YA

In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?

24 March 2019

From The New Yorker:

Late last month, the author Kosoko Jackson withdrew the publication of his début young-adult novel, “A Place for Wolves,” which had been slated for a March 26th release. The book, which follows two American boys as they fall in love against the backdrop of the Kosovo War, had garnered advance praise(“a tension-filled war setting, beautiful young love, family strength and all heart,” one blurb enthused). It also had the imprimatur of the #ownvoices hashtag, in which the main characters of a book share a marginalized identity with the writer—Jackson is black and queer. But a disparaging Goodreads review, which took issue with Jackson’s treatment of the war and his portrayal of Muslims, had a snowball effect, particularly on Twitter. Eventually, Jackson tweeted a letter of apology to “the Book Community,” stating, “I failed to fully understand the people and the conflict that I set around my characters. I have done a disservice to the history and to the people who suffered.”

The Jackson fracas came just weeks after another début Y.A. author, Amélie Wen Zhao, pulled her novel before it was published, also due to excoriating criticisms of it on Twitter and Goodreads. The book, a fantasy tale called “Blood Heir,” depicts an empire that enslaves magical minorities, known as Affinites, and where “oppression is blind to skin color,” as the promotional material phrased it. Critics felt that Zhao’s slavery narrative had erased a specifically African-American experience, and they objected to a scene in which an apparently black slave girl dies in an apparently white character’s arms, in an act of self-sacrifice. Zhao, who emigrated from China when she was eighteen, said that her book drew on “the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country.”

Like Jackson, Zhao tweeted an apology to “the Book Community,” writing, “It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower. As such, I have decided to ask my publisher not to publish ‘Blood Heir’ at this time.”

. . . .

Even casual observers of Y.A. controversies might have seen the Jackson and Zhao incidents, coming so close together, as an acceleration of an already established trend. In 2017, Keira Drake pushed back the release date of her début, “The Continent,” when a groundswell of Twitter critics accused the book of racism. That same year, Laurie Forest’s Y.A. fantasy début, “The Black Witch,” likewise became the object of intense scrutiny, weeks ahead of its publication, after detractors slammed it as a white-savior tale. The writer Kat Rosenfield’s New York magazine piece “The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter,” which centered on the “Black Witch” outcry, revealed that many of Forest’s fiercest critics had not read her novel, and others conflated the perspectives of racist characters with that of the author herself. (The review that set off the cancel campaign against “The Black Witch,” by the blogger and bookseller Shauna Sinyard, “consisted largely of pull quotes featuring the book’s racist characters saying or doing racist things,” Rosenfield wrote.)

. . . .

The Y.A. world is often credibly depicted as a censorious, woker-than-thou hothouse, and never more vividly than in Rosenfield’s piece; the article has become a Rosetta stone for anyone seeking purchase on Y.A.’s callout-and-cancel culture. The community gadfly and bête noire Jesse Singal’s recap of the Zhao controversy in Tablet carried the headline “How a Twitter Mob Derailed an Immigrant Female Author’s Budding Career.” “From the outside, this is starting to look like a conversation focused less on literature than obedience,” Graham wrote in Slate. The Times commissioned two first-person essays, one by Drake, on the “shameful stain” of these eruptions and the “tyrannical coddling of overly sensitive readers.”

“What happened to Jackson is frightening,” the author Jennifer Senior wrote, also in the Times. “Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.” “A Place for Wolves,” Senior continued, “should have failed or succeeded in the marketplace of ideas. But it was never given the chance. The mob got to it first.”

. . . .

A major contributor to blowups like those around Zhao and Jackson, according to many observers I spoke with, is the homogeneity of the publishing world, which remains, on the editorial side, eighty-two per cent white and less than two per cent black, according to a 2015 survey by Lee & Low Books. People of color face economic and racial barriers to breaking into the industry: entry-level positions in editing or literary agenting, which are mostly situated in New York City, offer barely sustainable wages that favor those with existing support systems and family wealth. The result is that the people who are most qualified to weigh in on a text’s treatment of marginalized identities are often the least likely to do so.

. . . .

The marketing manager is concerned, she said, that a skittish industry will turn its back on literature by or about minorities, deeming such projects too dangerous to sign. “I could see a world where the people in power start to become afraid that acquiring diversely means they are more at risk,” she wrote. The editor sounded a similar note. “I worry that my colleagues are just shying away completely from publishing anything that might attract controversy or negative attention,” she said. “We don’t want to censor authors, to only publish from a place of fear and reaction.”

. . . .

