YA

High School Reading as an Act of Meaningful Aggression

20 September 2017

From The Millions:

Towards the end of each year I do one of those anonymous surveys where I ask the students—high-school sophomores and juniors—how much they read, as a percentage, of each book. I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years or so, and the results are remarkably consistent: most students read most, but rarely all, of each book. About 15 percent read every single word of every single thing, some of it twice. These the kids who would read the contents list of a 7-11 freezer if told, the same students who tend to sit in the front row and take the kind of notes that end up in the Smithsonian. Another 15 percent admit to struggling to even open the books, but would gladly read the 7-11 freezer list because of its novelty value and the refreshing lack of obfuscating adjectives and modifiers. The 70 percent of students in the middle make up the dominant percentage, the ones who often leave little notes, not quite apologia, but regretful explanations about wishing that they had more time to do all the reading because they would have liked to, that they did most of it, that what they read of The Great Gatsby was really good but what with other homework, and athletics, and Uncle Steve’s birthday dinner, and the cousin in Jersey with leukemia, and x not yet having said anything about prom…well, there was a lot to think about.

All this at three separate independent schools in different parts of California. Like I said, remarkably consistent results, and results that translate across gender, race, and socioeconomic status. In terms of the not-highly-rigorous breakdown of those not-highly-rigorous statistics you get about 70 percent of the students reading about 70 percent of the material 70 percent of the time. All of which sounds terrific, except that most of the time, most of the 70 percent, and even some of the 15 percent taking Smithsonian-esque notes, see words rather than read them. For most high-school students, the act of “reading” recalls the soft glow of something done at night, before bed, in jim-jams with a cup of hot cocoa—the equivalent of night-time elevator music. Or, if not that, they’re “reading” on the bus, in the car, while standing outside class two minutes before the bell. And, at best, gaining an understanding of situation and context: who did what or said what to whom and where at what time in what kind of weather. Seeing words but not really reading them, a marriage without contact.

I want them to see reading as something far more intimate, even fractured at times, as something combative, vulgar, assertive—a constant back-and-forth between reading and rereading, moments of stepping outside the text then coming back and battering at it with questions. Something better done in a flak jacket than pajamas. And high school students hate doing it. Who, what, when, and where, of course, are essential. You gotta figure out who’s sleeping with whom before you ask why. There’s a brother involved? What? No. Wait! They’re on a train? If that part’s hazy, the next stop becomes SparkNotes and PinkMonkey, and you might as well hand out the 7-11 freezer list.

Link to the rest at The Millions

The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter

8 August 2017

From Vulture:

Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social-media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons — sometimes before anybody’s even read them.

. . . .

The Black Witch, a debut young-adult fantasy novel by Laurie Forest, was still seven weeks from its May 1 publication date, but positive buzz was already building, with early reviews calling it “an intoxicating tale of rebellion and star-crossed romance,” “a massive page-turner that leaves readers longing for more,” and “an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice.”

The hype train was derailed in mid-March, however, by Shauna Sinyard, a bookstore employee and blogger who writes primarily about YA and had a different take: “The Black Witch is the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read,” she wrote in a nearly 9,000-word review that blasted the novel as an end-to-end mess of unadulterated bigotry. “It was ultimately written for white people. It was written for the type of white person who considers themselves to be not-racist and thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating POC like they are actually human.”

The Black Witch centers on a girl named Elloren who has been raised in a stratified society where other races (including selkies, fae, wolfmen, etc.) are considered inferior at best and enemies at worst. But when she goes off to college, she begins to question her beliefs, an ideological transformation she’s still working on when she joins with the rebellion in the last of the novel’s 600 pages. (It’s the first of a series; one hopes that Elloren will be more woke in book two.)

It was this premise that led Sinyard to slam The Black Witch as “racist, ableist, homophobic, and … written with no marginalized people in mind,” in a review that consisted largely of pull quotes featuring the book’s racist characters saying or doing racist things. Here’s a representative excerpt, an offending sentence juxtaposed with Sinyard’s commentary:

“pg. 163. The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They’re more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they’re hopelessly mixed.”

