Education. It’s a word and an institution that has been tugged back and forth between different ideologies, time periods, political parties, and religious groups to name a few, and, depending on what area of the world it is cherished or challenged, can depend on a matter of life and death. For Malala Yousafzai, a young girl in the Swat District of Pakistan, her fight for the right to education was a matter of death.
Malala Yousafzai’s name was not common around the American dinner table before she was the unsuccessful assassination target of the Taliban fall 2012. Although her existence was not known by many at the time, she had been making major waves in the gorgeous area Swat Valley of Pakistan when the Taliban gained control of the region. At the young age of eleven, Malala began blogging for the BBC Urdu under a pseudonym where she challenged the Taliban’s stifling of women’s rights across the board. Malala, whose father owned and ran a group of schools in the region, focused her eloquent criticisms on a girl’s right to education.
It was a few years later that she suffered gunshots while riding her school bus from a Taliban assassin, ultimately launching her status beyond regional and specialized media coverage to a global fighter for peace and human rights. Prior to her surviving an attempt on her life, she was nominated by Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. When word of her attack spread throughout the globe, many Pakistanis took to the streets to protest her attempted murder. A German broadcasting station called Malala “the most famous teenager in the world” after the shooting. Malala faced a long road to recovery and spent many months in a hospital in Birmingham, UK.
She never stopped fighting after being targeted by one of the most dangerous terrorist groups on the Earth. She was only more emboldened. Stronger. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest laureate in history at seventeen. She spoke at the United Nations headquarters and demanded worldwide access to education. She was a major influence on Pakistan’s first Right to Education bill. On her eighteenth birthday in 2015, Malala opened a school near the Syrian border that educates young women from fourteen to eighteen years of age.
It’s these exemplary souls that deserve our attention, our inspiration.
Perhaps we’ve all been watching the news a little too much lately. So many large issues and even larger celebrity and political personalities are covered, but there are very few stories that focus on individual determination, hope blooming out of despair, one person making great, lasting, monumental changes for all of humanity. It’s exceptional girls like living, breathing, teenage Malala that deserves our undivided attention. Our undivided attention must not be geared toward division anymore.
Malala’s story can teach us to never feel like the task is too daunting–too formidable. With compassion for life, equality, and justice, change can be right around the corner if only we remember eleven year old Malala risking everything, publishing under a pseudonym out of fear of retribution, and immensely changing the world for the better.
Days and dates are declared for various purposes all the time. Of course, there are the big holidays but there are other often lesser known dates of importance that come about. One such date was September 13th. What was special about that day you ask? It was Roald Dahl Day. It would have been his 100th birthday. I was inspired on September 13th when the New York City Public Library celebrated Roald Dahl Day. A performance of some of the members of the Broadway cast sharing the story of Matilda popped up on my Facebook feed. This is the livestream of their performance:
I remember being a young undergrad at WCU and taking Children’s Literature. That was my first experience with Roald Dahl. I am not sure they had Roald Dahl in my school library when I was growing up. The very first book I ever read by Mr. Dahl was The BFG. What a story! I have not seen the movie yet, but I hope it can compare to what I pictured in my mind as I read about the witching hour, Sophie being whisked away to Giant Country, and the descriptions of the giants. I can say that the many times I have used this story in a classroom setting over the years I truly learned the magic of captivating children with a fascinating story.
Mr. Dahl not only created memorable characters with an action packed story, he also gave a way to address, ummmm, let’s say certain body functions that can cause a ruckus in a group of youngsters. You see, for the BFG burping was an atrocity but whizpopping was glorious. Read the quote below and I am thinking you can infer what whizpopping might be.
“A whizzpopper!” cried the BFG, beaming at her. “Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping if forbidden among human beans?”
Did you notice that he calls us “human beans” instead of human beings?
The BFG has many memorable characteristics, but one that stands out is how he speaks. He tends to get things mixed up. He tells Sophie,
“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.”
Talk about tongue twisters! I always had to practice a little for this read aloud.
He makes sure Sophie understands he can mix things up a bit when he tells her,
“What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announced rather grandly.”
I wonder if this is how some politicians rationalize their spoken words?
