recent novel, Love is the Higher Law, is a book about three teens, two of them gay, coping with living in New York City at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It’s unique stories like Levithan’s that are causing queer young adult books to be read by non-queer teens and adults everywhere. The books are moving from being a tool to help kids find themselves, to being a tool used to teach acceptance and diversity. With all of the bullying and teen suicides in the media right now, it’s good to know that the bright sides of holding a “non-traditional” identity are being displayed in the written word. I’m hoping some of my classmates would pick up a book without a heteronormative story line and learn from the queer perspective.

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# 7 Interview with a YA Literature Teacher

I’ve stated before on this blog that I’ve been interested in young adult literature for a very long time, but I had never studied the genre in depth or looked a young adult novel very critically until a few years ago. I was lucky enough to attend a high school offering a class called Teen Literature. It was so exciting exciting to finally read (and even re-read) books that I was actually passionate about in a classroom setting. Books like Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson. It goes without saying that to have a class on teen literature, there needed to be someone just as passionate about the genre to teach it. And also by my incredible luck, that teacher was my school’s own, Christine Fry.

Mrs. Fry was one of my favorite teachers in high school. I remember choosing classes simply because she was teaching them. She was one of the first teachers to really listen to me and help me come out of my shell. I was extremely happy when she agreed to do this interview with me. Not only would I get to find out what a teacher really thought about young adult literature, but I also got to visit one of my favorite people in the universe.

“Phillipe Dumass!” she smiled and greeted me as I walked into room 210, just as I did four years ago. She made up the nickname for me because I was remembered for changing my chosen name quite often, and she could never remember what the current choice was. I looked around the small room. Plastered on the walls were posters created by students, depicting scenes from young adult novels. Crank by Ellen Hopkins, Looking For Alaska, and Speak  by Laurie Halse Anderson were popular, it seemed. Classic READ posters were also scattered around, and on one side of the room sat the book cabinet, containing textbooks for English 10 and 11, and Teen Literature. I sat down at one of the desks. It was like sitting in a time capsule.

She took a seat next to me and we got started right away. She had a meeting to go and I couldn’t stay for long.

DC: “What made you want to teach a literature class, Mrs. Fry?”

CF: “Well, I have always loved reading and learning through the events in books. I think it’s fun to see how each person who reads a book learns different lessons.”

I thought about that for a second. It’s one of the great things about literature, that everyone who reads the same book can take something different out of it.

DC: “How to you feel about teaching Young Adult literature to high school students?”

CF: “I think it’s vital. Students love the literature because it is relevant to them. It’s amazing. Whether the student is taking honors, regular, or special ed. classes, they tend to look at the books and identify with the characters. It truly is a class which reaches out to every teen.”

DC: “And how difficult is it to get a diverse group of students into reading?”

CF: “It depends. I think if you find the right books, and if you pair the books up with fun activities, articles, and discussions, it isn’t hard at all.”

DC:“Very true. Personally, what is your favorite Young Adult novel?”

She tapped a finger on her chin.

CF: “Hmmm… This is unbelievably difficult. If I had to pick only one: Twisted by Anderson.”

DC: “I remember that book. I didn’t really like it, actually. It might have been my least favorite of the entire class.”

CF: “Really? You disliked a book from my class? Ugh, I’m disappointed in you, Phillipe.”

DC: “I’m sorry. I am. Haha. Um, which novels are your favorites to teach?”

CF: “Shooter and Twisted, but I really like them all. Those two are just very interactive.”

DC:“Why did you choose to teach Young Adult literature?”

CF: “I love YA literature, therefore, it is easy and fun to teach.”

DC: “Have you ever come across a book that you wanted to teach, that you felt was important for your teens to read, but found out it was banned? Or have you ever had a different personal experience with banned books?”

CF: “I have taught books that were banned in various other districts, but not ours. My philosophy has always been that students learn from literature and to see them choosing to read is the most important thing. I look at my own children, and I would rather them read than not read. In our school, we cannot read books that are not approved by the curriculum review board.”

DC: “Do you read YA literature in your free time?”

CF: “Yes…It isn’t the only thing I read…but it is what I read most.”

DC: “So, do you think YA literature is for everyone?”

CF: “Absolutely. It would really keep older people in touch with how young adults feel.”

DC: “What would you say to someone who says that YA literature isn’t “real” literature, or who says it’s ‘just for kids?’”

CF: “They obviously haven’t read YA literature lately. They should pick up Shooter by Walter Dean Myers and see the allusions, imagery, similes, symbols, figurative language, and the many other devices that are in the novel. There is so much more to YA literature than just a plot for young people.”

DC: “Is there anything else you would like to add?”

CF: “I hope your classes are going well, Phillipe. And I hope you keep reading.”

DC: “I’m trying to. Haha. But I meant about YA lit.”

CF: “Ah, well, you should be out there promoting it as much as you can. Everyone should read something for young adults.”

DC: “Thank you, Mrs. Fry. I will do that.”

And with that, our short interview ended. The most interesting thing was finding out my former teacher’s favorite young adult books.

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#6 YA Love

I refused to write this blog the week of the 14th because that would be ridiculously predictable. But I feel like it needs to be written.

