YALSA-bk is a listserv with lively discussions among librarians, educators, and beyond about all things YA lit. Sometimes one listserv member will ask for help finding books around a certain theme or readalikes for a particular title. This post is a compilation of responses for one such request.
The original request
One of my book clubs is looking for a good romance to read but I can’t give them “the usual suspects” (aka John Green, Huntley Fitzpatrick, Rainbow Rowell) because they’ve read all of those highly publicized ones. I’m looking for one that is off the radar, preferably paperback, that will sweep them off their feet and isn’t too brazenly in-your-face with the language and physical stuff (aka Jamie McGuire, Simone Elkeles, Katie McGarry.)
- A Blindspot for Boys by Justina Chen
- Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
- Something Real by Heather Demetrios
- Reclaimed by Sarah Guillory
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
- The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman
- OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
- Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu
- Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
- Like No Other by Una Lamarche
- Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon
- Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
- The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
- Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho
- Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
- The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
- #scandal by Sarah Ockler
- Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
- Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
- Fan Art by Sarah Tregay
- Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams
- Deb Caletti
- Susane Colasanti
- Sarah Dessen
- Jennifer Echols
- Elizabeth Eulberg
- Gayle Forman
- Maureen Johnson
- Morgan Matson
- Stephanie Perkins
- Leila Sales
- Suzanne Selfors
- Jennifer E. Smith
- Amy Spalding
- Siobhan Vivian
- Kasie West
Have more titles you think should belong on these lists? Add them on the YALSA wiki or leave a comment! Looking for more compiled booklists? Check out the YALSA wiki or other booklists here at The Hub.
– Gretchen Kolderup, currently rereading The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but here in southern California we’ve had some pretty hot days recently. So I thought that for this entry in my occasional Bookish Brew series, a cool summer smoothie would be more in order than a hot drink. Make that two smoothies– one for each of the narrators of Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s wonderful and authentic Roomies (2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Nominations List).
When Roomies begins, teens Lauren and Elizabeth are a couple months away from starting their freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley. They have just received each other’s names and email addresses from the campus housing office because they have been matched as dorm roommates. Lauren lives in San Francisco, California, which is not far from the city of Berkeley. In her loving two-parent family, she is the eldest of her siblings by several years. Her responsible nature may stem partly from her heavy child-rearing responsibilities. She is somewhat shy, concerned with honesty and aims to work in scientific research. Elizabeth, also known as E.B., lives in suburban New Jersey near the Shore with her single divorced mom with whom she does not have a close relationship. Elizabeth can be overly sensitive at times and is more impulsive than Lauren, as well as more outgoing. She plans to study landscape architecture.
Initiated by Elizabeth of course, the two begin an email correspondence over the summer. They share the details of their lives and soon after their feelings and frustrations about friends, family and boyfriends. This is not an epistolary novel, however; these emails are one component of a traditional narrative. The two girls alternate narrating chapters.
Initially Lauren and Elizabeth experience a mainly positive interaction, getting a feel for each other’s personalities, leaning on each other throughout a couple situations in their personal lives and sharing the joys of their respective first loves. A misunderstanding arises, however, connected to Elizabeth’s estranged father, who lives and owns an art gallery in San Francisco. Both girls are challenged to look at the situation through the other’s eyes and decide whether reconciliation is possible. In an interview with Harvard Magazine (September-October 2014) Tara Altebrando describes how she and Sara Zarr wrote the book both separately and together over a period of three years and mentions that they are considering either a sequel or another collaborative project.
I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of Roomies if you can, which is voiced by Becca Battoe and Emily Eiden. These two readers do an amazing job of vocally capturing the distinct rhythms and personalities of Lauren and Elizabeth, not to mention the differences in regional accents.
But now the time has come to blend! When choosing the ingredients for a “bookish brew” I consider the setting and the essential traits or qualities of the main character of a novel. As there are two quite distinct main characters in Roomies, I’ve created two smoothies.
Both of the following recipes will make one serving. Feel free to double or otherwise increase the amount of each ingredient as needed. Then just throw all of the ingredients into your blender, turn it on at the setting that you prefer for ten to thirty seconds and voilà!
The Ladylike Lauren
Lauren is the more cautious of the two girls, which to me suggests starting with a more traditional smoothie recipe. Her hometown of San Francisco is also the home of Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which in my book almost requires the addition of something derived from the cocoa bean!
- 6 ounces vanilla yogurt
- ¼ cup milk
- ½ cup frozen raspberries
- ½ tablespoon raspberry jam (optional)
- 1 ½ tablespoons chocolate syrup
The Electric Elizabeth
Elizabeth seems to feel more at ease with trying new things (e.g., traveling across the country for college). Given this and her love for plant life, I used a green smoothie as a base. To make the green “electric” I added a little carbonation in the form of wishniak black cherry soda (a non-alcoholic drink), which is popular in New Jersey, but can be found in most beverage stores elsewhere.
- 1 cup chopped spinach or kale
- ¼ of an avocado, peeled and with pit removed
- ¾ cup apple juice
- ½ apple, peeled, cored and chopped (make sure your blender can handle apples)
- 1/2 cup wishniak black cherry soda
I wanted to finally note that Roomies has been included in a few reading lists created by my fellow Hub bloggers. If you like the fact that Roomies centers around email communication, try the book suggestions at “Teen Tech Week: YA Fiction About Online Life” (3/14/14). If you want to read more books with alternating narrators, try the titles included on “Is This the Real Life? YA Books with Multiple Perspectives” (3/13/14). If you’re starting college this semester or in the next couple years, definitely check out the books on “Heading to College? Read These Books First” (9/6/13).
Happy reading and smoothie-making!
- Anna Dalin, currently listening to The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Good morning, Hub readers!
Last week, we wanted to know about your preferred mode of travel from YA lit (for your Labor Day weekend travel plans, of course). Most of you would opt for a dirigible from Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage (28% of the vote). The Panem train also proved a popular choice with 27% of the vote, though as reader Alicia noted, it’s a nice choice as long as you don’t actually have to be in Panem! You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and commented!
This week sees the end of summer vacation and a return to the classrooms. That’s right, it’s back-to-school time! Which school from YA lit would you want to attend? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments.Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
According to many sources, August 24 is generally accepted as the day Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and killed many thousands of people living in the city of Pompeii. This tragic story has captured people’s interest and imagination for hundreds of years. I’ve visited Pompeii and it is a haunting and fascinating site – the perfect backdrop for an historical YA book.
Initially, the only YA book that I knew about Pompeii was Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter that came out earlier this year. In this novel, Lucia’s father, the owner of a gladiatorial school in Pompeii that needs money to expand the business, has betrothed her to a wealthy man old enough to be her grandfather. Lucia loves to read but her future husband doesn’t approve of women reading or studying. Lucia’s also interested in the world around her and its natural mysteries, like the frequent tremors and other odd phenomenon that are occurring in Pompeii. She’s in love with childhood friend & slave Tag, born of a noble family that was enslaved and stripped of its wealth. Tag’s a healer who wants to be a gladiator to earn enough money to win his freedom and escape the curse he bears. They plan to escape the city together but are betrayed to Lucia’s father by another fighter. Tag’s imprisoned by Lucia’s father just as Mt. Vesuvius is about to erupt. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?
Shecter’s notes in the afterward refute the fact that Mt. Vesuvius erupted on August 24th. She believes more recent evidence found by archeologists that suggests the city was buried several months later because the victims found were wearing heavier clothing than what they’d be wearing in the summer. The remains of fruit found indicated it was later too – possibly October or November. For this reason, Shecter says she set the book in October of 79 AD. It’s fun to see that Pliny, the naturalist and author who wrote about the eruption of Vesuvius, is a character here too.
Vesuvius Rising (The Gilded Mirror #2) by Jocelyn Murray (2012) is a time travel tale featuring fifteen-year-old Anna who is swept back in time through the forces of a mysterious mirror to 79 AD. She finds herself in Pompeii just days before the deadly volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. As forces conspire against her, she struggles to escape the catastrophe that threatens the lives of thousands.