Yes, you just read that with your own two eyes. This is one of the times my jaw dropped in horror and I had to walk away from this book.

. . . .

Based almost solely on Sinyard’s opinion, the novel became the object of sustained, aggressive opposition in the weeks leading up its release. Its publisher, Harlequin Teen, was bombarded with angry emails demanding they pull the book. The Black Witch’s Goodreads rating dropped to an abysmal 1.71 thanks to a mass coordinated campaign of one-star reviews, mostly from people who admitted to not having read it.

. . . .

The harm Mimi describes is central to campaigns like the one against The Black Witch, which are almost always waged in the name of protecting vulnerable teens from dangerous ideas. These books, it’s claimed, are hurting children.

. . . .

Dramatic as that sounds, it’s worth noting that my attempts to report this piece were met with intense pushback. Sinyard politely declined my request for an interview in what seemed like a routine exchange, but then announced on Twitter that our interaction had “scared” her, leading to backlash from community members who insisted that the as-yet-unwritten story would endanger her life. Rumors quickly spread that I had threatened or harassed Sinyard; several influential authors instructed their followers not to speak to me; and one librarian and member of the Newbery Award committee tweeted at Vulture nearly a dozen times accusing them of enabling “a washed-up YA author” engaged in “a personalized crusade” against the entire publishing community (disclosure: while freelance culture writing makes up the bulk of my work, I published a pair of young adult novels in 2012 and 2014.) With one exception, all my sources insisted on anonymity, citing fear of professional damage and abuse.

None of this comes as a surprise to the folks concerned by the current state of the discourse, who describe being harassed for dissenting from or even questioning the community’s dynamics. One prominent children’s-book agent told me, “None of us are willing to comment publicly for fear of being targeted and labeled racist or bigoted. But if children’s-book publishing is no longer allowed to feature an unlikable character, who grows as a person over the course of the story, then we’re going to have a pretty boring business.”

Another agent, via email, said that while being tarred as problematic may not kill an author’s career — “It’s likely made the rounds as gossip, but I don’t know it’s impacting acquisitions or agents offering representation” — the potential for reputational damage is real: “No one wants to be called a racist, or sexist, or homophobic. That stink doesn’t wash off.”

Link to the rest at Vulture

On some days, PG feels like he’s living

2 new Harry Potter books set to be published in October

19 July 2017

From E News:

British publishing house Bloomsbury announced Tuesday that two Harry Potter books will be released in October, coinciding with the opening of the British Library’s Harry Potter exhibition, “A History of Magic.” Harry Potter: A History of Magic – The Book of the Exhibition will take readers through subjects studied at Hogwarts, while Harry Potter – A Journey Through a History of Magic will cover mystical topics including alchemy, ancient witchcraft and magical creatures.

Each chapter in The Book of the Exhibition “showcases a treasure trove of artifacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive,” according to the publisher. Each subject area includes a “specially commissioned essay” from people like Steve Backshall, Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake.

Link to the rest at E News

Harry Potter and the translator’s nightmare

25 October 2016

‘World first’ virtual reality deal struck for YA trilogy

24 October 2016

From The Bookseller:

Interactive entertainment company To Play For has acquired virtual reality (VR) rights to the Fallow Trilogy by Amy Lankester-Owen, in the first deal for the books.

Sarah Such at Sarah Such Literary Agency called the deal “a world first, where a book series has been licensed specifically for a VR production”. To Play For will adapt the text to enable users to see directly into the minds of protagonists Lori and Rem.

. . . .

“Amy’s series has exactly the sort of characters and story worlds that we are looking to develop interactively. The books’ ‘mind-fusing’ is a perfect match for VR technology.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Are You There? It’s Me, Reality: Grit Returns to Young-Adult Novels

23 October 2016

From The New York Times:

Growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, I kept a copy of Judy Blume’s “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” in its classic lavender-tinted paperback edition, tucked away in a closet in my playroom with the vague intention of returning it to the local library, someday. As months went by and I read and reread the novel upward of a half-dozen times, it became clear that I would never give it up. I imagined thousands of dollars of fines accruing and ultimately an arrest followed by some period of detention. Wasn’t the involvement of law enforcement the only proper response to an abject refusal to relinquish something so precious?

