Poetry has been figuring in a lot of teen literature lately. Have you noticed? I don’t mean novels in verse, quality as some recent titles have been. Nor do I mean poetry collections for teens (a la Poisoned Apples or Paint Me Like I Am). The Guardian noticed this poetry trend, too, pointing out a few examples in a recent article, and asked its readers for more.
I liked how the article noted authors’ uses of poetry, such as Meg Cabot beginning the chapters of Avalon High with stanzas from The Lady of Shalott. These stanzas just happen to give a clue about the characters’ identities. The article also mentioned a similar use of poetry in Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare: the lines that open the chapters are all from poets who lived in the time of the novel’s setting, late-19th century London.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2002 Best Books forYoung Adults, 2002 Top Ten Books for Young Adults, 2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Teen’s Top Ten: 2003 & 2005) by Ann Brashares: Lena. Brashares does a suburb job of fully developing all four of the girls who wear the magic pants. No girl is an afterthought, no girl is a clone, and no girl is without her issues. Lena’s deal is that she is repressed. All of her friends describe Lena as beautiful but withdrawn. Lena’s reluctance to go anywhere new is first challenged when she is forced to spend the summer in Greece with her grandparents. One repressed protagonist plus a cute Greek guy plus a pair of magic jeans equals… lots of personal growth for Lena!
I was lucky enough to attend the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco last week and attended the YALSA YA Author Coffee Klatch sponsored by BLINK on Sunday, June 28th from 9 – 10 am. Allison Tran was there too and included some great photos in her post from the event.
I had the opportunity to have coffee while I met many of YALSA’s award winning authors, many of whom have appeared on one of YALSA’s six annual selected lists or have received one of YALSA’s five literary awards. In this speed-dating-like event, we sat at the tables and every five minutes or so the authors would come to our table to talk with us.
Participating authors included: M. T. Anderson, Leigh Bardugo, Deborah Biancotti, Virginia Boecker, Erin Bow, Martha Brockenbrough, Rae Carson, Selene Castrovilla, Carey Corp, Zak Ebrahim, Jack Gantos, Gail Giles, Amalie Howard, Jenny Hubbard, Bill Konigsberg, Michael Koryta, Daniel Kraus, Stephanie Kuehn, Susan Kuklin, Margo Lanagan, Lorie Langdon, Eric Lindstrom, Sophie Maletsky, Marissa Meyer, Jandy Nelson, Patrick Ness, Mitali Perkins, Kate Racculia, Luke Reynolds, William Ritter, Ginny Rorby, John Scalzi, Neal Shusterman, Andrew Smith, Allan Stratton, Nova Ren Suma, Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki, Scott Westerfeld, Carol Lynch Williams, and Suzanne Young.
These were the YA Authors who came to my table and a little of what they said (any inaccuracies are solely my fault):
Mitali Perkins talked about her latest middle grade book called Tiger Boy.
She said that publishers didn’t think young people wanted to read about teen characters from other countries but that hasn’t been the case. Perkins wants young people to read across borders. She said she’s gotten letters from kids from all over the US – like rural Kansas. They connect with her books and there’s a power that readers have over the story. She said that one of her previous books, Bamboo People (2011 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults), is on twelve state reading lists. It has two boys as the main characters and lots of action and it’s still a popular read, even though it came out in 2010 and is set in Burma. The fact that it’s a coming of age story is universal. Perkins has drawn inspiration for her writing because she said she’s traveled a lot and lived in Thailand, Boston and in the Bay Area. Tiger Boy is a tribute to her dad. He became a talented civil engineer and traveled all over the world. She said she “writes to the boy who doesn’t think he is a reader.”
It’s a psychological mystery, set in Sonoma, CA and it has a lot of darkness to it. It features a female anti-hero. The girl was sent down from boarding school for almost killing another girl. She is cruel. She becomes reacquainted with a boy named Emerson she knew as a kid & they both have a connection with Emerson’s younger brother who sees visions of people dying. It’s told from a third person point-of-view because it’s easier to tell that way as it shifts from the different perspectives of the characters. Kuehn says her main character is a psychopath but there’s a humanity to her too. “We share common experiences – they’re human monsters.”
Forget the Tarot cards, crystal balls, and palm-readers. Toss aside those stale fortune cookies. You need only look to your bookshelf to understand your deepest personality traits. Look for some of your favorite YA titles below and you may find that my keen “psychic” abilities can be enlightening.
* Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver. There is more to you than meets the eye. You keep your secrets close, and may not be very trustworthy. But you love deeply and are very protective.
* Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson. You might have a hard time trusting yourself, but go with your instincts- they won’t steer you wrong. Be yourself and don’t try so hard to please others.
* The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. You may feel like you are being influenced by forces greater than your own. But it’s OK, go with it. Don’t be afraid to get hurt and great things will happen.
* Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong. Others may call you inconsistent. Your horoscope sign may be best described as “Gemini.” You are brave, smart, and have a keen sense of justice. You develop strong connections to friends and family.
* The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2009 Best Book for Young Adults). Some would call you are a guys’ guy. But don’t discount the fairer sex, you may find a wonderful friend. You may not be “book smart” but you are clever and can get yourself out of tough situations. Just believe in yourself, and don’t forget to appreciate your dog.
* All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. You are drawn to those in pain and have some dark times. Talking through it may help. We all have to go through difficult times. Let yourself mourn those you have lost.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m highlighting YA books (and one adult one) that feature teen characters who are obsessed with poets and poetry. I know it’s not a very original idea, although it’s harder to do than come up with a list of YA books written in verse. Still, I’m happy to know that there are still teens today who adore certain poets and yearn to write their own stirring and meaningful poetry, as I did as a teen. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath are favorites with YA characters.
