YA

The Unbearable Darkness of Young Adult Literature

29 August 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Although “Heather Has Two Mommies” caused quite a stir upon its 1989 publication, a case could be made that the book was a reasonable reflection of the gay-rights zeitgeist as well as the latter-day realities of American domesticity. If nothing else, “Heather” was uplifting in theme and execution, likely to make young readers more comfortable with an evolving culture.

The same can’t be said for a list of “socially aware” books featured prominently at the inaugural Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature, held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in June. The four-day summit convened nearly 50 presenters—top educators and authors from across the land—and focused nominally on “Rising Up: Socially Relevant Texts, Critical Literacy, and Identity.”

But “rising up” might not be the first phrase that comes to mind when one surveys a representative sampling of the marquee fare:

• “How It Went Down,” a novel by Kekla Magoon, presents 18 different perspectives on the shooting of an unarmed black youth. (This is the second prominent young-adult book on the topic published recently. While not featured at the summit, Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give”—also about the shooting of an unarmed black youth—contended for a National Book Award in 2017.)

• “Shout” is author Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of her sexual assault and struggle with eating disorders while growing up with an alcoholic parent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ms. Anderson’s debut novel, “Speak,” examined sexual assault from the viewpoint of a ninth-grade girl.

• In “Losers Bracket,” family therapist Chris Crutcher introduces young readers to the heartbreaking lives of children who continue to love and depend on their parents “no matter how badly treated” they may be.

. . . .

It is difficult to understand why educators would so determinedly insist on immersing students in an unsavory worldview, portraying life in terms of its anomalies and unorthodoxies, as if there’s something wrong with you if there’s nothing wrong with you. Of course teachers want all children from all life circumstances to feel accepted, to belong—but belong to what, exactly? Classroom discussions that celebrate this or that fictive martyr, tragic figure, antihero or other outlier are bound to create more outliers: Consciously or not, adolescents will seek membership in the group that appears to be getting all the attention. And if indeed it is psychologically debilitating for the young people depicted in today’s YA literature to inhabit a world of virulent racism and interminable bullying and sexual abuse, then why make the vast majority of students, who don’t live amid such conditions, feel as if they do?

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Why I Still Read Junior and Young Adult Fiction

18 January 2018

From Book Riot:

I confess, I am an adult, but I still read Junior and Young Adult novels. When my daughter was around age 12, she suddenly proclaimed that she was old enough that she didn’t need a bedtime story any more. By this time, we were well beyond picture books. However, each night I would read a chapter of a Junior or Young Adult Novel to her. I enjoyed the time we spent snuggling up, reading together. It was a bedtime ritual that we had started when she was very young, as I believed in the importance of reading to your baby.

It was also a great way for me to read novels that I was interested in. Novels that were marketed to younger generations, that is. Together we read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials seriesand Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series, along with too many other books to name.

. . . .

A study published in 2012 showed that 55% of those purchasing YA fiction are over 18, with 78% of these reporting that the books are being purchased for themselves.

. . . .

The reason I read Junior and Young Adult fiction is because the plots are punchy and fast paced, keeping me turning page after page, usually well after I intend to put the book down. The characters are engaging and believable; they have to be to keep a younger audience hooked.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

The Remarkable Influence of A Wrinkle in Time

4 January 2018

From Smithsonian.com:

When Léna Roy was 7 years old, her teacher read the first chapter of A Wrinkle in Time aloud to her second-grade class. After school, Léna ran to her grandmother’s house, which was around the corner from her school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to finish the book on her own. She curled up in bed and devoured it. She felt just like the hotheaded, stubborn heroine Meg Murry, and took comfort in the fact that a flawed adolescent girl could save the world. “It was almost like your permission to be a real person,” Roy says. “You don’t have to be perfect.”

Millions of other adolescent girls (and boys) have made the same liberating discovery while reading A Wrinkle in Time. What’s different about Roy is that her grandmother happened to be Madeleine L’Engle, the book’s author, who revolutionized serious young adult fiction with her clever mash-up of big ideas, science fantasy and adventure—and a geeky girl action hero way ahead of her time.

