YA Posts

Reader’s Advisory: Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel is a 1995 fantasy novel by Garth Nix. It is the first in the Old Kingdom trilogy.  It won the Aurealis Award for best young-adult novel and best fantasy novel, as well as being an ALA Notable Book and a short-list nominee for the 1996 Ditmar Award. Regardless, I had a horrible time getting into this book. So bad, in fact, that I am still working on it.

Before the negativity begins, I will say there were a few things that I did really enjoy about the book. I love that it features a strong female character who displays compassion and intelligence.  The world is well developed — there’s a map at the front (who doesn’t love a good map?). The characters are interesting.  I know a fantasy fan would find a lot more to love about this story. But that’s about as far as I get.

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Sabriel Map

A lot of the book left me bewildered.  Why is time marked by Western calendar years — are we actually in the 1600s? Why does the map in the front of the book look like an inversion of Game of Thrones? For some reason, it’s acceptable for girls to travel alone, but they still have to go to finishing school. What kind of bizarre gender norms makes that possible? What is a Charter Mage? Why is there no glossary at the back of the book? Where is Gandalf to explain the parameters of this mission and give us some historical context?

Game of Thrones Map

Game of Thrones Map

I’ve been carrying the book around for the last week or so and was approached by a very enthusiastic fan that loved the series. I admitted that I was struggling to enjoy it.  It’s the magic, I complained. There’s no clear transition between magic and reality, and I don’t understand the rules of the magic. The fan (to her credit) thoughtfully considered before answering. She suggested that since she’d been younger when she first read the series, perhaps it was easier for her (and other readers who love the series) to accept the magic and worry less about the technical details.  While I’m sure it’s more than that, I think that’s a valid point.

I know there’s a lot that appeals to a lot of people about fantasy, and just because I struggled with this book doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it. Garth Nix is well loved and this particular series is critically acclaimed, meaning that I’d definitely feel comfortable giving it as a recommendation. Reading the book, I have learned, can be about more than just enjoying the story.  I now have a better understanding of the book’s reading level and the intended audience. At the very least, I have a good grasp on elements of the story that might appeal to other readers.

Why is it that every fantasy book just feels like a rip off of Lord of the Rings? Is it because they all follow Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (the hero’s journey)? Or is that the point? For a certain fan base, it is that this story simply never gets old? Or maybe it’s just me – maybe I am the factor that has gotten too old, too analytical, and too cynical.

heroes_journey

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Reader's Advisory, YA Posts

Reader’s Advisory: Sherman Alexie, Full Time Indian

I’ll start by being honest: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian wasn’t something I was looking forward to reading. It looked like a book for the kind of boys who played ‘cowboys and Indians.’ Judging by the cover, it was set somewhere back in the 1970s, something quaint and far-removed from the actual lives of Native North Americans, the kind of story that uses the idea of ‘Indian’ as a politically incorrect metaphor. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Part-Time Indian is a moving, poignant, and beautiful work that successfully navigates the thin line between devastatingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny. 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold Spirit, known to his family and tribe as Junior.  A 14 year old boy, Junior leaves his reservation to attend the ‘white’ high school 22 miles away in hopes of receiving a better education.  Part-Time Indian chronicles Junior’s struggles to make friends, hide his poverty, and find his identity in a hostile place that is shunned by his own community. I wasn’t far into the story when I became curious about the writer.  Alexie did indeed grow up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, which is located in Washington state, near Seattle. He left his reservation to attend the predominantly white high school in Reardan (actually called the Pembroke Academy). Like Junior, the main character of Part-Time Indian, Alexie was born with hydrocephalus and was bullied for his strange appearance. He excelled academically but struggled with his University career, giving up on medicine and law and eventually discovering literature as his passion. Now 47 years old, he is a well-known writer and poet and a ground breaking film maker.

Reading about Alexie’s life furnished several insights into the novel. While not as ‘absolutely’ true as it claims, the book is indeed semi-autobiographical, based loosely on Alexie’s own life. It began as a memoir and became a book for young adults. Understanding that so much of the story is, in fact, factual, made it all the more difficult to read. It made it all the more tragic and heart-wrenching. Reading about Alexie’s struggles during his university careers with alcoholism and anxiety made Junior an even more complex character. Like Alexie, he has left the reservation, for now. But the struggle won’t end. Like Alexie, he will never be able to separate his identity into  ‘part-time’ occupations.

