Dark Material in YA Literature

Do you become what you read? Okay, probably not. BUT that’s what some people think (primarily adults and parents).

I thought about this topic while I was watching the newly released Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why that has everybody and their dog talking (and you can bet that everybody has an opinion about it too). What I had not previously known, was that this series is based off of young adult literature. Some teachers have even chosen to teach it in their classrooms.

But, I have read several reviews of unhappy parents, and other adults who make comments such as, “it’s inappropriate” and “we don’t want our children being exposed to that type of stuff”. My favorite of all though, “that stuff isn’t even real, kids shouldn’t waste their time watching/reading it”. They place Thirteen Reasons Why under the category “Dark Literature”.

So this week, I decided to venture out and research what “Dark Literature” really is and how it may be affecting young adults. This is what I found:

Definition of Dark

Okay, what consists as “Dark” literature? I think this is a really great question to consider and something that is useful to think about. Something that I think we have done is distorted what “Dark” really is. We think we owe it to our young adults to shelter them from novels that talk about difficult topics such as: rape, sex, drug addiction, alcohol, etc…

What really happens, however, is what we describe as “dark” are issue topics that actually need to be discussed with young adults.

Author Perspective

Gayle Forman stated in early 2015:

Are dark books the ones that allegorically explore serious subject matter, like warfare (The Hunger Games) or the human capacity for destruction (Grasshopper Jungle)? Or are they the ones that reflect our actual world, including the capacity for human cruelty and kindness (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) or the messy stuff of human mortality (The Fault In Our Stars)?

All of which these topics are encouraged to be used in schools. So why can’t they read them? Because they are dark? I have personally read each of these novels, and they are all exceptionally well-written and explore particular areas of humanity that young adults need to be exposed to.

Reality

I read another article that talks about teen fiction as being dark. And what it brought to my attention is the reality of “dark” literature.

The idea that because young adults read “dark” literature it will normalize what is being discussed and potentially encourage that behavior is almost ridiculous. The reality of the matter is that “dark” literature offers awareness.

Things we don’t recognize or are not aware of occur in some of this dark literature. It gives students an opportunity to read about and learn  from. That doesn’t mean that they are going to go out and do that thing, but they will walk away with a new understanding about the topic.

Also, can we point out that books are supposed to relate to people? What if one of these “dark” novels actually does relate to a student? I can almost guarantee that every person who reads/watches Thirteen Reasons Why can connect with it on some level or another. The fact that we claim literature may be too dark, shouldn’t be up to us, because some of those novels actually might be what helps a person relate.

And let’s be real on another level. We TEACH students Shakespeare, Hemingway, Poe, etc… in the classrooms. There is definitely “darkness” weaved in literature from these authors. Even the Bible itself has “dark” areas.

Let’s stop criticizing literature for being too dark and accept the fact that there is no such thing.

Summer Reading

Me-Before-YouWell I have come to the last week of my sophomore year. Looking back I can say that I have accomplished much more than I thought I was going to do. I shattered my goals and managed to make it out alive. Or at least I think I will make it out alive, bear with me we still have finals week.

I have read a total of 47 books (mostly Y.A.), more than 2,000 pages from 7 different anthologies, several different poems and essays (I didn’t actually count), and 19 critical analysis articles. It has been a wide range of literature, but it has been fun.

But with reading comes a lot of writing. I have written 65 blog posts this semester, 73 journal entries, 13 critical papers and 3 creative works. For the college newspaper, I wrote 4 reviews, 1 opinion, and an editorial.

AND I still managed to have time to spare to hang out with friends (granted we did a lot of homework together) and do fun activities. It all came down to this thing called “time management”. What I’m getting at is, my semesters are full of reading and writing, and now it’s almost summer and I’m ready for a break. It’s not that I’m burned out, I just need to slow it down a little bit to prepare for my next semester. Regroup and breath a little bit.

