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Lady Lazarus: Sylvia Plath & YA Literature

2014 November 28
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photo by flickr user Todd Mecklem

photo by flickr user Todd Mecklem

So, every year around this time, I reread The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It’s just a habit I’ve had since I was a teenager; it gets to be about time for my birthday, and I suddenly know what book I’ll be reading next. It’s comforting in a way that signals a new year for me and winter’s fast approach. This year, after my yearly reading, I decided to branch out a bit to see how Sylvia Plath has influenced and been incorporated into teen literature.

I had noticed two things over the past year that influenced this decision which surprised me. First one – every year I give away books for our Teen Summer Reading program, and I always have The Bell Jar as a choice. This year, I ran out of copies of that book. That got me thinking, and then what cemented it was an increase in teen patrons asking to check out the book. And, it never being on the shelf – I always had to place a request for interested patrons. I mean, it would have been her 82nd birthday on October 27th – but, not like a major milestone like a 100th birthday like in the case of poet Dylan Thomas. But, I noticed a lot of new books being published on Sylvia that included nonfiction and fiction. Maybe readers are just noticing these new books and wanting to go back to read her seminal work – who knows? All I know is it got me interested enough to want to recommend not only some old favorites that incorporate Sylvia into their story, but some newer titles I think readers might be interested in knowing about.

I’ll lead with the book that started this whole long convoluted journey for me…

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: So, yes – my very favorite book of all time. Originally published under a pseudonym in 1963, The Bell Jar tells the semi-autobiographical tale of Sylvia’s time in New York and beyond, starting with her time as an intern at a very prestigious magazine. Esther Greenwood is having a breakdown – she is questioning her place in the world as a woman, a girlfriend, an intellect, and how all those things feel like weights on her shoulders. Esther brings to life the feelings of confusion, sadness and anger in such a realistic way that I think readers come to see Esther as a friend and someone who might possibly be vocalizing their own real feelings in a way they were unable to do. I’ve had teen readers tell me that in the book they recognized themselves and suddenly the world felt a little less lonely. A story of finding yourself and questioning everything that will certainly appeal to readers who are navigating the tricky waters of personhood.

Belzhar by Meg WolitzerBelzhar by Meg Wolitzer: This is one of the new books I was telling you about! Published just a few months ago, Belzhar tells the story of Jam. Her boyfriend, Reeve, has died and she just can’t cope – the sadness is overwhelming. Her parents decide to send her to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school that helps teens deal with difficult life situations in a way that they can return to their normal lives. What’s interesting about The Wooden Barn is that there is a very special class being offered – Special Topics in English. Doesn’t sound so special, but it is in that the teacher, Mrs. Quenell, specially chooses which students will be in her special topics class. She has chosen 5 students for this year’s class – Mrs. Quenell’s last one – and the special topic they’ll be studying – Sylvia Plath and her writing. All the students are required to write in journals that Mrs. Quenell has given them…and that’s when it turns strange. Jam realizes that when she writes in her journal she travels to a place where Reeve is still alive and she can be with him. But, she has to make a choice – to be with Reeve forever is to leave everything else behind. And, good grief, the big reveal at the end (and there are a couple) made me gasp out loud. An interesting study of Sylvia Plath and the depths of human emotion. read more…

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Emmy Laybourne

2014 November 28
by Jennifer Rummel
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The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

The votes are in for 2014, and the winners have been announced– and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with Emmy Laybourne, who is on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list for Monument 14: Sky on Fire.

 

 

How does it feel to be chosen in the Teens Top 10?
It feels absolutely fantastic that Sky On Fire was chosen as a Teens Top 10. It’s one thing to make it onto lists that booksellers put together, and entirely another to be put forward by teens themselves. Plus, check out the other names on the list! Holy smokes! Brandon Sanderson? Rick Yancey? Rainbow “my hero” Rowell?! I’m floored and honored beyond belief!

Do you think acting helped in your writing career?
Absolutely. It helped me to know how to create a character (and when you’re writing a book with fourteen kids trapped in a superstore together – you are juggling a lot of them). Working as an actor also taught me a lot about taking care of myself so that I can do good work. For example, when I’m drafting a book I go to bed early, I eat three square meals a day (with plenty of protein), I get to my office at the same time each day. I treat myself well so that I can produce! read more…

Tweets of the Week: November 28th

2014 November 28
by Traci Glass
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Happy Day after Thanksgiving, Hub Readers! I hope you all had time to be thankful yesterday; I know I sure did! Be sure to check out these tweets of the week with news about Constantine, an awesome list of songs from some of my fave teen books & of course, Batman!  In case you missed it…I’m here to compile it all for you!

tweets of the week | the hub

Books & Reading

read more…

The Hub Bloggers Give Thanks

2014 November 27
by Allison Tran
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ThankIt’s a Thanksgiving tradition! At this time each year, the bloggers here at The Hub pause to take stock of what we’re thankful for in the world of young adult literature this year.

