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Author: Michelle Blank

YA Worlds and Rides

hogsmeade wizarding world harry potterAfter recently returning from a trip to Florida where I stepped through the gates of Universal Orlando, dragged my children as quickly as possible to the back of the park, and … experienced an EPIC GEEK MOMENT! When we rounded onto the first view of Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (even with its inconsistencies), our entire family gaped and our inner geeks screamed, “I am home.” It was excellent! My only complaint is that there needs to be more: the common rooms, the prefects’ bathroom, Diagon Alley, Gringotts — more! Yes, some of this is in the works, but it could never be enough for the die-hards. As a side note, the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride may just be the best ride ever created.

This experience got me thinking, and asking, what other books that teens love would make good amusement parks or rides? What if there were a Lord of the Rings world? Visitors could fight off orcs in a simulation of Helm’s Deep, or walk through the Shire complete with a stop in Bag End, or ride in a boat down the River Anduin and over the Falls of Rauros or in a roller coaster through the Mines of Moria. I asked some teens for ideas, and many responded with great concepts. Most of them came from very well-known and popular books. Of course, everyone wanted a Hunger Games ride or park. Ideas included “a Capitol aircraft that flies you through the thirteen districts” or “a paint ball arena” or a “simulated arena where you fight it out with the other tributes.” Frankly, that last one scares me a bit. The Maze Runner, The Mortal Instruments, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth also merited ideas, including letting “the zombies out of the fence to chase the visitors out at closing.”

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The Peter Pan Predicament

If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!
— J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Peter-pan-peter-pan-15865703-1024-768Do you ever experience any of the following:

  • Wondering if a lull in your co-workers’ conversation means they were talking about you?
  • Trying on multiple outfits to make sure you have just the right look?
  • Questioning (with a slight sense of anticipation) the meaning of the gas station clerk’s, “Have a good night” to you when it’s only 3:00 in the afternoon. Could it be some sort of code indicating that you’re the chosen one to save the world from the Capital, Dark Lord, Empire, mean girl in the locker room, …?
  • Rushing to meet your husband as he returns home from work to be sure you don’t waste one moment of your time together, feeling his kiss burn on your skin even after he’s pulled away, and seeing a slight sparkle as his arm passes through a shaft of sunlight streaming from the window?

twilight-sagaThese could be signs of a YA book-induced Peter Pan Predicament: the state in which we, sound-minded adults, revert, just a bit, to our teenage selves as a result of reading too many YA novels (if there can ever be too many).

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Teens as Caregivers in YA Novels

November is National Caregiver Month, a time to celebrate the caregivers in our lives. Who do you think of? I’m from a pretty traditional background, so I think of my parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. But I also was cared for by friends and mentors along the way. Just as each of us knows the importance of these people in our lives, so do many authors, and the theme of caregiving resounds from the pages of YA literature.

In many cases the teen characters of YA books are caregivers to each other. A group of friends (or enemies in some cases) will band together to survive against long odds or battle a tyrannical government. This is especially the case with many dystopian novels and is one of the reasons we love YA so. We see this in books like the Ashfall (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults) series by Mike Mullin, the Chaos Walking (2009 Best Books for Young Adults) series by Patrick Ness, the Ship Breaker (2011 Printz Award) series by Paolo Bacigalupi, the Lost (2011 Teens’ Top Ten Nominee) novels by Michael Grant, and the Unwind trilogy (2011 Top Ten Popular Paperbacks) by Neal Shusterman.

However, there some other ways in which teen characters are presented as caregivers.

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The Next Big Thing in Banned Books

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

It’s that time of year again! While most of the world has no idea to which time I’m referring, those of us who make books our business are perfectly aware that it is Banned Books Week. This is a week we wait for all year: storing up thoughts to share on our blogs and with random passers-by concerning intellectual freedom and the place books play in the dispersion of ideas; carefully considering which books to display in order to get people discussing issues they may not regularly take up; painstakingly deciding how much “shock and awe” our communities can handle as we make banners and posters urging everyone to THINK!

Before we look forward at the next big thing in banned books, let’s take a quick look back at some of the trends in banning and challenging throughout the years.

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People First: Disabilities in YA Lit

“You’re really pretty for someone in a wheel chair.”

As hard as it is for some to believe, YA novels are not all supernatural romance books about sparkly vampires or good vs evil, save-the-world-by-finding-the-chosen-one-and-watching-him/her/it uncover-special-powers-intended-to-overcome-the-forces-of-darkness novels. Okay, maybe lots of them fall into these categories, and, if we’re honest, we all have our favorites among them. However, many YA novels offer a deeper and more realistic look at life, self-discovery, and what it means to move toward adulthood as a part of a larger community. They help the reader see the world from a different perspective. One of these perspectives is that of a person with a disability.