PresentSo, while I won’t be doing a “book a day” reading challenge. I want to do a “book a week” challenge. This is what is most realistic for my summer life. I am taking one college class and working full time (which usually amounts to over time).

My favorite time to read in the summer is in the mornings, outside, with my coffee. Is there really anything better than hearing the birds singing, the sunshine rays, and a good book?

And I’m going to challenge myself to do this every morning before I do chores or go to work. I also, want to challenge myself to continue reading outside of my comfort zone, adding more and more diversity.

I have several books that I have found to be rather interesting and have added them to my TBR list and it’s my goal to get them READ this summer. I also have a lot of books that were given to me for Christmas that haven’t been touched yet.

The helpMy list includes:

The Help by Katherine Stockett

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo Moyes

Room by Emma Donoghue

Saint Anything by Sara Dessen

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

 

I’m excited and hopeful that I will have a great reading experience! My goals are set and the books are waiting for me! Time to sit back, drink some coffee, and enjoy summer reading.

 

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Welp. It’s not Monday, but it is definitely Tuesday. In true college student fashion during the last two weeks of the semester, I have miscalculated the amount of time I had. Therefore, Happy Tuesday. Forgive me for being a day late. HOWEVER, I still want to let you know what I have been reading the past two weeks. So here it goes… it’s a lot, but worth it.

Crank

CrankAuthored by Ellen Hopkins, Crank is a book of poetry for teens. I’m not necessarily a poetry person, and whenever someone tells me I have to read it or write it, I cringe a little bit. So with that being said, you can just about imagine how I felt going into this. I didn’t really know where to start or where to find a book. So I did what any well-learned reader would do and went to GoodReads to scroll through some options. And what do you know, I found one that seemed rather interesting.

Crank is a good read. I would recommend to my friends and followers who are looking for some poetry to read. What I liked most about the poems is that they were unique. Each page turn Hopkins was creatively shaping the poems to enhance the context. Additionally, I liked the overall messages it gives readers. Hopkins doesn’t shy away from the tough topics like sex, drugs, and other bad mistakes we sometimes make growing up.

Her characters are real and you’ll be both frustrated with them, but enjoy reading their experiences. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it any time soon. I mean, I read it in a day, and wanted to discuss this with someone else…. so please read it!

When We Collided

When We CollidedEmery Lord’s novel When We Collided has been awarded the Schnieder Family Award, which is primarily why I chose to read it. And I will admit, it was an okay read!

The cover really intrigued me to begin with because of the quote printed on it. I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by the cover, but in this case it did make me curious about what was inside! The quote goes like this, “Can you fall in love when you are falling apart?” Any reader knows that questions directed at us are both intriguing and make us curious to figure out what the answer is.

SO no surprise, this is a love story. If I had any word to describe this novel, it would be bittersweet. We get the romance and the humor, but we also get reality and truth. Two teens, Johnah and Vivi both have different stories and different aspects that make their lives difficult, but when they come together they realize their potential love. Does love fix everything? And can you love when you’re falling apart? It’s a bit cheesy, and yet kind of nice to read.

“When I met Jonah Daniels yesterday, there was a magical shift in the trajectory of my summer. He’s the ring to my Frodo, the wardrobe to my Lucy Pevensie. His presence in my life sets me on my journey, and I can feel it, a vital mission pulsing in my bones. Here is a boy who needs me.”

If you’re into cheesy. I’d say give it a shot! If you’re into contemporary novels, I’d say this is one for you! If you’d like to explore a girl with a bipolar disorder, probably a novel to check out. And if you’d like to see how Johnah ends up, also a novel you should read.

Fangirl

I’ve heard a lot of book talk about Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. And so I decided to give it a shot.

fangirlWhat I appreciate about this novel is the transition Cath, the main character, goes through from high school to college. A lot changes and we go through that experience with her. Cath is a socially awkward person, and I think a lot of us “book worms” can relate to her on some level. For example, she avoids going to the cafeteria and simply eats protein bars in her room to avoid the awkwardness of having to sit in the cafeteria with people.