A slightly lesser known work by Roald Dahl is The Twits. It is much shorter than the 200 or so pages of The BFG and would likely be a nice choice for a middle elementary student with its 76 pages. Although, the lesson in this quick read could work wonders for some tweens and teens I know.
Mr. & Mrs. Twit are definitely an odd pair. They are beyond nasty physically, mentally, and emotionally. They spend their time trying to find ways to be mean to each other and those around them. Now, Mr. Twit does drink beer. The first time I read this book I could not imagine using it with a group of children. So, I changed beer to root beer when I read it aloud. Children would figure this out when they read the book on their own and bring it to me and point at the word “beer”. I would reply with something like how could I have read it aloud saying the word beer without causing a ruckus. I explained it was more important to focus on the lessons built into the story rather than Mr. Twit’s drinking preferences. I love the lessons in this story! It shows that it does matter how you treat others. The Golden Rule really does apply.
Mr. Dahl left us with some pretty amazing stories! Check one out at a library near you!
Dystopia: “an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible”. (Oxford English dictionary: a real honest-to-goodness book made of paper and everything.)
In The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is forced to fight in a televised competition against other teens. To the death. In Divergent Beatrice Prior struggles to find her own way in a society that forces people into factions based on their natural aptitudes. In The Maze Runner Thomas awakens in a teen society without his memory, and with the answers he needs hidden beyond a huge and deadly maze. In The Giver Jonas lives in a seeming utopia, a world that has eliminated pain…and also emotion.
These are four of the best known teen (or in library speak, Young Adult or YA) dystopian novels. Even if you haven’t read them you have probably heard of them, if for no other reason the big budget films adaptations they all have. But our real goal here is to talk about some of the books you may not know about. And while these are “teen” books, adults are allowed to read them. And will enjoy them.
All fiction goes through trends. One year political thrillers are all the rage and the next it is paranormal romances. The same holds true for YA fiction, and in recent years dystopia has been popular. This is well documented, as shown here, and here, and here. A more thorough overview can be found here.
Similar to dystopian books you have post-apocalyptic ones, where some tragic event such as war or disease has destroyed civilization. There is a lot of common ground between the genres. To me it seems that many times dystopian books deal with the bigger picture of civilization while post-apocalyptic ones focus more on individual stories, something that is quite evident in zombie fiction. I like how YA books often do a nice job of merging these tropes together.
Legend features dueling protagonists. Day is a Robin Hood type, a teen who early on tries to steal the cure for a plague that afflicts his family in future Los Angeles. June is a prodigy of the Republic, a girl with a bright military future. She is sent undercover out into the world to try and find the notorious Day, who is also the suspected murderer of her brother.
When Day and June encounter each other they have no idea who the other one is. By the time they figure it out, not only do they both realize that the Republic has been telling lies, but that they also have feelings for each other.
Legend is one of the books I stick in people’s hands when they are looking for something to read after The Hunger Games.
Three hundred years in the future, with the world’s petroleum supplies destroyed, the government controls all aspects of life, including your looks. At age 16 every citizen receives their “pretty” operation, cosmetic surgery transforming their looks to please society.
Days before her operation Tally Youngblood meets Shay, an “Ugly” who talks of rebellion. Found out, Tally is ordered to betray Shay, and to discover where he and his friends are hiding. Along the way Tally learns some hard truths, and suddenly becoming a Pretty doesn’t seem to be quite so appealing.
Fellow blogger Stephanie says “I. Love. Lauren Oliver.” That should be enough of a recommendation, I think.
Another series where the government mandates operations. In this case the affliction is “amor deliria nervosa”, otherwise known as “love”. Lena Haloway has been eagerly awaiting the operation, when days before she meets Alex, a boy living in the Wilds, the rural areas fenced off from the cities. She experiences actual love, and now has to choose between love and remaining a part of society.
Miranda is a normal 16 year old girl, living in Pennsylvania. Like everyone else she is excited to watch an asteroid crash into the moon. But when the moon’s orbit is shifted, things fall apart quickly.
This book does not have many of the features of other dystopian novels. There is no evil government entity, for instance. In fact the government is helpful, but is no longer efficient or effective. More so than any of the others this book gives you a good opportunity to put yourself in the place of the protagonist and ask “what would I do in that situation?”
