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Author: Chelsea Condren

The Time I Cried All Over David Levithan (Or: Representation Matters)

We talk a lot about the importance of representation here at The Hub. Your friendly neighborhood bloggers are incredibly passionate about the ways in which YA literature is not only capable of expanding horizons, but of affirming the existence of teens who might otherwise not see themselves reflected in media-whether it’s because they’re a person of color, or gay, or trans, or all of the above, or whether they are simply just going through a difficult time.

Now I want to tell you a story.

Picture, if you will, the year 2003. It was a different time. Cropped tops were worn to display pierced belly buttons, not over structured high-waisted pants. Teens on the Internet mostly frequented blogging sites like Xanga or Livejournal. Most of us still didn’t have cell phones. We had not yet begun to make “fetch” happen (by the way, Happy 10th anniversary, Mean Girls!). And the LGBT young adult literature scene was a delicate, fledgling baby bird.

boy meets boy2003 was also the year David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy came out. I was almost a freshman in high school. I wore studded belts, wanted to dye my hair purple, wrote really sad poetry, and had just recently [spoiler alert] watched Tara Maclay die on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although I believe this episode had aired about two years prior. Tara was the first lesbian character I had ever seen who wasn’t straight off the pages of a Virginia Wolf novel (I was a precocious kid), who talked and looked like most other girls on television but just so happened to be gay.

And she died. 

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Three’s a Crowd? The Future of Trilogies in YA Literature

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The ubiquity of trilogies (particularly if they are dystopian or otherwise fantastical) in young adult literature has been a topic of frequent discussion in the past few years. And for good reason. It seems like just yesterday I read the first in the epic The Hunger Divergent Mortal Legends trilogy. All joking aside, these books have all sold countless copies, sparked film adaptions (or rumored films) and had an incredible amount of crossover appeal. And I want to make it clear that I don’t consider myself immune to the hype surrounding dystopian trilogies, or trilogies in general. I was there opening weekend for Divergent and Catching Fire just like you, and I love those worlds.

But I also suspect that some of us are burnt out. It’s become commonplace to read a YA novel cover to cover with the understanding that all of this will be explained in the second or third installment. I’d argue that while most novels are judged like films for their ability to stand alone as a piece of media, trilogies work more like watching a miniseries. You know there’s more coming later, so it’s okay if you miss something the first time around. I’m not sure why three is the exact magic number, either. I think we can speculate–personally, I think one sequel is often one too few but by the fourth book one starts to wonder if the author gets paid by the word. Or perhaps there’s an inherent literary quality about trilogies that a full series lacks. The Lord of the Rings does tend to have a more erudite quality than, say, the Fear Street Saga. (Which, by the way, I love. You should all re-read the Fear Street Books. Trust me on this.) 

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Vampire Academy Movie Review: Smart and Self-Aware

To be honest, Vampire Academy has flown under the YA radar compared to, say, Twilight or The Hunger Games. In the age of supernatural teen romance, separating one series from another can be confusing. And that’s a shame for Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy (a 2008 Teens’ Top Ten winner), because there is something refreshingly snarky, self-aware and interesting about the series. In a sea of vampires and werewolves Vampire Academy stands out because of its acerbic tone and surprising focus on a strong friendship between two young women, as opposed to romance (which there is still plenty of).  And when I heard the Waters brothers (famous for Mean Girls and Heathers) were set to write and direct this film, it became even more imperative that I check it out opening weekend.

Rotten Tomatoes has given Vampire Academy a horrifying 9%, which just goes to show that I don’t care how adult men feel about teenage movies (unless they are actually the Waters brothers). However, the audience rating is 78% and gives the film an average of 4 out of 5 stars, which is exactly on point, in my opinion. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I’m inclined to rate it somewhere near Jennifer’s Body in the tradition of “movies parents just don’t understand but that speak authentically to the teen girl experience as supernatural metaphor.” 

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ALA Midwinter 2014: Youth Media Awards

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The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia had its hands full on Monday, January 28, as a room full of excited librarians, publishers, authors, and other industry professionals breathlessly awaited the start of the annual Youth Media Awards. In fact, by the time I arrived (bleary-eyed and bushy tailed) at the convention center, it was 7:55 AM and there was no official room left for audience members. Instead, I found a seat in a “spillover” room where the awards were being broadcasted live on a screen. By 8:30 AM, the spillover room was entirely full.

My friend who called the YMAs “the librarian Oscars” was pretty spot-on, after all.

It’s hard to describe how incredible it was to witness people applaud, groan, cheer, whisper, and even shed tears over children’s and young adult literature. It’s even harder to describe how it felt to sit next to perfect strangers at 8 AM on a Monday morning knowing that they were just as passionate as you about youth media. Suffice it to say that I have never seen a room full of introverts whoop and holler so loudly before. For those who aren’t “in the know,” I would describe the purpose of the YMAs, in part, as providing “those fancy silver and gold stickers you see on the covers of books.”

But it’s more than fancy stickers, of course.

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In Defense of Gossip Girl

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photo by flickr user Josh Meek

In the 2012 film 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum’s character enjoyed his popularity quite a bit in high school. When he goes back, years later, as an undercover cop, he assumes high school has stayed the same–that homophobic jokes, making fun of nerds and not trying hard in school will help him relive his glory days. In fact (spoiler alert) he discovers that the landscape of high school has changed. The new popular kids are good students, LGBT-accepting, and nice to everyone. The tables have turned, and what follows is both hilarious and oddly realistic.