Since its 1962 publication, Wrinkle has sold more than ten million copies and been turned into a graphic novel, an opera and two films, including an ambitious adaptation from the director Ava DuVernay due out in March. The book also kicked open the door for other bright young heroines and the amazingly lucrative franchises they appear in, from whip-smart Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books to lethal Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games. Leonard Marcus, author of the L’Engle biography Listening for Madeleine, says Wrinkle “set the stage for the reception of Harry Potter in this country.” Previously, he says, science fiction and fantasy were suitable for high-end British authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in Britain but in the States were relegated to pulp magazines and drugstore paperbacks.

Then came L’Engle, a 41-year-old writer who spent three months in 1959 writing the hard-to-categorize story that would become A Wrinkle in Time. While Meg Murry and her companions traveled through time and space to save her father, a scientist trapped by evil forces on a distant planet, readers had to wrap their minds around the fifth dimension, the horrors of conformity and the power of love. L’Engle believed that literature should show youngsters they were capable of taking on the forces of evil in the universe, not just the everyday pains of growing up. “If it’s not good enough for adults,” she once wrote, “it’s not good enough for children.”

. . . .

Publishers hated it. Every firm her agent turned to rejected the manuscript. One advised to “do a cutting job on it—by half.” Another complained “it’s something between an adult and juvenile novel.” Finally, a friend advised L’Engle to send it to one of the most prestigious houses of all, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. John Farrar liked the manuscript. A test reader he gave it to, though, was unimpressed: “I think this is the worst book I have ever read, it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz.” Yet FSG acquired it, and Hal Vursell, the book’s editor, talked it up in letters he sent to reviewers: “It’s distinctly odd, extremely well written,” he wrote to one, “and is going to make greater intellectual and emotional demands on 12 to 16 year olds than most formula fiction for this age group.”

When it debuted, not only was Wrinkle widely praised—“wholly absorbing,” said the New York Times Book Review—but it won the Newbery Medal, the most important award in children’s lit. “The almost universal reaction of children to this year’s winning book, by wanting to talk about it to each other and to elders, shows the deep desire to understand as well as to enjoy,” said Newbery committee member Ruth Gagliardo.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian.com

20 YA Books for Older Teen Reluctant Readers

8 October 2017

From BookRiot:

I love book list requests, and this one is especially good. While we’ve talked about great books for younger reluctant readers, we’ve not done one targeted toward those older teen readers.

. . . .

A reluctant reader, for those unfamiliar with the term, is someone who “doesn’t like to read” or who has a hard time picking up a book and becoming invested in it immediately. Reluctant readers tend to fall into those teenage years, in part because reading isn’t seen as a cool thing to do, and in part because so much of what teens are reading in school simply isn’t speaking to them and thus, they think that there simply aren’t books out there for people like them.

And, as much as this one will hurt for some people to see, I really do believe that there are some people who simply don’t like reading. Reading, while a vital skill for societal functioning, is also a hobby. For some, it’s not a hobby they’re interested in, and try as we might to get a book into their hands, it’s entirely possible that they just aren’t interested.

So we let them do their thing.

Because the true reluctant readers are the ones worth fighting for. They’re the kids you know would love a good story because they love stories in other mediums: movies, video games, television. It’s a matter of the right book not falling into their hands quite yet and showing them the world of stories which do speak to them and engage them fully. It’s also being upfront with them about the fact that being a reader doesn’t mean giving up other things that they find enjoyable; it’s simply adding more options to how they spend their time.

. . . .

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (series)

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

. . . .

Fake ID by Lamar Giles

Nick Pearson is hiding in plain sight…

My name isn’t really Nick Pearson.

I shouldn’t tell you where I’m from or why my family moved to Stepton, Virginia.

I shouldn’t tell you who I really am, or my hair, eye, and skin color.

And I definitely shouldn’t tell you about my friend Eli Cruz and the major conspiracy he was about to uncover when he died—right after I moved to town. About how I had to choose between solving his murder with his hot sister, Reya, and “staying low-key” like the Program has taught me. About how moving to Stepon changed my life forever.

But I’m going to.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

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

Next Page »