Another thing that I appreciate about this novel is Cath’s obstacles she’s faced with in college. I think it rings true to a lot of us when we left our high school, that we weren’t exactly sure what we would be faced with when we came to college. She loves fanfiction, something I’m not as familiar with, and despite what others tell her about fanfiction she decides to stick with it. I give her props for going against everyone else’s word, and staying true to her own likes.

There’s a lot of potential in this novel. It’s different from other things that I have read, which is one of the reasons why I would encourage you to read it too. I think it would definitely be beneficial for high schoolers to read.

The Truth About Forever

The TruthOkay, you can’t really go through a YA binge reading experience without reading Sarah Dessen can you? No. So I chose to read her novel, The Truth About Forever. You guys… I loved this book. It was filled with a lot of emotional experiences and I can’t say how much I appreciated the work.

This is a story about loss, first love, new beginnings, and real life. It’s all about the time we have here, and the truth that forever really isn’t forever because our forever can end any second now. Talk about emotional and real. And I must say, the characters are ones that you will love. Each character goes through their own loss and each character handles it a little bit differently. It just goes to show you that we all cope in different ways. I can also say, that this was a love story that I actually really enjoyed. Wes and Macy seem to be authentic rather than super cheesy or unrealistic.

“The truth about forever is that it’s happening right now…”

The Vanishing Game

The VanishingAnd then I had to read The Vanishing Game by Kate Kae Myers for book club. This was everything I didn’t like in a novel all compiled together. I hated it. I don’t like not suggesting books, but seriously don’t read this one… or read at your own risk.

This is the mystery/thriller/”horror” story about Jocelyn and Jack and Noah. Jocelyn and Jack are twins, but Jack died. Jocelyn and Noah begin to uncover the mystery of Jack’s death. And like any mystery novel, there’s a twist at the end.

First, I didn’t like Kate Kae Myer’s writing style. I could have maybe made it through the entire novel if at least that was good, but it wasn’t.

Secondly, the entire plot seemed like it had too many ideas happening all at once. Like there could have been several different books from this one book. Maybe it was a little too ambitious and probably should have been a series or something.

Thirdly, (is that a word?) I hated the characters. Personally, they just weren’t what I was expecting.

And I’ll leave the rest unspoken… because I feel like I have already been too mean. Maybe this is a good novel for teens. Maybe I just didn’t have a great reading experience with it. There’s probably someone out there who enjoyed it. So take my word for it, or don’t and find out for yourself what you think about this novel.

SO THAT’S ALL I HAVE FOR YOU. FINALLY.

Happy reading,

-A.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s me again. Here with another book review. The semester is coming to an end, but my time with books is still continuing.

Monster

monsterAfrican American author Walter Dean Myers is the famous writer who wrote, Monster. It’s main character is Steve who is sixteen and faces 25 years to life in prison. A bit of a change for a high schooler. As if life during your teen years isn’t hard enough, he is thrown into the system of being judged… literally.

He was called a monster. In a way he deals with this experience by making a film script. Definitely not what I was expecting from this novel and the formatting is odd, too. But it’s an interesting concept. He takes what he likes to cope with what he is going through. Isn’t that what we all do, turn to the things that comfort us in difficult times?

I think that this book speaks truth about our search for our own identity, racism, guilt/innocence, and justice. While not all of us go through the court system, we all go through trials in life and we all need coping mechanisms. I think this is a novel that young adults should read because it does touch upon life and how fast life can change. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something out of the ordinary to read, with a good lesson or two!

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

talesJudy Blume, oh I love Judy Blume! This is one of those timeless novels written by her. Categorically it’s shelved by children’s books, middle grade books, and YA. So basically read it whenever you want.

For those of you who have younger siblings, this is a novel that you will probably relate to. See, Peter, has a younger brother Fudge who is three years old. And of course, Peter is forgotten about and all eyes are on Fudge. This makes Peter a “fourth grade nothing”. A bit dramatic, but not really to a kid like Peter. Haha. We walk through life narrated by a fourth grader and it’s pretty entertaining.

