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Archive for the ‘Genre: Children’s and Adolescent Literature’ Category

28. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” JK Rowling

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Page count: 652
Page total: 9,340

2. “Thirteen Reasons Why,” Jay Asher

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

A few weeks after Hannah Baker kills herself, Clay Jensen comes home to find a shoebox fill of cassettes on his from porch. It’s addressed to him– with no return address. And when he starts playing them, he hears Hannah’s voice, promising to name the thirteen reasons– and thirteen people– who drove her to suicide.

This book made me so, so angry for the first thirty or so pages. It! is! not! right! to! blame! others! for! your! suicide! Especially not when then things you are naming are so run-of-the-mill. Her tone moves between gloating, goading, and blase (which, as we all know, is not the right tone for a suicidal person to take, and not the right reasons for killing yourself). I figured that she would have to have been raped, because that’s pretty much the only “good” reason I could think of for a suicide in a YA book. And pretty soon the book starts to voice a pretty excellent analysis of rape culture, which was way more than I would have hoped for.

Hannah is extremely explicit about the fact that a kiss is not groping, and that rumors that she was “easy” are a problem not only because she’s not, but because the stigma associated with being easy means that she is not able to give full consent once that rumor starts. (See Yes Means Yes, please!!) She begins with her first kiss, a sweet, beautiful kiss she had been literally dreaming about. But shortly after the kiss, rumors begin to swirl that she took off her shirt (right there in the park) and let him put his hands under her bra which, we all all know, makes her a slut, which makes her disposable.

When Hannah tells one boy that she “just looked over every name– every story– that completes these tapes. And guess what. Every single event documented here may never have happened had you, Alex, not written my name on that list [of the best asses in the grade],” (41), it felt horrifyingly unfair. Because, Hannah, my friend, the world will do so many worse things to you than tell you you have a nice ass. There are so many more battles to fight. Hell, there is precisely that battle to fight. I read this book for my class on ghosts in US literature, and one of the critical articles we read that has really stuck in my craw has been Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s “Scare Tactics,” which argues that there is a US American tradition of women writers of ghost stories and that these stories represent an avenue of increased agency for women writers (and, perhaps, the women characters who usually star in their writings).

The problem is, this implies that a woman gains agency in fiction only by being dead. And that was just the problem I had with Hannah Baker. Hannah seems like a strong, insightful, smart, passionate, all-around awesome woman. But she cannot speak her power. She gains power only though haunting people with tapes after her death. And even as a haunting, that is a fairly limited one, for it depends fully on the listener’s doing just that– in other words, Hannah could not speak if people would not listen, if they refused to press play. Asher’s answer to this is to have Hannah explain that there is a second set of tapes and that if the first one is not passed on, that one will be made public. By a man. The man who gave her the tape recorder that she used to record her ghostly missive.

I kept imagining what an amazing world this would be if we did not have to wait until the Hannahs of the world were dead to care what they had to say.

This book was published in 2007, before the recent, well-publicized spate of gay suicides, but it preaches the lesson that we are all responsible to one another, and that our actions have snowball effects. “I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push [the snowball] just the same,” Hannah high schools (156).

I think the message that “it gets better” is condescending at best, and I don’t blame Hannah for not wanting to fight to make it better, but in literature, where anything is possible, it’s so depressing that this is the best we can do.

Realistic, but depressing.

I may have more thoughts after my class talks about this next month.

Pages: 304
Page total: 749

69. “Across A Hundred Mountains,” Reyna Grande

October 30, 2010 1 comment

Juana and Adelina are two young Mexican women, one who grew up in Mexico, the other in El Otro Lado. Both are struggling to escape their difficult pasts, while trying to reunite with the fathers who left them for another country.

I read this for my class about ghosts in US literature and there is definitely something very haunting about this book. One night before her father gets home from working in the fields, Juana’s cabin begins to flood. Her mother leaves Juana’s baby sister with her and goes to look for Juana’s father. The two huddle all night on a table in their flooded home, but their parents do not return. Finally, Juana drifts off to sleep, only to be awakened by her mother’s screams. Her sister fell from her grasp in the night and drowned.

In order to pay for the funeral, Juana’s father must look for a job in the US. He leaves Juana and her mother on Juana’s twelfth birthday. Mourning for her lost child and absent husband, Juana’s mother slips into despair and the family, further into poverty. The longer her husband is gone, the worst she gets until finally Juana decides she must leave to bring her father back.