Kathryn Lasky’s The Last Girls of Pompeii (2007) is set in Pompeii in the summer of 79 AD and features two very dissimilar girls. Julia is the daughter of a wealthy ship-builder; Sura is an orphan. Julia has a withered arm (the Curse of Venus) but Sura is beautiful. Julia is free; Sura is her slave. Julia’s older sister Cornelia is about to get married so their well-meaning but desperate parents plan to send Julia off to the Temple of Damia and sell Sura to raise money for Cornelia’s expensive wedding. When Mt. Vesuvius erupts, Julia’s and Sura’s fates are forever altered, forcing them both to face the true meaning of freedom.
For slightly younger teens, Caroline Lawrence’s The Secrets of Vesuvius: The Roman Mysteries: Book II (2001) is an exciting story of what happens after twelve-year-old Flavia, her neighbor Jonathan, Lupus, 8, a slave without a tongue, and Nubia, a freed African slave rescue Admiral Pliny from a boating accident. Pliny rewards them for saving him and also urges them to try to figure out a riddle that will yield a great treasure if they can solve it. He tells them a blacksmith could help them solve it if they can locate him. As the four friends spend the summer in Pompeii with Flavia’s uncle, they find the blacksmith but he’s struggling to solve his own mystery of why he was abandoned by his family. Just as they are figuring out some of these mysteries, Mt. Vesuvius erupts and they have to run for their lives. Like the other books, Lawrence also includes descriptions of everyday life in Pompeii that offer great insights into what life was like then.
If you’d prefer to read a nonfiction account of the destruction of Pompeii, James M. Deem’s Bodies from the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii (2005)(2006 Best Books for Young Adults) is the book for you. Hundreds of years after Mt. Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii under volcanic rubble, archaeologists excavating the site in the 1700s unearthed the expected buildings and artifacts but also surprisingly unearthed the bodies of those who died that left imprints in the ash like photographic images. Deems devotes a whole chapter covering Giuseppe Fiorelli’s revolutionary technique of creating plaster casts of the victims from the cavities left by their bodies. These imprints were used to recreate plaster casts of the victims to show their last moments and tell a bit about their lives. Deems includes numerous photographs that capture the horror of the volcano’s eruption and helps one imagine the daily life of the inhabitants of Pompeii.
As long as there are natural disasters like the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in which thousands of people lost their lives, like those in Pompeii, there will be books written about them, for those of us who like to read about them.
-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
Can you believe August is almost over? The past week on Twitter brought lots of talk about the screen adaptation of Gayle Forman’s bestselling novel If I Stay, the news that Hello Kitty might not actually be a cat, and more weighty current events– the events in Ferguson are still generating a lot of much-needed conversation. Here’s a round-up of some tweets you might have missed.
- @misskubelik: We’re still book-driving for @fergusonlibrary’s kid/YA section. Please signal boost this link to the SECOND list https://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/wishlist?email=booksforferguson%40gmail.com&list=More%20Books%20For%20Ferguson …
- @JensBookPage: Lois Lane Is Your New YA Fiction Hero | @THR on upcoming #yalit book by @Gwenda http://ow.ly/APYCD via @PWKidsBookshelf
- @stevelibrarian: If you ever wonder why comic books relaunch with a new #1 so often… http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/63753-how-s-marvel-now-working-out.html …
- @BethRevis: I can always tell from tweets where people are in SHADES OF EARTH. #trustme #keepreading
- @infodocket: Coming Soon: New Version of OverDrive’s App (iOS, Android, Win) Will Not Require Adobe Authorization http://ow.ly/AN1Qi #ebooks
- @CeceBellBooks: El Deafo Extras: From outline to finished product http://wp.me/pjDXi-wQ
- @CypressParkLAPL: Classic first lines of famous novels via emoji! How many can you recognize? Some of them were kinda tricky. http://fb.me/6XTvbWnKS
- @OfficiallyAlly: Oh, #IfIStay… You’re the reason I’m at the grocery store with Cry Face.
- @FelicityDisco: I am pleased to see the #IfIStay soundtrack has six Willamette Stone songs. I want all the Willamette Stone songs.
- @PagetoPremiere: EXCLUSIVE: Author @GayleForman talks @IfIStay on-set experience, addresses Mia & Adam’s future http://tinyurl.com/o8fn7ja
- @BBCNewsbeat: Hello Kitty’s a British schoolgirl who likes baking. Yup, we thought she was just a cat too… http://bbc.in/1q7dLef pic.twitter.com/VSJAizrCcq
- @aliciabooks: If Pluto’s not a planet and Hello Kitty’s not a cat, I’m going back to bed.
- @rj_anderson: Everybody calm down. Hello Kitty IS a cat, just an anthropomorphized one. Who also owns a non-anthropomorphized cat. http://kotaku.com/dont-be-silly-hello-kitty-is-a-cat-1627820750 …
- @FreeLibrary: How to teach kids about Ferguson–here are some resources: http://ow.ly/AM6Wj
- @tinylibrarian: Reminder: @YALSA WANTS YOU – for our Award & Selection Committees! Volunteer Form Deadline = 10/1/14 http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2014/07/31/yalsa-needs-you-for-our-award-selection-committees-volunteer-form-deadline-is-october-1st/ … via @yalsa
- @yalsa: Register by 9/15 for our YA Lit Symposium in Austin for a chance to win TWO FREE hotel nights for your stay! http://bit.ly/1uXTIh5 #yalit14
- @katiefoges: Infographic from @acmadotgov showing how Aussie teens spend their time online: http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/aussie-teens-online# … #ozteachers #vicpln
- @vforrestal: after a brief hiatus, #ProjectTiara is back in business, and we just sent out our 115th tiara!
Just For Fun
- @BoingBoing: Hand-painted Adventure Time shoes http://boingboing.net/2014/08/28/hand-painted-adventure-time-sh.html … @AdventureTimeCN
-Allison Tran, currently reading The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It is one of the most common cliches in existence. And yet, during my trip to the UK this summer, I found myself doing just that. Books that I had already seen in the U.S. (or in some cases, already owned) looked so much more appealing with the covers that were designed for the UK. This made me ask several questions:
- Why were different covers designed for the UK and the U.S., particularly given that the text itself was almost always identical?
- What was it about the UK design sensibility that I liked?
- Was I alone in my preference?
- And, of course most importantly, how many books could I reasonably bring back in my suitcase?
Being a librarian, I tried to jump into research mode, but the question of why designs differ seems to be almost impossible to definitively answer. A 2010 article in The Guardian tackled this exact question, albeit with more of a focus on translated versions of books, and found those in the industry who cited both attempts to appeal to different cultures and the simple fact that the practice had “certainly become the norm.” Sometimes the answer might be more straightforward, such as the author having a different publisher in each of the countries. Overall though, there doesn’t appear to be a single, clear reason for all the redesigns.
As for the next two questions, I think I was able to find at least a partial answer in Authors Are Rockstars! interview of Sarah J. Maas (thanks to Allison Tran for bringing the interview to my attention!). In the interview, Maas talks a bit about the U.S. and UK covers for her first book, Throne of Glass (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults). When the book was originally published in the U.S. and the UK, two different covers were used. In the U.S., the cover focused on a very realistic, close up portrait of a blonde female in a fairly static position while the UK edition featured a more stylized drawing of a female in a more active pose. Fans in the U.S. preferred the UK cover so much that the UK cover was brought to the U.S. for the paperback edition and subsequent books in the series have used a similar cover style.
This interview not only suggests that I am not the only one who, at least occasionally, prefers the UK covers, but it also made me realize that frequently (but not always), the covers I preferred in the UK tended to be more stylized drawings and/or had more of a focus on the text of the title as opposed to using photos or photo-realistic portraits.
As for the final question about how many books I could reasonably bring back with me, the answer proved to be not nearly as many as I wanted to, but I did manage to take or find pictures of several books with different covers in the U.S. and the UK. Check out the side-by-side comparisons below and let me know in the comments which version you prefer!
Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.
I remember sitting in the audience at the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award ceremony at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington D.C. and waiting a little more impatiently, and with a little more anticipation than normal, for the program to start. There were a couple of reasons for this, sure, but in large part it was because I couldn’t wait to hear what Gene Luen Yang had to say. I’d just read American Born Chinese, the first ever graphic novel to be awarded the Printz, and, like the committee, was blown away by the combination of social commentary, Chinese mythology, and American pop culture. Plus, as an ardent fan of comics and graphic novels, I was really thrilled to see his work recognized.
His speech was so worth waiting for. Not only did it educate and entertain, it also surprised me (“Two years ago, I photocopied and stapled individual chapters of American Born Chinese to sell by the dozen at comic book conventions, usually to personal friends or my mom. Today, I’m standing here in front of you.” Seriously?!) and offered one of my favorite library-related warnings: “You librarians are all that stand in the way of the entire world turning into one big, no-holds-barred MySpace discussion board.” I highly recommend you read the entire speech.
Since then I’ve snapped up each new work, and I know I’m not alone. Boxers and Saints? I mean, wow. Just so freaking good. And now we have The Shadow Hero, which is so cool in every direction and way possible. If you haven’t yet, go read them. Probably now.
Thank you so much, Gene, for taking the time to talk to me and for your good humor and thoughtfulness. I’ve been waiting a little more impatiently, and with a little more anticipation than normal, for this interview.
Always Something There to Remind Me
Please describe your teenage self.
I was a standard-issue nerd. I had asthma. My nose was always stuffed up. I read comic books and programmed computers. I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
When I was really little, I wanted to be a Disney animator. I loved stories and I loved drawing. Animation seemed like a natural way to bring them together.
After I began collecting comics in the fifth grade, I felt torn. Did I want to become an animator or a comic book creator? I eventually drifted towards comics. I wasn’t old enough to know that the animation industry offered things like regular paychecks and health insurance, but I could still sense my parents’ disappointment. They weren’t all that thrilled about my dream of becoming an animator, but when I told them I wanted to be a cartoonist? Man. I might as well have kicked my old man in the stomach.
What were your high school years like?
Overall, I was pretty happy in high school. Sure, I had my share of sleepless nights. I got stressed out about grades and romance and finding my place in the world. I experienced the crushing oppression of the high school social hierarchy. I suffered bouts of crippling self-doubt.
But when I think back to those years, I remember the fun. I remember hanging out with my friends, playing mahjong late into the night. I remember being really proud of this t-shirt design I did for school. And I remember making the pilgrimage to our local comic book store every Friday to check out that week’s releases.
Mr. Matsuoka, who taught me computer science, had a huge influence on me. He was a great teacher, but he was also my first Asian American male teacher—really, my first Asian American male role model. He had a dignity about him that made you trust him. He spoke with authority. I remember feeling really comfortable in his class, like I belonged, but not knowing why. I had an easier time speaking up and asking questions in his classroom than anywhere else on campus.
What were some of your passions during that time?
I did sports, but because I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life, I was limited to sports that didn’t involve balls. I ran cross country and did high jump. I was terrible at both.
Most of my reading outside class was comics. Peter David was on a tear in The Incredible Hulk. Neil Gaiman was weaving modern mythology in The Sandman. Kitchen Sink was reintroducing the public to the brilliance of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. And in the Disney Duck comics, Don Rosa proved month after month that you can indeed create art with corporate-owned characters.
We read a lot of great books for class, but the one that sticks out was Richard Wright’s Black Boy in tenth grade English. I felt the truth beneath Wright’s words, and it was a scary sort of truth. I feel the same way about many modern autobio comics: Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, David Small’s Stitches. They’re works that require a lot of courage. I’m not brave enough to do something like that yet.
I ended high school on a Richard Wright kick and did my senior paper on The Native Son.
Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?
At the end of my senior year, my first girlfriend and I broke up. It was rough, much rougher than I’d expected. We tried to remain friends because we went to the same college, but it ended up drawing things out for me. Sometimes you need a clean break. It doesn’t mean the other person isn’t important to you. It just means that it’s time to move on.
I learned a lot from that experience about relationships, my own weaknesses, and how my family history shapes who I am. I learned that everyone goes through rejection. Rejection doesn’t define you. It’s just a part of life. That understanding came into play later, when I started looking for a publisher.
I’ve been happily married for almost a decade and a half now. I really believe my wife and I have a successful relationship in part because of what we learned from our past romantic relationships. Every time something ends, it’s an opportunity for growth.
What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?
I already told you that I was a horrible cross-country runner. I regularly came in last at meets. When I was a senior, I never once outran any of the freshmen.
Even so, I stuck it out. I enjoyed hanging out with my teammates, which helped a lot. But through cross-country I learned how to persist even it feels like I’m really bad at something.
I’d always considered myself good at drawing, but after entering the comic book industry and meeting many, many amazing cartoonists, I’ve come to realize that I’m an average illustrator at best. Because of cross country, I knew how to persist even when it felt like I was behind. I knew how to keep going.
What advice, if any, would you give your teen self? Would your teen self have listened?
Don’t freak out so much. The vast majority of emergencies are not real emergencies.
My teenage self would have ignored that advice. I know because I am still freaking out too much as an adult.
Do you have any regrets about your teen years? Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone?
I wish I’d explored the world when it would’ve been easy to do so. I’ve lived my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a beautiful place, but I have nothing to compare it to.
What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?
I had a general feeling of hope back then, like all of life was laid out before me waiting to be explored. I miss that.
Now that I’m in my forties, certain opportunities are no longer available. I’m still hopeful, but it’s a smaller, more defined sort of hope. Even so, I have to say that I’ve been pretty happy with my forties so far.Every Day I Write the Book
Can we talk about superheroes? “I’ve loved superheroes all my life,” you’ve said, and your most current book, The Shadow Hero, is a classic superhero origin story. You’ve talked about superheroes, the immigrant experience, and juggling dual identities in the past, as well as the place of superheroes in American culture. “Superheroes are about America. They were invented in America and they are most popular in America,” you wrote in a column for Tor.com. Could you talk a little about why and how superheroes are particularly American? What do you think makes a good superhero, from the creator and fan perspective? Do you have favorites or least favorites?
There’s something goofy and young and modern about putting on a brightly-colored costume and fighting for justice. And in the family of nations, America is definitely the goofy, young, modern kid. The superhero genre is an Americanized version of Old World heroic storytelling traditions. Superman, Spider-man, and Captain America are our Hercules, our Coyote, our Guan Yu. They combine today’s technology (yes, Spandex is a technology) with old, old human ideals.
What makes a great superhero? Same thing that makes anything great: Creativity. When talented creators play with the conventions of the genre, the results are usually pretty spectacular. Take a look at Mark Waid’s Irredeemable or the current She-Hulk series.
I love Spider-man and Batman, but I’ve always been especially drawn to the weirder, more obscure heroes. Mr. Miracle is a part of the DC Universe’s Fourth World. When he was a baby, his father traded him to a hellish prison planet as part of a peace agreement. He eventually escaped by training himself into the universe’s greatest escape artist. Such pathos!
Speaking of identities, you told NPR that your friend “author Marsha Qualey says that an equation lies at the heart of all YA: Power + Belonging = Identity” and that your stories could definitely be described that way. “My characters long for power and belonging because they’re figuring out their place in the world, their identities,” you’ve said. The process of constructing an identity and the “natural tension between the individual and the community” are thematic elements that run through much of your work, and I’m wondering if you could describe how the intersection of power and community and identity has played out in your own life and how that translates to the stories you’re drawn to tell?
We all go through this, but it plays out in an especially intense way for immigrants’ kids. We all want to distance ourselves from our parents, but when your parents are immigrants, you end up distancing yourself from an entire culture. But that culture is in you, it’s a part of who you are, it speaks to your subconscious and effects your decisions. You can’t get away from it, no matter how hard you try.