Like seriously, I’m twenty years old. I should not have been laughing at this book, but I was. Who knew fourth graders were so funny and entertaining. And if you remember reading this book at some point, read it again, because it will be even better now that you’re older. Not ashamed at all for loving it! HAHA. Plus, what an easy reading compared to the stuff I have been reading, so it was a nice break.

Happy reading, friends!

-A.

Why I changed my major…

I’m a sophomore in college. School has always been what I excel in, so naturally, I’ll be graduating a semester early. Sometimes I put a lot of pressure on myself. And even more times, I take on too much at once, but still manage to get it all done (and done to the best of my ability). I’ve always been proud of my accomplishments. And I have always had that “go-getter” attitude. It probably drives some people nuts, but it really is like a disease.

I’m telling you this because I made a decision last semester that altered my career. I decided it was time to change my major. I was on the path to become a Secondary English Teacher. I wanted to mentor students, be a role model, teach them about my passion of literature and literacy, and recommend all of my favorite books to them! BUT all of this stopped one day when I realized I didn’t like the education world I was going to enter in to. It took me a long time to make this decision. I tossed it up, rolled it around, even bounced it off the walls of my brain for SEVERAL weeks.

It came down to the fact that I couldn’t handle not being able to do what I wanted in the classroom. I didn’t want my students to ever feel pressured and get anxiety about all of these exams they take like I did in high school. I didn’t want my students to have an education that didn’t mean anything to them, or that they weren’t passionate about like so many students I know. I wanted education to be more, and I knew there was going to be no possible way I could perfect and teach at the level I would have wanted to.

plan

Photo CC-By Pexels

So with that in mind, I stepped down from what I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I stepped down because I knew I would feel like a failure for so many students if I couldn’t change the way literature was being taught. And I knew I couldn’t handle that task as a perfectionist, when there was so much work to be done (because I also want other things in life… like a family of my own).

This all came flooding back to my mind after reading Jim Bailey’s Curing the Reading Germ. He was in the same exact position as I was in not too long ago, except he was already in the classroom. If you read the steps he took, he was able to make a change! I’m so thankful for teachers like him, that can stand up against the “teaching norms” and do what is best for students.

I in no way have regretted my decision, but I do recognize the effort put in by so many teachers across the nation that want to make English classrooms better.

From my online reading this week, I’ve learned to appreciate the innovative thinking that so many people have and every motivator in the classroom. For example, I loved the fact that Bailey recognized that “AR” reading wasn’t cutting it for students (because it’s definitely not) and he decided to do a “40-book challenge”. I can’t stress it enough how important it is to allow students to choose what they are reading because it motivates them to actually ENJOY reading. AR doesn’t let them choose, AR tells them what they should be reading and how much they should be reading.

Literacy is all about connection between literature and the reader. That connection, motivates students to continue reading. That’s what should be happening in our classrooms all around the world. When students excel in reading, they tend to excel everywhere else, too. That’s why life with books is just so much better.

Even though teaching wasn’t the path for me, under my best judgement, I’m glad that there are innovators out there. I’m glad that I know there are resources dedicated for teachers who want to find different methods of teaching.

I looked at the way a lot of classrooms are taught today during my observation hours, and none of them stressed enough on reading and the benefits of a good reader. And actually, my hometown elementary school has practically done away with showing any importance at all towards reading. It breaks my heart, but no one can change the way things are being taught except us. We need to be the good examples for young people.

change

Photo CC-By Gerd Altmann

Today, it’s important for us to let our kids, students, nephews, nieces, etc… to know the benefits and values of picking up a book and enjoying the process of reading. It’s important for us to raise kids to love to read. The only way I see this working is if we allow young kids to pick out books they want.

START THEM YOUNG PEOPLE.