In the future genetic engineering has cured man’s ills. All disease and defects are gone. However, the celebration is short as a plague comes with the cure, a plague that kills everyone once they reach their 20s.
Rhine Ellery is caught up in the chaos as society is torn by the plague, and the divide between the rich and poor grows ever wider. The writing in this series is a little uneven but the powerful themes make up for it.
This one varies a bit, as it features aliens and is really at least as much science fiction as dystopian. An alien invasion quickly destroys all of human civilization, leaving the survivors to try to exist in a very different new world.
Cassie Sullivan is one of those survivors. Despite all the hardships she encounters, she keeps going, and learns that her younger brother Sammy is being held captive by the aliens, who are reconditioning humans to fit their needs. As she sets about to rescue him she learns that the few other free humans come in two types: those that can be trusted and those that can’t.
Cassie Reyes lives in a society that “matches” you with your life partner at age 17. She is matched with her best friend Xander. But a computer glitch seems to indicate that someone else was supposed to be her match. Are the results being manipulated?
Matched does a nice job of showing a world that initially seems utopian, but is slowly revealed to be the opposite. Food is calorie controlled but is bland and tasteless. Population control is strictly enforced. And the government is openly observing the populace, looking for misdeeds.
Like so many others, Connolly was killed by the virus. But she was strong, and was one of the few who “rebooted” and essentially returned to life. The reboots are no longer quite human, and she is trained with the others to be an elite crime fighter. She is very good at this; so good in fact that she is tapped to train new reboots.
Callum is one of these new recruits. He retains more of his humanity, which causes him to not follow orders the way he should. This is a big problem for Connolly, especially when she is ordered to eliminate this problem. She must then see if she can regain her own humanity, and her capability to love.
Jenna Fox wakes up from a year long coma. Her memory is shattered, but she has lots of support from her adoring family, even if they won’t really talk about what happened to her. She has plenty of home movies to watch that help her start piecing her life back together.
But things don’t seem right to her. She starts to doubt that all of these memories are really hers. She realizes that a great secret is being kept from her, and she must decide if she really wants to find out the truth.
This is another outlier to the “standard” dystopian fare. It is by far the oldest book on this list, having been published in 1959, and is more post-apocalyptic than dystopian, although those two genres have similar traits.
Randy Bragg lives in a small town in central Florida, and thanks to a warning from his brother is able to help the town cope with the outcome of a nuclear war. The townspeople have to create their own new society in order to survive.
This is a fascinating read when done through the eyes of current times. The technology of the 50s was so different that it is fun to make the comparison and to think about life without all our modern conveniences.
Titus lives in a future where most people are directly wired into the “feednet”, a huge computer network that gives them instant access to a wealth of information. Of course the feed is controlled by corporate interests that adjust the content to fit the users preferences, and also strips away any notions of privacy.
When Titus and his friends meet Violet, they are stunned by her critical-thinking skills. Violet starts them down the road of resisting the feed, but there are consequences to doing so, and there are forces actively opposed to them doing so.
One of the things I really enjoy about dystopian fiction is that it makes you think about how things came to be so bad. It often serves as a warning about how as a society we must be careful about losing control of our lives. Teen dystopia often features exciting action sequences as a bonus, while adult ones tend to be more grim.
In any event, I am ready to do some reading! Also, here is a brief list of some great adult dystopian novels, and be sure to add your own recommendations to the comments below.
The reasons for the challenging of these “banned books” elicit pause: violence, sexually explicit, racism, drugs… all things that might keep you up at night, especially if you have children. Other reasons may be seen as more subjective or dependent upon personal values: political viewpoint, Occult/Satanism, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint. The majority of challenges came from parents.
Parenting is hard. There’s a constant questioning that comes along with parenthood- you never really know if you’re doing the best thing for your child. Decision making is made even more difficult when you’re dealing with difficult subjects: racism, violence, sex. Part of being a parent is the drive to protect your child, wanting to shield them from all the terrible things in the world- things that you hope they will never have to experience personally.