The action figures on the cover vaguely reminded me of the Indian in the Cupboard (1995), which probably played a role in my initial reluctance to pick up the book. But the more I read the more appropriate they seemed. Those little plastic action figures embody the way Native American culture has been (and continues to be) tokenized and disregarded in mainstream popular culture. Alexie’s novel is a product of this disrespect: the Indians he writes about are bitter, angry, demoralized. Throughout the novel, Junoir struggles to connect himself to hope.  This is seminal in that is gives young adult Indians a voice.  It tells a part of their story. It is an important step in the right direction.
 
To learn more about Sherman Alexie and explore his other works, visit his official website at  http://fallsapart.com/
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YA Posts

Engaging YA Readers

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Many young adults love to read – but many do not. Interestingly, those who are avid readers tend to view reading as a solitary pursuit. For teenagers, “there are few opportunities for articulating reading interests and reading experiences beyond the encounter that an individual has with a text itself” (Rothbauer, 479).  Reading for pleasure tends not to be a priority. Research consistently shows that “reading for pleasure increases throughout the childhood years until the age 12-13, at which point it begins it a decline that usually lasts throughout adolescence” (Howard, 46). Those who are classified as young adults tend not to prioritize reading. They are more likely to spend time at volunteer positions, at part time jobs, playing sports, or getting together with friends.

In spite of this, fostering a love of reading is important. For children, teenagers, and adults alike, reading is important. Research has consistently shown that “regular readers have better vocabularies, better reading comprehension, better verbal fluency and better general knowledge” (Howard, 47).  The “multidimensional isolation of the teen reader” (Rothbauer, 481) presents significant difficulties for marketing and providing access to YA literature. Orca Soundings novels are a great resource for educators and librarians who have the opportunity to encourage reluctant readers.

Orca Soundings is a series of novels specifically directed towards lower level adolescent readers. The chart above displays the different kinds of novels that are available in the series. I read Back and Bang, both written by Norah McClintock.  Each book is around a hundred pages. Both of the titles I read were set in urban environments and dealt with male teenagers who commit crimes.  The stories are dramatic but believable. Details are carefully explained, making the story more accessible for relunctant readers. In both cases, the characters have odd names, like Q and Ardell. When reading it worried me that the male narrators would make the books less accessible to a female audience, but the chart above shows are the series creators have carefully taken different YA interests into account in order to better engage YA readers.

The information age has had a profound effect on the way that teenagers read. Reading habits have changed. Examining teen magazines makes this obvious. Comparing current issues to ones from as little as even ten years ago shows a significant shift. Articles are shorter, more like blurbs. Magazines consistently advertize online presences: almost every magazine has a website that is regularly updated with original content. Many magazines, particularly those that target teen audiences, also use social media to engage readers. Rothbauer’s research has found that the Internet has become “a default source of reading materials and a place for reading practices” (Rothbauer, 476). Online reading is easily accessed, brief, and accompanied with multi-media, usually photos or videos.  Rothbauer also found that young adults have a tendency to associate the library “a place of childhood” (Rothbauer, 475) rather than somewhere they frequent regularly.

The “library carries the capacity to capitalize on its place of significance and function as a local site that can foster a lively and engaged reading culture for youth” (Rothbauer, 481). The Orca Soundings series works towards a similar goal. The importance engaging young adults as active readers shouldn’t be underestimated. Reading opens the door for critical thinking and, at best, fosters lifelong connections to literature as a way to understand the human condition.

Works Cited

Howard, Vivian. 2012. “The Importance of Pleasure Reading in the Lives of Young Teens: Self-Identification, Self-Construction and Self-Awareness.” Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 43(1): 46-55. doi: 10.1177/0961000610390992

Rothbauer, Paulette M. 2009. “Exploring the Placelessness of Reading among Older Teens in a Canadian Rural Municipality.” The Library Quarterly 79(4): 465-83.

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Recommended Reading, YA Posts

Eleanor and Park: The Soundtrack

ImageOne my colleagues recently commented that she would love to hear the soundtrack to Rainbow Rowell’s novel (link here). I agreed with her, so I combed through the book for any musical references I could find.

Park and Eleanor’s friendship begins when they start sharing songs and comic books.  Musical references are all through the book.  The first time I read the book, I skipped the title page and didn’t realize that it was set in 1986 — I just thought Park and Eleanor had really good taste (though really, regardless of the decade, they still have really good taste).

  1. The Smiths – How Soon is Now?
  2. Skinny Puppy – Assimilate
  3. The Misfits – We are 138
  4. The Smiths – There is a Light That Never Goes Out
  5. The Bunnymen -The Killing Moon
  6. Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
  7. Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia
  8. U2 – Bad
  9. Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers – The Morning of Our Lives
  10. The Beatles – Two of Us
  11. Bruce Springsteen – Trapped Again
  12. Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69
  13. Alphaville – Forever Young
  14. Vanilla Heat – You Keep Me Hangin’ On
  15. Canned Fudge – Rollin’ and Tumblin’
  16. The Beatles – Norwegian Wood
  17. The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby

About halfway through making the playlist, I wondered if anyone else had had the same idea. Turns out, a lot of people have… including the author herself. Rainbow Rowell has a detailed post on her own blog on the songs that made the book come alive for her (click here). Posh Deluxe at Forever Young Adult also complied a great soundtrack (click here).