I know there is controversy surrounding the correct terminology to use when discussing this topic, so let me start with this. I will be using person-first language (“person with disabilities” instead of “disabled person”) because we’re all people first. Also, while terms like “other-abled” or “differently-abled” may be apt and appropriate, I won’t be using them here.

YA literature is famous for tackling issues and not shying away from uncomfortable topics, which, for some, includes disabilities. So how has the world of YA literature presented the perspective of those with disabilities? The short answer is: in a variety of ways. Of course, we’re not just going with the short answer.

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Family Violence: A Recurring Theme in YA

For the past year, I’ve been forced by the enticing world of graduate school to cut back on my YA reading, but recently I’ve had a break between classes and took full advantage. As I welcomed my long-missing friend, the YA novel, back into my reading life, I happened to pick up three books in a row that I found well-written but quite disconcerting. All three involved abuse within families. Two of these also just happen to be on our state high-school reading list (the Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award), which intrigues me.

I didn’t have these books on a list, but simply scanned the shelves in the YA section of my library and picked out something I thought would be interesting. They are, indeed, interesting, but more importantly they made me think about why this theme of violence within families is so appealing to teens. What kind of world are they subjected to that adults may not truly see? Why has the home, which should be the safe-haven, the place where every teen is accepted for who he or she is and is loved unconditionally, become a place of secrets and lies and unspeakable abuse?

Bitterblue (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nomination), Kristin Cashore’s long-awaited sequel to Graceling, began my trek into family violence. This book is a treat for those who love involved plots and entangled characters. However, as Bitterblue works to discover the deeds of her father, who left the people of her city, and especially her castle, scarred and broken, she finds his deeds to be far more horrible than she had ever imagined. Leck, the former king, committed violence against many of his subjects in a variety of ways, but also against his wife and daughter. As a fantasy piece, it’s almost easy to dismiss this as being a part of a fantastical world — not reality. Unfortunately, for many teens this is all too real.

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Where Have All The Good Dads Gone?

The Hub was down on Father’s Day, so we weren’t able to share this post with you then. While it’s been two weeks since that day we honor dads, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to point out some great dads in YA lit.

Young adult books are famous for their lack of good parenting. They’re replete with convicts, addicts, absentees, and the self-centered in place of solid dads and moms. Of course, there are a number of reasons for this. Chief among them is that teens want to read about teens, not parents! Also, if the ‘rents are in the way, how can an adventure or romance or avoidance of a universe-altering disaster take place? It can’t, because good parents would be telling their children things like, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be in charge of the town by virtue of your ability to microwave things with your hands,” or “Don’t listen to the snake voice and be led into the scary underground tunnel to fight a deadly basilisk and the dark lord,” or “Stay away from sparkly boys who drive too fast and want to drink your blood.”

Despite the trends, there are some really excellent parents in YA novels. Since we’re in Father’s Day season, we’ll focus on dads and save the moms for another time.

As I talked with teen readers and others who enjoy YA, they gave many suggestions about solid fathers in YA novels. These heroes of the home seemed to fall into a few categories:

Great Dads Who Die

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World Book Night

On Monday night tens of thousands of people across our country gave and received books–lots of books. I was lucky enough to be counted among their number and had a great experience. Seeing the reactions on people’s faces is, as the commercial says, “priceless.” In my little corner of the world, I handed out 20 copies of The Hunger Games to unsuspecting townsfolk both young and old. From the local martial arts school to the McDonald’s drive thru window, spanning three counties in two states, the book prevailed. People were surprised (“Wow”), thrilled (“OMG *fan girl squeal*”), suspicious (“What’s the catch?”) and grateful. The best stories are of those teens who said things like, “The library copies are always out, and I don’t have the money to buy my own.” That’s why we did this!

So how did this all come about? 

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Mike Mullin Delivers

Hundred of teens in LaGrange County, Indiana were treated last Friday to a visit by break-out YA author Mike Mullin. Mike’s debut novel, Ashfall, has received high reviews and been included on YALSA’s 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list as well as being nominated to the 2012 Quick Picks list. Ashfall is an apocalyptic novel that chronicles the journey of 15-year-old Alex as he tries to reach his family after the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano. It’s a gritty and edgy thrill ride that had me holding my breath, crying, cheering, and feeling exhausted at times.

In preparation for Mike’s visit he graciously granted me a phone interview, in which I asked why he chose to write YA. He answered, “A great novel is about conflict, and when is there more conflict than in the teen years?” Though this interview was wonderful, the personal appearance was even better.

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