I certainly can understand the desire to shield children from some subjects. They’re kids: blank, unmarred slates upon which, as parents/educators/caretakers, we draft a filter through which the child will experience the world. I say draft, because at some point they’ll grow up. They’ll explore the world for themselves, holding fast to some of what they’ve been taught and replacing others with new truths- the world as they define it. I hold no delusions that my daughter will see the world as I see it, and that’s the best thing I could hope for! The world is constantly changing.
I’ve talked a bit before about my take on parenting in the digital age and it’s a stance I take on books as well. These “hard truths” (some admittedly harder than others) are, in my opinion, best dealt with head-on. I believe unfettered access to information is best for my child. My husband and I try to keep an open dialogue with our daughter, where (we hope) she feels comfortable asking us questions about anything. Banning children from accessing information just makes them more curious to do it anyway, with the added disadvantage of having no authority figure to consult if things get confusing.
So with that in mind, I’ll encourage my daughter to read anything she takes an interest in. I did find some studies about children’s exposure to inappropriate material (though they all dealt with media in general, none specifically about books), but nearly all agreed that banning your child from all inappropriate media is an impossible feat and evidence suggests talking openly with children ameliorates any negative effects that such media may otherwise have. On the other other hand, there are numerous studies about the positive impact of reading on children, even beyond early literacy.
If you’re interested in checking out a banned book, visit your local library for their “Banned Books Week” display or check out some of these:
“The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “religious viewpoints” and for being “unsuited for age group.”
“Of all the contenders for the title of The Great American Novel, none has a better claim than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Intended at first as a simple story of a boy’s adventures in the Mississippi Valley – a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – the book grew and matured under Twain’s hand into a work of immeasurable richness and complexity.” – Good Reads
Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”
“Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick, never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys… But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives… with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him…” – Good Reads
In this graphic novel, “three modern cartoon cousins get lost in a pre-technological valley, spending a year there making new friends and out-running dangerous enemies. Their many adventures include crossing the local people in The Great Cow Race, and meeting a giant mountain lion called RockJaw: Master of the Eastern Border. They learn about sacrifice and hardship in The Ghost Circles and finally discover their own true natures in the climatic journey to The Crown of Horns.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “political viewpoints,” “racism,” and “violence.”
“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby…. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “sexual content,” “violence,” and “discussion of beastiality.”
“Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “homosexuality,” “offensive language,” and for being “sexually explicit.”
“Two fourth-grade boys who write comic books and love to pull pranks find themselves in big trouble. Mean Mr. Krupp, their principal, videotapes George and Harold setting up their stunts and threatens to expose them. The boys’ luck changes when they send for a 3-D Hypno-Ring and hypnotize Krupp, turning him into Captain Underpants, their own superhero creation.” – Good Reads
Challenged for “offensive language,” “violence,” and being “unsuited for age group.”
“Gone with the Wind is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell, 1st published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, GA, & Atlanta during the American Civil War & Reconstruction era. It depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea.” – Good Reads
Challenged as “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”
My daughter has a Facebook account. She’s 4 years old. (If you are Facebook, *Jedi Mind trick* this is not the ToS violation you’re looking for…)
You might wonder, “But, why?! Why does a 4 year old need a Facebook account?” She doesn’t. No one needs Facebook, though seemingly more and more our lives revolve around updating and uploading every minutiae of our lives. Could you imagine what people would think if we didn’t tweet our lunch menu?
The fact is, however, that Facebook is here. Facebook, Twitter, or something like it will always be part of… well, life. So will the internet for that matter. A 2011 Pew Internet and American Life study found that 95% of teens 12-17 are internet users. When I was 17, that number was about 70%. I couldn’t find any numbers for teen use for the internet when I was 12 (about 1995), but adult usage of the internet was only 14% of the population and the world wide web as we know it didn’t even exist when I was 4.
It’s also not just computers that kids are using; about 75% of teens 12-17 own a cell phone. That’s still not accounting for the number of other devices that connect kids with the internet: gaming consoles (Playstation, Xbox), handheld game consoles, mp3 players, tablets, e-readers, televisions. Our “online lives” are no longer limited to the hour or two (or three or four) spent in front of our desktop computers at home; now you carry your “online world” with you everywhere you go, 24/7.