[T]he loudest kid-lit agitators . . . view their critiques as constructive, not destructive. When Zhao apologized and withdrew her book, Y.A. stakeholders largely greeted her words with support and encouragement, seeing them as the result of being “called in”—reminded of one’s values as a community member—rather than “called out.” “This is a beautiful apology,” the author Ellen Oh, who had used Twitter to challenge “Blood Heir” ’s “colorblindedness” and “lack of awareness,” tweeted. Oh and another author, L. L. McKinney, are often cited as the ringleaders of the online pushback against “Blood Heir,” but, as the reviewer Gin Jenny pointed out, neither of them “were calling for the book to be pulled. . . . They both flagged problems; that’s all they did.” In a post, the blogger recapped the Zhao drama: “From my perspective, this was a successful interaction!” she wrote. “Some people identified problems in a book that had not yet been published. Not wanting to publish the book with those heretofore unnoticed problems, the author has opted to delay publication. But the coverage of the incident has been very ‘gasp! Censorship!’ ” (After the controversy went viral, Oh, facing a flood of harassment, deleted her Twitter account—her perceived excesses, and those of McKinney, met a swift and brutal backlash, which itself reveals something about the underlying power dynamics of these tempests.)

. . . .

At a recent pen America panel on “callouts, correctness, and culture wars,” the former New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma seemed to suggest that marginalized people’s desire for authentic representation had a propagandistic edge. Sensitivity readers, he said, forced authors to create ennobled images—to describe an idealized world, not a real one. But the task of a sensitivity reader, properly understood, is to evaluate whether a given portrayal rings true or false, the Y.A. editor said. Depicting a character accurately and resonantly is literary work, a matter of craft. Too often, she continued, publishers insist on a false dichotomy between social justice and aesthetics, construing “sensitivity readers as troubleshooting, as something additional, rather than something that is intrinsic to characterization.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

From The Holocaust Encyclopedia:

During the spring of 1933, Nazi student organizations, professors, and librarians made up long lists of books they thought should not be read by Germans. Then, on the night of May 10, 1933, Nazis raided libraries and bookstores across Germany. They marched by torchlight in nighttime parades, sang chants, and threw books into huge bonfires. On that night more than 25,000 books were burned. Some were works of Jewish writers, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Most of the books were by non-Jewish writers, including such famous Americans as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis, whose ideas the Nazis viewed as different from their own and therefore not to be read.

. . . .

May 10, 1933 
Joseph Goebbels speaks at book burning in Berlin 

Forty thousand people gather to hear German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels speak in Berlin’s Opera Square. Goebbels condemns works written by Jews, liberals, leftists, pacifists, foreigners, and others as “un-German.” Nazi students begin burning books. Libraries across Germany are purged of “censored” books. Goebbels proclaims the “cleansing of the German spirit.”

Link to the rest at The Holocaust Encyclopedia

From The Jewish Book Council:

Readers may be familiar with the photograph of the Nazi-orchestrated book burning in front of a German university in May, 1933. What is not widely known is that Hitler’s government established a rigid system of book censorship and an index of undesirable books that existed until the end of the war. Inherent in Nazi ideology was the claim to total domination of the world of ideas.

In his new book, Harmful and Undesirable: Book Censorship in Nazi Germany, Guenter Lewy informs us that 5,485 book titles were banned by the end of the war. The entire censorship process was implemented by a number of competing bureaucracies, but mainly the Reich Chamber of Literature (RSK). The banned books included those of alleged moral corruption, works of Marxism and pacifism, books and articles perceived as damaging the martial spirit and morale of the German people and those propagating Catholic or other confessional ideas, and works that fell into the catch designation of “failure to live up to what was to be expected in the new Germany.”

. . . .

Until 1938, the struggle against Jewish books was focused on those written by assimilated German Jews. The list of banned Jewish authors included such writers as Vicky Baum, Emil Ludwig, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Kafka, Arthur Schnitzler, Kurt Tucholsky, Franz Werfel, and Arnold and Stefan Zweig. In addition, the Ministry of Propaganda warned the book trade that no mention was to be made anywhere of the works of Heinrich Heine. One Nazi journal pronounced that “Heine is not a poet, he is a Jew.” Once World War II started in 1939, the works of Jewish authors worldwide were either banned or placed on an index of undesirable books.

Link to the rest at The Jewish Book Council

What Austin Teens Wish Publishers Knew

17 March 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Last week I blogged about what some of our local teens are reading, but I also like to check in with our teens toward the beginning of the year to see what they’re looking for, what they’re sick of, and what they wish they could tell publishers. So what’s on their minds? Well, as a group they definitely don’t love covers with real people on them these days, are tired of tropes and predictable plot lines, and (most of them) are enjoying the YA horror trend, as long as it doesn’t get too gory or steamy.