I went through a time when I felt incredibly embarrassed whenever my parents would speak to me in Chinese in public. I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t know where that feeling came from, but it was more than just the usual embarrassment teenagers have of their families. I was trying to get away from what made me different from the culture that surrounded me. I was rejecting a community that I’d never experienced firsthand, but that still had a claim on me.
Story is about tension, right? About conflict. Since I’ve felt the tension between me as an individual and my community so deeply, it often comes out in my stories.
On a slightly different note, I love the defense of pop culture on your website. “Pop culture isn’t frivolous,” you write, “it’s empowering. It gives meaning. It is, as G.K. Chesterton described the penny dreadfuls of his day, ‘the actual centre of a million flaming imaginations.’ When people feel powerless, they look for power in the stories that surround them.” It’s clear that you’re a fan of pop culture in general, and it would be great if you’d share some of your current passions with us. More than that, though, would you be willing to share some of the pop culture touchstones that have been really important to you through the years and talk about what made those particular stories or experiences resonate?
Right now, my wife and I are making our way through Downton Abbey. I generally hate stories about stuffy rich people, but that show is so well written. There are bits of dialog that make me jump out of my seat. The writers juxtapose the world upstairs with the servants’ world downstairs to brilliant effect.
I’m also a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. I have to watch them for my job because I’m writing the Airbender comics, but let’s be real: I would follow them anyway because they’re just that good. They blend Eastern and Western elements in such engaging ways. They explore Western coming-of-age milestones in a decidedly Eastern landscape.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles black-and-white comic came out when I was in sixth grade. It set off an explosion of creativity. Suddenly, my local comic shop was inundated with small press black-and-white books. A lot of it was bad, sure, but a lot of it was really good. For instance, Stan Sakai’s long-running comic book Usagi Yojimbo got its start in that era.
The Turtles pushed the boundaries of American comics, both as a storytelling medium and as a business. Years later when I was just starting off, my first comic book was published with a grant from the Xeric Foundation, an organization created by one of the creators of the Ninja Turtles.
Finally, you’ve described writing as “satisfying suffering” as the most painful part of making a comic for you, though it’s also “in the end, the most satisfying.” In another interview you talk about the process of determining how best to convey story or information—whether through words or pictures: “Whenever I’m doing a comic, always in the back of my mind I’m thinking…why is it a comic? Why does it have to be told in panels? Why can’t this be prose?” Could you talk a little about how you decide which elements of a story to write and which to draw? Has there ever been a particular scene or sequence where figuring out the art was as difficult as “figuring out the story?” Given that you’ve “played with the idea of doing something more hybrid,” as well, what are the odds of an illustrated novel—or even a straight up novel–written by Gene Yang? What are you working on next?
Words and images convey emotion differently. Words can be more subtle, while images can be more visceral. For instance, in American Born Chinese, I wanted to attack stereotypes through image because I wanted you to feel it in your gut. I wanted that discomfort to be visceral, to be a feeling that bypassed your brain. I don’t think those passages would’ve been as effective in prose.
I’ve experimented with hybrid storytelling. I haven’t yet done anything I’m satisfied with. It was suffering, but not the satisfying kind. Maybe someday.
Right now, I’m working on a graphic novel series aimed at middle schoolers. I’m collaborating with an amazing cartoonist named Mike Holmes, who’s most well-known for his work on the Bravest Warriors comic. We haven’t officially announced it yet, but it’ll be about the magic of computer programming. Coders are awesome and deserve their own comic.Just Can’t Get Enough
Question from Stephanie Kuehn: Hi, Gene. Congratulations on all of your success and on the release of The Shadow Hero. I grew up in the Bay Area and still live here with my family, and I believe the same is true of you, too. As a woman of color, I’ve always been aware of certain kinds of racism and prejudice, even in such a diverse, progressive place and a place that I dearly love. I wonder if you could speak to how the culture of the Bay Area—the good, the bad, the weird—has influenced your work.
You’re right about the Bay Area – it is good, bad, and weird. Many of my stories are about the intersection of Eastern and Western culture, and the Bay Area definitely embodies that. This area has gone through incredible cultural changes during my life time. In elementary school, I was one of just a handful of Asian American students. By high school, we were a sizable minority. Nowadays, that same high school is mostly Asian American. Transitions always bring tension, of course, both externally and internally. I try to capture some of that in my work.
Gene has contributed a question for the next author in the series, James Dashner. Watch for an interview with him coming soon!
Gene Luen Yang began publishing comic books under the name Humble Comics in 1996. In 1997, he received the Xeric Grant for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. Since then he’s written and drawn a number of stories in comics. American Born Chinese, released by First Second Books in 2006, became the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album – New. The Eternal Smile, a collaborative project with Derek Kirk Kim in 2009, won an Eisner as well. Dark Horse Comics is currently publishing a comics continuation of Nickelodeon’s popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, with art by Gurihiru and story by Mike DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and Gene. In September of 2013, First Second Books released two-volume graphic novel project Boxers & Saints (winner of the 2014 LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature and a National Book Award finalist) and in July 2014 they released The Shadow Hero, written by Gene and illustrated by Sonny Liew.
Yang also teaches at Hamline University as part of their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
–Julie Bartel, currently re-reading Changer by Jane Lindskold
This post is a reader’s response to a book read for the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge.
I had been intrigued by Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood since I first found out about it. The title combined with the cover conjured up images in my head of witches dancing in the moonlight or ancient cults performing rites of sacrifice cloaked in secrecy. I knew immediately that I had to get my hands on this book, had to dive into what I hoped would be a chilling tale of horror and the supernatural.
I often borrow books from the library instead of buy, and I eagerly anticipated the day that my library would add a copy of this book to the collection. I was overjoyed when that day finally arrived and the book I had wanted to read was finally in my hands. My initial reaction was that the book was much shorter than I had expected, and I dreaded reading through it too fast, reaching the end, and having to move on to something else.
As I dived in, I was immediately struck by Sedgwick’s use of language. He writes so vividly that I could see the island in my mind, could map its pathways, cliffs, and ports. I often found myself interrupting whatever my roommate was doing to read a sentence or paragraph out loud to her. I couldn’t get enough descriptions of the island’s flowers, inhabitants, and landscapes. No wonder the inhabitants called the island Blessed. In fact, I found the descriptions of the simplicity and beauty of the island so compelling and real that I wanted to visit the island for myself.
Thank goodness I couldn’t! An island of peace and serenity this was not, contrary to all outward appearances. As I worked my way through the plot, through each story and historical period that Sedgwick chose to include, I found myself chilled and puzzled. I spent plenty of time trying to figure out the mysteries of the island myself. Why were there no children? Why didn’t the inhabitants of Blessed ever age? What was the significance of the dragon flowers? Ultimately, though, I had to bow to Sedgwick’s masterful storytelling and simply let myself be pulled along by the plot. It was a delightful journey, steeped in history, mythology, and mystery.
And that ending! In a final story that threw back the curtain on the island’s mysteries, brought clarity to our heroes, and catapulted readers back to the present, everything came together. As I flipped the final page and closed the book, I was left in a sort of shell-shocked state. It took me quite a while to digest what had happened, make peace with it, and be able to move on to another novel.
Most of the books I read for YALSA’s Hub Challenge were books I wouldn’t normally pick up. I didn’t enjoy a lot of them, and I wouldn’t really recommend them to my friends. But Midwinterblood? A new favorite, one that I could read again and again. It changed me, left me different. So thanks for the introduction!