I’d like to imagine that had I gotten a manual with my child when she was born, it would come with automatic updates to keep me apprised of all the new-fangled things kids have to deal with. As I get older, it’s more and more difficult to tell what’s cool (do they even say “cool” anymore?). It seems clear to me, though, that being online will be an integral part of my daughter’s life, whether I like it or not. So, she has a Facebook account. I help her type messages to her “Pawpaw,” who lives a few hours away. She shares pictures with her grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Most importantly, we talk. We talk about people she adds as friends. We discuss how pictures she uploads, even though she only shares them with her family, can be shared by others and could possibly be seen by anyone. She may not grasp the full implications of these discussions, but I like to think that I’m planting a seed. Hopefully years down the road, she will remember these little talks about the ramifications of the things she shares in her online world.
Counter to my point-of-view are those who would prefer to block children’s online access (Perils of Online Parenting in the Digital Age). As a parent I can definitely understand the need to protect your child, this sort of ache that spurs you into action when you think of a child in danger. Ultimately, I think that maintaining an open dialogue with children about their internet use, teaching them about the internet and how it works, is much more safe for them in the long run. There is absolutely nothing stopping my daughter from making her own Facebook account when she’s under 13 and posting personal information, pictures, or adding strangers as friends. By becoming involved in her online life, I can at least teach her. She will at least have some inkling of what safe computing is. And when the time comes, hopefully I’ve given her enough knowledge to make an informed decisions; she will make her own choices. But for now she’ll let me hold her hand (in so many ways), and I’ll try to prepare her for whatever I can.
Learn everything you can about the internet. Being familiar with the internet will not only help you understand the risks; it will also help you talk to your kids.
Set standards for what your kids can and cannot do online. It’s important to make rules for your kids so they know what’s expected of them. Don’t wait until something bad happens to start creating guidelines.
Teach your kids to keep personal information private. It’s usually a bad idea to post personal information online such as phone numbers, addresses, or credit cards. If a criminal gains access to this information, they can use it to harm you or your family.
Teach your kids to use social networking sites safely. Sites like Facebook allow kids (and adults) to share photos and videos of themselves, have conversations with friends and strangers, and more. If your kids share something with their friends, it’s still possible for it to get into the wrong hands. Generally, they should only post something online if they’re comfortable with everyone in the world seeing it.
Encourage your kids to come to you if they encounter a problem. If your child gets into trouble online, you’ll want them to come to you instead of hiding it. Keep in mind that your kids could accidentally encounter a bad site, even if they’re doing everything right.
Talk to your kids about internet use. Talk to your kids regularly about how they use the internet. If they’re in the habit of talking to you about the internet, they’ll be more willing to come to you if there is a problem.
What a treat! This week all you faithful readers essentially get two blogs in one. We were going to talk about trends in fiction, and after doing some research we discovered that we had each found one trend that truly interested us. These trends didn’t blend together very well, but we wouldn’t let something like that stop us. So we’ve done it more like separate blogs together in one post. I’ll start with a piece on writers who keep right on writing despite visits from the Grim Reaper, and then Christina will talk about clichés in young adult fiction.
Chris: What happens when a beloved writer passes away? Well, in some cases they keep right on writing! You might say they are ghostwriters.
Technically a ghostwriter is someone whose writing is credited to another person. A common example of this is the autobiography of a celebrity or athlete who wants to tell (or sell) their story but aren’t very good at writing. But I thought that ghostwriter sounded good for this subject as well.
Our first example is V. C. Andrews, who first achieved success in 1979 with Flowers in the Attic. Her most recent book in our libraries is Into the Darkness, a teen vampire book. It was released this year, and she has at least two books scheduled for release in 2013. Not bad for someone who passed away in 1986. That is not a typo: V. C. Andrews died in 1986 at the age of 63. So where do the over 50 books with her name on them published since then come from? From a ghost writer named Andrew Neiderman. Neiderman, who has several dozen novels under his own name, was hired by Andrews estate to write books under Andrews name, and he continues to do so today.
Our next case involves Douglas Adams, who wrote the wonderful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy five book trilogy series. Again, not a typo. His “trilogy” did consist of five books. And interestingly enough didn’t start out as books but as a BBC radio comedy. He suffered a fatal heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49. In 2009, with the full support of Adams’ estate, author Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) put out the sixth book in the “trilogy”. And Another Thing… was released on the 30 year anniversary of the publishing of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While And Another Thing… may not quite match up to the originals it does feature the eldritch horror Cthulhu going through a job interview. The book is worth reading for that part alone.