Eleanor and Park deals with first love and fledgling sexuality. It’s the best kind of romance, engrossing and intelligent. But Rowell also deals sensitively with racism, bullying, physical and sexual abuse. The characters are incredibly human and likeable. Rowell brings the 80s to life, vividly evoking the decade’s popular culture. The book is incredibly popular for a reason, and (unlike so many super popular books) I’m happy to say that those reasons include Rowell’s great writing and unforgettable characters.

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About me

What’s with the name?

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This blog was created as a requirement for one of the first classes in my MLIS, and has become an outlet for posts and assignments for several other classes. You produce a lot of writing in this degree, and this blog is a good motivation to polish my thoughts and present them to a larger audience.

Coming up with an original name was a challenge — there are a lot of library/librarian blogs out there! Melvil Dewey is one of the most topical examples of a librarian who left a lasting legacy.  He was, to put it kindly, full of quirks, but he was also highly influential in shaping the field.The Dewey Decimal System is a way of organizing libraries; it is the most widely used library system in the world.The system is inherently flawed, racist, and outdated in many ways. As an aspiring librarian, I am working towards entering an information landscape that has been very much shaped by my predecessors. Librarians today have a responsibility to work with this existing landscape and continue to make libraries accessible and relevant.

Image from wikipedia

Image from wikipedia

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Recommended Reading, YA Posts

Reader’s Advisory: Writing Annotations

Image from wikipedia

Image from wikipedia

In class last week, we learned about writing annotations.  Working in groups, it was fascinating to hear the opinions of my peers and what they felt were the most important and compelling aspects of the book (My group worked with The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green). Writing in a group is always a neat experience; people approach language in such different ways. I thought it would be interesting to go through the process step-by-step on my own and see what kind of results I could produce.

We followed Mary K. Chelton’s guidelines, available here: http://www.sjrlc.org/rahandouts/annotation.htm. Chelton asks a series of questions about the book and then recommends you pare down your answers to a 35-50 word annotation. It’s also important not to give away the ending of the book!

Who is/are the significant other(s)? Hazel Grace, a 16 year old girl who is living with cancer

What is the setting?
Indianapolis

When does the story take place?
Present day

What is the character’s challenge?
Twofold: Hazel is dealing with her first romance and is desperate to discover the ending of her favourite book

What are the roadblocks to success?
Hazel is living with cancer

Annotation: Hazel’s shield of sarcastic wit is about to be penetrated by the boy of her dreams. Romantic and dramatic, together they will go on a journey to find discover the ending of Hazel’s favourite novel.

This exercise proved really difficult. After careful reflection, I’ve decided that my emphasis on the ending of the book is decidedly less significant if you don’t know how the book ends. Incorporating a ‘hook,’ as Chelton suggests, is difficult. Her questions do motivate you to think critically about the book and what was important about it.

But something feels so wrong about cutting John Green’s beautiful story down to only a sentence. It’s hard to convey the magic that his writing conveys in so few words. I can’t help but feel frustrated that such a short annotation, focusing on the facts of the novel, disregards all of the things that make the book truly special: the way Green doesn’t talk down to his audience, his excellent writing and quick references, his very raw portrayal of teenage anxieties, the way he doesn’t gloss over or romanticize the horrors of cancer or the tragedy of illness while still managing to be undeniably funny. It would take skill indeed to comb all that down into less than fifty words.

Image from edge01.prod.weheartit.com

Image from edge01.prod.weheartit.com

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Recommended Reading, YA Posts

Veronica Roth

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Photo by Ryan Lowery for Chicago Reader. Image from http://www.chicagoreader.com

Veronica Roth has experienced the kind of success that most writers only dream about. At 25, she is the best selling author of the Divergent trilogy, the first of which is being made into a movie this year. The first two books in her dystopian YA trilogy have been a great commercial success, making her one of the best selling authors in the world (link).

Roth graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Creative Writing in 2010. The rights to the Divergent were sold before she completed her final semester. She was raised by her mother, painter Barabra Roth. Though Veronica was raised by her mother without religion, she became a devout Christian after attending a bible study in high school. She has spoken about having anxiety issues, saying that dealing with her mental health has greatly influenced the ideas that are present in her writing. For example, the premise for the Divergent trilogy was inspired by a psychology class and Roth’s interest in personality tests. In 2011 she married photographer Nelson Fitch. They currently live in Chicago.