. . . .

For women who grew up in the 1970s and early ’80s — nurtured in the fictions of Ms. Blume, Paul Zindel and Norma Klein among others, writers for whom an urbane brand of social realism was the only reasonable métier — the arrival of the “Twilight” franchise a decade ago, with its enormous success, signaled a gloomy period of regression for the young-adult novel.

. . . .

Now, though, the appetite for paranormal lunacy has abated, and issue-driven fiction set very much in a universe of urbanism’s chief concerns is having a renaissance. This week, “All American Boys,” a novel by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, an outgrowth of the Black Lives Matter movement, appears on The New York Times’s best-seller list for young-adult books. The story follows the beating of an innocent black child by a white police officer who thinks he has stolen a bag of chips.

In a similar vein, “The Hate U Give,” to be released early next year, chronicles the story of a 16-year-old prep-school girl who witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed best friend. A movie version of the novel, by Angela Thomas, is already in progress. And right now, prominently displayed at Barnes & Noble in Downtown Brooklyn, is “Bright Lights, Dark Nights,” a novel about racial profiling set against the backdrop of drugs and violence.

. . . .

The recent upheavals in the economy stemming from the financial crisis, the rise of racial tensions and the increased animosity toward immigrants that the current election cycle has fed and exposed have arguably made this new catalog inevitable. The world has intruded in the lives of children in so many ugly ways. Even an amused tone does not preclude political currency. Consider the coming book “June the Sparrow and the Million-Dollar Penny,” which is meant for children between 9 and 12. In it, an orphaned girl who lives along Central Park discovers one day while she is sitting in Gray’s Papaya that her fortune has been decimated in a Ponzi scheme. She is then forced to move from an apartment in the Dakota to an actual Dakota (South).

Some of these books take place in unnamed cities so that they can feel universal to their readers. “The American Street,” highly anticipated and arriving this winter, is a novel set in Detroit but is meant to evoke Bushwick, Brooklyn, during the 1980s when it was a desolate and untamed place. The author, Ibi Zoboi, is Haitian and grew up in Bushwick, and she wanted to tell the story of an immigrant girl coming-of-age in a place where she must navigate a community plagued by crime and addiction.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Margot Harrison

1 September 2016

From The American Booksellers Association, an interview with author Margot Harrison:

Margot Harrison, an award-winning journalist, is the author of The Killer in Me (Disney-Hyperion), a Summer/Fall 2016 Indies Introduce debut for young adults and a Summer 2016 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.

Harrison’s debut novel follows teenage Nina, who, in her dreams, finds herself in the mind of a killer, knowing when and whom he plans to target next.

. . . .

Valerie Koehler: Nina’s nightmares are very realistic. As you wrote those parts, were you scared? How did you prepare for those scenes?

Margot Harrison: What scared me the most about writing the murder scenes was that they just sort of came. I didn’t really prepare; I just sat down and the images flowed into my mind, so it was almost like being Nina and seeing these terrible things in a dreaming or trance state. The scene that scares me the most is the one I revised the least, because it felt “right” on the first try. I think these scenes came so (unsettlingly) easy because I have what I call a “worst-case-scenario imagination.” When I hear about something disturbing, my mind immediately starts visualizing it cinematically, whether I choose to dwell on it or not. This happened with the crime that provided the initial idea for Killer — a crime in my community — and processing those images was one motive for my writing the book. When I actually sat down to write, I already had so many dark imaginings stored up that all I had to do was let them out.

VK: The scenes in the Southwest are vivid in their portrayal of the heat and barren landscape. Have you spent time in that area? How did you conduct your research?