  • Sharon Rawlins
    I’m thankful for the continuation of The Walking Dead TV series (it just keeps getting better & better) and it has inspired me to read the comics it’s based on; for the great books I’ve been listening to on my long commute to work (A. S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was my latest “listen/read” and it was great, as all her books are); my fellow bloggers who write such inventive and inspiring posts; and my YA colleagues and the teens I meet who get me when I gush over the latest YA book I’ve read & loved. And, lastly for John Green, because, well, he’s John Green!
  • Faythe Arredondo
    This year I am grateful for Isabel Quintero and her book Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. It was the first time I recognized people I currently know and grew up with and read about situations I have witnessed.  I am also thankful for Lauren Oliver’s Panic which has characters who are low-income and struggling to get by.  We don’t see enough of those characters!
  • Whitney Etchison
    I’m thankful that YA lit creates a love for reading in people young and old!
  • Geri Diorio
    I am thankful for the YA literature community. The authors who write amazing things and who open themselves up on social media so their readers can “meet” them. The librarians who share book recommendations and who do not judge what people choose to read. The teens who are such huge fans of YA lit, who run into the Teen Center at the Library, shouting about the book they just read – they are so ardent in their love for the written word! And the YA Lit bloggers who read and write and argue and share so much because they care so much.

read more…

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: Appreciating Rick Yancey

2014 November 27
by Geri Diorio
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teens top ten logoThousands of teens across the country spent the summer reading the Teens’ Top Ten nominees. Voting for the top ten happened this autumn, and Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave is a winner!

This u5thwavecovernique alien invasion novel was a critical and popular success when it came out last May. It is also a hit in Hollywood since it is being made into a 2016 movie starring Chloe Grace Moretz. And it certainly is a hit with teens since they voted it number 5 on the YALSA Teens’ Top Ten list for 2014.

The 5th Wave tells the story of life on earth after four waves of an alien invasion. The novel follows two young humans who are trying to survive at all costs: Cassie, a 16 year old whose best friend is her rifle, and Zombie, a 17 year old who used to be known as Ben and who used to be a jock, but who is now a militaristic killing machine. Readers never find out why aliens are invading the planet or why they are trying to eliminate humans, but these questions are almost superfluous as the survival tales of the two teens are so gripping and heart rending.

Yancey is a popular author with two other terrific YA series.alfredkroppcover

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp series follows a young man who gets roped into outrageous adventures by his uncle. Car chases, parachuting, snowmobiling – there is plenty of action in these novels as Alfred goes looking for ancient artifacts like King Arthur’s sword or King Solomon’s seals.

The Monstrumologist series garnered Yancey a Printz honor for the first book. It tells the story of young orphan Will Henry who taken under the wing of a doctor, a doctor Monstrumologistcoverof monstrumology. Monsters are real, and Dr. Warthrop hunts them…with Will’s help. The series is scary and gory and a delight to fans of horror.

The Hub encourages you to read The 5th Wave (and all the Teens’ Top Ten titles) and once you have gotten hooked, why not read The Infinite Sea, the second book of The 5th Wave which just came out in September?

~ Geri Diorio, currently reading The Infinite Sea

2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Brandon Sanderson

2014 November 26
by Jennifer Rummel
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The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

The votes are in for 2014, and the winners have been announced– and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with Brandon Sanderson, who appears TWICE on this year’s list, for his books The Rithmatist and Steelheart.

You’ve been writing for years, why turn towards YA?
I dipped my toes into middle grade with my Alcatraz series soon after I got published. I hadn’t written a YA before, but I wanted to—for the same reason I write epic fantasy: there are awesome things I can do in in epic fantasy that I can’t do in other genres. And there are awesome things I can do in teen fiction that I don’t feel I can get away with in the same way in adult fiction.

Science fiction and fantasy have a very fascinating connection with YA fiction. If you look at some of the series I loved as a youth—the Wheel of Time, Shannara, and the Eddings books, for example—these have enormous teen crossover. In fact, when you get to something like the Eddings books, you’ve got to wonder if they would’ve been shelved in the teen section in a later era.

Back up even further to the juveniles that were written by Heinlein and others, and we see that teen fiction has been an integral part of science fiction and fantasy. Some of the early fantasy writings—things like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and C.S. Lewis’s works—were foundational in how the fantasy genre came to be.

So YA feels like a very natural thing for me to be writing because I enjoy it and I respect what it has done for the genres.

How did it feel to have 2 books on the Top Ten list this year?
I’m honored and grateful that teens are enjoying my books.

read more…

Jukebooks: Every Breath by Ellie Marney

2014 November 26
by Diane Colson
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Every BreathMycroft and Watts are two very different teens,  but as best friends they balance each other perfectly. James Mycroft – brilliant and scarred  – has found a caretaker and best mate in Rachel Watts – a deceptively ordinary girl. When they discover Homeless Dave in the park with his throat cut, the pair launches an investigation a la Sherlock and Holmes. As they mull over the evidence, one of their friends recalls a line from Chuck Palahnuik’s book, Fight Club: “Live or die – Every breath is a choice.” This line will return later in the book when Watts and Mycroft find themselves in mortal danger, realizing each breath could be their last.