And then we have Robert Ludlum. Ludlum is best known for writing the Jason Bourne series of thrillers. He died in 2001 at the age of 73 after suffering severe burns in a mysterious fire. Following the success of the film adaptation of the Bourne Identity author Eric Van Lustbader received permission from the Ludlum estate to write more original Bourne novels, and has put out seven of them so far. These books feature both Ludlum’s and Lustbader’s names on the covers, indicating that it is Ludlum’s character but Lustbader’s writing.
James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was the author of a very successful fantasy series. I suspect that most of you have not heard of him. Rigney used a variety of pen names in his writing, and the one he used for fantasy novels was Robert Jordan. The series is the Wheel of Time, which has sold over 40 million copies to date. He originally planned for it to be a six book series, but as time went on he expanded that idea to twelve books. Unfortunately in 2006 Rigney revealed that he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, and he passed away in 2007 at the age of 58. He was working on the final volume of the series at the time of his death. Since he knew his time was short Rigney had shared his plans for the book with his family, and later in 2007 his widow, the poet and editor Harriet McDougal, chose author Brandon Sanderson to finish the series. Reviewing all the notes that Rigney had left behind, Sanderson concluded that the series couldn’t be wrapped up in a single volume. Instead the series has been expanded to a total of 14 books (plus a prequel), with Sanderson penning the last three of them, with the final one due out in January of 2013.
Christina: All awesome stuff. Now, ghostwriting isn’t a cliché, but if you’ve read a few Young Adult novels, you’ve come across some things that seem to keep popping up. It could be a coming-of-age story, an angsty drama, a hilarious comedy, a romance, a horror, etc., but these things sprout up like weeds.
They are the dreaded clichés of YA books.
I’ll list them for you here, but don’t despair! I have some suggestions after the list that avoid these tropes.
1.) Love triangles – This probably started with the King of YA books: Twilight. It seems to show up in every single YA book with a romance; the self-proclaimed “plain” main character suddenly has two guys vying for her affection. The problem is that they’re often there to serve up conflict in an otherwise boring story.
2.) Insta-love – Some people believe in love at first sight, but even if you do, you have to admit that love grows over time. Having things in common, respecting each other’s views, admiring positive qualities…all traits of love.
Insta-love, however, is when two characters fall in love for no real reason, except that they find each other attractive. “But he’s seriously hot” only goes so far, and doesn’t make up for a love interest who’s actually a huge jerk.
Even if he’s a saint, however, the book suffers from lack of a realistic romance, meaning one that grows into a loving relationship. Just as a car chase scene in an action movie is so much more exciting when you care about the people involved, a love story means so much more when you believe that these two are in love.
3.) Mean cheerleader/popular girl – If you haven’t seen Mean Girls yet, you should. It’s a hilarious, fantastic movie, and it’s pretty accurate in depicting how evil high school can be. Still, it’s a bit much to see the main character of a YA novel (often a girl) being bullied or taunted by the perfect, popular, often blond cheerleader/queen bee. Sure, this happens in real life, but the mean girl in question is usually one-dimensional. Miss Mean Girl has one mission in life: to make the main character as miserable as possible. Again, bullying is an unfortunately real experience, but having the future prom queen devote all of her spare time to such a cause seems unrealistic at best. What’s worse, she often exists in the story as someone out to steal away the heroine’s boyfriend.
Which brings us to…
4.) Non-human love interest – Obviously, vampires are still all the rage, but lately the otherworldly creatures that fictional girls are crushing on are werewolves and angels. All three are “dangerous”, “misunderstood”, and only have eyes for the protagonist.
Oh, and they’re not human. And they have powers. Plus they might be decades – or even centuries – older than their girlfriend. Gross.
This cliché has been done to death, and hopefully it won’t lead to scores of teen girls pining after a hunky version of The Swamp Thing.