-Jancee L. Wright
Books and reading have been integral to my identity essentially my entire life. My parents read to me since infancy and my status as a bibliophile has been established nearly as long. We have a fairly infamous home video featuring my toddler self pulling all the books off the shelves in my room and then fiercely babbling at them the way another child might instruct toys. Even now I will occasionally refer to favorite books by their main characters’ first names and I have been known to reprimand characters out loud while reading a particularly tense scene. I have always viewed the world through a sort of double vision—there’s my ‘real’ life and then there’s my life in fiction. The fictional characters and stories surrounding me have been just as influential ‘real life’ people and experiences. Unsurprisingly, many of the reading experiences with the strongest memories attached to them are connected to fantasy fiction. Here are a few of the fantasy novels that have now become part of my story.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (listed on various annual Best Books for Young Adults lists)
Like so many people of my generation, Harry Potter was and always will be a huge part of my reading history. I read the first book in middle school, just a few years after it was first published in the U.S. and preceded to read all the subsequent novels, growing up alongside the characters. I’ve spent an incalculable number of hours reading & rereading the novels, engaging in passionate conversations (and arguments) with fellow fans, or reading fanfiction featuring favorite characters. I’ve found that in times of stress or anxiety, I turn to my trusty Harry Potter audiobooks and inevitably find both comfort and inspiration in joining Harry, Hermione, & Ron on their journeys.
I cannot actually recall exactly when I first read these complex and incredibly rich fantasy novels, especially since I’ve re-read them several times since. However sometime in late middle or early high school I was first introduced to Lyra Belacqua and her alternative world–and I’ve been a little bit in love ever since. These novels are multifaceted and intricate; every time I revisit them, I discover new details and layers. During my senior year of college, I wrote a paper exploring the connection between John Milton’s portrayal of Eve in his epic poem Paradise Lost and Lyra’s role as a ‘new Eve’ in The Amber Spyglass. While I enjoyed writing many papers during college, there were few I found as satisfying as that one.
The Song of The Lioness quartet, The Immortals series, and more by Tamora Pierce (2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award)
I read my first Tamora Pierce novel in middle school, sometime in 7th or 8th grade. I have a distinct memory of completing Alanna: The First Adventure during the late hours of a sleepover; the evening had only emphasized the fact that while I wasn’t a complete outcast yet, I didn’t have any real friends. At that point in my life, my sense of self felt as tenuous and confused as my social life. But when I read about Alanna (and later Daine & Keladry), I was not only transported–I was transformed. Alanna and Pierce’s other brave, complex heroines refuse to be anyone but themselves; they embrace their strengths and pursue their dreams despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles. And when I disappeared into their world, I felt reassured that I could do the same.
My love for Tamora Pierce’s works also persisted beyond middle and high school. I made connections with friends during orientation week in college when we discovered our mutual love of these books. While working as a counselor and library assistant at my former high school’s summer ESL program, I introduced a student to the Alanna books on a hunch and was overjoyed when she devoured them. At the time I was already seriously considering going to graduate school to become a teen services librarian but that experience confirmed my decision definitively. When Tamora Pierce did an author visit to the school I now work at, it was difficult to tell who has more overwrought with excitement–me or the fans among my students!
While Tamora Pierce’s books provided lots of high fantasy action and complex female protagonists, I was always looking for more and Robin McKinley’s many novels fit the bill perfectly. The Blue Sword & The Hero and The Crown are classic high fantasy adventures and coming of age tales full of action and romance while her many fairytale re-imaginings (including Spindle’s End, Beauty, Rose Daughter, and Deerskin) are by turns whimsical, dark, and fascinating. Also, like the others on this list, they feature compelling and multifaceted heroines. They remain some of my favorite novels to this day and within the last few years I’ve happily recommended to both students and friends; just this past summer, I gave a copy of The Blue Sword to a friend as a wedding/honeymoon present.
During the winter and early spring of senior year of college, I was working on my senior thesis while also nervously awaiting news about graduate school. Amidst this perfect storm of anxiety, I picked up Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore. Both novels focus on highly powerful young women who are seeking not only to protect their countries but to discover truths about themselves and their destinies. I not only fell in love with Cashore’s rich character development and compelling stories, I also felt a strong personal connection with the novels. I might not possess supernatural powers or be able to save a nation but I too was struggling to discern my future and understand my own potential.
Which books have become part of your story?
-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Dimple Lala was seventeen when readers first met her in Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused (2003 Best Books for Young Adults, 2013 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults); two years later she is in college and planning a trip to India with her boyfriend, Karsh. Dimple’s sense of ancient India is rattled by the hip Bombay scene and the growing rift between traditional and modern ways. She finds that she is often seized by introspection as the timbre of New India becomes overwhelming.
One evening, Dimple and her father walk along Juhu Beach. As they overlook the Arabian Sea, Dimple’s father begins to reminisce about Dimple’s mother, the way she would sing song after song. He gently sang, Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat, a phrase from a love song that means, My whole life I’ll never forget this night of pouring rain. The song is from a popular 1960 Bollywood film romance, Barsaat Ki Raat, sung by Mohammed Rafi.
I could never forget that one rainy night.
The night when I met an unknown beauty.
I could never forget it for the rest of my life…
The clip below is the original Hindi version from the movie.
-Diane Colson, currently reading 2 A. M. At the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
There’s a famous poem by Emily Dickinson about telling the truth:“Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth’s superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind —” I love this poem and the idea that the truth can be “slanted,” that someone’s telling of a story – if it’s the truth to them – is important. The poem is quoted in Adele Griffin’s The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. The book is told in a series of interviews of people who knew the titular Addison Stone who dies under mysterious circumstances at the beginning of the book: her parents, friends, boyfriends, art dealer, hangers on, etc. Interspersed in the interviews are pictures of her art, pictures of her, and articles about her. The catch? Addison Stone is not real, but with the way the book is written, you could let yourself be convinced otherwise. Adele Griffin collaborated with a number of people to create the art and pictures of the artists, including one person playing Addison Stone. Reading the book you can believe almost that Addison is real. You can even visit her Tumblr!
This got to thinking about other ways – slanted ways, if you will – to tell a story. Something like the 2013 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults pick Chopsticks, the twist-at-the-end picture and text story of two teens falling in love, or even the sadly disabled WondLa Vision from the Tony DiTerlizzi’s middle grade WondLa series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WB1YcLoCLk Some people call these efforts “transmedia” or “mixed media.” Last summer YALS published a list of transmedia books to get started with and it’s a great list. But I wonder what other boundaries we can cross when thinking about telling the truth but telling it slant? Do the LIzzie Bennett Diaries videos count as an adaptation or transmedia or something else? What are your favorite, maybe nontraditional ways to tell a story? With pictures only? Mixed media between books and Internet sources? -Anna Tschetter, currently reading Conversion by Katherine Howe
The film based on Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay starring Chloe Grace Moretz came out this past weekend. It topped the Friday box office with a $6.8 million dollar opening and became the #3 movie of the weekend.
We YA lovers really do love a good opening weekend for the hotly anticipated and heavily marketed films based on our beloved books. If I Stay was named on the 2010 Best Books for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults lists, and has legions of devoted readers. So how did director, RJ Cutler et al, do with adapting Forman’s novel? I have some mixed feelings about this one, so riffing on Jessica Lind’s post from last week’s The Hub about required reading, read on for the good, the bad and the ugly of this particular film adaptation.
Well the good news is that according to Rotten Tomatoes, approximately 75% of the audience liked the movie. And the movie does have some really great moments to it. Chloe Grace Moretz plays a beautifully awkward Mia. She plays a believable classical musician outsider, and the scenes she plays with her family are adorably humorous. Moretz also has great chemistry with Jamie Blackley who plays Mia’s Adam. Blackley is believable as the too-cool-to-know-he’s-cool rocker. These are the moments that made me emotionally invested while reading and viewing the film. My favorite scene by far is towards the end of the film when Mia is remembering her favorite day. It’s such a beautiful scene, that I won’t spoil, but all of the characters are together and the music is perfect, just the way I imagined it. You can see her for the first time feeling like she belongs. Unfortunately, the film adaptation didn’t seem to trust or utilize moments/scenes like this one enough, and they could have. A lot of the family scenes and memories play more like a montage throughout the entire movie, so you never really get to feel all that entrenched in Mia’s life. Which leads us to…
You can call me a curmudgeon for this and I wouldn’t blame you, but as a whole, I couldn’t really get into this movie. Part of the problem could be that I just read the book so Forman’s words and story structure were just too fresh in my mind while watching. It made a lot of the changes annoying especially since they didn’t seem to enhance the story or serve a purpose. Don’t get me wrong– changes need to be made in adaptations, and I’m all for it if they make the film version better. While they can be necessary, the spirit of the story should always be the central focus. Do the changes in the adaptation help fully envision the essence of what Forman created or hinder it? I’m leaning towards the latter on this one. Was it really necessary to change how her parents die? Mia is supposed to “wake up” after the car crash to the sound of her music still playing from the car, walk around and see that her parents are dead. Shocking and would be visually disturbing but there was still a way for the filmmakers to make this happen while keeping it teen-friendly. Why did this need to change and why did they have to change Teddy’s storyline too? It felt like the filmmakers were trying to time out the emotional moments in the film as opposed to allowing the initial shock of it all and Mia’s reactions carry the story through like the book does. That’s a shame because Forman does such a great job of reflecting on love, loss and pain in a very real way throughout her story. They just moved to many things around structurally that in the end the movie left me wanting a bit emotionally.