“Every Breath You Take” is a haunting song released in 1983 by the Police, a British trio with roots in 70s the punk scene. The song has a tension to it that creates an ominous mood: Is this a love song or a threat? Lead singer Sting’s intensity in the music video indicates it might be the latter….

-Diane Colson, currently reading an advance readers copy of The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

YA Lit Symposium: Book Covers and Reality

2014 November 26
by Faythe Arredondo
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YALSA_LitSymposium2014Continuing The Hub’s coverage of YALSA’s 2014 YA Lit Symposium, I’m here to give you a peek at two of the most thought-provoking sessions I attended.

Talking Book Covers with Young Adults: Whitewashing, Sexism and More

I don’t even know how to begin to summarize this session.

YA LitAllie Jane Bruce presented on her work with sixth graders and books. The reaction from the kids is what stole the presentation; I couldn’t write them all down fast enough. I’m not going to try and quote them all, but if you check out Allie’s posts here, you can see all their thoughts about the book covers they were shown. I highly recommend you look through the posts: really amazing things.

One takeaway from this session was that even young teens can see how problematic book covers are and the patterns they were able to see.

Following Allie’s presentation, Malindo Lo and Jacqueline Woodson continued the conversation about book covers. They pointed out that different backgrounds can add to the discussion. They also emphasized Rudine Sims Bishop’s thoughts that literature needs more mirrors than windows. read more…

Comfort Food ~ Comfort Books

2014 November 26
by Geri Diorio
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hot-soupThe weather is getting colder, the seasons are changing, and I don’t know about you, but I am turning to comfort foods like soups, oatmeal, hot cider, and roasts. I’m also turning to comfort reads – I’m not a re-reader but at this time of year, I do tend to grab familiar, comforting genres – 1950s science fiction, historical romances – stories where I know there’s a happy ending. These things bring me comfort when I’m cold, tired, and maybe even at my wits’ end with holiday preparations. I asked Hub bloggers what their comfort food and comfort reads are. Their responses invoke the warmth of the familiar and cozy.

What’s your comfort read? What about your comfort food? Let us know in the comments. Recipes are welcome!

~Geri Diorio, currently reading The Infinite Sea

secret garden2My comfort food has been and always will be mashed potatoes. I could eat them every single day and never grow tired of them. My husband makes the best ever, with lots of butter and cream
mashed-potatoes(fortunately he only makes them once or twice a year, or I’d be in trouble!). If I’m sick, if I’ve had a bad day, if I’m stressed out- mashed potatoes fix me up every time. I have been known to order food in a restaurant based solely on whether or not the side dish is mashed potatoes. My comfort read…well, that’s a little harder to figure out. I have comfort “sections” of books- probably something I got from Mary Anne Spier in The Babysitters Club, since she always turned to certain parts of Little Women to comfort herself. If I’m picking a single book that I turn to more often than any other, though, it’s going to be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The hope that fills that book is inspiring- hope that even a sour little girl used to being unloved can learn and grow and become loving herself, that a boy who has spent his whole life believing he’s going to die young can heal from the inside out, that even in a place that seems designed to suck the joy out of a child happiness and love can bloom. When I need a pick me up, the end of The Secret Garden is a good place to start!
~ Carla Land read more…

YA Lit Symposium: Using Multicultural YA Literature to Examine Racism in the Lives of Teens of Color

2014 November 25
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YALSA_LitSymposium2014For my last session on Saturday afternoon of YALSA’s 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium, I had the luck to attend an excellent workshop focused on utilizing young adult literature to examine and discuss effects of racism on the lives of teens of color.  Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Julie Stivers, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, shared recent research, exemplary young adult literature, and several practical teaching strategies.

The session began by exploring the question: “how do youth of color experience stereotypes?” Using images from recent viral social media campaigns such the #itooamberkeley campaign as well as passages from young adult novels discussing stereotypes, the presenters reminded the audience of the urgent need for these conversations.  Dr. Hughes-Hassell and Ms. Stivers then began modeling best practices in having conversations about race and privilege by setting conversational norms and encouraged us to put these norms into practice during a ‘pair & share’ reflection on the images & passages.

The presenters continued to model best practices in conducting these conversations by setting out working definition for key terms, including racism, white privilege, microaggressions, the achievement gap, and the opportunity gap.  Drawing on a great variety of recent research, they then shared a range of relevant statistics and data concerning intersections between racial identity and poverty, health, and education in America. The excellent infographics and strong examples created a great starting place for the workshop–after all what group of librarians and educators could resist a pool of well-documented and clearly relevant data?  Afterwards, Dr. Hughes-Hassell and Ms. Stivers pulled together several overarching statements to contextualize this data again:

  • All youth are aware of race.
  • White privilege appears in curriculum, in school structures, in libraries, and countless other aspects of teens’ everyday lives.
  • Research has shown that positive racial identity leads to academic success.

This final statement specifically refers to a 2009 report by Drs. M. Hanley and G.W. Noblit titled “Cultural responsiveness, racial identity and academic success: a review of literature,” which can be found on this page of the Heinz Endowments website. read more…