MH: I have spent exactly two days in New Mexico — as part of a cross-country road trip, many years ago — and a bit more in Southern California. Much of [the novel’s] landscape comes from memory, imagination, movies and TV, and photos and videos I found online. (Sky City, or Acoma Pueblo, is the one landmark described in the book that I have seen firsthand.) On that one New Mexico visit, I was bowled over by the stark and alien (to me) quality of the landscape. Later, I watched Breaking Bad to get me through the long, gray Vermont winters and fell in love with the desert all over again. So, my memories and imaginings of the place are entangled with fiction. Someday soon, I hope to visit New Mexico and find out all the ways my depiction could have been stronger, because there are so many sensory details you can’t pick up from afar.

. . . .

VK: We appreciate that you have a local bookstore listed on your website for signed copies. What might you say to other authors to encourage them to visit independent bookstores?

MH: Independent bookstores are where you take the pulse of a community. I moved fairly often as a child, and each time we resettled, the first place we visited was the local bookstore. As long as there was an indie bookstore, we knew we’d feel welcomed and at home. Because of my job — I work for a newspaper, also locally owned — I got to know my town’s booksellers long before I became an author. I know they make a huge effort to get and keep local books on the shelves, to host authors, to serve a broad community of readers. Those same booksellers have been amazingly supportive of my book; my launch at Phoenix Books Burlington was the high point of this whole experience. Seeing my book on the shelf, I feel at home in indie bookstores in a whole new way.

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

Here’s a link to Margot Harrison’s book.

To suggest a book written for young adults has any less merit than the classics is sheer snobbery

25 August 2016

From Tes:

Award-winning young adult fiction author, Juno Dawson writes a response to Joe Nutt’s 19 August article: Why young-adult fiction is a dangerous fantasy

I wouldn’t usually enter into internet debates, because they’re usually just a case of rudeness versus reason, but I didn’t want to let Joe Nutt’s earlier piece go unchallenged for a number of reasons.

Let’s first tackle the deeply offensive first paragraph in which he suggests modern young adult fiction is a mealy-mouthed liberal cardigan made up of transgender and autistic wool. Firstly, I read a lot of YA, and I can assure him the vast, vast majority of characters are still white, heterosexual and cisgender. This is something I’ve been campaigning against my whole career.

Moreover, don’t minority characters belong in fiction? Is that really what he wants to be saying? Real life features both transgender and autistic characters – so should books. Also, he does rather seem to be suggesting that readers (particularly young men) wouldn’t be interested in exploring characters dissimilar to them. I think that’s utter garbage. What is reading for if not to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a few days?

. . . .

I can’t even get into the “boys’ books” argument, because it assumes there is one way to be a boy. There is not. Boys like all kinds of books, featuring all kinds of characters. Some boys, unfortunately, hate reading. Some girls hate reading too. At school, I hated football. I still hate football. There isn’t a football, or indeed footballer, out there that would get me into football. Such is life.

. . . .

Modern YA provides a link from the safety of children’s fiction to the unpredictable content of adult novels. Sure, authors like Melvin Burgess, Kevin Brooks and Louise O’ Neill have explored some very adult issues, but the key word is “explored”. Younger readers are introduced to how awful it can be to be human within parameters.

Link to the rest at Tes and thanks to Nate for the tip.

British Humiliation and ‘The Cursed Child’

13 August 2016
Comments Off on British Humiliation and ‘The Cursed Child’

From The Millions:

In late July, a kind of spell fell over London’s West End as the latest iteration of the Harry Potter saga opened: a play that even the New York Times’ imperious theatre critic Ben Brantley deemed magical. “The Eighth Story.Nineteen Years Later,” as the tagline goes, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2 picks up where the last film left off, as Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Draco, and their receding hairlines drop their Hogwarts-bound offspring at Platform 9 ¾. Subsequently released as a script, The Cursed Child almost immediately broke book sales records, consumed, like the “Hamiltome,” by hundreds of thousands of fans who have no hope of ever finding their way inside the theater.