. . . .

CONSENSUS: Series, within reason:

  • “Shorter series. I often like duologies as long as the second book can hold its own up against the first. For series, more than six is definitely a NO.” –Aurora
  • “Trilogies work. They offer enough room for authors to resolve plot holes in their work, and it’s not so long that the writing gets stale.” –Gustavo
  • “I prefer trilogies, but there can be exceptions like Harry Potter. Duologies are fine, but they often feel like one big book.” –Ivy

. . . .

What 10 trends or tropes are you SO tired of?

  • Love triangles
  • Terminally ill main characters
  • Instant love or best friends
  • Emotionless guys
  • The mean girl / enemy at school
  • Popularity tropes (it honestly doesn’t exist in the same way anymore)
  • “Bad Boy” characters
  • Teens not stressing about college or never doing homework and still getting good grades. Also teens with no extracurricular commitments.
  • Not talking to adults about serious issues
  • Titles that are like: The __ __ of __ __

. . . .

What do you personally want to see less of this year?

  • “Dystopian novels because they are always too cliché, too similar to others, or scientifically impossible.” –Aurora
  • “The guy always falling for the girl. Guys in books get rejections all the time, but sometimes girls get their hearts broken too, rather than getting a perfect romantic resolution.”–Sofia
  • “Fewer chances for people who have been called out for doing sketchy stuff to get published.”–Xander
  • “Fewer retellings, more original stories.” –Ivy
  • “In high fantasies where the guy or girl is abusive, but they reveal those actions were because they liked the other person.” – Sumayyah

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Wolves

5 March 2019

From Slate:

Until recently, Kosoko Jackson was considered an expert in the trapdoors of identity-related rhetoric. Jackson worked as a “sensitivity reader” for major publishers of YA fiction, a job that entails reading manuscripts and flagging them for problematic content. His own debut novel, A Place for Wolves, was promoted as an “#ownvoices” book, a hashtag attached approvingly to books in which the author shares a particular marginalized identity with his subject. (Jackson is black and queer.) He believed that, for example, women shouldn’t “profit” from writing gay men’s stories, as he tweeted last year. And he was part of a small and informal but intense online community that scolded writers who ran afoul of these values in their work or online. Now, Jackson has been demonized by the community he once helped police.

A Place for Wolves, Jackson’s first novel, was scheduled for publication later this month. The romantic thriller, set in the late 1990s during the Kosovo War, follows a relationship between two American teen boys. The book looked poised to succeed: It received several early starred reviews, which influence library purchases and bookstore placement, and had been named a “Kids’ Indie Next” pick, suggesting an early interest from independent booksellers. Last week, however, Jackson released a statement addressed to the “Book Community” that apologized for the “problematic representation and historical insensitivities” in his novel. He wrote that he had asked his publisher, Sourcebooks, to withdraw the book from publication. Sourcebooks quickly complied.

The backlash seems to have begun on Feb. 22, with a long review posted to the community-review site Goodreads, a favorite site of YA agonistes. “I have to be absolutely [explitive deleted by PG] honest here, everybody,” the review opened, in the hyperbolic voice of its genre. “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.” She objected to the book’s use of a recent genocide as a backdrop to romance, the way some early fans fetishized it as a “cute gay love story,” that it was not written by a Muslim, that it “centers” privileged Americans, and that the villain is an ethnic Albanian, among other concerns. “Are you able to confidently justify supporting this book despite all of the above, despite the harm it can and will do to real people?” she asked in conclusion.

. . . .

The criticism snowballed from there, with other readers chiming in: “How could you take a beautiful LGBTQ love story and [explitive deleted by PG] on genocide victims like that?” one asked on Twitter. Heidi Heilig, an author who has participated in many online skirmishes and provided a positive blurb for Jackson’s book, hastily revised her Goodreads review of A Place for Wolves. She suggested the book’s content may have changed since she read an early draft, apologized “to those I’ve hurt by my blurb,” and promised to “work harder.”

. . . .

In January, another first-time author, Amélie Wen Zhao, asked her publisher to pull her to-be-released fantasy novel, Blood Heir, because of early reader critiques about racial insensitivity. The novel featured a storyline about slavery and a character whom some readers interpreted as black, who dies so a white character can live; Zhao explained in her statement that as a Chinese immigrant to the United States, she was inspired by trafficking and labor issues in Asia, but apologized nonetheless for causing pain.

. . . .