Take them to the bookstore. Give them space and time to roam through the shelves to choose what book they want to read. This will encourage them to continue to build this habit for the rest of their life.

I’m sorry, this post went a little long. This is just something that I’m really passionate about. Books are meant to be enjoyed. Plain and simple. So everyone, for the love of books, choose what you WANT to read.

Happy Reading,

-A.

 

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

The Diary of a Young Girl

anneThis is Anne Frank’s story. A young, Jewish girl who lived during the holocaust. While in hiding she kept a diary and wrote in it consistently. What is included in this book, is what she wrote and what she left behind for others to find.

Approaching this novel I kept in mind that this wasn’t something I would probably connect with, because I wasn’t alive during the holocaust and in no way have endured the terror, pain and suffering that Anne goes through. Secondly, I kept in mind that this is her diary, her life, and her words/experiences written out and exposed for the world to read. Diaries are intimate and filled with real life emotion and thought.

With that being said, this first-person account had me in tears. It’s a powerful read. Anne’s writing helped me experience what she was going through. And I think that’s probably why this has been such a timely piece of writing. It’s a real account of her life in hiding. I think what made it so emotional for me, is that I knew how it was going to end. There are only so many pages, so it was really a count down until you reached the last page. But overall, it’s definitely a great read and definitely something to consider requiring young adults to read!

Zombies Vs. Unicorns

zombieOkay, so before you think I’m a weirdo for picking this collection of short stories to read, let me give you a little background. So, I’m currently taking this multi-ethinc literature course, and in it, we read a zombie novel. My FIRST ever zombie novel. This inspired me to read more zombie novels. And that decision brought me to this collection of short stories.

I had so much fun reading this collection of short stories! Throughout the entire collection this was the question being discussed: Which is better: zombies or unicorns? And so it would go back and forth between the two where there are stories that give reasons why zombies are the best, and then stories where unicorns are the best. It’s up to the reader to decide for him or herself which is the best! I’ve never really read anything like this, but it was definitely entertaining. Definitely a recommendation (even for those of you who don’t know if you like zombie stories or unicorn stories).

P.S. I’m team zombie.

Happy reading! 🙂

YALSA Discovery!

Nope not salsa, YALSA. Even though salsa is really great, YALSA is ten times better. The acronym stands for Young Adult Library Services Associations. I hadn’t yet known about this whole YALSA deal before this week. And then I couldn’t get enough of it after I began digging around on the site! There’s so much that is offered from YALSA, and it’s good stuff.

Book Awards & Booklists

Everyone likes knowing that what they’re going to be reading is something good, right? Well YALSA provides several hyperlinks linking us up to some of the latest and greatest books that have been awarded or nominated for an award! What makes this great is that it’s all right there at the click of a button. No need to go surfing through the web. It’s a great tool if you want a quick resource of book recommendations. I promise if you won’t leave the site without having added at least one book to your TBR list.

I personally clicked on “Best of the Best” and then looked through 2017 picks. I added to my TBR list two novels recommended for this year (2017): The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry and Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina.

YALSA Book Finder

To make things even easier on those who are searching for something specific they have recently launched a new thing called a book finder! This is such a useful tool to help readers find books that they will like and connect with. Any person can search by author, award, publication years, genre, etc…

The APP

To make things even grander, this site has also established an app that can be downloaded to any smart phone. This way you can have it anywhere at the tap of a finger. I love the fact that it’s quick and easy to use, and OBVIOUSLY easily accessible. No more struggle of going to the library, standing around the shelves, reading back covers, judging books by the cover. Now, you can simply go to the app, type in the name of a book you think you might want, and see if it’s actually something you want to devout your time to. Technology is being used everywhere, and YALSA has just made it super easy for all my fellow book lovers out there.

 

It’s truly amazing what we have now to help us on our quest to find our favorite books. I love that I was introduced to YALSA this week and there’s so much more to search through. I recommend spending time on this site, I promise you’ll find something worth your while!

Until then, happy reading!

-A.