5.) Funny best friend – Patton Oswalt has pointed out that the “fat, funny best friend” you often see in romantic comedies and sitcoms are always going to be in vogue, and he has a point. Plus the main character should have a friend, as even the unpopular kids in high school had their own clique. Still, I find myself often wishing that the book was about this friend, as s/he is funnier/more interesting/more intelligent than the main character. (If you feel the same way, check out The D.U.F.F. on the upcoming list)
6.) Mary Sues –
Oh, the dreaded Mary Sue. If you’re not familiar with this term, here is an explanation, but it basically describes a character that’s too good to be true. She’s beautiful, modest, kind, intelligent…any positive trait you can think of, she’s got it (The male counterpart is a Gary Stu). The problem is that what makes a character interesting is his/her flaws, and therefore Mary Sues make for a boring story.
Your head might be reeling at all this negativity, but rejoice! There are great YA books out there that stand out. Here are just some of them:
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! The Olympics are in full swing (and will continue through August 12th) showcasing the rise, and sometimes nasty falls, of the world’s best athletes.
There’s been plenty of controversy over the Olympics: from doping allegations to teams throwing games; even the television broadcasts have come under fire! So while you’re waiting for your favorite games to come back from commercials, check out some of these Olympic reads:
“Private, the world’s most renowned investigation firm, has been commissioned to provide security for the 2012 Olympic games in London. When the games are threatened by a madman bent on returning the Olympics to their ancient glory, will they be able to uncover and stop him before he destroys the Olympics?”
“Cyclists Zoe and Kate are friends and athletic rivals for Olympic gold, while Kate and her husband Jack, also a world-class cyclist, must contend with the recurrence of their young daughter’s leukemia.”
“‘Dream Team’ documents the story of the Olympic squad that won the gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games, assessing the achievements and legacy of some of the NBA’s greatest players, including Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley.”
“August 1936: The eyes of the world are on Berlin, where Adolf Hitler is using the Olympic Games to showcase his powerful new regime. Cynical British journalist Richard Denham knows that the carefully staged spectacle masks the Nazis’ ruthless brutality, and he’s determined to report the truth.”
“The eyes of the world watched as three runners–dirt poor Johnny Hayes, who used to run barefoot through the streets of New York City; candymaker Dorando Pietri; and the famed Tom Longboat–converged for an epic battle at the 1908 London Olympics. Standing next to Cait Murphy’s Crazy ’08 as an invaluable look at a bygone sporting era, this dramatic narrative is aimed at the recordsetting number of marathon participants in the United States (more than 500,000 in 2010!) and nicely for the return of the Olympics to London in 2012”
“After fourteen-year-old Joey experiences her first kiss and learns that her best friend wants to quit competitive gymnastics, she considers giving up her dream of winning gold medals in order to have a normal life, even as her sister and assistant coach urge her to reach a new level.”
Speaking of literary Olympics, from 1912 to 1948 there actually were Olympic art competitions. The first gold medal in literature was awarded for a piece called “Ode au Sport” by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. Of course, it was submitted under a pseudonym; we wouldn’t want any Olympic controversy, would we?
With the explosion of social networking and the ubiquitous sharing and posting of so much information online, the way we communicate has forever changed. As such, we should be ensuring that we and our fellow compadres understand our responsibilities for conduct online. Of which an important component of that is Cyber Ethics. Cyber Ethics refers to the code of responsible behavior on the Internet, and as good “cyber citizens” we should all employ the basic tenets of them.
Who Should Be Concerned About Cyber Ethics?
Cyber ethics should be taught and reinforced at every level of computer use—from the beginner just learning to navigate a computer and the Internet, to an information professional whose job requires significant use of online resources. In the same way that each culture teaches its citizens the ethics of business, education, government, etc., those who use the Internet should be taught ethical practices in every aspect of its use.
Why Should We Be Concerned About Cyber Ethics?
The power of the Internet means that anyone can communicate at anytime, with anyone, anywhere. While this has undeniable benefits, there can also be negative consequences. Anonymous posting to blogs, websites and social media can encourage bad behavior by eliminating the need to stand behind the words used.
A significant issue of increasing concern is cyber bullying. What were once comments confined to the school yard or hallways are now magnified by the power and anonymity of the Internet. Developments in electronic media offer new forums for bullies, and the actions can range in severity from cruel or embarrassing rumors to threats, harassment, or stalking. The effects can be far-reaching and long lasting.