Both Jackson and Zhang are people of color who now see their careers hobbled in an industry that claims to be laser-focused on diversity. Jackson has already been dropped from the lineup in at least one literary festival, though it’s not clear if he withdrew or was ousted.

. . . .

[W]e’ve gotten an increasingly toxic online culture around YA literature, with evermore-baroque standards for who can write about whom under what circumstances. From the outside, this is starting to look like a conversation focused less on literature than obedience.

. . . .

None of this has to do with whether Jackson’s book is any good, or even in good taste. (I haven’t read it.) But it was written by an author exquisitely attuned to identity issues, and presumably vetted by his agent, the staff of a publishing house, and other early readers, including some who have now turned against it.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Shelly for the tip.

.

8 Ya Authors on the Enduring Impact of Speak

15 January 2019

From Book Riot:

 This month marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Laurie Halse Anderson’s phenomenal, groundbreaking YA book Speak.

Speak was the first YA book I ever read while I myself was a young adult. The book hit shelves when I was 14, and I vividly remember heading deep into the corner of my local library and finding it on the shelf. I flipped through, immediately captivated by Melinda’s voice on the page. Her story hooked me and stayed with me throughout my teen years and my twenties, and I revisited the book again a few years ago. It not only still resonated, but I brought new things and gleaned fresh insights into the book, too. Melinda? She’s really quite funny. Despite the tragedy she’s experienced as the victim of a sexual assault, her humor further pulls at the reader’s heart and reminds them that even those who’ve suffered something unimaginable are still three-dimensional, complex individuals.

. . . .

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Speak, seven authors from all parts of the YA world have shared how the book has impacted them in both their personal lives and their writing lives (if those things are even extricable).

. . . .

JENNIFER MATHIEU, AUTHOR OF MOXIE

It’s been my true privilege to have experienced Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK as a reader, a writer of young adult novels, and a high school English teacher. Many years ago when I was an aspiring novelist, Laurie’s SPEAK reassured me that teenagers crave honesty, complexity, nuance, and rough edges in their stories—they don’t need morality tales nor will they read them. Melinda’s journey as a survivor of sexual assault, crafted by Laurie with such authenticity and voice, served as a touchstone for me as I attempted to create my own stories about realistic teens in the world. What an honor to get to sit on a panel with Laurie at the Brooklyn Book Festival years later and have the opportunity to let her know how much her writing has meant to me. As a teacher, I have also seen how SPEAK has empowered and validated my own students; when I taught the novel last year to my tenth graders in Houston, I had three separate students share with me how Melinda’s story of survival and healing had helped them cope with their own assaults. Were it not for Laurie’s novel, I would not have been able to put one of those students in touch with our wonderful school social worker—until reading SPEAK she had not talked to anyone about what had happened to her. My love for Laurie, for Melinda, and for this new classic of young adult literature knows no bounds. May this much-needed story live on for 20, 40, 60 more years—and beyond.

. . . .

TANITA S. DAVIS, MARE’S WAR

1999: I’d just published my first (long out of print) book with a protagonist who, looking back, was Mary Sue perfect, and therefore, nothing bad happened to her. I thought YA lit was supposed to be like what I’d read growing up—cautionary tales and polite fictions which promised girls that if they behaved, All Would Be Well. When I read SPEAK it rattled my preconceptions…because it was True, a kind of true that cut to the bone. I was, frankly, a little scared that YA lit could BE like that—maybe was SUPPOSED to be like that. SPEAK challenges me as a writer to be that honest, to speak my truth, and to stand by it unflinchingly.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Memories from my TV/Movie Experience

19 November 2018

From Rick Riordan:

Recently I asked you guys what kind of team you’d like to see in charge if a Disney-led Percy Jackson reboot were to happen. Again, I have to warn you this is completely HYPOTHETICAL, just wishful thinking, not based on any concrete plans in the pipeline. Even if some reboot happened someday, I would have ZERO control over it, because those rights were signed away before the first PJO book was even published and, like most authors, my contract was very standard in that Hollywood controls all things and all decisions about the movie. The author may or may not be consulted, but the movie folks have final say on everything. There is a widespread myth (ha!) that authors have much more control over movie decisions than we actually do. Even the most powerful authors (yes, the ones you are thinking of right now) have WAY less influence and control than you think they do. Nobody talks about that though, because when a movie is just coming out it is in the studio’s interest for it to SOUND like everybody was very involved and pleased with the final product. In reality, the best we authors can hope for is a good team effort, where everyone gets along, has the same vision, and works together well. Sometimes, that happens . . .