I’m worried that some YA authors are making the same mistake. Why does young adult literature assume that all its readers are coming from a particular social situation? Why do we lump together entire groups of people as “shallow” so that our precocious narrator looks down on them? Even the Harry Potter series, my all time favorite, leaves a bad taste in my mouth regarding Lavender Brown, Ron’s first girlfriend. She and her friends are portrayed as simpering and idiotic compared to the virtuous, brilliant Hermione. Or how about in Twilight where Bella instantly writes off practically an entire school of people? Is it fair to say that some authors are projecting their own high school insecurities by writing thinly-veiled versions of themselves who orchestrate revenge, or at least quietly devastating wit, on the social elite? Perhaps.

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Teens’ Top Ten: An Introduction to David Levithan

Photo Jul 03, 8 11 39 PMOver 32,000 teen readers cast their vote for the 2013 Teens’ Top Ten, and The Hub is celebrating their choices! Today we feature David Levithan, whose book Every Day is #8 on this year’s Teen’s Top Ten list. 

every dayEvery Day tells the story of “A,”who wakes up in the body of a different person every single day, and the improbable, breathtaking romance between A and a girl named Rhiannon.

David Levithan has been such an instrumental part of making LGBTQ stories a forefront for YA literature, and he has been writing for long enough that I was lucky enough to read some of it when I was still a teen. In 2003 YA literature, while still flourishing, looked a bit different than it does now, and LGBTQ-themed novels where nobody died or came out dramatically were hard to come by. As someone who did not die or come out dramatically, Levithan’s work was in many ways lifesaving for me. I like Levithan in part because I like a male author who writes female characters well, and I especially like a male author who paints queer female characters with the same careful, intricate brushstrokes he lends to their queer male counterparts. In short, Levithan’s work played a huge role in my adolescent years, and I’m always a bit baffled when people tell me they have not yet read anything by someone who constitutes a veritable giant in YA literature.

The Hub featured an interview with David Levithan not too long ago, so to celebrate his Teens’ Top Ten win, I’ve put together a “primer” or introduction to some of his most significant and diverse contributions to YA literature. 

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Why Do We Ban Books, Anyway?

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Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

The end of Banned Books Week is almost upon us. Banned Books Week celebrates readers everywhere and encourages us to pick up a book whose content has, at some point, been questioned. Chances are, you love a book that has ended up on a banned books list, although you might not realize it yet. Everything from the Harry Potter series to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, has been challenged in a public or school setting.

Common reasons for materials being challenged include “violence,” “racism,” “offensive language,” “sexually explicit” content, and of course, being “unsuited for age group.” With reasons like these, you can imagine how wide the range of challenged materials is. It also might not come as a surprise that E L James’ buzzworthy 50 Shades of Grey trilogy made the top ten list of 2012’s most challenged titles.

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Genre Guide: Young Adult Humor

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It is almost impossible to define or categorize what constitues a “humor book” versus a “book that is funny.” Nonetheless, I think it is important to be able to point to books that have an overarching comic, comedic, or humorous plot. These are the books I will label as part of the “humor” genre, even though humor is a lot more complicated and broad than that.

Definition

According to arbitrary rules of comedy that comedians/comic writers break all the time, a comic plot is one that continues to escalate, or “raise the stakes,” until it is fundamentally resolved in some manner, and ends with the general success of the protagonist, often (but not necessarily) romantically. I’m personally going to say that a young adult humor book is one in which some comedic device, whether it’s a classic trope like the ol’ mistaken identity trick, or something more complex, like a plot that relies a lot on situational irony, takes up most of the plot. The plot can still include romance, fantastical or science fiction elements, tragedy, etc.

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That’s Not Very Feminist of You, Bella: Feminism and YA Romance Novels

by flickr user msmornington
by flickr user msmornington
The problem with writing about feminism is that first you have to know what it is. Ask a Men’s Rights Activist what feminism is and he’d probably say, “Feminism is the movement to kill all men and rule the world under matriarchy.” Ask an internet pop feminist what feminism is and she’d probably say, “Everything women do is feminist! Cupcakes are feminist! I can be a feminist and wear dresses!” I’m exaggerating these two perspectives, but only slightly.

You can certainly be a feminist and wear dresses, so please stop being so defensive about it (unless there is some sort of grumpy anti-dress feminist committee that I am unaware of). And I like a healthy dose of misandry as much as the next girl. But the problem with feminism is that every working definition of it is constantly undermined, criticized, or amended, for both good and bad reasons. “Feminism is about equality between men and women,” say third wave feminists, born of the 1990s and living in the wake of their 1970’s second-wave foremothers. “But equality is a nonsense word anyway, because binary concepts like male and female necessarily involve power dynamics. Feminism is about deconstructing these labels and liberating us once and for all,” say post modern/epistemological feminists. “Collaboration between women will never happen until most feminists realize how feminism has consistently ignored women of color, lesbians, disabled women, and other marginalized groups,” intersectional feminists rightly point out. And so on and so forth.

Why am I making your head spin when we’re here to talk about feminism and romance novels?

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