Page count: 255
Total pages: 20,634

67. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” JK Rowling

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Whenever I feel like I am supposed to be reading but don’t have anything in particular I wish to read, I read Harry Potter.

Page count: 352
Total pages: 19,369

51. “The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin,” Josh Berk

July 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Will, a fat, deaf guy entering a mainstream school for the first time, struggles to navigate the shark tank that is high school. Along the way, he befriends a fellow nerd to solve a Hardy Boys-style mystery– who killed the jerky jock on a class field trip?

This book was funny, witty, and wry. Will’s being deaf was always treated as an important part of who he is, but not like something earth-shattering or novel (at least not by Will the story– jerks will be jerks). The story line was pretty unlikely (two high schoolers solving a crime the FBI was having trouble with– despite having access to the same information the FBI had? But Will and his friends seemed real and likeable and it’s so cool to read a book from a deaf person’s perspective where he’s a normal, relateable, secretly cool guy and not a sad, damaged, magical freak. He and Oscar Wao would get along pretty well, I think.

My only big disappointment was in the Acknowledgment, where Berk used the word “lame.” Throughout the book (and the couple of interviews I read, including here), he seemed, for lack of a better word, really down, but that was a bummer.

I know there’s always controversy about non-disabled people telling disabled people’s stories (and also, about calling Deaf people disabled), but Berk really seems to have done his homework and come up with a realistic, respectful, funny representation.

Page count: 250
Page total: 14,376
Call number: YA Fic Berk / PZ7.b442295Dar

49. “Blonde Roots,” Bernardine Evaristo

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

“Blonde Roots” is historical fiction with a twist, imagining if Europe had been imperialized by Africa and whites (or “whytes,” in the vernacular of the book) enslaved.

This was an interesting idea, but extremely heavy-handed, especially the first several pages, which is all telling (as opposed to showing). While the story calls for a massive over-haul in ones thinking (because the fingers of slavery are that long), all I heard for the first few page was “THE WHYTES ARE THE SLAVES, GET IT, BECAUSE IN THE REAL WORLD, THEY WERE THE SLAVE MASTERS AND ALSO THERE ARE THE WEST JAPANESE ISLANDS LIKE THE WEST INDIES AND HER MASTER’S INITIALS ARE KKK BECAUSE HE IS BAD LIKE THE KKK.”

I mention this because I would have stopped reading if someone in 50books_poc hadn’t mentioned that the first forty or so pages are really all about reversing/echoing as much as possible of narratives of Black slaves.

The broad concept was both interesting and compelling, but the details were rather shakey for me. It’s such an odd reversal, but a reversal of things that would not exist without slavery. For example, without many Africans of different religions thrown together and force-fed Catholicism, you don’t have Voodoo, so celebrating Voodoomas doesn’t make sense (the -mas from “Christmas” making, of course, the least sense).

Throughout the book, I also felt myself wondering a lot if what we needed was further empathetic identification with white characters. Is Evaristo simply exploiting the fact that we are trained to identify with white people and see through their eyes, making the story of a white slave girl more heart-wrenching? Or is she effectively reenacting this connection? Is the book challenging because it plays out the distant historical facts of slavery in a way that seems new and therefore immediate? Or is it challenging because it plays fast and loose with history, resulting in a confusing hodgepodge? Does taking issue with the style of a narrative like this totally overlook the point of it, or is it valid to feel that the writing got in the way of an extremely useful conceit?

In the end, I felt that this was a pretty solid piece of young adult fiction– which, I want to be clear, is not an insult. I read a lot of young adult fiction and I enjoy it and think that the genre truly does have the power to educate, enlighten, and challenge. Easy-to-understand writing is not a bad thing. After I got more used to Evaristo’s narrative style, the book got more enjoyable. I would love to read more on the same theme because I do think that this book has the ability to really challenge people to see with fresh eyes the inhumanity of the slave trade. It is creative, intelligent, and deep thought and craft obviously went into the world the book portrays. It’s just that the writing never matched for me the sophistication of the idea.

Page count: 270
Page total: 13,392

44. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” JK Rowling

July 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, again. I have needed some escapist reading lately and Harry Potter never disappoints.

Page count: 552
Page total: 11,477
LOC Call number: YA FIC Rowling