Thinking about reboots even hypothetically made me remember the process I went through with those Percy Jackson movies. I was indeed consulted at some points, about some things. I did my best to give feedback that would help. At the time, obviously, I couldn’t really share any behind-the-scenes information with you guys, the readers, but since these conversations are now almost ten years old (yikes!), I thought you might like to take a look at some of the correspondence and suggestions I sent to the producers while they were planning THE LIGHTNING THIEF movie. I hope this will give you a sense of what I was trying to do behind the scenes. Whether/how much the producers listened to my ideas, I will let you be the judge. As I’ve said many times, once I saw the final script and saw what they were doing on the set, I realized I had to step away for my own peace of mind. I never saw either of the movies in their final form. What I know of them, and how I judge them, is based entirely on my experiences with the producers and on the final scripts. The SEA OF MONSTERS movie is a whole ‘nother story, but it followed basically the same process.

. . . .

Should a reboot happen some day, in some fashion, I would hope, like you, that it would be a great adaptation that is faithful to the books and fun to watch. The fact that Disney has now acquired the rights from Fox may be hopeful news, but it doesn’t change my contractual powers (which are zilch). Still, I’ve let it be known that I would be happy to consult and advise IF they want me and IF the new project was undertaken by a completely different team than the one which made the movies. I think that would be important. Fresh eyes. Fresh ideas. Hopefully people who know and are passionate about the books. I have no desire to go through my first experience again and see the same results. If I felt like that was going to be the case, I would have to stay away from the project completely. In the future, if some project actually does get underway, I may not be able to comment on it for contractual reasons, but you can tell how I’m feeling about it by what I do or don’t say. Am I talking about it? Promoting it? Sharing cool things? I am probably happy. Am I completely ignoring it and never mentioning it on social media? Yeah . . . that’s probably not a good sign. For instance, check out my website, rickriordan.com. Do you see any indication there that the Percy Jackson movies ever existed? No. No, you do not.

. . . .

From January 2009 note to producers

Hi XXXXX,

I understand that a decision has been made to age the main characters in the film to seventeen. As no one wants to see this film succeed more than I do, I hope you’ll let me share a couple of reasons why this is a bad idea from a money-making point of view.

First, it kills any possibility of a movie franchise. I don’t know if you or your staff have had the chance to read farther than The Lightning Thief in the Percy Jackson series, but there are four other volumes. The series is grounded on the premise that Percy must progress from age twelve to age sixteen, when according to a prophecy he must make a decision that saves or destroys the world. I assume that XXXX would at least like to keep open the option of sequels assuming the first movie does well. Starting Percy at seventeen makes this undoable. I’m also sure that XXXXX (for) the first Harry Potter movie, some in the studio argued for making the characters older to appeal to a teen audience. Fortunately, they took the long view and stayed true to the source material, which allowed them to grow a lucrative franchise. This would’ve been impossible if they’d started Harry at seventeen. The same principle applies here.

Second, it alienates the core audience. I’m guessing those book sale numbers are important to XXXX because you’re hoping all those kids show up at the theater. The core readership for Percy Jackson is age 9-12. There are roughly a million kids that age, plus their families, who are dying to see this film because they want to see the pictures in their imagination brought to life. Many of these kids have read the books multiple times and know every detail. They are keenly aware that Percy is twelve in the first book. By making the characters seventeen, you’ve lost those kids as soon as they see the first movie trailer. You signal that this is a teen film, when the core audience is families. I understand that you want to appeal to teens because they are a powerful demographic, and conventional wisdom says that teens will not see movies about kids younger than themselves. Harry Potter proved this wrong, but aside from that, deviating so significantly from the source material risks pleasing no one – teens, who know the books are meant for younger kids, and the younger kids, who will be angry and disappointed that the books they love have been distorted into a teen movie. I haven’t even seen the script yet, so I don’t know how much the story has changed, but I fear the movie will be dead on arrival with a seventeen-year-old lead. (At this time I had no idea who might be cast)

I’ve spent the last four years touring the country, talking about the movie. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of kids. They are all excited about the movie, but they are also anxious. Most of these kids have no idea which studio produces which film, but everywhere I go, they say the same thing: Please don’t let them do to the Lightning Thief what they did to XXXX(another movie from the same producers) Don’t let them change the story. These kids are the seed audience for the movie. They are the ones who will show up first with their families, then tell their friends to go, or not go, depending on how they liked it. They are looking for one thing: How faithful was the movie to the book? Make Percy seventeen, and that battle is lost before filming even begins.

Thanks for letting me say my piece. I care too much about the project to see it fail.

Link to the rest at Rick Riordan

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

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