Whether you consider Harry Potter and The Cursed Child exhilarating fan service or terrible fanfic, its purpose is less to give us a “where are they now?” than to exhume the original series and examine the workings of the plot. The discovery of a contraband Time Turner by Albus Potter and Scorpio Malfoy — the sons of Harry and Draco — allows us to consider a Ronmione-free future; a scenario in which Potter and Malfoy offspring are sorted into Slytherin and develop a close, Drarry-like bond; and the cosmic importance of that gif of Neville Longbottom slaying Nagini. But beyond the threads of parental legacies and the heroism of friendship, going back in time to fiddle with the knobs teaches us one thing above all: the formative properties of humiliation.

. . . .

The Draco we see in a meddled-with future in which Voldemort lives is the same knob we know from the original book series, sans-humiliating clinch, rather than the soft, aggrieved “Sorry about your floor, Minerva” Draco introduced at the beginning of The Cursed Child — a character who appears to be a better father than Harry.

The common theme with all of these toggles is humiliation. To even get the Time Turner, located inside Minister of Magic Hermione Granger-Weasley’s office, young Albus Potter takes polyjuice to disguise himself as his Uncle Ron, and winds up kissing his aunt (“Let’s have another baby!”), as his disgusted friend Scorpio watches on.

Make no mistake, bollocksing things up in front of your peers and suffering a metaphysical death from embarrassment is a fundamental part of the British human condition, if one that is downplayed in the fan worship abroad. The parts of Harry Potter most glommed onto by Americans are patriotic concerns like honorable sacrifice, bravery in the face of an existential threat, unabashed declarations of love, and a fierce work ethic. But the heart of Harry Potter is really the Weasley’s burrow, that den of poor, gangly, knit-sweatered gingers, and perhaps most emphatically in the character of the endlessly put-upon Won-Won.

. . . .

The promise of English literature, and YA lit most especially, is that we shall rise like Phoenixes from the ashes of our latest mortification.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Most YA fiction is grown-up fiction in disguise

11 June 2016

From The Guardian:

The director of the children’s programme at the Edinburgh international book festival is worried. According to Janet Smythe: “YA fiction, the major publishing creation of the last decade, means many readers will never experience some wonderful writing.” Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps all those MAAs (middle-aged adults) and OAs do feel all those major publishing creations aren’t for them. But I’m not worried about adult-adults missing out on YA fiction in the slightest.

Figures from Nielsen show that 80% of YA literature is read by people over 25. It’s a pretty astonishing and, to me, disturbing statistic. It strongly suggests that something has gone horribly wrong in publishing. (And, possibly, with those readers …) Most people involved in publishing YA books would claim that these are intended to be read by teenagers. If this figure is correct, then they are missing that target. By decades. And that’s important, because many children stop reading when they reach the teenage years – especially boys. The world, it seems, suddenly holds pleasures greater than losing yourself in a great book. Could this be because the books that should belong to them, inhabiting their hearts and brains, are actually (consciously or subconsciously) directed at older readers?

A little history. It’s possible to trace back literature pitched explicitly at teenagers to Margaret Daly’s Seventeenth Summer, written in 1942. The term “young adult” was coined in the 1960s for the US library system, looking for a pigeonhole to place books like this and SE Hinton’s The Outsiders. From there the expansion of the term was slow but steady. Until the 1990s, children’s publishers tended to use “teen fiction” to describe books aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds, and YA for 14+. At some time in the noughties this shifted again, with YA taking over the whole teen spectrum.

And this change in terminology has been accompanied by a transformation in the nature of the books produced. Writers began to produce fiction that transcended a narrow age restriction. This includes some of the very finest living novelists, irrespective of genre – writers such as Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet and Patrick Ness. There are other, less well-known writers who are equally good. I have recently read books by Faye Bird, Jo Nadin and Martin Stewart that did everything I want great literature to do, to enthral and delight and ravish the imagination.

. . . .

For me, the problem is that a huge amount of theoretically teenage publishing is churning out books that simply aren’t for teenagers at all. And that must mean, given the finite opportunities for new books, that “real” teenage books aren’t getting published.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Next Page »