The bright white light. I mean, really?!
Cutler directs this scene at the very end of the film where Mia is finally making her choice, and it’s visually beautiful. They did such a great job with those last few minutes of the film. It was perfect. The visual creativity that they showed there only furthered my annoyance at their clichéd use of the white light throughout the earlier part of the film. It felt like you were being knocked over the head with a bad visual metaphor. White light = afterlife. It just felt hokey after awhile.
Like I said earlier in this post, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon. I really wanted to like this film, and there were parts that I loved. It’s also amazing that these YA films keep finding these incredible young actors and actresses to play such wonderfully complicated and interesting characters. Like a lot of YA adaptations I’ve seen lately, If I Stay benefited a great deal from the actors’ talents and chemistry, but overall, the storytelling just emotionally missed the mark for me this time.
What did you think of the movie, readers? Do you think I’m crazy and If I Stay is the best movie ever, or were you a little disappointed too?
-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Sisters’ Fate by Jessica Spotswood
It’s time once again to consider what books our favorite TV characters would read. While reading isn’t boring, it’s not that exciting to watch. So the question remains, what books would they read? This month I decided to bring the past to the present. Our six beloved teens from the 1970s probably read the classics like The Hardy Boys and books by Judy Blume. It definitely makes me wonder what books would the gang from That 70s Show read if they were teens today.
Eric Forman – Let’s start with the unofficial leader of the group. When Eric is not obsessing over his on-again, off-again girlfriend or battling with his hard ass father, Eric has one other fixation, Star Wars. We know he went to see the original several times and has even had fantasies in which he is Luke Skywalker. I know he would plow through all of the different amalgamations of Star Wars graphic novels, from the first episode to the Clone Wars and beyond. I would also like to give him something I stumbled upon a few months ago that is just fantastic. Ian Doescher has blended together two things that have never combined before: Star Wars and William Shakespeare. I would give him Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope (2014 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults). Just the image of Jabba the Hut in Shakespearean dress is enough to make this title a favorite.
Jackie Burkhart – We know that Jackie is a reader. On several occasions Jackie mentions reading Nancy Drew mysteries. I’d like to bring Jackie to the new millennium with a few options that are a bit more modern, but still with the Nancy Drew core. First, I’d give Jackie Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison. Unlike Nancy Drew, Lulu isn’t that excited to beginning investigating a mystery, but when her designer purse is stolen, she takes the case. Instead of ending every mystery with a hot fudge sundae like Nancy Drew would do, I’d bet Lulu would celebrate every mystery with a latte. I’m sure millennial Jackie would approve.
Michael Kelso – Kelso is probably the easiest of the group to entertain. Throw in a good fart joke and he’ll be laughing for hours. That is why the first book that comes to mind is Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford. The first installment of Carter’s high school experiences will be just the ticket for Kelso. Once he gets to the taco explosion movie theater scene, he will be hooked. Also, when Kelso dated Jackie, he would always try his hardest to please Jackie, even though he was usually miles away from accomplishing his goal. With that in mind, I would hand him the short story collection, Zombies vs. Unicorns. Authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black assembled several authors’ stories regarding which is better, zombies or unicorns. Kelso will believe he has scored, unicorns for Jackie and zombies for him. I’m sure we can all envision Jackie’s tone when she tells Michael that Diana Peterfreund’s story about killer unicorns are not the unicorns she likes.
Steven Hyde – Hyde fit right into the rebellious, authority-bad stereotype of the time. However, if Hyde were to live in the new millennium, I would see him standing up against the Big Brother government tendencies of today. He would trade in his aviator sunglasses, jean jacket, and bong for a laptop and top notch hacker skills. In short, Hyde would read every book written by Cory Doctorow. Little Brother (2009 Best Books for Young Adults) tells the story of a teen hacker who breaks down the strict government surveillance after the wake of a deadly terrorist attack to which he was a suspect. I’d also throw him Pirate Cinema, the story of a group of filmmakers who ease around the laws restricting the use of materials for artistic use. Seventies Hyde and millennial Hyde are just two sides of a forty-year-old coin.
Fez – Fez is the perfect example of someone with very simple needs. There are only two things that Fez truly craves, woman and candy. He is always trying to find a way to win over a girl. In fact, he’s really not that picky and has no specific type. Big Rhonda, Caroline, and Nina are all very different girls, but all share the experience of dating Fez. With his lifelong quest to find himself a woman, I would give Fez Swim the Fly by Don Calame (2014 Top Ten Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults). In this book, three friends make a summer goal to see a woman naked, in person. The boys aren’t incredibly successful, so maybe Fez could use this as a guide of what not to do. Secondly, I would point Fez towards Voss: How I Come to America and am Hero, Mostly by David Ives. Being as we never do find out where Fez is from, I believe he would enjoy this fictionalized account of a guy sneaking into America from his fictional country. Maybe Fez and Vos share a home…in Slobovia.
Donna Pinciotti – Donna discovered a very lucrative hobby when she inadvertently became the local radio station’s “Hot Donna.” Donna, who was always viewed as less-than-feminine by her friend, is now a local celebrity who gets to hang out with rock stars. Because of her interest in radio, I would recommend Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell. In this story, Chloe takes over her school radio station. In comparison to Jackie, Donna may not seem like much of a girly girl, but I bet she would like a romance or two once in a while. What ’70s girl didn’t have a copy of Forever… by 1996 Edwards Award winner Judy Blume stashed somewhere?
I think our gang from Point Place could start a reading circle in Forman’s basement. If it’s one thing they like to do, it was sitting in a circle.
-Brandi Smits, currently reading Guy in Real Life by Steven Brezenoff and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Good morning, Hub readers!
Last week, in celebration of The Giver movie hitting theaters everywhere, we wanted to know what YA classic you’d like to see on the big screen. The top pick was Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, with 27% of the vote, followed by Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat, with 21%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!
This week, with Labor Day just around the corner, we’re thinking about travel. Are you going on one last summer getaway? What would your preferred mode of transportation be, if you were in a YA novel? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments.Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
A few weeks ago, The Hub posted a poll asking for your favorite assigned summer reading in high school. With 49% of the 134 votes, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was the top selection. This got me thinking about how required reading has impacted us as YA readers.
It’s a safe assumption that we’re all readers over here on The Hub. The results of the poll show that there were some fantastic experiences, but does it mean that all of our past reading experiences were great? I turned to some of our bloggers to get the scoop on required reading: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Read on to hear how assigned readings have made our bloggers stronger feminists, wish fatal illnesses on heroines, and really, really love bacon.
Jessica Lind: “When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I had an English teacher who really challenged us with reading. During her class, I fell in love with Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and 1984. I was transitioning out of the books of my childhood and these classics helped to keep me reading.”
Gretchen Kolderup: “My 10th grade US History class was combined into a two-period class with our English class. We learned history and we learned English, but it was all through the lens of social movements in America. The books that we were assigned were really thoughtful choices that illuminated social issues and that weren’t what you’d typically have as required reading — Power by Linda Hogan, All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller are the ones I remember. I loved that what we were reading was actually put into context so I could understand it — I would have missed so much of the meaning in the books if I hadn’t known what was happening in the world at the time they were published.”