When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriquez (2015)
In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control. Goth girl Elizabeth Davis is struggling to control her anger before it destroys her. Her seemingly happy classmate Emily Delgado is struggling with depression. They are both in the same English class studying Emily Dickinson. Which one is driven to suicide? The powerful novel will keep readers guessing.
Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (2015)
Eva, 16, still grieving over her father’s death two years previously in a plane crash, has taken solace in devouring romance novels (118 so far), much to her women’s studies professor mother’s dismay. Eva’s interest in writing poetry is reignited after she starts to tutor Will, a senior, and her long-time secret crush. As she helps him refine his college entrance essay and AP English class assignments, they bond over their mutual love of poetry and grief over losing a family member. When Will unexpectedly moves to CA, Eva and her super-intelligent best friend Annie find a way to travel across the country to visit him. Each section includes poetry by Eva’s favorite poets, including W. H. Auden, Nikki Giovanni, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Adrienne Rich, W. B. Yeats, Mary Oliver, and Marie Howe, as well as Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop.
After her boyfriend kills himself in front of her after she ends their relationship because she’s pregnant and then is pressured to have an abortion, a traumatized Emily Beam transfers to a boarding school in Amherst, MA. Inspired by her namesake and favorite poet Emily Dickinson (whose poems appear throughout the novel) Emily writes her own heartfelt poetry about her relationship with her boyfriend, her suffering, and her journey toward healing.
Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she copes with her friend Cindy’s pregnancy, friend Sebastian’s coming out, her father’s meth habit, her own cravings for food and cute boys, and especially the poetry she writes that helps her forge her identity. Some of the poets and poems she likes include “Loose Woman” by Sandra Cisneros, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”; Pablo Neruda’s “Tonight I Can Write”; and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”.
With all the ways to watch TV today including; on demand, DVR, and instant streaming it is possible to watch an entire series’ episodes back to back rather than in a serialized week to week format. This kind of watching has been dubbed “binge-watching.” Maybe when you hear this term, an image comes to mind of someone mindlessly watching hour after hour of TV whilst eating chips. As fun as that sounds, “binge-watching” can also mean focusing on just one show over the course of many days or weeks. As a reader the way I become immersed in the characters and world of a good book are a familiar, comforting feeling, and binge-watching a quality show can offer a similar (on-screen) experience. Here are some great YA read-alikes inspired by some of my binge-worthy favorites.
Orange is the New Black – One of Netflix’s original binge-worthy series. This is the story of a Piper, a privileged woman who has to serve prison time for a crime committed in her 20s.
* Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. The book that inspired the show; Kerman tells the tale of how she spent a year in prison the humiliations she endured, and the relationships she forged.
I was recently approached by someone looking for a book recommendation. When I asked what kind of books she liked, she responded, “big, thick, chapter books.” We worked through what she was really looking for and I was able to make some recommendations, but ever since this interaction, I have had page counts on my mind.
Like they did with that patron, longer books seem to make an impact. They are easy to see on a shelf, and working through long books can sometimes feel like an accomplishment. Goodreads values page count by displaying stats on how many pages users have read in a year and highlighting the longest title off to the side. When I read Night by Elie Wiesel, a 109-page non-fiction title, I noticed that the cover of this particular edition had a New York Times quote calling the book “a slim volume of terrifying power.” It may not have been the intention, but this seems like it is justifying the book’s page count. Would that have been necessary if it was 400 pages?
I certainly have nothing against long books (thanks to Goodreads I know that the longest book I have read so far this year had 694 pages), but I do appreciate finding good stories that will not weigh down my purse on my commute. I have compiled a short list of books with 260 or fewer pages* that have been award winners, list makers, and/or simply fun reads.
Do you feel it? That unique, electric blend of optimism, nervousness, and possibility that comes with knowing your immediate future is about to be skyrocketed or demolished by the perceptions of a few hundred teenagers and a handful of burned out teachers. That’s right — the summer is coming to an end, and the real New Year is just about to start: the new school year.
So put down the Magic 8 Ball and start taking your fate into your own hands. This can be your year — the year that trigonometry finally starts to make sense, everyone finally notices how hot you are, and your parents push your curfew back to midnight. But if you’re serious about turning things around, you’re going to need some advice from the oracle: young adult fiction.
The first 48 hours are critical. Starting a new school is a blank slate for your identity. But there’s always going to be a gauntlet of subpar friend leeches waiting to suck you into a social black hole. It’s important to walk through the doors with an idea of who you want to be so that you can pick the right friends, clubs, and, of course, a romantic interest to match. When you’re standing alone in the cafeteria, it’s tempting to sit down with the first group that will take you, but settling can stunt your growth. Don’t be afraid to snub a few over-eager friends before settling on the right match for your new life. — The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman
I had been hearing for years that the YA Author Coffee Klatch was fantastic, so this time I decided to pony up the cash and see for myself and I was not disappointed!
For those of you not familiar with this supremely awesome event, it works a lot like speed dating. Librarians and YA author groupies park themselves at tables in a big room, and authors move from table to table every time the whistle blows, which was about every five minutes. With nearly 40 authors in attendance, it was impossible to meet everyone, but the authors that I did meet were all incredibly gracious, funny, and charming. At our table, we talked with Michael Grant, Maggie Stiefvater, Garth Nix, Daniel Handler, Wendelin Van Draanen, Jenny Hubbard, Craig Silvey, and Daniel Kraus.