There’s a lot of love going around in the young adult genre. I’ve talked on here before about how people shouldn’t just think of young adult as cheesy high school romance novels. But the truth is, a lot of what makes up these books is romance. I will admit that some of my favorite young adult novels are all about the love. This, I hope, does not change my classmates’ opinions of me as a self-proclaimed literature aficionado. I just can’t help it. I like reading these stories and thinking that if there aren’t tales of love like this in reality, at least there was an author with a heart big enough to create a fictional one to spread the hope of realistic ones.

I’ve always tried to connect books to everything important in my life, and my love life is no different. In the past, when I’d tried to “woo” a girl, I could frequently be heard spouting quotes from things I’d read and trying to see if they a) recognized said quotes and b) thought it was impressive. Literature was and is one of many “useful tools” involved in my feeble attempts at flirtation.

Getting a little more personal this week, I’d like to talk about an event in my life involving love and literature. This past Summer, I was getting to know an important someone for the second time in my life. We had parted ways quite badly, and I was nervously trying to pick up the pieces of a broken something. In doing that, the first thing the both of us looked to was literature. This other person was as much of a literature buff as me, so an experiment was decided upon: we would read a book together. The book we chose was An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. After finishing your collective sigh, I’d like you to note that this girl’s and my mini-book club was the very beginning of my obsession with that particular author. We would connect through our webcams every night and read until one of us fell asleep on top of the pages. It was one of the most intimate experiences I’ve ever had with another person and with a book. Coincidentally, that same person is sitting next to me right this very minute, reading an essay about Comic Sans. She’s probably snooping over my shoulder and reading this as well. That book helped save us at the time, and others are helping us get closer every day, though, I do tease her about switching to ebooks as her main source of reading.

I’d like to end this post by recommending some of my favorite Young Adult love stories to all of you.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan: A novel written in definitions. It’s a very short read, but dense in its emotional content. It takes readers through the ups and downs and nowheres of a relationship.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green: The story of child prodigy, Colin Singleton, as he leaves on a life changing road trip brought on by being dumped by the 19th girlfriend he’s had named Katherine. Expect hog hunting and sad old people stories mixed with complicated mathematics.

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger: John learns the hard way that you cannot force someone to feel something when he falls in love with lesbian zine writer, Marisol.

 

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#5 Dystopian Fiction

“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

This quote is the first sentence of one of the first young adult novels I ever read, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. The first in a trilogy, Uglies is a story about a girl named Tally, who lives in a future society where everyone at the age of sixteen receives a series of operations and medical procedures to make them “pretty.” This, the future government believes, will keep conflict from happening and make everyone happy. But little do the citizens know, it’s not just their looks being altered during these operations.

This novel is one of many in the dystopian sub-genre of teen literature. What does “dystopian” mean, you ask? Dystopian fiction explores the future as a nightmare. Corrupted governments, humans being used, discriminated, and tortured, cities existent during a total collapse of society, or even like the world in Uglies, where the corruption is less visible, where everything seems hunky-dory until some free-thinking rebel decides to stick their nose where it doesn’t belong. I’ve always had an affinity for dystopian fiction. I don’t know if that means I’m disturbed or if I’m just a nerd. I just find the stories of the genre more exciting than those taking place in the modern world.

Adult examples of dystopian fiction would be books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. These three are definitely the most well-known and most popular of the adult genre, and that’s why I’m naming them.

Young adult examples, on the other hand, I am more familiar with. Above, I mentioned Uglies, which has two sequels (Pretties and Specials) and a spin-off novel (Extras). The series is perfect for someone looking to get into dystopia for the first time. Then we have Westerfeld’s other novels, Peeps, about a future rife with a virus that turns people into “vampires,” and So Yesterday, where readers discover all trends in the world are pre-determined and monitored. Other popular titles include Feed by M.T. Anderson (think, Wikipedia in your brain), The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and my personal favorite, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. In Little Brother, the world is in a constant state of alert, keeping citizens under close watch because, it is believed, they are on the lookout for terrorists. The teens in the novel find a way to hack into government agencies and fight back against the power hungry leaders invading everyone’s privacy. The most popular dystopian novel in pop culture right now is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games revolves around a world after the collapse of modern society, probably the result of nuclear war. It is hundreds of years after that collapse and a corrupt government is in control. North America is divided up into twelve districts, each in charge of a certain good or service, which serves the Capitol. To keep these districts under control, the Capitol forces each to give up one boy and one girl a year to compete in a competition where the point is to be the last one to survive. This book is soon to be a movie out in theatres, and I find myself very optimistic about the way it will be portrayed.

The reason I favor the genre of dystopia so much is because the stories and plots more often than not hold a deeper meaning than just personal morals. The books tell us that the world cannot change until someone makes that first move. They tell us that by working together, we can prevent an awful future.

In a strange way, reading dystopia makes me feel like a soldier preparing for war. I’d like to think that in my own personal future (hopefully of the utopian variety), I will read a dystopian novel to my children and, while showing them that humans are capable of bringing down evil, I will simultaneously be scaring the crap out of them.

 

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