Carla Land: “When I was in tenth grade I was in an honor’s English class and one of our required readings was The Great Gatsby. I absolutely hated it! My teacher was obsessed with the “eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg” and spent weeks talking about how important they were. I swore off of F. Scott Fitzgerald forever after that class. Fast forward to my sophomore year of college when I took a Modern Literature course- taught by a professor who was a Hemingway and Fitzgerald scholar. He’d spent his whole career studying them and their words. When we got to The Great Gatsby I held my breath and waited for the inevitable week long lesson on T.J. Eckleberg and his eyes. My professor commented on them once and they weren’t even on the test. After listening to him talk about the book and the author I had to take his Hemmingway and Fitzgerald course the next semester. It’s now one of my favorite books!”
Sharon Rawlins: “I fell in love with the short story I read for a women’s studies class in high school called “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892). It’s the story of an woman who’s had a nervous breakdown after the birth of her child and been confined to her room by her husband. She’s not allowed to write in her journal or do anything at all. The lack of stimulation causes her to slowly go mad. She becomes obsessed with the texture and smell of the room’s yellow wallpaper and sees women trapped within the wallpaper and identifies with them. She locks herself in the room & attempts to free them by tearing the wallpaper off. Her husband breaks in to find her crawling around & around the edges of the room making ridges in the walls as she endlessly circles. He faints and she just continues to circle around climbing over his body as she goes. It’s such a powerful and evocative feminist story that’s stayed with me ever since I read it.”
Lalitha Nataraj: “During my junior year, I distinctly remember being one of the very few students who truly enjoyed reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. For me, that book spurred an enduring love affair with gothic literature which continued throughout college. I know many of my friends hated the book, but I loved Hawthorne’s prose and his flair for the dramatic. I mean, come on, meteors in the sky and burning symbols of sin? Love.”
Gretchen Kolderup: “I hated Jane Eyre. The copies we were given had a hideous salmon-colored cover, and I remember very clearly when Helen contracted typhus thinking to myself, “Maybe Jane will get it, too, and she’ll die and the rest of this book can be about something interesting.” The twist is that when I was in college, I took a class on the Victorian novel and read (and loved!) Villette and Sense and Sensibility and other novels that I know high school Gretchen would have hated. I think that some of it was that my appreciation of writing had matured, but a lot of it was my professor — her love for her subject was contagious. (I still think Jane Eyre is terrible, though.)”
Carla Land: For some reason between middle school and college I’ve been assigned to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm at least five times. Every time I read it I hated it a little more, and the last couple times I was assigned it in college I didn’t bother rereading it and just used class notes from years gone by to refresh my memory. English classes, history classes, political science classes- it seems like at least one teacher a year forced this little book on me. I understood the lesson, but I disliked the book so much, and was forced to read it again and again so many times, that I will never touch a George Orwell book without being forced to. It is the only book from college that I didn’t keep when I graduated. The only thing to really come out of Animal Farm for me is that I’ve learned to really dislike pigs and love bacon!”
Gretchen Kolderup: “This could have just been a story about required watching rather than required reading. In my AP English Lit class, we’d just finished reading Heart of Darkness and my teacher decided to spend a few days showing us Apocalypse Now. Because it was rated R, we were required to get parental permission slips, and anyone who didn’t would be given “an alternate activity.” I don’t like violent movies or TV shows, so I asked to be excused from watching the movie and given the alternate activity instead. I don’t think my teacher had expected anyone to opt out — and no one else but me did — so she didn’t actually have anything prepared. In the moment, what she decided on was that I had to read The Scarlet Letter and write a paper about its major themes — all in just three days. I was furious about the inequity of spending class watching a movie vs having to read an entire book and crank out a paper in a short period of time, but I figured the best way to stick it to my teacher was to succeed, wildly, so I dove in. I’m not sure it’s the best paper I wrote in high school, but it’s probably the one I’m most proud of.”
Traci Glass: ”So, the one book I remember that has haunted me all these many years is The Scarlet Letter. I was assigned to read it the summer before my junior year, and I just didn’t. I couldn’t get into the story, I hated all the characters (except Hester), and I didn’t get any of the symbolism. I ended up reading the Cliff’s Notes about it just so I wouldn’t feel like I had done absolutely zero work on it.”
Jessica Lind: ”I have always loved reading, so it bothered me any time I struggled with assigned reading. I usually worked through it, but I just could not get into The Odyssey when it was assigned in 9th grade. I read the chapter that I was required to do a report on and that’s about it. I still feel guilty about it to this day.”
- Jessica Lind, currently reading Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick
It was rough week in the news– lots of people were talking about Ferguson over the Twitterverse. There are a couple blog posts about it in this week’s tweets.
- @PWKidsBookshelf :Make Way for New Children’s Bookstore in Boston http://pwne.ws/1rmqnkj
- @EpicReads : This list is for after you see IF I STAY in theaters on Friday! ––> http://bit.ly/1rTifTT
- @FierceReads :Sign up for our new #MacTeenBooks newsletter for updates on your favorite books and authors! http://bit.ly/1sunhKH
- @yainterrobang : Happy Tuesday! It’s time to head to the bookstore and pick up new #yalit releases. What will you be buying? http://www.yainterrobang.com
- @BNBuzz : ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER is HERE! @naturallysteph tells us what was cut from the book & other cool things http://bit.ly/1yRLKbf
- @catagator : If you want to be a Cybils judge, the call is out! Consider it. Also? The new website is lovely: http://www.cybils.com/2014/08/call-for-judges.html …
- @PenguinTeen : Head on over to @wattpad to read Part One of @maureenjohnson‘s novella, #TheBoyInTheSmoke, for FREE! http://w.tt/1BtPrYK
- @sljournal : Books to Films – Coming Soon so Be Prepared! — @fuseeight http://ow.ly/AtVby A Fuse #8 Production
- @PWKidsBookshelf : Not in Narnia Anymore: ‘The Giver’ Marks Walden’s First Push Into PG-13 http://pwne.ws/YoZlf8
- @catagator : Making the jump from lit to comics: where to start http://bookriot.com/2014/08/19/from-literature-to-comics-where-to-start/ …
- @PWKidsBookshelf : YA Lit And The Gender Gap in Education | Huff Post http://pwne.ws/1AtorXY
- @Jennifer_Castle · Why English departments should teach and embrace young adult fiction @insidehighered http://shar.es/1ninyN
- @TLT16 : Thinking about #Ferguson, bearing witness to racism in the stories of others http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2014/08/thinking-about-ferguson.html?m=1 …
- @catagator : Left Bank Books put together a “how we got here” book list relating to #Ferguson: http://www.left-bank.com/ferguson-how-we-got-here …
Just For Fun:
- @jenbigheart :Smithsonian Adds LGBT History to Museum Collection – @ABC News http://abcn.ws/1sRsDzN
- @quirkbooks · In today’s How-to Tuesday, learn how to make a chocolate TARDIS. http://bit.ly/1o9sqQH
- @PWKidsBookshelf : It’s back-to-school time at Cake Wrecks: http://pwne.ws/1rRS93q
- @harperteen :YA lovers: plan your next roadtrip with this: http://shrd.by/9mvnvn
- @catagator : Here are 28 must-follow Tumblrs if you are a fan of YA, including authors, group blogs, libraries, and more –> http://bookriot.com/2014/08/16/tumblr-ya-fans/ …
- @PWKidsBookshelf ·Singing Sorceress Takes to the Stage in J.K. Rowling’s New Pottermore Post | THR http://pwne.ws/1pESfgI
~ Jennifer Rummel currently reading The Wide-Awake Princess by ED Baker
In the summer of 1988, President Reagan proclaimed August 21 “National Senior Citizens Day.” With health care constantly improving, and people living longer, more active lives, it is a good thing to honor seniors, who can give younger folks the benefit of their experience.