Bibliography

Divergent-series-by-Veronica-Roth

Divergent (2011)
Insurgent (2012)
Allegiant (2013)

Free Four (e-book short released in 2012)

“Hearken” (2013), short story in the Shards and Ashes anthology.

Critical Reception

The trilogy’s concept, a dsytopian world where everyone is split into one of five groups based on personality traits, has been widely praised. The trilogy’s protagonist, Tris, has also been praised for her obvious shortcomings. A strong female character, Tris is flawed: she is selfish, vindictive, and sometimes manipulative, while still managing to be a likeable.  Offering an explanation for the book’s wild success, Evan Daughtery praised Roth’s premise: “Veronica nailed a very primal, relatable idea: You turn 16 and you choose what you think is going to be some narrow version of how the rest of your life is going to look” (link). The trilogy is considered an easy and yet incredibly engrossing read; it is has been compared to potato chips.

Roth’s writing includes many hallmarks of recent popular YA lit: a female protagonist, gratuitous action and fight scenes, and a passionate yet chaste romance. In the third book, a love triangle is hinted at. While the romance is intense, the characters in Roth’s books have limited sexual experiences. When pressed, Roth says this was a conscious choice. It was important, she says, for her to not alienate her younger readers: “I didn’t want to have smut on the page. I don’t want to titillate” (link).

The third book in the trilogy has not had the same commercial success as the first two installments. Some critics felt that the ending to the series was “disappointing,” (link) while others contend that the ending was “pleasingly brave and poignant” (link). Roth’s fan base had a much stronger and more negative reaction to the third book: many readers felt betrayed by the ending. Less passionate criticism contended that the book simply fell flat after its long-awaited and highly publicized arrival.

List of awards

Goodreads Favourite Book of 2011

Goodreads Best Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (2012)

Motivation & Practices

While in university, she worked hard and maintained good grades, but said that she always made sure to prioritize writing. Roth found that constantly juggling her life was difficult, and “didn’t always turn out well” (link). She also found that balancing work, school, and “being a person” (link) was a matter of using time effectively. Now that writing is her full time job, rather than a hobby, she has said that she is making an concerted effort to find new ways to occupy her time (link).

“I crammed DIVERGENT into the spaces between my classes. I woke up early to work on it, and I stayed up late. I worked on it rather than doing homework or studying for tests. I wrote DIVERGENT concurrently with my senior thesis. And I wrote it isolated from my academic community.”

When studying Creative Writing at Northwestern, Roth wrote Divergent in her spare time. She struggled with feeling ashamed of liking and writing YA lit, worrying that what she was working on was not intellectual enough. Roth has urged others to let go of feeling ashamed of reading and/or writing YA literature (link).

Roth maintains that she thrives with routine (link), and that taking time away from writing does not come easily for her, though she considered it an important part of the creative process. In 2010, she posted a reflection on her blog saying that spending some time “unwriting” (link) was just as important as consistently writing.

Since 2009, Roth has kept a well-maintained blog. She has posted extensively on her writing process, even providing screenshots of her revision process (link). She relies on checklists and colour coding to stay organized and likes to arrange (and complete tasks) in order of difficulty, beginning with the most difficult. Roth also uses lists to help outline her characters, keeping track of their goals and motivations to make sure that the characters are consistent and believable.

Related Media

Divergent is due out in 2014. Rights to the film were purchased by Summit Entertainment, the same production company behind the Twilight movies. Roth was adamant that she did not want to be a part of the movie process, saying that as a writer, she had no desire to make movies. She was very happy with the casting and sets. Shaliene Woodly has been cast as Tris, the female protagonist. Interestingly, Woodly also stars in the film adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. These intersections are a poignant reminder of how YA literature is marketed: book stores tend to stock and publicize a few popular authors, rather than a variety of different authors. Theo James and Kate Winslet also star in the film adaptation. Here is the movie trailer:

Veronica Roth answers fan’s questions live stream (medicated by New York Magazine)

Interesting Links

Veronica Roth’s personal blog, which she has maintained since 2009. Her posts are thoughtful and often confessional. She has posted extensively on the writing process. Interestingly, she has not updated her blog’s interface or transformed it into a fancy website, a touch that I personally find endearing and demonstrative of Roth’s uneasy relationship with fame.

Veronica Roth is the third most followed author on goodreads. Her profile can be accessed here: goodreads profile.

With a young fan base and an upcoming movie, tumblr is buzzing with news about Roth’s books. A search reveals the extent of her fans’ engagement: tumblr.

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