What Are The Rules Of Ethical Cyber Activity?
The basic rule is do not do something in cyber space that you would consider wrong or illegal in everyday life.
When determining responsible behaviors, consider the following:
Do not use rude or offensive language.
Don’t be a bully on the Internet. Do not call people names, lie about them, send embarrassing pictures of them, or do anything else to try to hurt them.
Do not copy information from the Internet and claim it as yours.
Adhere to copyright restrictions when downloading material, including software, games, movies, or music from the Internet.
Do not break into someone else’s computer.
Do not use someone else’s password.
Do not attempt to infect or in any way try to make someone else’s computer unusable.
We were taught the rules of “right and wrong” growing up. We just need to apply the same rules to cyber space!
Resources For More Information
**Available at our Jackson County Public Library:**
How do teens know when they might be “one click away from the clink”?
The Youth Media Awards are kind of like the librarian’s version of the Oscars. (Minus the fancy dresses, glitz & glamour, and the red carpet.) Just two days ago, Fontana Regional Libraries were closed due to snow. Where was I to be found? I was on the edge of my seat as the American Library Association announced the winners of these prestigious awards such as the Newbery and Caldecott medals. And by “edge of my seat,” I mean on my couch in my pajamas, constantly refreshing their Twitter page to view the latest winner.
Clare Vanderpool won the Newbery Medal for her debut book, Moon Over Manifest. The novel tells the story of a Depression-era girl named Abilene, who spends a summer apart from her father and solving a mystery in Manifest, Kansas. I put this on my “to read” list immediately and can’t wait to sit down with it.
This year’s Caldecott Medal went to Erin E. Stead for her woodblock and pencil illustrations in A Sick Day for Amos McGee. The book is the debut of her husband, Philip C. Stead, who wrote the text with his wife’s artistic style in mind. This is another one I’m eager to get my hands on – just check out that beautiful cover.
The Printz Award, which is given out for excellence in young adult literature, went to Paulo Bacigalupi’s futuristic dystopia, Ship Breaker. People are forced to gather scrap metal from beached oil tankers in order to make a living, until a mysterious girl appears in a shipwreck.
Dear faithful readers, I need your help. It’s an odd request I’ll admit, but I need some suggestions. I have only read two books that have made me cry this year: Olive’s Oceanand Mockingjay. (What? Futuristic, dystopian novels don’t make you weep, too?) Sure, I also teared up a little when I re-read Katsa and Po’s struggle at the end of Graceling, but it didn’t quench my thirst for that profound, moving experience that has been mostly absent from my reading life this year.
We have many people that ask us for recommendations in their search for something light to read, something funny, something cozy. I’m on the exact opposite end of the spectrum: the more tissues I have to use, the better. The puffier my eyes get, the happier I am. It means I have found a book that engages and challenges me emotionally. If you’re one of the oddballs like me, someone who’s always craving the next tear-jerker, I have some recommendations for you. They’re all very different books that will (hopefully) make you cry for very different reasons.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: A WWII novel narrated by Death. Need I say more? I stayed up until 2:00am reading this and came into work at the library the next morning with sore, puffy eyes.
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić: How do children experience war? This novel depicts the Bosnian war of the ’90s through the eyes of a young boy growing up among the chaos. It’s also a very genuinely funny book… that is, it’s funny during the parts you’re not crying.
Atonement by Ian McEwan: With about two sentences near the end, this book challenged the way I view fiction… and had me sobbing.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman: A teenage girl awakes in a limbo between life and death. Her family has just been in a terrible car accident, her parents have died, and her brother has also been rushed the hospital. Does she choose to stay or move on?
Driftless by David Rhodes: The characters in this novel slowly creep up on you, through their trials and tribulations in rural Southwestern Wisconsin.
If movies are more your preference, try these cryworthy films:
And if you ask my boyfriend, the saddest movie ever is Pixar’s Up.
Now, what do you have for me? I don’t like saccharine, schmaltzy sad things, nor do I usually cry over the run of the mill sad love stories of star-crossed lovers. What would you recommend? Or am I the only sad book fan out here?