Seniors and teens go together like peanut butter and jelly. Events like Senior Citizen Proms, and Teens Teach Tech, show how seniors and teens can benefit from spending time together. This is not to say that it is all smooth sailing from the start. People are people no matter their age, and there are ups and downs to any relationship. But everyone has something to share, and when you cross generations, the results can be so very positive.
This type of inter-generational relationship has been beautifully portrayed in YA literature. Here are six titles to explore…
Pop by Gordon Korman
New to town, Marcus is desperate to join his new high school’s football team, so he spends his summer practicing in the local park. There he meets former NFL great Charlie Popovich, who takes Marcus under his wing. While this is great for Marcus’ football prospects, it puts him in direct conflict with Charlie’s grandson Troy, Marcus’ new school mate and rival for a spot on the team. Charlie and Marcus are antagonistic not just because of sports rivalries, but also because of Charlie’s illness, an illness Troy and the rest of the Popovich family want to keep secret.
Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick
(2008 Best Book for Young Adults) Alex makes a really huge mistake involving vodka, a car, and a garden gnome statue. For this, he is sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Alex spends the time in a retirement home with Sol Lewis, the meanest old man on the planet. Alex would rather shirk all responsibility and Sol seems to hate the world. But Sol was a jazz guitarist and Alex is studying guitar, so perhaps they can find some way to connect…
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
In this classic by the 2002 Margarest A Edwards Award winner, John and Lorraine are bored, trouble-making teenagers . They play pranks on people and crank call old man Pignati (the Pigman). Somehow, their nihilistic attitude towards life does not upset the Pigman; instead, his good-natured love for life rubs off on them. This book is over 45 years old, but it still feels timeless.
The Canning Season by Polly Horvath
(2004 Best Book for Young Adults) The summer that Rachet is thirteen, she is sent from home by her neglectful mother to live with two elderly cousins – Tilly and Penpen – in their very remote house in Maine. Penpen has espoused a new philosophy: take in whatever shows up at your door. This leads to the acerbic Harper, another abandoned teen, arriving at the house to stir things up. Tilly and Penpen may be in their 90s, but they are not fading away. They tell the girls gruesome stories as everyone gets ready for canning season: that time when what is ripe and ready gets stored up for the future.
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
After Davey’s father is murdered, her mother packs the family off to New Mexico to live with family. Davey is lost and grieving while her mother sinks into a depression, her little brother seems to bounce back too quickly, and her aunt and uncle are well-meaning, but overbearing. She begins volunteering at a nursing home and befriends an elderly Native American man who whose son becomes close to her and helps her through her grief. While Davey and Wolf’s relationship is central to the story, Davey’s relationship to Wolf’s father is touching and shows the first time Davey allows someone to get close to her since her father’s death. A deeply moving book by the 1996 Margaret A Edwards Award winner Blume.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
(2006 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers) The vampire Edward Cullen is over 100 years old when he begins romancing 17 year old mortal Bella Swan. ;-)
~ Geri Diorio, currently reading The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi
Swanee was a free spirit, which is part of the reason Alix loves her so much. But Swanee dies of cardiac arrest while out on a morning run, leaving Alix to mourn the love of her life. Her grief is soon mixed with betrayal when she discovers that Swanee was also in a serious relationship with another girl.
Swanee’s funeral reflects her flamboyant style. Alix observes that it has “…a carnival atmosphere about it.” In addition to balloon bouquets, a flowered arch, and teddy bears, Swanee’s parents have hired a mariachi band that is playing “Livin’ la Vida Loca.”
It’s been fifteen years since Ricky Martin released what would become his signature song. The title is a Spanglish invention that translates as “Livin’ the Crazy Life.” The instant success of this song fueled Latin pop music internationally, while swoon-worthy Martin’s dance moves inspired a revival of Latin dance.
Here is a 2001 live performance featuring Ricky Martin and Kylie Minogue.
-Diane Colson, currently reading Skink – No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
Last Friday, Katie Shanahan Yu posted a tribute to Robin Williams that included wonderful video clips and a booklist of young adult novels that echo the joyful spirit of Williams’ work. This week, Jennifer Rummel and I extend the tribute with YA lit readalikes paired with some of Robin Williams’ most memorable movies (and one iconic television show.)
-Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen, and Diane Colson, currently reading Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier.
Teens today are coming of age in an environment saturated with social media, so it’s no surprise it’s featured prominently in the plots of many young adult novels. When I started noticing a trend of books that explore the impact that social media has on the lives of teens, I decided it would be interesting to compile a list showcasing the various ways that teens’ use of Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and other social media are depicted in young adult literature.
Lauren Myracle’s Internet Girls series is inventive in structure and form, but the story of girls chatting online and communicating in a virtual space is also groundbreaking in the way it examines the social lives of teens. TTYL was a 2005 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and the fourth installment in the series, YOLO, is due out this year. Two other recent publications also explore internet culture. Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff explores the social aspects of online role-playing games, and the main character in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, is more at home in the online world of the fandom of her favorite book than in the real world where she’s freshman in college. These novels explore teen identity through the juxtaposition of online identity and “real life” personas.
Even as Facebook’s popularity among teens is on the decline, it’s still a part of most teen’s daily lives. #scandal by Sarah Ockler and Unfriended by Rachel Vail are both about how social media effects friendships. #scandal is about a girl whose unexpected kiss from her best friend’s boyfriend being revealed publicly on Facebook and the fallout that causes, and will be of interest to older teens who like realistic drama and romance. Unfriended has more appeal for younger teens, and examines the way social media augments a group of middle school students. Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt is about finding balance. When she catches her boyfriend “cheating” on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off modern conveniences and social media in an attempt to take control of her life.
Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, Great by Sara Benincasa, and Don’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley all explore how internet fame through blogs, and its impact on the identity of teens. The anonymous narrator Gossip Girl is an inventive device used to peer at the drama of fashionable teens in New York City. In Great, a teen constructs an entirely new and false identity as a fashion blogger in order to connect with a long lost childhood friend. The protagonist of Don’t Call Me Baby has had her life since birth shared online by her mother, a popular blogger, and resents the attention and lack of privacy. In these novels, the pressures of an online persona complicate the protagonists lives. While an online identity can provide freedom, it can also be create unfair expectations.
The narrators of #16thingsIthoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler and Adorkable by Sarra Manning are both Twitter-obsessed and have hordes of followers—but does that mean they have “real” friends? Like the young adult novels that feature social media, teens today are grappling with the issues presented in these books about the sometimes false intimacy of online interactions, and of constructing an identity both on and offline.
The world of social media provides fodder for the reboot of Scholastic’s horror imprint, Point. In Defriended by Ruth Baron, a teen is excited to meet a girl online who shares his interests, only to find that an online search reveals the link to her obituary. In Followers by Anna Davies, someone is live-tweeting the murders of the cast of the school play. In Davies’ other contribution to the line, Identity Theft, a popular overachiever is impersonated online by a doppelganger who creates a “fake” profile to embarrass her. These plots give a modern twists to the mystery and horror novels popular in the ’90s. Think R.L. Stine or Lois Duncan for the internet generation.
Young adult literature is also speculating about how elements of social media will impact society in the future. What if you could crowdsource all your decisions through an app? Lauren Miller examines this premise in Free to Fall. In Scott Westerfeld’s Extras, a 2008 Teens’ Top Ten Selection, social media has become a kind of currency. In Feed by M.T. Anderson, teens have the internet hard-wired into their brains. The implications of extending current trends in social media just a little bit further is frightening, most of all because it seems possible.
Social media is embedded in the daily lives of teens, so it’s safe to say it will continue to play a prominent role in the plots of young adult novels. Fiction is a great way for teens to explore the issues they are grappling with in real life, including the way that social media impacts identity and relationships.
Do you think that young adult literature accurately reflects the reality of the way teens use social media? Are there other titles that explore this dynamic?
– Molly Wetta, currently reading Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers and The Fever by Megan Abbott