Friday, March 30, 2012

Week 3 of YA: All Fluff, No Fiber?

     Today, we'll tear into another myth: that Young Adult novels are "all fluff with no fiber." Since YA novels are often marketed to and read by teen girls, they often are considered "poorly disguised romance novels." It's not true.
     Okay, sometimes it's true. :) But that's too broad a judgment to pass on all of them.
     Realistic novels are are a good place to start. Last week I blogged about a book called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a book written to encourage sexually abused teens to talk to someone who can help them. I can't even really describe how important this is, and I'm sure you already know anyway. Sarah Dessen writes fiction for teen girls. Her characters deal with things like anorexia, negligence, abuse, and broken families. Her books often center on "finding self," which is huge for teenagers, especially girls. Another of my personal favorites is A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle. This one deals with cancer, death, life, love. Things teens wonder about. There are many examples of "issue books," which strategically tackle tough topics. For example Cut by Patricia McCormick.
     Some novels deal indirectly with these "big" issues through Fantasy stories. In both Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore, the protagonists live in societies that hate them for who they are. They have to deal with that hate and learn to live despite it. Overcoming prejudice. Bam.
     One last book, a YA historical novel: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak tells the tale of a girl who lived during WWII in Germany. She hides a Jew in her basement to save him from the Nazis. This story is narrated by Death. It...heavy. And brilliant. And awesome. A bestseller, and a Printz award winner (which I'll talk about next week!).
     A word on romance in teen fiction: yes, it's usually there. It's something teen girls are very interested in (no surprise there!). It's usually a subplot to heighten suspense.
     Authors use the "YA" genre as a platform to reach teenagers about real issues. Usually, YA authors looooove teens, and want to help them grow. They speak to them by crafting stories to entertain, to provoke thought, and, yes, to fall in love with.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Questionable Content" in YA Novels

Shocked            Sex, rape, swearing, alcohol, death, suicide, drugs...There's no way to deny that the YA section contains all these and other graphic subjects. We're definitely not in the Children's room anymore! To save time and words, I'm going to refer to these subjects as "content." Every book varies in amount and intensity of content. This depends on whether the author aimed for older teens or younger teens, graphic images or light-heartedness.
No one can dispute that YA books have "content," but neither can they name a meaningful book that is free of it. In fact, if books were rid of "content," then I'm convinced they would be quite boring. How would To Kill a Mockingbird be without the death of the negro field hand Tom Robinson? It would lose its meaning. Or Hamlet without murder? Or Huckleberry Finn without racism? Teens read these classics, too.
So having "content" is not the real issue. The real issues are "why" and "how much."
Let's start with the "why":
It's important to look at the content in context. Authors present many of the questionable elements in ways that cause readers to question and think. For example, the YA book Speak was once lampooned for sexual content. The complaints were wrong: a freshman girl was raped in the book. The story is about the girl's recovery. There was a good reason for the so-called "questionable content.
Another factor to consider? If a teen is a certain age, they'll have heard about these subjects already. In fact, they'll know a lot about it if they go to public school. Books are a controlled environment to learn from. Usually teen books deal with all these issues because real teens have to deal with them. Teens at school get invited to a party. Or they want relationship advice. Or a friend dies. These things happen. Books talk about these things. Is it any wonder they're appealing?
Moving on to the "how much":
This part is very subjective. My tastes tend towards less violent novels with minimal swearing. In fact, despite all the awards won by John Green's books, I can't drag myself through the haze of profanity, drugs and drinking.
Picking books is actually very similar to picking movies or music.
                                  Tips for Picking Books with Little Content:
1.) With names like "Gossip Girl," or the very--erm--revealing cover pictures, it's usually not too hard to avoid the books that don't suit your tastes. So, take the titles and covers into consideration.

2.) Often, if you open to the first page of a book and read it, it will tell you what you need to know about content. Once, I checked out a book about dragons. I settled down to read it and found the first page littered with profanity. I gave up on it pretty quickly.

3.) Certain authors are known for ramping up their "content" for "teen appeal." These are the kind I usually avoid. If one book had too much for your taste, read the synopsis and first page of one other. If it's similar, don't read his or her books anymore.

4.) Usually, I try to finish every book I start, even if I don't like it. I think this is important because the author makes their real point at the end. If, after finishing, I still hate it, I just don't read another by that author. This system has worked well for me.

5.) Another idea for parents is to read books with their teens. This opens up a door to talk about the hard stuff.

      I hope this post eases some of your worries!
GIF Attribution:
By GRPH3B18 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 16, 2012

Controversy: YA Fiction...Yea or Nay?

