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The Mystery of Veronica Mars: Best Teen Sleuth Of Our Time–Or All Time?

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image from Aunti P’s flickr

The teen sleuth has a long history in children’s and young adult literature.  During the twentieth century,  popular children’s fiction became an increasingly profitable market.  Large companies like the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its publishing partner Grosset and Dunlap produced masses of series fiction, finding especially great success with adventure and mystery series for children and teens.  Though these titles were first published in the 1930s and ’40s, many of the characters remain well-known cultural figures.  For example, Nancy Drew continues to appear in novels, video games, and even a feature film as recently as 2007.  Kid and teen detectives from Encyclopedia Brown and the Red Blazer Girls to the Hardy Boys and Gallagher Girls continue to fly off the shelves in libraries and bookstores.

In middle school, I devoured every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on before moving on to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and Martha Grimes. But I’ve always been looking for a new smart & savvy teen sleuth–and when Veronica Mars premiered during my final years of high school, I knew I’d found my girl.  The character and the show appealed to me then as a young adult and a mystery reader–and it continues to appeal to me now, as a fan of the genre and young adult literature as a whole. Veronica Mars is simply a terrific example of storytelling for and about young adults–in addition to being a great mystery series.

The series can trace a connection to young adult literature back to its initial creation.  Before he brought the teen sleuth back into popular culture, Rob Thomas wrote and published a young adult novel,  Rats Saw God, a 1997 Best Books for Young Adults selection, recently re-released in a new edition.   In an interview with The Austin ChronicleThomas explains that his creation of Rats Saw God–and later Veronica Mars–drew on his experiences during his first post-college job as a high school journalism teacher.   So what qualities did Thomas’ writing include that made the show work so well in the world of young adult media? 


From Book to Television: Phoenix Island to Intelligence

phoenix islandPhoenix Island, the debut novel of author John Dixon, packs quite the wallop from the actual storyline in the book to the story surrounding the book itself. Dixon is an interesting case of a first-time novelist, if only for the fact that a major television network bought the rights to his first novel before it was even published! I’m adding that exclamation point because that is a huge deal. Actually, it’s beyond a huge deal. It is a rarity in a business that usually only shells out money for surefire moneymaking hits. I mean it’s hard for published book series with established fandoms to get these kind of deals, and Dixon knocked a home run on his first try. His first book and the television show based on Phoenix Island, CBS’s Intelligence (airing Monday nights at 10/9c), were almost simultaneously released to the world at large back in January.  Serious kudos goes to this guy.

Dixon talks more about this incredible story in an interview with his hometown newspaper here.

It was also this story that really drove my desire to write about how the adaptation from book to screen ended up playing out. It seemed especially interesting to me because the television creators would have more freedom in their adaptation because Dixon’s series did not have an established fandom yet. The upside to not having an established fandom behind the book your basing your series around is that you can’t annoy the fandom. Fandoms can be relentless. Look at all the hoopla casting can cause. Twitter trends have been caused by much less. Not to mention when the adapted work finally does see the light of day there are the inevitable articles that break down everything missed, changed, or totally screwed up in the adaptation according to the fandom. CBS and Michael Seitzman, the show’s creator, did not have to worry about this pressure– so how did they do?

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What Would They Read?: Recommendations for The Big Bang Theory

Big Bang TheoryI often spend a lot of my time recommending books to people.  I got to thinking: what books would I recommend to my favorite TV and movies characters?  There are so many different characters to choose from, but I knew that I would need to first look at a group of nerds with whom I would love to spend time discussing the finer things of the book shelves.  I decided to closely examine the possible reading tastes of the ensemble of The Big Bang Theory.  Some of the characters may be pretty obvious in their reading preferences.  I mean, how many times have we heard Raj talk about Twilight?  So now, with no further delay, here are my recommendations for our nerdy male friends in The Big Bang Theory.

ender's game orson scott card cover

Sheldon – Sheldon is one of the more difficult, yet simplest person to please with books.  Obviously if you’ve watched at least one random episode, you will easily notice the love of comic books and graphic novels.  Sheldon has an affinity for Batman as he states that he could be Batman given the right amount of financial backing.  Given those interests, I would recommend Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Muzzuchelli. As for a traditionally-formatted teen novel, I would suggest The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson (2009 Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults).  In this book, Jenna discovers that after she experiences a traumatic accident, she is only alive due to vast amounts of artificial medical materials.  This leaves Jenna debating whether or not she is still human or now some kind of medical creation.  Sheldon would be interested in the ethics of science as well as the procedures created for the book.  Not to mention, it is mentioned quite frequently that Sheldon is not quite human.  I would also throw the modern-day classic, Ender’s Game by 2008 Edwards Award winner Orson Scott Card at Sheldon as well.  He would definitely be able to relate to the young genius protagonist.  Also, the science fiction elements fit into Sheldon’s established preferred genre.

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Pretty Little Liars Anonymous

I have to admit I am addicted to Pretty Little Liars. I actually first started watching the TV show (on ABC Family) by checking it out from my library, and I couldn’t stop watching. Then I picked up the first book of the series as a summer vacation read, and of course I couldn’t stop reading. I don’t know what it is about this series — the mystery, the drama, the scandal, or the secrets — but I am hooked!

If you are like me and are a fan of Pretty Little Liars, have already read the entire book series, are eagerly awaiting the next episode and next book in the series, and are looking to fill that empty hole that remains, then check out these novels that may appeal to the fans of Pretty Little Liars:

If you like the mystery of Pretty Little Liars, check out…

wish you were dead todd strasserWish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser

Students are disappearing at Soundview High, and they are disappearing in an order determined by anonymous blog posts by a bullied student who wishes the popular students were dead. Madison is one of those popular students and begins getting messages online that she will be named next. Can Madison solve the mystery of the disappearances before it is too late and her name is the next one posted?

If you like the drama, read…

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

Set in late nineteenth century, The Luxe delves into the lives of young Manhattan socialites. Arranged marriages, forbidden romance, backstabbing, and jealousy are only the start of the drama that unfolds in this first book in The Luxe series.

If you like the scandal, try…

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D’oh! The Simpsons Takes on YA Lit

Neil Gaiman, Simpson-ized

The Simpsons airs on Sunday nights and on Monday I could tell from the flurry of Facebook comments amongst YA lit loving friends that I had missed out on a good one. Of course, thanks to TiVo, I hadn’t really missed out–just gotten to the party a day late. And what a party it was! The Simpsons + Neil Gaiman + The Current State of YA Literature was like a perfect trio of things loved by librarians and teen lit readers, fans of pop culture, and Neil’s adoring hordes.

The episode was modeled after heist films like “The Italian Job” and “Ocean’s 11,” complete with being called “The Book Job.” In typical fantastic Simpsons fashion, an elaborate opening that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the episode (an arena dinosaur show) kicks things off. It concludes with the cold, hard truth being told to Lisa: tween and teen books are written by armies of English lit majors in cubicles and that the authors pictured on the books are mere models.

Lisa is heartbroken, but Bart sees a business opportunity. He gathers together his team–Homer, Principal Skinner, Selma, Moe, and Professor Frink–and they plan to create the ideal tween novel, incorporating all the elements of current popular serialized fiction (orphans, magical schools, and supernatural creatures). While at the bookstore doing research who should show up, ready to join their team, but Neil himself–Neil Gaiman that is. And thus, a dream team was formed and the scam could begin.

Gretchen Kolderup and I decided to have a chat about the episode.