Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 Week 1

I realize this is a week late. Apparently, my school reading is going to be a bit more time-consuming than expected this semester. I'll try to do better about posting over the weekend, but no guarantees.

Title: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Publishing Date: 1987
Reason Read: required for YA Resources (previously read in 6th grade)
Awards: Newbery Honor 1988

I remember reading Hatchet for my 6th grade English class and hating it, so when it was on the syllabus for my YA Resources class, I cringed a bit, but decided that as an adult maybe I'd better enjoy the book. I was wrong.

The story of Brian, a thirteen year old who survives a plane crash after the pilot of the single-engine plane has a heart attack, has the potential to be captivating, but not enough details of Brian's civilian life are given. All we are told is that his parents are divorced, and Brian unwittingly was privy to the reason why: his mother's illicit affair. Additionally, the writing is extremely repetitive, using the same words and phrasing ad nauseum to the point where I questioned if Mr. Paulsen owned a thesaurus. I understand that the writing is meant to mimic Brian's thoughts, but I'd like to think that even a teenager lost in the wilderness is a bit more sophisticated than this.

Grade: C

Title: Annie on My Mind
Author: Nancy Garden
Publishing Date: 1982
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

The quintessential lesbian romance novel for young adults, Annie on My Mind tells the story of two New York girls, Annie and Liza, who have a chance meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The girls quickly become best friends, and the relationship evolves into something more.

Although this novel was written thirty years ago, it is still as poignant and believable today. While Annie has acknowledged that she is gay for some time, Liza's feelings are frightening and new, and she struggles to come to terms with them, as so many others do. And on top of the main romance plot, there is a major plot point involving two teachers at Liza's school who are lesbians and how the school administration reacts to this. While the acceptance of gays has certainly made strides since 1982, the events that unfold in this novel are still extremely plausible, especially in more conservative parts of the country. Highly recommended for any girl questioning her sexuality.

Grade: A

Title: Weetzie Bat
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Publishing Date: 1989
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: Phoenix Award 2009

Despite being only slightly longer than 100 pages, Weetzie Bat manages to cram non-traditional families, gay relationships, and AIDS in its plot without weakening it. Often described as a pop fairy tale, the story follows teenage Weetzie, her friend Dirk, and the life they build through the results of three wishes Weetzie makes via a genie in a magic lamp. I suppose it's a bit precious, but the writing is so ethereal and poetic, I found myself easily sucked into the story. My only real complaint is that more time is spent on surface details instead of building really deep characters, but that goes along with the fairy tale concept, as do the bizarre names (i.e. My Secret Agent Lover Man).

Grade: A-

Title: Monster
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publishing Date: 1999
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: National Book Award finalist 1999, Printz Award 2000, Coretta Scott King Honor 2000

Written as a screenplay by the main character, Steven Harmon, Monster is a courtroom drama concerning a murder trial of a convenience store owner in New York City. While we are told that Steve served as a look-out of sorts, checking to see that no customers were in the store prior to the botched robbery, throughout the course of the trial, the defense tries to prove his innocence and save Steve from a life behind bars. A number of witnesses are criminals themselves, somewhat discrediting the case of the prosecution. And the entire trial both the jury and we the readers are left wondering if Steve is really innocent.

Given Steve's penchant for filmmaking, the screenplay concept is a nice touch. Had Mr. Myers chosen to write in a traditional format, the story easily could have become bogged down with legal jargon, but as a quick-moving screenplay, such terminology is dealt with much more easily. That the format fits the character so well is a credit to the author.

Grade: A

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publishing Date: 1999
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources (previously read senior year of high school)
Awards: N/A

Maybe this was just something we did at my high school, but I remember reading Perks in my senior year and passing the copy around to people and having them leave comments in the margins. My own copy was just between my best friend (now husband) and myself, but I had friends who also did this with larger groups of friends. I think the epistolary format and confessional tone of the letters is conducive to this.

I think I'm a bit biased toward this book, not only because of how nostalgic it makes me feel, having grown up in the 90's and come of age soon after the millennium, but also because the book is set in the Greater Pittsburgh metro area. All the places that are mentioned in this book are familiar to me, so it ends up having a special place in my ya collection.

Despite this personal connection to Mr. Chbosky's novel, the issues presented, including homosexuality, teen pregnancy, and abuse are rather universal issues faced by teenagers everywhere, which is why it's such an appealing book. I truly feel that it's my generation's Catcher in the Rye.

Grade: A

Title: Gossip Girl
Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Publishing Date: 2002
Reason Read: required reading for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

By far the worst book I've read in some time, Gossip Girl is about as mindless as I expected it to be. And while the writing is decent, at least if one likes the style used in gossip columns, what really irritated me was that the characters are almost described in terms of what brand-name they are wearing. If one has no concept of what a certain Prada dress looks like, he'll have little idea what to visualize.

Even worse than the lack of poetic description is the sheer lack of positive characters in the main cast. Nearly all of the major characters drink, smoke, and do recreational drugs. The only girl at the school that I can tolerate is the artistic misfit, Vanessa, but aside from attending a concert with the flighty Serena, she's a peripheral character at best.

I'm glad that these books are getting teens reading, I suppose, but there's so much wrong with them that I really worry about the negative influence the books could potentially have on young readers.

Grade: C-

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