A poll is an informal and, admittedly, kind of fun way to start off this opinion post! Share your thoughts:

Here's an Intro to YA novels:
     -YA is an abbreviation for "Young Adult." It's a genre of fiction for, you guessed it, YOUNG ADULTS!
     -It's a step between books for children and books for adults. Target age is 13-19 ish.
     -Usually, the writing is distilled to "mostly action," rather than pages of description.
     -Many times, the ending will be happy, or at least bitter-sweet, as opposed to tragic.
     -The genre is a stepping stone, so teens don't have to jump from readings A Wrinkle in Time to The Grapes of Wrath. Which is essentially what I did in my Jr. year of high school *deep dark confession*
     The next 3 weeks will be a mini-series to raise awareness about this wonderful (and relatively new) genre of books. I want to dispel the notion that they are all "trash." In the next 3 posts, I will write my opinion to 3 questions/assumptions I've heard about the genre: 1.) Aren't they brimming with morally horrendous content? 2.) Aren't they all "fluff," with no fiber? 3.)How are they, er, craftsmanship-wise? Basically, are they worth reading, and are they safe for my kid/teen to read?
     So, that's the Intro! I hope it whets your appetite for discussion. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments. I study these types of things, since I work on the YA Summer Reading Program at the library. Have a good week!

Friday, March 9, 2012

God and Books...Where's the Connection?

Source: Historic Byways and Highways of Old England├»¿½ By: William Andrews
Status: Public Domain in the USA*

     Hey, Book Bandits--this post is for you! Especially if you're a Christian. As many of you know, I'm taking online classes at Regent University. One of the professors of Language and Literature (Professor Amy Rickards) wrote a cool article that I wanted to share. It reassured me of how important my studies are.  I've always wondered how books could possibly be part of my spiritual life; I mean, if I'm reading a book, I'm not reading the Bible, getting work done, or helping anybody out. Have you ever wondered about this? That's what this short article addresses! It takes about 2 minutes to read. Check a pared-down version of it below, or follow the link at the very bottom for the full article, including Professor Rickards' extensive credentials:

Loving the Lord Through Literature

By Professor Amy Rickards
...John Wesley, the great preacher and theologian, stated, "Reading Christians are growing Christians. When Christians cease to read, they cease to grow," and I believe that his words are a significant exhortation for us as believers striving to know and love God better.

I realize that not everyone is a bookworm like I am. During my childhood and adolescent years, I developed an incredible love for reading. While most parents try and encourage their child's love of reading, my mom was always saying, "Get your nose out of that book!" I would try and hide my book under the dinner table so that I could keep reading even during meals because heaven forbid that I might have to wait to find out what happened next in the story I was currently enjoying. Despite my mother's admonitions, she and my father fostered my love of words and reading by always buying me books and encouraging me to write stories of my own as a child. Literary scholar Leland Ryken, in his essay "Thinking Christianly About Literature" writes, "Literature takes reality and human experience as its starting point, transforms it by means of the imagination, and sends readers back to life with renewed understanding of it and zest for it because of their excursions into a purely imaginary realm," and I certainly experienced this phenomenon in my own life.

Although I grew up reading and loving books, it wasn't until my sophomore year as an undergraduate that I really began to understand how significant reading and the study of literature was to my relationship with Christ and with other believers. The chair of our Language and Literature department here at Regent, Dr. Susannah Clements, words this concept beautifully with her statement that, "Literature is a creative expression of universal human experience, and it has value in the way it can help us better understand what it means to be human, sinful but still made in God's image." My love for literature deepened as it became a wonderful way for me to develop and express my relationship with Christ, and I went on to pursue a master's degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University, feeling a calling from God to share and impart this love of God and literature through teaching.

Whatever your background with language and literature, I would encourage you to consider developing your relationship with the Lord through the study of the written word. I would love to have the opportunity to work with you! May God bless your study of language and literature!

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Awesome Organization & a Photography Contest

     The Office of Letters and Light is the creator of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which I've raved about before) and several other creative writing events. I owe them my original inspiration! They made a video explaining what they do, and it's so cute! Find out what all the buzz is about:

     I'm thinking about giving "Script Frenzy" a try this year, myself ;)

     Now, about that photography contest. I read another blog (called "GreenBeanTeenQueen") by a teen & tween librarian. She gets news of all kinds of contests and such. This one was cool and easy, but fast. I already entered. Check it out here. The winner will win...well, I'll let you read it :)

     Have a terrific week, and Happy Writing!

     Credit to "" for banner. I originally found the video on their site too, but I had to get it from "" in order to post it here.