Lady Lazarus: Sylvia Plath & YA Literature

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. Continue reading Lady Lazarus: Sylvia Plath & YA Literature

Reading the Book before the Movie or Show: Pros, Cons, & Bragging Rights

by flickr user o5com
by flickr user o5com

Young adult and adult novels make it to the big (and little) screen fairly often these days.  So, just how smug should you feel when you have already read the book? There is no easy answer – so to tackle this issue I have broken down the movie/show tie-ins into categories.

The Book Series Made into a Show

You can feel superior, but do tread lightly as you enter this murky zone.   When translating a series of novels into a series of shows major plot elements are likely to be changed to allow for the continuity of the show.  Examples of the book series made into a show include Pretty Little Liars (based on the series by Sara Shepard), Gossip Girl (based on the series by Cecily Von Ziegesar; a 2003 Quick Pick & 2009 Popular Paperback for Young Adults), The Walking Dead (based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore), and Game of Thrones (Based on the “Song of Fire and Ice” books by George R.R. Martin.)

walking dead
walking dead
  • Pros of pre-reading the book series made into a show:

1) You read the books, you loved them…you watch the show and get more!  You can translate your book reading experience into an on-going show and keep the story alive after the series is over and/or whilst you await (impatiently) for the next book.

2) Deviations from the book make for some fun and unexpected surprises.  You thought you knew all there was to know about white walkers in George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series… but after watching the HBO show– what?!

  • Cons of pre-reading the book series made into a show:

1) Deviations from the book make for some shocking unexpected surprises.  Yes, this is both a pro and a con.  These changes may call into question your precognitive skills.  For example AMC’s Walking Dead’s many plot changes as compared to the graphic novel series.

  • Bragging rights earned from pre-reading the book series made into a show:

Monday morning talk when there was a Sunday night cliffhanger: does <insert character name> die?  Then they look your way: do you know?  Oh, yeah.  Continue reading Reading the Book before the Movie or Show: Pros, Cons, & Bragging Rights

Did You Love Lost? Try These Books!

palm_jungle
photo by flickr user brewbooks

Where I live, the temperatures and humidity are climbing these days, leaving me feeling a bit bedraggled and wilted. Weather like this prompts a strong nostalgia in me for one of my favorite TV shows, Lost, both because I feel as humidity-drenched as they all look on the island, and because the heat saps my energy, so I need a book with a hook strong enough to generate its own page-turning momentum, the way Lost expertly hooked me with truly bizarre discoveries, goosebump-causing unexplained phenomena, and never-quite-enough tidbits of the characters’ lives before the crash.

While I can never go back to the jaw-dropping, melodramatic delights of viewing Lost for the very first time, I can, and do, regularly seek out reading materials that will deliver that same tantalizing mix of survival, conspiracy, flashback storytelling with globetrotting locales, a diverse and varied cast of secret-keeping characters, and developments so strange I actually say, “What?!” out loud. The books in the following list all offered one or many of those factors.

MIND MGMT Vol. 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt – Perhaps an obvious pick, given that Lost producer Damon Lindelof loved this so much he wrote the foreword, and that Kindt has given Lost a very direct nod by numbering the “lost” flight in his story 815. It’s supposed to appeal to Lost fans. But just because a thing is supposed to appeal doesn’t always mean it hits its mark. Imagine my delight then, to be promised by Lindelof that I was in for just the kind of wild ride Lost used to deliver so reliably, and then to have the book in my hand actually take me on just such a ride. This is one of those plots that keeps unfolding to reveal new layers, introducing new characters, and feeding you information from the past and the present without ever explaining anything fully (so just resign yourself to a degree of uncertainty about everything).  MIND MGMT Vol. 1 was one of 2014’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, and the graphic format here really served the fragmented storytelling; what was going on in the frames could be saying one thing, and then the frame itself could say something else entirely, and the reader could follow the action through many places and time periods very quickly with a few key visual cues. The best part, for me, of discovering this bizarre (and, fair warning, violent) world; it’s an ongoing series.  Continue reading Did You Love Lost? Try These Books!

Opening Lines to Test Your Printz Honor Book Knowledge

by flickr user urbanworkbench
by flickr user urbanworkbench

Want to write a book? Great! Just put your fingers on your keyboard and start typing.  There you go, your first sentence!

Perhaps that’s the way it works for some, but for many authors, the opening sentence is one to ponder. Should it be enigmatic, coy, hilarious, or profound? Will it be powerful or understated? Elaborately descriptive or one perfect word? That sentence is read in just a moment, but has the potential to excite a reader’s interest… or not.

Each one of the Printz Honor books in the multiple choice quiz below had to start with a first line.  Continue reading Opening Lines to Test Your Printz Honor Book Knowledge